Many Christians keep themselves separate from certain aspects of modern life, perhaps fearing potentially corrupting influences. This type of careful Christian mainly seeks out people and opportunities that are most likely to reflect God's goodness, taking to heart various Bible verses like 1 Corinthians 15:33 – "Do not be deceived. Bad company ruins good morals."
But I don't believe God asks His followers to isolate themselves. Instead, we are called to joyously mix with others of all kinds, believers and non-believers alike, emulating Christ in order to perform one of a Christian's most powerful acts in praying for others.
In the age of cancel culture, it is more important than ever that we be a force for grace in the world. As society increasingly chooses sides and withdraws into closed circles of the like-minded only, we can play an important role – being among others, offering kindness, truth, and prayer instead of hate and rejection.
Several weekends ago, I attended singer-songwriter Jason Isbell's concert at The Boch Center in Boston. This date night with my husband offered me the honor of praying for strangers – opportunities I would not have had if I had decided that Isbell, a frequent Twitter user whose liberal views I often disagree with, is not a "suitable" destination for my entertainment dollars (or my time, interest, and attention). I could "cancel" him from my life because we disagree on certain issues.
But Isbell is, in fact, an important artist for my family. My oldest son, a hard-working musician in Tennessee, first turned us on to him, and our whole family now treasures his music; he is our family's "soundtrack." We have made memories around the fire singing along to his songs, and my son danced with his beautiful new bride to a Jason Isbell song, "If We Were Vampires," during their first dance at their wedding last month. I have watched this same son, standing under the lights of various stages, masterfully perform covers of Isbell's songs.
On the way to dinner before the show, clicking along the sidewalks in my boot heels and talking with my husband, I spied a homeless man kneeling on the sidewalk. He was old and dirty, with a matted gray beard and a crumpled cardboard sign that read, in a shaky pen, "I will take anything." It was his posture that caught my breath and stung my heart: head bowed low, thin arms outstretched, the pitiful supplicant, totally vulnerable to what each moment might bring.
The crowd swirled around him – bright, chaotic colors of excess and frivolity on a Saturday night. As I walked over to put all the cash I had in his plastic bucket (to my shame, it wasn't much), I whispered, "God bless you." He nodded. As I walked away and others stepped up to deposit cash and coins, my prayer was, "God, take care of him, he is Your child. Free him from poverty and danger." As a believer, connecting with the Creator on behalf of another is an honor, a sacred trust (I trust that God is listening), and a faith imperative.
During the show, Isbell and his amazing band, The 400 Unit, played one of their big hits, "Cover Me Up." A young man standing directly in front of me kept turning to look behind me, up the aisle of the darkened theater, trying to locate the young woman who had accompanied him. They had clung to each other for much of the show, lowering their facemasks a few times to kiss, making ghosts of the rest of us around them. Was he worried about her?
"Want me to go check the bathroom for her?" I asked him through my mask. Voice muffled through his own facemask, he answered, "I just want her to come back – this is our song. We played it at our wedding." Just like my son had a few weeks prior. His eyes were filled with that particular shine of young love; it was all ahead of him, as long as he had this gal by his side. She soon came back, rushing down the aisle to him, and fell into his arms. "God," I said, "give them many years of love, let their sorrows be few, their joys many."
And what of Isbell himself? Maybe I don't agree with his political views, but I can treasure what he offers while disagreeing sometimes. Isbell has very publicly shared his issues with alcoholism (he is now sober, and I recommend his song "It Gets Easier" to anyone struggling with alcohol), and his personal commitment is inspiring. "God, help Jason keep up the fight against drinking," I prayed. "Thank you for his gifts, and bless his family and his band."
As my grandma used to say, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. All are welcome. Christ said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:5) He then healed a blind man. The homeless man, the newlywed, and the rock star may be praying for people, too. In the mystery of faith, our prayers and our value are weighted the same and we stand equal, children loved by God. Acknowledgement and reciprocation of that greatest of loves is up to each one of us. So, believers: stay available, be of good cheer, and always, always pray.
Deirdre Reilly is a regular Faith contributor at crosswalk.com, and the author of the book, "The Pretend Christian: Traveling Beyond Denomination to the True Jesus."