The first step to being a part of The Beloved Community rooted in Christ is not to love others. Being able to share ourselves in a Christ-like way with another person must be preceded by being beloved. “Christ loves me.” That is the beginning. Sounds easy, right? But which “me” does Christ love? Is it the “me” that shows up at work every day? Or is it the “me” that carts my children to all those activities? Is it the loving spouse or the guy that gets road rage in traffic? Is it the “me” I try to be or the one that ends up falling short so often? Is it the “me” I let people see, or the one that is hidden so deep it never sees the light of day? In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels, “To thine ownself be true.” Who is my “ownself?” Is it the me I present to the world or the me that Christ knows, that God made?
Being part of the beloved community means that we set aside the masks we wear and become ever more, our genuine selves. And boy, do we wear masks. Most of us have a whole closet full if we have the courage to admit it. The word “personality” is rooted in the word “persona” – a mask we wear, a role we play. “Face” has the same origin as “façade” which points to the fact that we can all be at least “two faced.” The hardest part of these masks and facades is that we come to think they are our true selves instead of false fronts. So, we justify our bad behavior, hurtful words, less than saintly actions as being “just who we are.” It is impossible to change and is really, after all, just my gift to the world. If I am hypercritical and judgmental, it is just because I’m honest and I appreciate getting things right. If I avoid standing up for what is right it is because I’m compassionate. If I am sometimes a jerk, it is just because there are bigger jerks around than me. After all, I’m OK, you’re OK, and that’s just the way it is. Right?
When we live in self-deception, we become convinced that we need no grace, no mercy, and that humility and confession are for weaklings. When we live with self-deception, we distance ourselves from the love of Christ because Christ loves the real me – not the one I pretend to be. When we live with self-deception, we cannot love another because we do not love ourselves, we love the “me” that does not exist. As Søren Kierkegaard said, “Of all deceivers fear most yourself!”
The apostle, Paul, knew that the credentials and masks of his previous life were of no use to him. They actually got in the way of being loved by Jesus Christ.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ - Philippians 3:4-8
Most often we engage in adding things to our “self-image” to find our truth. We take classes, we read self-help books, we try to add good things to the weaknesses we know exist deep within. On our own we seek to “find ourselves” and only end up losing our souls. Paul models a way of stripping away the things that get in the way. It is not the way of addition, but of subtraction.
As Parker Palmer writes in A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life - we are afraid to get rid of the masks to discover the me that God in Christ loves. “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the "integrity that comes from being what you are.”
Once we become self-aware of the broken, joyful, doubting, faithful, living and dying being we are, we can receive a love that transforms our hubris to humility; our judgmentalism to joy; our fear of being discovered to faith in being accepted. Once we have found that underneath all the masks, we are beloved by God, we can, actually love another without fixing them, changing them, defining or labeling them because Christ loves them too. When we know the truth about ourselves, we are set free. As Kierkegaard says, “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor