A Tree and its Fruit
(Matthew 12:33-37; Luke 6:43-45)
15Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.
I was told growing up to beware the false prophets. Beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Beware the World; it will look like life but it will lead to ultimate death.
If we follow that logic, life within the church–within Christ– should lead to ultimate life. When you’re in Christ, it’s supposed to give you hope for the future. You’re supposed to be able to look forward with anticipation.
Somehow ironically, I ended up suicidal and broken.
My church, and perhaps many others of evangelical conservative faith, will claim that it’s not the church’s fault. If I’m not feeling the hope of the spirit, then my faith isn’t strong enough. Or maybe I’m not “in Christ”, as I claim to be.
The fun thing about all of this is that I followed all of the rules. For 20 years, I was a good evangelical girl. I attended ALL of the church things. I knew all the creeds and sang all of the songs. But some of the worst moments, the worst feelings, the worst thoughts I had about myself came from teachings I learned within the church walls.
Maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe that’s my cross to bear, I thought. After all, we’re supposed to reject ourselves–our own ideas and pleasures– and listen for God’s plan.
Perhaps it was just my denomination, but I grew up with an ultra focus on how humans were despicable to the core. Total depravity, was the buzzword. And we were all supposed to accept this. We were rotten, disgusting, prone to every sin in the book, riddled with every soul-disease imaginable. Any thought, any action, that came from within ourselves, was pure evil. Only thoughts, actions, and words that came from God were pure and good.
I might be oversimplifying, but I am not exaggerating. This belief was the heartbeat of the church; at the core of every message. The idea was that God is so good; if you bury yourself and lift him up, you’ll be just fine.
But in order to bury yourself, you have to kill yourself.
This wasn’t a suicide cult. But I found myself as a young person thinking more than once, “if the afterlife is so good, and if now is so bad, why can’t I just go?”
But like everything else, suicide was a sin too. It looked grim, as a young person, stuck in a world of hating myself. Hating myself because that was what God required. God didn’t want us to glorify ourselves. We weren’t supposed to love ourselves. That was what the World told us to do. We were different. We were cross-bearers.
And so I just kept hating myself.
What was the fruit of this?
The fruit of this wasn’t the glorification of God. As I made myself less and less, a change came over me. I became resentful of my peers. It bred insecurity; my confidence crumbled. I made myself small, skipping lunches in favor of grueling workouts in the summer heat, desperately trying to diminish the space I was taking up on earth.
I hated my body. My pale skin, my widening thighs. I hated my voice. I hated my heart, how it led me to dead ends in the arms of lovers that I could never keep.
I hated the fakeness of it all. I hated the faux compassion from the pulpit after a sermon of condemnation. I hated the smiles of elders who preached we were to hate ourselves. I hated that they got to go home to their families; their loving nuclear families that they were allowed to have because they were God’s chosen.
Maybe I just wasn’t chosen. My heart felt walled and guarded. When I looked to the future that God was supposed to have planned for me, I saw nothing. Felt nothing. I cut my skin to try to feel something. I cut my skin to try to get rid of the badness, or maybe to get the outside to reflect the badness that I felt within. The badness that I was told we all had.
I exited my teens, fragile and broken by the religion that had raised me, looking for a hint of kindness among the evangelical at college and finding nothing but judgement and anger.
When someone committed suicide, the language changed only slightly. ‘It was a waste,’ they called it. ‘A grievous misunderstanding of God’s plan for their life. They were unable to see the love that God had for them. They couldn’t understand that they were precious to God; God’s beautiful creation.’
I guess you have to die to be glorified.
The whole thing is morbid, really, and I guess this whole religion, at its core, is rather morbid.
But the story doesn’t end with a crucified Christ and a sealed tomb. The darkness only lasts until the morning. Somehow that message has been lost.
Christ brings hope to the hopeless. Comfort to the hurting. Christ brings life to things that were once dead. We may have been depraved, but now we are glorified through Christ. It’s a game-changer.
Yes, some need to hear a humbling message. But overall, especially to young people, and during times which seem so dark, we need to hear the gospel. The good news of Christ. And that good news isn’t that we are supposed to bury ourselves. We are to lift up ourselves. Lift up ourselves and each other in the name of Christ and go.
Maybe if someone had told me I was beautiful, I would have one less scar. Maybe if someone had glorified us, as young people, more of us would have stuck around. Maybe if someone had told me that God loves me, just as I was, no matter what, I would have spent my teenage years looking upward to God instead of inward at the body I despised.
Because the truth is, friends, where there is God, there is life. When I picture what life looks like in a church setting, it isn’t what I was brought up to believe it was. It’s not numbers, or children, or activities. It is simply people thriving. Thriving. Not surviving. Not coping. Thriving.
Over the years I’ve grown to recognize that while the evangelical church in which I was raised considers their view on the Bible the ultimate and sole correct view, this view produces bad fruit. It produces hurt and pain. It pushes people out instead of drawing them in. It tears people down instead of building them up. It does not produce life. Instead, in my case, it nearly produced death.
As my heart settles into a wider understanding of myself and of God, I realize now that good fruit comes from my new congregation, from the liberal Christians on twitter, from the faithfully LGBT community, and many others. Good fruit like the comfort and acceptance of the trans boy at my youth group. Good fruit like the lesbian who almost lost her faith being invited to lead worship. Good fruit like young people being encouraged to ask weird questions. Good fruit like pastors speaking out against injustice to a congregation of white rich people, and them listening.
Beware the false prophets. By their fruits you will recognize them.