Have you ever wondered what you would look like with a dirty mustache? You may have taken a dry-erase marker and drawn one on your mirror to get a look, or perhaps even purchased this thing.
I may have done it once or twice but usually I just utilize my own face hair to create creepy mustachios.
Villains have always loved their mustaches, and I have always loved to hate villains. It is easy to find villains in the history of the Church and I have long sneered at those Christians who participated in or were perhaps even responsible for things like the Crusades and the Inquisition, or the sale of Indulgences and the justification of slavery in America. My natural response to these situations is to assume that these people were not real Christians, motivated purely by greed or hate. I ad hominem them in my mind until I can squint my eyes and say, “see, these aren’t really Christians. Christians would never do something wicked like this.”
However, when we actually studied Chuch History (and not just to confirm the biases that I already have) I realized that things were not quite as simple as I had imagined. At the beginning of our semester, Marc Cortez warned us against this kind of self-righteousness that avoids seeing fault in ourselves and avoids seeing anything good in those we disagree with. He challenged us to see what we look like with the mustache of an American Christian slaveholder, or of a Dominican Inquisitor (okay, he really said “put yourself in their shoes” ,,,but mustaches!).
After an initial shudder of disgust, and imagining the whiskers getting stuck in your mouth when you take a bite of a sandwich, you take a real look at yourself. You notice pretty quickly that you look completely different than you used to…because you are completely different. You are in a different time and a different culture, with different challenges and different assumptions and different ways of thinking. You can’t understand owning another person or killing someone who you disagree with.
But after you get used to the differences you realize that you are still you. You see a passionate conviction of the truth of what Scripture teaches or a desire to protect from trusting in a false gospel because you care about their souls. You see a respect for your faith community and the consensus it has reached or a deep and biblical theology, long thought through in pursuit of knowing God and making him known.
Please don’t hear what I am not saying. These things were not okay. I am not proposing a full makeover and new jewelry for the pig, let alone lipstick and a gold snout-ring. Though we have taken the name of Christ, and make up his body, we are not always like him, and to forget that would be a terrible error. Some may need that reminder, but I have long been steering in the opposite direction. When faced with those whose actions I despise or whose thoughts I disagree with, I am quick to pat myself on the back and thank God that I am not like that poor tax collector. If we ever forget Solzhenitsyn’s lesson from his time in the Gulags, we are doomed to a life of self-righteousness and us vs. them in a world of Christ’s righteousness and me against me.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Join me in pursuing charity. Spend some time seeing what you look like with someone else’s mustache on your face, or if you’re really committed eat an entire sandwich with their mustache on before you criticize and condemn them. Try and understand why they did what to us is so obviously wrong. Name evil and label lies when you see them, but understand that we are not all that different from those who have gone before.