It’s not about deserving, it’s about …

Wonder Woman

My favorite scene in the movie “Wonder Woman” is near the end when she has her revelation. She recognizes that each person is a mix of ugliness and beauty — always have been, always will be.

Now that she sees us as we really are, Ares suggest that Wonder Woman should simply ignore us humans because we’re flawed and don’t “deserve” her care.

“It’s not about ‘deserve,’” she responds firmly. “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

I thought about that line when I read a Washington Post story recently. The headline caught my eye: “Christians are more than twice as likely to blame a person’s poverty on lack of effort.”

Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. We’ve heard that a lot lately. Many self-styled Christians have become expert at justifying why they totally ignore Jesus’ life and his teachings.

I believe in love

They recognize that Jesus commands us to be passionate about the poor – that’s unavoidable. But they try to create a way around the command by suggesting that poor people aren’t really poor, they’re simply lazy, so we can ignore them.

They believe that poor people don’t deserve our compassion.

Or they suggest that Jesus’ passion for the needy is a personal mandate that doesn’t apply to anything we do collectively. So, it’s OK to exclude Jesus’ values from our politics, our government, our economy, our business, our society, and yes, even our religion.

Instead, we confine Jesus’ message to such a small part of our lives that it’s effectively neutered. We live by opposite values – self-importance, money, power, privilege. And we call it Christian.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying this to judge, but to challenge an attitude that’s in you and me. We all are tempted to think that we “deserve” what we have and they “deserve” their plight. Jesus challenges that attitude directly and unreservedly.

Instead of deciding that a person is bleeding by the side of the road because they made a bad choice, we put all judgment aside and stop and do everything we can to help.

It’s not about who’s made better choices. It’s about what we can do to help someone else.

Jesus reminds us repeatedly: That’s what you need to work on. Take the plank out of your own eye – it’s a barrier to love. Stop thinking that you can play God – you’re not. Stop judging who is “worthy” and who isn’t.

Instead, just love.

Love never judges whether someone deserves our compassion. It responds the way the father treats the returning prodigal son – he’s deemed totally worthy of a hug and a party no matter what bad choices he’s made.

We need to be like the father.

Just love

When we see a hungry person, we feed them and spend time with them. We visit someone in prison without judging why they are there; rather, we sit and listen and learn about them.

And those moments of unreserved giving change us. We begin to see things differently. We understand that our judgments were wrong. We become more loving.

We gain a deeper appreciation of the message that we must wash the feet of everyone – yes, including the ones who would make horrible decisions and betray or deny us. They need our love, too.

Everyone deserves our love, especially those whom the “religious” people deem unworthy — tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers, the homeless, the beggars, the sick, the mentally ill, the despairing.

Love them because that’s what grace is about. None of us deserves grace to any degree, but all of us receive it in abundance every day, no questions asked.

Let’s choose to believe in love.

Away from the abyss


I came across the picture above on the internet. Something about it resonated with me, the way people were falling out of the church and into an abyss.

I held onto the picture, planning to write about how we need to be careful of where we worship because some places lead us not to a higher plane of love and compassion but into the abyss of hatred and self-righteousness.

I worked up an indignation over how so many “Christians” reject anyone who experiences God outside of their tiny theological boxes. How they want legal consent to hatefully shun others in Jesus’ name. How they insist we should turn away refugees – let them die over there, it’s too dangerous to save them over here.

And I just want to say: WTF? What’s That Faith?

A couple of things I saw while driving around recently also got under my skin. First, I came upon a pickup truck toting a trailer that berated everyone on the road who didn’t share their beliefs. On the truck bed was a videoboard playing gruesome scenes of crucifixion. You also notice a U.S. flag, an Israeli flag and a POW flag. Whatever.


A week later, I pulled up behind an SUV with this bumper sticker:


Jesus loves me more? Really??? What in God’s name is going on here? I totally get it why so many people call themselves spiritual but not religious these days.

Oh, and I haven’t even started on the white, evangelical “values voters” who decided to become disciples of someone who has lived an entire lifetime mocking and repudiating their values. The ones who heard him say that he’s the only one who can save them, and they were like: We’re good with that!

Out with the old savior, in with the new.

As you can tell, I’d worked myself into a nice, judgmental mood for an into-the-abyss blog.

And then, I had a come-to-Jesus moment.

A man who is friends with someone in my UCC church contacted me. He said he wanted to talk about God. We met at a Starbucks. He comes from a deeply fundamentalist background. I sensed that he was anxious.

WTF? What’s That Faith?

He started quoting scriptures about judgment and punishment, and I just wanted to get up and leave. But then it occurred to me why he was doing what he was doing. He’s terrified that his friend is going to hell because she belongs to a church that believes God actually loves us.

Fear. I sensed a deep fear in his tone.

He kept going, hoping that if he repeated his Bible verses enough times, he might convert me and then God might accept me and not eternally torture me. He was worried about me, too.

I was touched. And I felt so sad for this kind, caring, anxious man.

It reminded me of something Nadia Bolz-Weber said during her reflection on the parable of the prodigal son – you know, the story of how no matter what we do wrong, we get love and hugs and a party in the end.

Nadia tells how an 82-year-old woman posted a heartbreaking message on her public Facebook page saying that she was afraid of dying because she thought God was angry at her and was going to torture her.

This poor woman’s “religion” had made her terrified of God.

“She’d been so condemned by the bogus reward-and-punishment system of false religion that at the end of her life rather than her faith being a source of comfort for her, it was a source of torment for her,” Nadia says.

How horrible!

I felt the same way sitting in Starbucks across the table from a good man who has been taught that the most God-like people in his life weren’t good enough for God because they didn’t attend his church. He’d been told that God hates most everything about all of us but will grudgingly accept those who get baptized into his denomination. All the others — we get eternally waterboarded.

Can you imagine the anxiety it produced in him? Poor man! I felt so sorry for him.

This poor man!

In that moment, all my indignation – OK, some of my indignation – melted. I saw not a self-righteous person but, instead, a victim who’d been beaten up by his “religion” and left bleeding by the side of the spiritual road.

He didn’t need theological debate. Instead, he needed someone to offer compassion and reassurance and love and healing and peace and hope – all the things that his religion was denying him.

In other words, he needed what religion is supposed to do. It’s supposed to lead us upward to a higher place, directing us to love. Away from the abyss.

I really hope he finds his way up and out. He deserves that grace. As do we all.


A link to Nadia’s reflection: