Fighting The Plague Of Exclusion
Today, I remembered something I read as part of a class I took on the Middle Ages many moons ago when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at Florida State University.
We were studying how the many plagues that ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages affected the way people viewed outsiders, and how those views morphed into practices that eventually paved the way for wars, violent atrocities and genocide.
In Medieval France, many town officials began hiring mercenaries to guard the roads leading in and out of their town to keep people in the town from leaving and to prohibit anyone new from coming in.
Some of the towns created "pest houses" where those who were sick with the plague would be taken and treated---basically confined until they got better or died.
The most drastic measures were instituted at Troyes where anyone who got sick, along with their relatives were banned from the town for three months and their homes were burned to the ground.
These same villages and towns also began imposing stricter conditions on lepers, the poor any one who was homeless or considered a vagrant, and then eventually any stranger they wanted to keep out.
Fear can be a powerful motivator when we start deciding who is in and who is out, am I right? Fear can take what appears to be a reasonable person and turn them into a monster.
When I was young, the faith communities that we were a part of thrived on fear. Fear was the undercurrent that powered them. Fear galvanized them, kept them, guarded them and empowered them.
We were taught to be wary of people who were different, those who might tempt us to do wrong, people of other faiths, races, sexual identities... anyone who was considered by us to be "unsaved" or "lost."
The only people you could really trust, we were basically led to believe, were ones just like us... It wasn't enough for us to say that we were Christians, because we believed that lots of people claimed to be Christians, but weren't really saved.
We knew we were saved because we'd prayed the Sinners Prayer, and accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior and then we did everything we could to be separate from "the world," and then we reveled in the fact that we were going to spend eternity in Heaven when we died.
All those other people... they were going to Hell.
It's remarkable how quickly we can mark people, identify them as contaminated and then put them into the various categories that we've created---categories that ultimately decide in our mind who is in and who is out... who is included and who is excluded... who is loved by God and who isn't.
And it's an exhausting way to live---always guarded, ready to argue, fearful and defensive.
It's no wonder that things have gotten so divisive in our society. Fearful people become weary and worn down, and when they are weary and worn down they lash out at whatever is making them afraid--or at whoever is making them afraid.
Those of us who follow Jesus are called to live better than this. The Apostle Paul once wrote that as Christians, we were not given a spirit of fear, but of peace and a sound mind. We don't have to spend our energies worrying about who is in and who is out.
I love this quote by Bob Goff that I read the other day:
We don't have to burden ourselves by wondering who's in and who's out because God already told us: [God] wants us all.That's such a beautifully simplistic way of seeing this, isn't it? Every single one of us is created in God's image, loved by God, desired by God, cherished by God... all of us. It's not God's will that any of us should be lost.
We aren't the arbiters of God's grace. God is. We don't get to decide who spends eternity with God or not. God is in charge of that.
And we deny the very image of God within us when we deny it in others by relegating them to negative spaces, pushing them away from us, driving them out of our communities out of fear.
May you rest in the sure and certain knowledge that God is God and you are not, and you don't have to worry about who is in or who is out when it comes to God... you merely have to love people... that's it.
May you find moments to do just that today, and every day forward. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.