Two months ago I was on a plane coming back from vacation. Settling in, I pulled the magazine out from the chair pocket in front of me.
I came across “I am @Sweden: One Country’s Exercise in Social-Media Democracy.” Sweden’s residents apply at curatorsofsweden.com. An application is selected each Monday and the chosen applicant, or curator, is responsible for a week’s worth of English tweets for the @Sweden account. As the marketing director for VisitSweden says, “Who better to tell you about Sweden than the Swedes?”
Sweden’s “exercise in social-media democracy” upholds freedom of speech and expression while promoting tourism and public relations—pretty neat to hear about a country from the very people living and working there. It’s a little risky too because Sweden never knows what the curator of the week will post. Sweden is a risk-taker. God is a risk-taker too. Actually, God is more of a risk-taker, because unlike Sweden, God knows what His curators will do before they even decide to do it.
My junior year of undergraduate work was spent at Northern Arizona University. That winter, Flagstaff, Arizona received more snow than Anchorage, Alaska. (Look up 2009 to 2010 winter. I am not exaggerating.) I grew up in Phoenix and did not realize how much I was going to detest living in snow. I took to drinking copious amounts of coffee/tea and spending the majority of my time curled up in an electric blanket.
Anyway, after Spanish one morning I made my way to the closest coffee shop on campus. I valued my sleep and the warmth of my bed, so breakfast and my morning cup of joe had not been the priority before class. With the prospect of both breakfast and coffee, I was practically skipping to the shop despite the snow-cold-wet.
As I got closer, my heart sank. A whole smack of people were hanging around outside. On a college campus, there is hardly any way to know which windows of time are the best for quick efficient service—you get lucky or you wait an eternity.
I soon realized they weren’t in line for coffee at all. A short, yelling man was perched on a sidewall and a few others were holding signs.
One of the signs read: REPENT
Another: PRAY & B SAVED
And: EVOLUTION is a LIE
Several other signs were lodged in a bank of snow near by showing similar statements.
Initially, I was merely thankful they were not all in line to get coffee. I made my way through the crowd and found the coffee queue, purchased a muffin and an extra big coffee, sat down and pulled out my homework. Half way through my cup of coffee and Spanish verb conjugations, a loud voice made me look up. A thirty-something in a nice suit was talking to the barista.
“Did you know there is a guy screaming at people out there? Do you know what he is saying?!” His eyebrows all but disappeared into his hairline and coffee sloshed from his cup to the floor as he gestured toward the window.
The barista said something I couldn’t hear and the nice-suit-man continued.
“He told me to pray or go to hell…so I just told him, I said, ‘Man, listen, if I ever decide to pray I’ll be sure to do that, but I think you are the one who needs to pray.’”
I looked around. Almost everyone in the coffee house was looking outside or listening to the barista and Nice-Suit. Some of the baristas began to neglect their posts, going outside to watch. I tried to get back to my verbs.
Ser: fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, f—
I couldn’t pretend to focus anymore. I scribbled down this memory in the margin of my conjugation sheet, chucked it into my notebook, and went outside. Short-yelling-man’s face was contorted as he waved a Bible around in the air. I walked toward the crowd, which had tripled, and stood off to the side to observe.
Bible-Brandisher was yelling something about us being “pornographers and hopeless sinners.” We “desperately need to pray and hope God would decide against sending us to hell.”
Recently, a curator for @Sweden was criticized for posts with anti-Semitic slants—among other questionable and potentially offensive posts. Twitter has been working to prevent and squash similar postings. As for Sweden, the country has not altered their decision to trust its people with @Sweden. The social media manager insists, “It is very important for us to let everyone take a unique viewpoint.”
My winter at NAU, someone representing the Kingdom of God told dozens of people they were hopeless sinners, possibly beyond God’s desire to save them. All over the world (past, present and future) such and worse is done or said in the name of Christianity. The curator for @Sweden misrepresented an entire country. We misrepresent Jesus and the nature of God. What may begin as a genuine desire to share the gospel becomes an alienating and harmful quest to indoctrinate others. And if the theology differs however minutely, one is not Christian and his/her very salvation is in question.
It is so human for such a healing message to become so hurtful—and we don’t even have to try. We are human. We are going to do things all the time to misrepresent Jesus and hurt each other because we aren’t perfect. We aren’t Jesus. In our striving to be like Him, the deviation from healthy to harmful can be so subtle.
The beeline I made for coffee that morning at NAU could have been construed as a misrepresentation of the gospel. I cared more about getting my coffee than what was going on outside and who it was hurting—at least initially. My preoccupation with coffee that morning was not, I don’t think, detrimental to the gospel. What I am saying is this: misrepresentation of Jesus Christ can be as active as demonstrations of un-love or as lazy as our routines, our desires for the moment.
What a courageous God! Our God is undaunted by the certainty of our running amok. He gave us free will, not in the chance that we might misrepresent Him, but in knowing that we would. What courageous love.
In God’s place, I cannot say I could do the same. I am constantly discovering old and comfortable ways I have been misrepresenting Christ—all of us misrepresent Him one way or another. There is no way to avoid it—we are a wounded people—but we can choose to be love. Even after we have screwed something up in our un-love, we can still choose love.
Love’s opposite can be a tricky and frustratingly difficult thing to avoid: everything promoting envy, pride, boastfulness, self-interest, rudeness, the dishonoring of others and keeping tally of infractions. Un-love is everything that does not foster patience, kindness, hope, trust, or slowness to anger. Un-love creeps up on us, becoming so interwoven in our everyday we fail to notice, and in such a way becomes part of who we are.
But through Him, God calls us to a new way of being and interacting. God calls us to seek love: an ever-protecting and persevering love—a love that, even in the immense wake of our un-love, never fails.