Saturday, September 7, 2013

No Longer Invisible

Originally published at HearTheVoice.com.

Mountains surrounding Salt Lake City
When I travel, I do my best to be invisible: I wear slip-on shoes and have my toiletries easily accessible so I don't back up the line through security; I don't buy smelly food and eat it on the plane; I carry bags small enough to fit under the airplane seats; I tuck into a window seat and hide behind a hardback book for the duration of the flight. It's a good thing I'm so short. If you'd ever spent 2 hours being interrogated, patted down, and x-rayed by Israeli airline security (a story for another day), you'd probably take the invisible approach too.

Invisibility didn't work so well on a recent flight out West. I had forgotten to do my online check-in the day before, so I was late boarding the plane. It was a full flight, and I was stuck in the universally-dreaded middle seat. My bag still fit under the seat in front of me, and I had my trusty hardback book; but there was no hiding from the young woman who had folded her mile-long legs into the window seat before I could get there. I knew two things the moment I sat down: she was relieved that a kind-looking woman sat beside her, and she was a nervous wreck. She wanted to talk, so for the next hour or so, I listened to her life story.

Two years ago, at the age of 18, Astryd* became pregnant and married her best friend and high-school sweetheart. Five months after the baby was born, her husband "went insane," as she said, began dating another woman, and filed for divorce. The other woman then filed assault charges against Astryd, and the husband's religious-zealot parents filed for full custody of her baby. Financially ruined after months of legal bills, Astryd moved with her toddler across state lines to live with her atheist parents. She was traveling by herself to attend the final custody hearing against her in-laws.

She only asked me one direct question during the flight: "Do you believe in God?" This was obviously a loaded question. As she described it to me, Astryd's world is the antithesis of God's kingdom. There, all so-called Christians are overbearing Bible-thumpers out to destroy her; atheists are the ones who give her love and support.

I answered her honestly. I told her I was raised in a Protestant tradition where a lot of people still cling to human-made rules such as "thou shalt not drink" and "thou shalt not dance" that allow them to look down on other less-perfect Christians. They are so concerned with being right themselves that they never seek God's own righteousness. That righteousness is made of love and mercy, not laws and punishment. I said that I absolutely believe in God, and that He must be devastated by the dismantling of her family by her in-laws "in His name." She was satisfied with my answer, and we continued to talk until the flight attendants opened the cabin doors.

Astryd is probably invisible to a lot of Christians. She's a sinewy 5'10" 20-year-old girl with huge beautiful-but-sunken eyes, a tattoo on her upper arm, jet-black cropped hair, several ear piercings, and a short life full of self-admittedly wrong choices. But she has learned some of what is important in this world--love and family--and she has done that in spite of the so-called Christians in her life.

As I go about my days (often in a church building, doing church activities, with church family), it is easy to forget that Jesus came to save not just those of us who have already learned about and believe in His atoning sacrifice. He lived with and died for the worst of the sinners. Do we, as God's children on earth, strive to do the same? Or do our actions make His kingdom invisible to those who seek it?

At Levi's house, many tax collectors and other sinners--Jews who did not keep the strict purity laws of the Jewish holy texts--were dining with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus had attracted such a large following that all kinds of people surrounded Him. When the Pharisees' scribes saw who shared the table with Jesus, they were quick to criticize: 
Scribes (to His disciples): If your master is such a righteous person, then why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, the worst among us? 
Jesus heard them. 
Jesus (to the scribes): People who have their health don't need to see a doctor. Only those who are sick do. I'm not here to call those already in good standing with God; I'm here to call sinners to turn back to Him (Mark 2:15-17, THE VOICE).

*Personal details have been changed to protect Astryd's identity.

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