“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
I have been thinking about this verse for the better part of a year. Most of the time, I find this scripture inviting me to practice hospitality in a radical way. To me, this verse says that the very act of welcoming another human being into our midst, into our space, into our bubble, is to make room for the very Savior of the World. Maybe what this means is that to practice welcoming those whom we find different, strange, or even foreign is a spiritual practice — one that can allow us to draw nearer to how Jesus would experience difference. Maybe it's even a spiritual practice that will allow us to encounter the living God in the other (see Galatians 2:20).
Numerous authors have detailed how seeing Christ in the other, the disinherited, or the foreigner, is, in fact, a biblical command. These authors focus on how establishing a welcoming posture toward the stranger honors the presence of the Creator within each living being.
Writer Rozella Haydée White takes this one step further; she says that when we neglect to welcome the stranger into our midst, or even, “when we refuse to see the image of the Divine in the other … we engage in the ongoing crucifixion of God.” (Haydée White, 59) This provides us with a powerful image, one that indicts even those of us who choose to love our neighbor. Yet, Haydée White says that loving our neighbor — at least in the direct sense — is not enough. Instead, we should attempt to see Christ indiscriminately embodied in every human. After all, we are each made in the image of God (imago Dei; for more on this I would recommend Genesis 1:27 and W.J. Jennings’ Christian Imagination).
Understanding God as being present in each human life has been a critical development of Christian thought. It is an idea that can promote resistance to harmful theologies and allow for a more graceful worldview. Consequently, seeing Christ in the other can have drastic implications. While the significance of this idea shouldn’t be overlooked, we ought not neglect reflecting on what Christ’s ubiquitous presence means for the relationship that we have with ourselves.
If we are all made in the image of God, this means too that Christ resides in you. For many of us — including myself — this is the sticky bit. It can seem simple to love others, while it feels impossible to see Christ in ourselves.
Yet just as loving the other is a Biblical commandment, we are also called to recognize our own worthiness.
In the midst of being asked to love what is external to us, scripture tells us that Christ is made known in our bodies (Colossians 1:27). What gravity this carries for those of us who profess belief in Christ: that in each moment we not only have the opportunity to witness Christ in the other, but also in the very fabric of our own being.
By recognizing that Christ can be found internally, welcoming the various aspects of ourselves may be a way to build a deeper sense of intimacy with the Savior of the World. When we take time to care and know ourselves, perhaps we are also nurturing Christ’s presence in us. This, though, doesn’t address the part of us that we would rather get rid of. Is Christ present in those pieces? Maybe.
I think, probably, yes.
The Sticky Bit
I began my coming-out journey as a queer person in 2018. I was a first-year in College and didn’t really know where to begin. At the time, I believed my queerness was wrong, and needed to be “solved”. In my mind, life would be much simpler as a heterosexual human. But, there was also this sense in me, something almost ethereal, pushing me to get closer to my queerness. Confused? So was I.
So, I sought out professional support to get thoughts out of my head and into the world. During this period, I was introduced to a model of psychotherapy known as Internal Family Systems (IFS). As I continued my journey and spent more time trying to understand all the various components of myself (and their relationships to my queerness), I was beginning to realize that the inner tension I felt was normal. There just were different parts responding to my queerness, some wanted to protect me, and others wanted to come out immediately.
I also began to understand that my parts are each unique. Each part ranges in age, disposition, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and fears. They can help protect me, adapt to change, and influence how I see the world. Unfortunately they can also seek to banish certain parts that appear unwelcome. But each part has something to offer us.
The book of 1 Corinthians teaches us that the body is composed of many members, each having something to contribute. It also teaches us that parts which we would rather get rid of are indispensable.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” _On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable …” (1 Corinthians 12:21-22 NRSV)
While the writer is considering the body of Christ, maybe too they are considering our internal space as human beings made in Christ’s image. In this way, one part cannot say to my queerness: “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, this verse would seem to suggest that my queerness is an indispensable member of my internal community.
This must be one of the radical features of the Gospel: for Christ to invite everything (and everyone) out of exile and into belonging.
What does this mean? One possibility is that the Bible and Brené Brown are more alike than I thought. Another is that maybe rather than banishing those aspects that appear to be weaknesses, we are called to welcome them into our midst. This possibility requires that we lean forward into intimacy with the parts of us that scare us.
By leaning towards intimacy, and by cultivating relationships with our internal community, we are invited to practice self-compassion and grace differently. Maybe this practice will reveal to us Christ’s character more intimately, and maybe too this will result in us becoming more aware of just how strongly the spirit clings to our hearts. First though we will be asked to consider what parts we have exiled when they are, in fact, indispensable.
Perhaps by practicing to love our own complex, messy, internal community unconditionally, we can begin to love the parts of the body of Christ unconditionally too.
Jacob Boettcher (he/him) is a Senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Among his deepest influences are Howard Thurman, Esther de Waal, Dorothee Sollee, and poet Tony Hoagland. Jacob spent this summer interning with Church Anew. You can find him on instagram: @jacob.boettcher.
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