The Mothers by Kathe Kollwitz, 1919
Another shooting. At this point which one am I even talking about – all of them. Of people in their places of worship. They keep coming, these incidents. And every life taken is an entire world.
There was a shooting at a synagogue in California, and here the murderer specifically cited his reformed faith. Now the very conservative branch he grew up in, I had never even heard of, sounds like a place I probably would not be comfortable in. But for most people I know that walk a strange hybrid of evangelical/reformed faith, his words about what he believed would have sounded very familiar. If you read the articles about the shooting and the shooter, you’ll see he then wrote about how his faith, somehow informed or at least did not stop, this act. (also read this important article from American church historian, Jemar Tisby, on this event too)
It’s very easy to say this guy was mentally disturbed – obviously he was. But in no way does that let anyone whose worldview is shaped in similar spaces – churches, in this case – off the hook of examining where their beliefs lead, or in some way clear a path, to the un-making of other human beings.
There a few things I just want to say about that. About the christian faith, racism, systemic and personal, our culture, and my own heart.
I’ll start with this:
The denigration of human life and bodies and minds is the exact opposite of the truth of this faith.
The denigration of other humans, their bodies and culture, is opposite to our faith.
Did I just say that? I’ll say it again.
The denigration of ANY other humans, their bodies, and culture, minds, hearts, is the opposite to our faith in the resurrected Christ. The exact opposite. The demeaning of another human is the opposite of what I would stake my life on as gospel.
So how could anyone who claims a christian faith support white supremacy – in its overt (shootings and rallies) and covert (thinking that white culture formed and saved the earth and is the goal and the best) forms?
Maybe one answer to that question is partly this: That we were handed a form of Christianity that gained its power from power and not gospel. I’ll explain that in a second here.
Could it be that in our time, this version of Christian faith rooted in a narrative of cultural power, symbiotically grown with cultural power, has created the right circumstances to give an easy pass for what a lot of us were handed–which was a half-truth faith?
What is this faith we hold to? Is it this? I’m asking for myself and for my friends, is it a faith that said that God’s work, the cross, that resurrected life, was solely about our personal, individual salvation and that our personal, individual piety was the end game, the whole goal. This is not untrue. But if it ends there, it is a biblical half-truth. A literal exact half.
Because what this Jesus does is usher in the kingdom, of which his very self is the fulfillment of the law, THESE LAWS: Love God. And Love Your Neighbor – as yourself. These are the signs of life of Jesus’ resurrection body – loving God and loving neighbor. And I have to consistently remind myself this does not just mean being nice to neighbor. It doesn’t mean giving them your cast offs or extras. But loving them. Working for them. Fighting for their lives as you would your own children. Throwing your lot in with them as if they were one of you, your family. As if they were you. And in all those Jesus stories, Jesus makes ABUNDANTLY clear that those neighbors are not just your church-folk. Those neighbors are those you despise and who despise you. Are those with kids that are just awful. They are those across enemy lines – those who are your enemies. Across class lines, economic lines, across ethnic lines and Jesus says this explicitly – across religious lines. They are those who, if you did not let go of your need for power, as a Christ follower does, they would threaten your claim to it. Even those.
I think if I’m reading this rightly, this kind of love is the call, because this is the way indeed we are loved. This is what we sign up for as Jesus learners. Its radical – it goes to the root of who we are in the world.
Loving God and being loved by God is good. Knowing you are loved is what heals our broken hearts. That was an incredibly powerful thing I just wrote in a pretty simple sentence! We are free and Jesus is alive. Sing those songs! But the witness does not stop there. The witness to the work of Christ in the world has this total life-requiring second half. If it is true that we are loved and welcomed so radically by God, then we can not help but be transformed into people that love and so radically welcome our neighbours.
Could this both-halves kind of faith be what would refute the violent, extreme views that think they can find a home within Christianity?
Now, if this second half, this second law, is just as important as the first, that means that in our culture, in this time, we have to come to terms with some things. Some things that impede our loving our neighbour like that.
The Christian world in the west and in dominant white culture (derived from all manner of European colonial efforts and then settlers ) is coming to terms with the fact that the broad Christian cultural narrative, as we received it, placed its survival in the hope of power and on gaining power, not gospel and the kenosis of power. Not the good news of emptying, not the foolishness of the cross. That’s not to say that we christians are all bad, or that the cultural juggernauts of evangelicalism or catholicism (or add more denominations here) are all bad and all people who are Christian are bad. But there are some big blind spots about our relationship to power for white christians and if we keep saying there aren’t then we are fastly falling out of step with the spirit.
The effect of the overall Christian narrative being about power and not the foolish kenosis and radical welcome of Jesus was that it was very easy for Christian culture to benefit power. The church becomes a prop for power when God’s foolishness is forgotten. And who had power, when this country was being set up? You can picture them in your mind, couldn’t you. Some families struggled and some thrived! And thriving is good. And none of this “coming to terms” diminishes real struggle of all people in coming to Canada. And some of the concepts of “take care of the least of these” was built into Canada’s society. This is all very good! But those not in power, those on the otherside of the line – color line, status line, cultural line, money line, usefulness line? Their lives were not considered for flourishing in the set up, in the system. Not always counted in the equation. Getting to thriving was not and is not the same journey for people on the other side of the line. Steps were even taken to keep those others out of places of power. (Do a little research on Canada’s own Africville. Go read up on what was promised in the treaties and then read the Indian Act and then the Truth and Reconciliation Report.)
I mentioned the denigration of human dignity and how it is opposite to a biblical faith. And yet, time and time and time again, the denigration of other humans was done within the mission of, and sometimes for, the church. Maybe that wasn’t the intention. But it still happened. I think its worth asking what was or was not being preached that made space for this to happen? Maybe we can’t judge the past and we are definitely not asked to feel fruitlessly guilty about it. But we can, and are called to, wonder at what we aren’t seeing that’s letting these things happen in our day – we – the church – are being called to take fruitful response-ability.
We have to come to terms with the fact that the faith and the cultural powers got intertwined a long time ago and that has effected everything about the story we tell and everything about our witness. The witness has become about personal salvation and escaping this world without the transformation of enemies into community, the loss of anxiety and scarcity that comes from surrendering to love and the redemption and resurrection of THIS world.
The witness has become too familiar and interdependent with cultural power forgetting that this whole Jesus life is all rooted in the kenosis (the emptying) of a very ordinary life, the kenosis of the cross, an emptying and relinquishing of power that alone, by God’s design, is what creates something totally new.
And finally we have to come to terms with how much we are just like every other human in our prejudices, however unspoken. Every single human is tempted to live in this phrase – “Well they aren’t like us and there might not be enough to go around so….” This is a quick devolve into “their lives are not worth as much as….” And our systems – set up focused on keeping power as they are, are set up to maintain and reinforce this.
Coming to terms with these things is key to being able to talk about what is going on in our culture today. And coming to terms with these things, as a body, is key to fighting the polarization which can so very quickly become radicalization. All the hot button issues are, at their core, issues of human dignity and how groups have flourished or been kept from flourishing – Race relations, refugee settlement, indigenous rights and reconciliation, climate change even – we have to recognize the people to feel the effect of climate change are the poorest and least resourced. (see what’s going on with rising sea levels in Bangladesh). HOW we talk about these things is key. Understanding power and privilege and our propensity for prejudice is key and nothing will change until we sit with this for a long while.
Any of the places in our culture where the dignity of human beings is at stake will need to pulled out in front of our eyes and examined to see what gospel has been preached.
It’s hard for us to have the roots of this faith dug up. But it’s brutal on the hearts and minds and bodies of those who have born the brunt of the deep sin of racism this whole time. AND YET, we are not left alone in this. ALL of this that is coming up and out of the woodwork is the Spirit’s work that he starts and finishes. We are not alone in figuring this out.
How to start letting God do his work, how to make space to let God do his work – changing hearts and then whole worlds? By creating space in me first.
For me I will:
1- Stop talking and listen more.
2-Examine how what I believe to be true about the world and about who God is leads me to how I think about others. ( Theology determines anthropology-Brenda Salter MacNeil) ie. When I lived with a theology that God was a record-keeper and highly critical and demanded much? Guess what – I was a record keeper and highly critical and demanded much. Its connected. If it helps, you could take a negative way you view others (don’t worry you don’t have to say it out loud) and ask yourself what is it you believe about the world or God that allows you to think that.
3 -I will get very local. I will live in my body more and be present more. I will notice my neighbourhood and the people and get close to the ground.
4-Pray – For God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven. And for enough for each day. And for trust. And for the ability to let go and forgive. And to know myself forgiven. and that leads me to…
5-I will live in radical grace and welcome for myself and for my family and for my friends and for my church. I will tend the soil of the gospel in this way.
6-I will use my voice to introduce the voices of others.
I wrote this post last week and then knew I needed to edit it because I don’t make a lot of sense when I’m this angry. And I am angry. I am angry that Lori Kaye lost her life and that synagogue lost its peace. And I am angry that my friends in the groups targeted lately – jewish, muslim, ethnic minority christian worshippers, are hurt and scared and that they get told implicitly and explicitly in this culture, that they are less than worthy of live and dignity. I am livid at that. I am appalled at this act of gross, warping hate. I am appalled by my own heart that warps in gross ways when I am afraid of insignificance, afraid of being erased, afraid of not having enough power. This is called sin and it doesn’t actually have a hold anymore.
I DO believe in resurrection and life pumping through the hallways of death – somehow, somehow, even there, there is the Bringer of Life.
River in me your resurrection life, Jesus of all the wounds. Do that healing in this body and then every body it touches.