I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, but I can’t seem to come up with a hooky opening. (Or title.) Maybe that means there isn’t one. Maybe I just have to write it and hope you’ll all read it, even without a hook.
During a discussion of Henri Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved” a year or two ago, I had this moment in which God pried my brain open and I understood something so liberating, it was almost dizzying.
My whole life, I’ve looked at sin as falling down in a pit of muck.
But in that moment, I had a vision of sin as tripping over rocks while hiking up a steep mountain with a glorious view at the end.
Most of the time, we talk about sin as a huge, inescapable reality: a systemic failure to which we’re inevitably and forever doomed as part of our humanity. We can fight it and fight it, but we’re always going to get dragged down into that muck again, because that’s who we are.
It had never before occurred to me to look at discipleship and the Christian life as a lifelong hike up a beautiful mountain whose pinnacle is Heaven. Of course you’re going to get tired along the way. Of course you’re going to slip and trip. Mountain climbing involves rocks and uneven ground.
The difference between these two perspectives is profound. In one, we view ourselves as mud dwellers. It’s our natural state of being.
In the other, we view ourselves as good people seeking to be better. Even when we trip and fall, we get up and keep going. Notice I didn’t say “get up and try again,” as if we’re running on a treadmill sunk in the mud and will never be anywhere other than in the mud.
No. I said we get up and keep going. We acknowledge that we fell down, but we brush ourselves off and keep heading for the heights.
This is a tremendously liberating thought. It takes away the hopelessness of sin. I still recognize my need for mercy—the fact that tripping on the way up the mountain doesn’t get me kicked off the mountain is a grace I can never fully comprehend. On Earth, after all, tripping up is routinely used as grounds for getting kicked out.
But because I belong to God and God is my end point, sin doesn’t have to define me. I can see myself as beloved. As worthy of receiving mercy. I can see hope for getting farther up the mountain, closer to God.
And if I see myself this way, I can learn to see others this way, too.
If I see myself and everyone else basically as mud dwellers, then Pope Francis’ quote makes no sense.
We Christians have a tendency to take an all-or-nothing view of things. When we see what we perceive to be weeds growing in the field, we filter out any fruit those people might be bearing. If the fruit is being produced by someone who doesn’t look like we think Godliness is supposed to look, we don’t want it, thank you very much.
But “weedy” people have gifts and wisdom and worth to offer, too. Thank God, nobody has to be perfect to have a place in God’s Church. And if we go around making a big list of things you have to do to be “good enough” to belong, then we’re driving away the people we’re supposed to bring to Christ.
And who’s to say that one of these days, that “weedy” person won’t be the one offering us the hand up on that steep, difficult climb toward God?