Last night we had some interesting talkback in both PMs about my example of “hosting” our subway station at Broad and Ellsworth. I told what I thought was a humorous story that showed how hard it was for me to practice my convictions — I greeted a young woman in the station and then watched her remove herself to the far reaches of the platform. This struck a nerve in a few women. The nerve seemed reminiscent, to me, of a recent viral video of a woman walking silently through New York City for ten hours and enduring over 100 comments from men as she silently made her way.
Some women were quick to defend their need to protect themselves from the constant barrage of harassment they experience. Men chimed in too, and defended their need to stay anonymous so they were not constantly preyed upon by people trying to get some money off them. Other women noted that they felt free to talk to whoever they chose in public and did not experience the same level of fear. Some men added that they felt responsible to be present on the street so forces aligned with evil did not have free reign. It was a stimulating evening
I was moved back to Romans 12 as I thought about it:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3
The same grace is not given to everyone — in specific ways, at least. Some people will always feel safer than others based on the way they relate to God and based on the way they related to their parents in their earliest years when they were forming how they see the world. We are quite different in the grace we are given, yet each of us has value according to the grace we have been given. The fact that we are different yet valued is another reason to not judge what we hear from people too quickly. It is also a good reason for not making principles out of the way we experience the world, but to keep soberly judging ourselves according to our faith.
When it comes to how we navigate the threatening streets of Philadelphia (or even the threatening experiences of being in a church meeting!) some of us will feel safer than others — but I think Jesus is calling all of us to feel saved. Some of us will be less likely to take risks; some of the risks certain people take will not even seem like risks to others — but we are all called to be brave because we are saved even when we are not safe.
At the 7PM I used Mother Teresa as an example of one of the saints we should note on All Saints Day who exemplified radical hospitality. Mother Teresa was famous for saying, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” I think she often felt uncared for and in danger herself. But she took great risks, along with her sisters and other other helpers, to exercise the faith she was given.
Does this mean everyone should host the subway station? Yes. But according to the grace they have been given. The woman in the video experiencing harassment in New York, was being filmed by a companion who walked with her all day — good idea. Expecting perfect freedom to be alone in this fallen dark world is unrealistic, whether you are a woman or a man. No one can do anything of God without Jesus by his or her side and apart from their brothers and sisters. Our safety is in being saved.
Should all Jesus followers have the wherewithal to act with confidence in every threatening situation? Yes. But according to the grace they have been given and within the community they have been given. The society is trying to keep individuals safe by legislating boundaries and organizing speech; it relies on laws not grace. Paul suggests that relying on law alone is a defeat of grace. Rather than protecting one’s rights and demanding safety, it would speak more of trust to be wronged (1 Cor. 6:7)! Laws are relevant, but they are not God. Our safety is in being saved.
I wish you a day filled with confidence born of faith, not mere safety born of whatever justice the world might give you or whatever freedom from others your own cleverness might win you. I wish you “sober judgment” that recognizes the grace of God at work in you and that gives you the joy of being saved, even when you are not completely safe.