- by Annie Mesaros -
“You know, what? I love you.” Only the Reverend Allen Belton seems to be able to get away with saying this upon meeting someone for the first time. Coming from any of the rest of us, it’s just weird and unconventional. And yet, as he arrived at this year’s Renewing Our Minds gathering for leadership and reconciliation in Fužine, Croatia, he just kept saying to everyone. People he’d never even met before.
“And you know how I can know that?” he asks next. “Because you are a designer original—made right in the image of God.”
It takes a very special, rather uninhibited person to light up a room with such wildly nonsensical declarations of love. That’s my excuse for not adopting this practice myself. But in reality, the more I consider Jesus the more I think it’s pretty much precisely what he expects of us. Whether in our speaking or our doing, this is exactly the message that should be coming across:
“You are a designer original. Made in the image of God. You are lovable. Loved. Lovely.”
Aside from the rare occasions when I see Allen, the only other time I really witness Christ-following folks allowing themselves to be unabashedly affectionate like this is when we baptize people. The vast majority of the baptisms I’ve experienced in my own faith community have been of babies and very young children. We acknowledge that baptism is a visible sign of the invisible reality that we belong to God. We affirm that these kiddos were intentionally formed by a loving, creative God and we promise to walk with them throughout their journey.
The only problem is that we stop saying (and maybe believing) it somewhere along the way. From my experience, it seems to go down hill when we start to get to know people. It’s one thing to love someone when you don’t have all the details. Jesus loves you—but WOW are you annoying at dinner parties. Jesus loves you—but you need to kick that addiction. Jesus loves you—but you’re sleeping with your boy/girlfriend and you’re not even sorry. Jesus loves you—but oh, you’re gay? (Wait. Really? I thought you just liked scarves.)
How can it be that in so many Jesus-loving communities, kids grow up and no longer fit in? We told them when they were babies that they were perfect, just the way they are. That they were created on purpose by a God who loves them. Does that change when they get older and grow into their identity? Or when they make unpopular decisions? Or encounter difficult circumstances?
I recently heard “mission” defined as our community’s purpose in the larger world around us. The person who said this—Carlton Deal of Brussels—suggests that this purpose is to be a reflection of God’s beauty and glory and to help others understand that they too are part of God’s grand design. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? So why is it so hard for us to put it into practice?
Life is messy, and it makes it difficult for us to love each other, or even pass along the message that Jesus loves each of us. It’s heartbreaking, but truthfully, I think we forget to say it to each other because we forget it’s true for ourselves. So let me tell you again, for real: You were created on purpose. Yes, the world can be a soul-sucking place and people may treat each other horribly, but that is not a reflection of you and it is not a reflection of how God feels about you.
Now go and spread the good news. Take a buddy with you.
. . .
Annie Mesaros aspires to be a writer known for being both thoughtful and hilarious. She attended Chapman University in Southern California, where several mentors nurtured her passion for social justice--particularly in the context of gender and sexual identity. From 2009-2010, Annie served in Papua, Indonesia, with the Mennonite Central Committee. Her assignment at a local women's center was mainly to facilitate conversations on gender issues in the community. After her time in Papua Annie returned home to Seattle, where she now works in the realm of church communications. She enjoys being back near her family and living with two fantastic roommates with whom there is never a dull moment.