Tommy Rettig was the cute child actor who played the part of Jeff Miller in the first three seasons of the TV show “Lassie”. In an interview before his death, Tommy reflected on the time of his life between ending acting and carving out a new role and identity in life. He says “It was the worst period of my life. I had all this gigantic acceptance as a kid, and all of a sudden there was this monumental rejection.” Not all of us suffer this sort of extreme swing yet we all yearn for acceptance. As Christians, acceptance is at the heart of what we believe.
People strive at three levels to find acceptance: first, acceptance from God; second, acceptance of self and third, the acceptance of other people.
In religion, including atheism, people strive for acceptance from God. Most do this by going to a place of worship, doing good deeds, giving generously and so on. Atheists solve the problem of acceptance by dis-believing. If there is no God, they argue, then there’s no point in striving for acceptance.
Then there’s self-esteem, the term given for what is better called self-acceptance. The gurus of self-esteem will tell you to get a better education, a better job, a healthier body, a more fashionable appearance, a proper work-life balance and a good relationship. Yet all of these things are like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They never satisfy our sense of self-acceptance.
- And when it comes to relationships, people seek and find acceptance by being like one another. The same interests, personality, background, culture, religious practice, morality or amount of wealth. Like attracts like and acceptance is conditional.
In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul addresses the matter of acceptance in a church where Jewish Christian believers, with all their high morals, had to mix with Roman Christian believers who were fresh from a culture of naked saunas, orgies, drinking, eating to excess, simply living for pleasure. It was like a church with members of the guild of flower arrangers in twin-sets and pearls meeting clubbers just back from a month on Ibiza, but converted to Christ by beach missionaries. How can these two groups accept one another?
The letter to the Romans is set out in four sections:
- Acceptance from God (Chapters 1-4)
- Acceptance of self (Chapters 5-8)
- What about the Jews who won’t accept Christ (Chapters 9-11)
- Acceptance of one another (Chapters 12-16)
The letter has two great bookends, two verses which sum up the theme of the letter:
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints…I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. Romans 1:7-8
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:7
In the next three issues of “From the Vicarage” I will write on this issue of acceptance in Romans. May 2012 be the year of a greater and greater sense of acceptance, from God, of self and of each other, in Christ.
With love, Neil