A Lesson From An Atheist

Our differences are stark:
He’s a “man’s man who don’t need no woman.” I’m every type of tomboy imaginable but I still look for sentimentality in stupid places and love leaning on the man of my heart.

My friend is an atheist. I’m a Christian. 
He thinks I need more rights as a woman. I couldn’t disagree more.

He’s black. I’m so white I’m translucent.

He can’t stand “the system.” Though it rubs against my every day activities, I’ve learned to roll with the punches unless it’s biblically and morally uncalled for.

Our similarities crack me up:

We both love to argue.

We both like to argue.

In case you missed it, we both love to argue.

We both know how to source our facts.

We both hate politics, but our shared desire for justice makes most of our conversations about things we need to see change in this country.

There is nothing more comical than putting a determined atheist in a friendship with a stubborn follower of Jesus Christ. Many o’ times, one of us (usually me) calls a time out on our heated arguments about Jesus, religion, women’s rights, marriage, children and every other hot topic because our friendship matters more than our opinions. Too many times, I’ve wandered into the Throne Room screaming, “Why, Jesus?!” when the arguments can’t end on agreeable terms. I’ve been told a time or two this guy would love it if he could just program me to “get it.”

No matter how much our differences heat us up, though, we stop when our respect for each other is threatened. I have my boundaries, he has his. Crossing those boundaries is not allowed, especially if we feel like the other person’s value is undermined because of our disagreement. It’s acceptable to be passionate about something the other person is not. It’s also acceptable to shut up for a while. It’s even acceptable to decide talking till you agree isn’t worth sacrificing the friendship itself.

It is not acceptable, however, to devalue another person or attempt to strip them of their opinion because it makes you uncomfortable. 

Being acclaimed as right is nice, I’ll give you that. But sometimes, the people that are able to stand strongly by simply living out their views in how they treat others will leave the most impact.

Feet Showed Me Jesus

I’ve washed a lot of people’s feet. I don’t like feet. 

Usually, out of the two main “foot-washing passages” in the Bible, it’s easiest for me to grasp the Biblical account of Jesus washing John’s feet in John 13. It’s humbling, sure. The Creator and perfect Savior washed an imperfect man’s feet. That’s hard to swallow… But because we’re used to talking about the unimaginable grace of Jesus, it’s still understandable. 

But then, we get the story of Mary Magdalene washing Christ’s feet in Luke 7. Mary Magdalene the Prostitute. Mary Magdalene the sinner. Mary Magdalene the outcast… She washed Christ’s feet. 

She wasn’t a servant whose only job was to clean guests’ feet. She wasn’t even supposed to touch men for fear of contaminating them. But Jesus… Jesus let her wash his feet. Not only did he let her wash his feet… She used her hair. Who knows where that filthy wretch had been? 

Two accounts of service. I’d much rather put myself in the shoes of the humbled disciple than the humiliated, repentant whore. 

Usually, foot-washing is a sweet, simple reminder of Christ’s willingness to serve us. The Greater serves the lesser. He never turned down a chance to serve someone as a way to encourage unity. Usually, I wash a fellow congregant’s already-clean feet just as a symbol of that. It’s easy, it’s short and easily forgotten. I’ve been a part of a church that does feet-washing since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. 

In all honesty, though, I don’t remember any of those people I’ve “served.” 

I do, however, remember the time(s) God whispered to my heart at the stupidest of times, “Change of plans. Get on your knees. Take their shoes off and wash their feet. I asked you to serve them once and instead you served yourself. Show them what it means to serve when you let Me take over.”

It was in that moment I knew I had stopped praying for that particular person because my shame was larger than my desire to serve. Any time I started a prayer, it felt impossible to finish. Pray for him? I had hurt him! I can’t bless him by praying for him and act like my sin had never impacted him.

So, I got down on my knees and showed my own heart what it meant to serve as a gateway to reconciliation. It wasn’t humiliating, but it was indeed humbling. It wasn’t life-changing, but it was heart-changing. I have no idea if he understood why washing his feet was my only option… But I had to wash his feet. 

Often, we’re called to do crazy things in order to instigate reconciliation within the Body of Christ. I struggle to do many of those things (like washing an unsuspecting man’s feet!) if I can’t see the end result. If I can’t guarantee my act of service, humility, or courage will heal a wound, why put myself out there in the first place? What if it doesn’t work? What if I’m made an even bigger fool? 

What if God got it wrong?

Or, is it possible that’s not the issue? Could it be an act of obedience to encourage reconciliation is counted as a success because of how it changes our hearts, not the person we’re serving? 

Still Not a Feminist

I grew up in a culture that only proved one thing: Women are objects. Blessedly, I got a reprieve from that image and belief system any time I walked into my church… But those mixed messages got confusing. While working in retail, I would get suggestive “proposals” all the time. I learned quickly I existed for “harmless” conversations and a man’s desire to live dangerously without getting caught. Anytime I tried defending my value, my job got threatened.

Go equality.

When I bemoaned the harshness of my world to a fellow Christian, he cried harder than I did. We had both been subjected to perspectives of our value no young adult ever should. My friend quite simply squeezed my hand and muttered, “I’m so, so sorry, Cass. Men are… Well, you know.”

Trying desperately to get control of my heart, I asked cryptically, “Why don’t men step up for women anymore? Why is it so easy for value to fall between the cracks? What have I done wrong?”

In a moment of bravery, he replied, “Any time people like me try to stand up for you, you claim independence, act offended and throw my God-given right to protect you to the wind. I may have fallen short, Cass, but your unwillingness to challenge me to do better confuses me as a man of God. I’ll always love you, but I think you’ve completely misunderstood what mutual love between a brother and sister in Christ is supposed to look like.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. Currently, this friend and I see each other once a year and maybe talk every couple months. But he struck a cord in my heart that scared me into action. I may be a woman who can stand on her own, but somehow my, “daggum, I can do it myself” attitude spiritually confused and hurt the men in my life more than I ever thought possible. 

Men are divinely created to protect, serve and provide. When we as women push that piece of the puzzle to the side in order to prove our independence, life gets sticky for the men we interact with. God tells them to do very specific things. We often times make it impossible for them to do it. 

In the last three years especially, I’ve had to learn that allowing myself to be served (when appropriate) is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is a sign of strength that I am confident in my role as a woman and able to put aside my need to prove myself in order to bless my brothers in Christ. 

It’s funny, though. Initially, I felt like I was being the “bigger person” by letting guys do the little things like open doors, help me with my coat, or even protect me in weird social situations. Kind of like a, “Here Kiddo, you need something to do” way. But after awhile, I saw my relationships with the men in my life take on a deeper mutual level of friendship and respect. 

Like it or not, Christian or not, women were made for men; men were not made for women. The moment we as women come to terms with that Divine plan, and learn how to be secure in our identity as the helpmeet of men (not necessarily the main attraction), the more valuable our roles in society can be. 

It’s not about equality. It’s about seeing God’s hand in both gender roles and loving unconditionally because we need each other.