Opinion Article published Feb. 14, 2011
It happened a few weeks ago, and I was sitting in the congregation of my home church. We experience joy together, and the discomfort of pain and grief, together, but it’s rare when we feel uncomfortable together. But this particular morning, as I sat near the front of the sanctuary, uncomfortable-ness swept across the room. And it was because our pastor had just said, “You are the light of the world!”
He was quoting Jesus. So why did everyone’s ears prick and their postures stiffen? Because somehow in this religion we have let the pendulum swing us so far that we believe that Jesus is good, and we are bad, and Jesus saves us from our bad selves. But we don’t seem to accept the following logic that if Jesus saves us from our badness, if he makes us good, then we are good.
Our pastor then proceeded to make us say aloud with him: “We are the light of the world. We are the light of the world…” Over and over we said it, looking around making sure other people were saying it too, exchanging glances meaning “is this really ok?”
Even typing it, I feel blasphemous. Me? I am surely not the light of the world. I’m a sinner. A liar. A thief. A luster. A hater. A judger. A wounded and broken soul who has felt dirty ever since my first memories. But I am not a light, let alone the light of the world. You’ve got the wrong girl. That’s still my initial reaction. I can point you to the light that I call Jesus, but I cannot be the light.
That’s the lie. That’s the lie that I have bought and that the church has bought. And I know it’s a lie, because as my pastor pointed out, Jesus says to his disciples “You are the light of the world.” And if I am a disciple of Christ, if I have him living in me, then I am the light, too.
The first time someone told me something like this (I mean really told me, not just quoted scripture to me), it wasn’t someone I knew, and they weren’t even talking to me. His name was Rob Bell, and he was in this short video series with a weird name: NOOMA.
I remember it well, though. I was a sophomore in high school. My older sister had died about a year before, and I was struggling with the idea that God could make any sort of beauty come from the ashes of my life. I believed in God, I just wasn’t sure about his ability to do anything with me.
The particular video was called “Dust.” If you haven’t seen the video, it’s about 15 minutes worth of footage of this kind of odd looking guy talking about the history of how a Jewish Rabi would traditionally accept disciples as his followers. And then he talked about how weird and backward it was that Jesus, a Jewish Rabi, would come and choose fisherman to be his disciples. These men are drop-outs, failures, not fit to be anywhere in the Jewish leaders circle. But He chooses them anyway.
Then Rob talks about the scene where Jesus is walking on water, and Peter comes out onto the water with him, and then begins to sink. (This is the very summarized version… you really should watch the video.)
Peter, the drop out, the failure, the not-good-enough-to-follow-a-rabi-guy gets out on the water and begins to doubt God’s ability to use him. Jesus isn’t sinking. Peter has faith in Jesus, but like sophomore-year me, he doesn’t have faith in Jesus’ ability to do something with his broken, not-good-enough life.
That’s the first NOOMA video I ever watched, and it changed my life. Honestly. But it also happens to be the one I’ve heard and read the most criticism on from the Rob-Bell-is-a-heretic group. The critics are the defenders of the lie that we have bought –the lie that the church can only point to the light of the world. But friends, it is a lie.
Jesus trustingly left everything— his ministry, his truth, his light— in the hands of the disciples. And if you want to follow this Rabi named Jesus, if you want to be his disciple, then you have to start accepting the fact that God believes in you, and wants to use you. If Rob Bell can be the voice that makes people believe in God’s ability to use them, then I’m sorry for those that are against him and this truth, because they may just miss out on being used by God, too.