“Born This Way”

“You sir, are a wiggly worm sir, and the wiggly worm sir is the lowest of all the life forms . . .” Such was one of my favourite expression’s of my brother growing up which seems to have come from the Flintstones as far as I can tell. It also expresses a kind of Christian understanding that can often be found, what is sometimes referred to as “worm theology,” which basically holds that we are all worthless. With the advent of Advent we often look at John the Baptist and his call to repentance, which in many minds seems to support this idea of “woe is us, we are pathetic”:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9 NIV)

Not just wiggly worms, but snakes. This “worm” understanding of humanity stands in contrast to the kinds of understanding we find in culture around us. Consider the following lines from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”:

It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
‘Cause you were born this way, baby

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are
She said, ’cause He made you perfect, babe
So hold your head up, girl and you you’ll go far
Listen to me when I say

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, born this way

“You sir, are either not a wiggly worm sir, but are a superstar or if you are a wiggly worm sir, the wiggly worm is on par with any other life form . . .” Such calls in today’s society for acceptance feel world’s apart from the repentance we hear from John the Baptist. So what should the Christian do? Listen to such calls from culture for acceptance or to the call of John the Baptist (and Jesus!) for repentance? Should we see ourselves, and others, as all superstars? Or worms?

The first thing is to not jump to conclusions about God’s revelation (or Lady Gaga!). To say that the Bible promotes “worm theology” is to miss some crucial statements about our worth. First, consider that we are created in the image of God. Even after the fall God affirms the worth of humanity based on creation in His image as we see in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind” (NRSV) Also, consider Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NRSV). This cannot be translated as “like your neighbour as yourself,” but is much deeper with the idea of caring for your neighbour, that is, they are worth being cared for even if you don’t particularly like them. The same goes for yourself. The Bible is quite emphatic with a universal  “You sir, are not a wiggly worm, sir.”

However, the Bible holds this affirmation of self-worth in tension with a call to repentance: “You, sir, are not a wiggly worm sir, but you are acting like a snake, so stop it.” Interestingly, the vast majority of human beings believe that repentance, a change of mind and heart, is an important part of life. Even Lady Gaga’s song is a call to repentance: “Stop judging yourself.” Virtually no one who comes off with a statement like “we should love and accept everyone just as they are” will refrain from issuing a call to repentance to the accepted at some point. “I’m on the right track” from the aforementioned song would hardly apply in any thinking person’s mind to the racist, to the cold blooded murderer, to the abuser, to the school yard bully. No matter how far people delve into the spirit of self love, they do tend to believe in morality and hence in repentance. The question becomes from whence we get our moral standards, who sets the bar for repentance. This is a much easier question for the Christian to answer than a secularist for whom there really isn’t an answer. Jesus is the answer.

The Christian life is one of the tension between being “born this way,” that is, in the image of God and a person of worth; and being born into sin, that is, in need of repentance and the grace of God. The cross is a place of level ground, the worst of sinners also being a person of worth, the most righteous of saints also being a person who needs repentance. May that tension keep us from being judgemental  towards ourselves and others, but may it also help keep us “on the right track, baby.”