The Jesus Way

It happened again. 

Someone I love shared a post on Facebook that punched me in the gut.  It wasn’t thoughtful, accurate, kind, or helpful.  It made me mad, full of righteous indignation and feelings of intellectual superiority, 

I didn’t react or respond because if I’ve learned anything at all in our current political climate, I’ve learned to stretch my reaction time.  Take a beat.  Pause.  Breathe.  Wait.  Basically, I’ve decided to act right on the internet. Sometimes. Mostly.   

I’ve been rolling what she shared around in my head for a few days and I think I’m ready to write about it.  Maybe I’m not.  But we’ve been here before, right? 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a Ted Talk my friend Angie recommended several years ago about the danger of a single story.  I chopped vegetables in my little kitchen on Westwood several houses ago and listened.  Adichie describes the tendency many of us have to paint all of Africa with a single stroke ignoring nuance and complexity in favor of something easier to understand.  She urges us to consider the depth and breadth of people and places and her words hit me in my soul and changed me.  I realized as she spoke that I, too, had been guilty of painting all sorts of people with a monochrome scheme.  I had painted people with whom I disagreed into the corners I thought they belonged in, labeling them unthinking or unkind or unreasonable and then wrote them off. 

I like to categorize people.  Safe or unsafe.  Uplifting or depressing.  Boring or interesting.  Smart or ignorant.  Kind or unkind.  Generous or stingy.  Good or bad.  Like me or less than me.  Or even worse, better than me.  I like to fit people into the boxes I choose for them so that I can predict their responses to me and in so doing, protect myself from them and stay one step ahead. 

Social media has given a voice and a megaphone to people we would likely have never heard from a few years ago.  I wouldn’t have known which of my acquaintances would opt for which emoji in response to, say, an article about Trump’s child separation policy.  But now, either by omission or commission, I’m pretty sure I know where most of the people I know stand.  I have friends, in person and online, with whom I vehemently disagree about very important issues, like whether or not our country should invest billions of dollars in a border fence on our property line with our southern neighbors.  And I think that is pretty heavy knowledge to carry around with us.  I certainly feel the weight of it as I scroll, and fight urges to shout at people I knew in middle school with rapid heartbeat and rapid typing behind a screen. 

It’s heavy, especially, for those of us who are trying to live the Jesus way.  Sometimes, I can feel something like jealousy for my friend Zack who shows up often in comment threads with laser precision.  He calls out nonsense, hypocrisy, broken logic, and cruelty, seemingly with little effort.  And I always agree with him.  And sometimes I raise my fist silently as he types the things I won’t.  I imagine what it would feel like to be him, and sometimes I think it must feel really good. 

It’s gotten awfully complicated. 

After a particularly snark filled internet week that culminated in a series of gently rebuking private messages from a dear friend with whom I’ll never agree about much beyond the Gospel and my big mouth, I took a short break from Facebook to try and sort out what is the point of all this scrolling and sharing, anyway?  That little break ultimately led to the start of this space.  When I stopped to listen to my own heart and the Spirit’s nudge, I realized that there really are words worth sharing.  And social media is the platform.  There just isn’t another one, and that’s a fact and so I’ll be sticking around.   

So here we are.  All of us. On the internet, in front of a watching world, in highly charged and politically volatile times.  The stakes are very high, all the time, on every topic. 

Jesus reminds us again that the world is watching and our love for each other must be our identifying factor.  He doesn’t offer us another option for our ad campaign.  Just our love.  Our affection. Our tenderness.  Our willingness to listen and try to understand each other, to be kind. 

Jesus knew how hard it would be to love each other in the age of the internet.  He knew the rhetoric would get sharp and pointy.  He knew news organizations would build billion-dollar industries on fear mongering and he knew some of us would take the bait and the rest of us would be shocked and appalled and angry.  He knew this would be hard and He didn’t offer us another way.  Only the way of love.   

Love, by the way, never means standing by while someone is insulted or abused.  Love never means biting your tongue for the sake of saving face or avoiding needed conflict.  May we never be those who stand by while the vulnerable suffer, on the internet or in the real world.  And isn’t that line blurry, anyway? 

Love is taking a breath, taking a beat, waiting a minute. Love is giving your brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt instead of putting together your case against them to be delivered when the time is right. 

I hate the idea of a border wall for more reasons than my fingers have energy to type.  And I love people, real people, who think a wall is a fantastic, even biblically justifiable, idea.  What is the Jesus way forward in that conflict? I believe people I love are advocating and pushing for an actual barrier to keep out the very people Jesus would have us welcome in.  Full stop. What do I do with that?  What do I do with the real flesh and blood people with real countable votes who believe I am exactly dead wrong about what God would have us do for this broken world?  

Is the Jesus way to say nothing, do nothing, and just pray that justice rolls down like a mighty river?  Is the Jesus way to flip tables and type sharp rebuke and let old Uncle whoever know just exactly what you think of him and his politics and his chronic halitosis?  

Maybe.   

Jesus pulled away to pray sometimes. Maybe that’s what you should do.  

Jesus flipped tables. Once. Maybe this is your comment thread to flip.   

Maybe not.  I don’t have the right to tell you what the Spirit is whispering in your soul, I can only remind you He is whispering. 

Jesus spent most of his life walking and talking with the people around him, challenging their assumptions and questioning the lines they drew to keep people in their places.  Jesus traveled from place to place with an eye for the hurting and the broken.  When he met the woman at the well, he listened to her and spoke the truth and she left her old way to walk in His and she became the first to go and preach the good news to her people.   

I don’t know much about much, to be honest.  I have misspoken, misquoted, and misunderstood.  I have shared articles and new pieces thinking that if only the believers on my friends list (the ones who didn’t unfollow me in 2016, LOL, HEY YA’LL) could read or see or hear THIS piece of information, they would change their minds, change their ways, and then we could all change the world.  I have been disappointed and horrified and self-righteous and indignant at their responses.  That sure doesn’t feel like the Jesus way.  But it’s not as simple as that either, because sometimes the things they say and share and believe in and vote for are actually hurting people.  But it’s not as simple as that either, because they believe the same thing about me and my sharing and my voting. 

It’s just not simple at all. 

It can’t be right to disengage and pull away. There is a broken world, hurting and waiting. 

It can’t be right to spend six hours online every day, scrolling and waiting for an opportunity to ZING someone like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. 

I guess this isn’t a topic I’ll be able to tie up with a nice, neat bow.  I’ll continue onward, making mistakes and making statements I’ll have to delete sometimes. I’ll probably have to apologize in private messages again.  I’ll probably receive messages that sting my eyes and make me feel misunderstood.  I’m getting better at the pausing, the waiting, and starting by believing the best in my sisters and brothers instead of the worst.  I guess that’s the fruit of a stumbling life.  I’ve been clumsy, my feet and my words sometimes coming down wrong. I’ve hurt people and I’ve certainly alienated some. But by grace, I think I can look back and see that I’ve at least been stumbling and falling in the right direction most of the time.  I’m learning about being slow to speak and quicker to listen, even when my nerves and instincts shout other directions. 

I won’t be silent on issues that matter. 

I will learn to use my privilege to fight for those who don’t have it. 

I won’t live a life characterized by hateful rhetoric. 

I won’t tear people down. 

I won’t keep my finger on the trigger. 

I won’t avoid needed conflict online or otherwise. 

I won’t go looking for it, either. 

I’d honestly love to hear your thoughts.  Do you have any guideposts for living the Jesus way online?  I have a long way to go, but I want to get there. 

 

 

The Thin Places

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  

Recently, my husband told me that he had sort of adapted the Jesus prayer.  He told me he had been moved to pray instead, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, your loved one.” 

I don’t really remember having much of a conversation about it at the time, but I will say that his adaptation seeped into my prayer language over the next few weeks.  I hadn’t necessarily been praying the Jesus prayer regularly but his version, the one in which I was speaking words of life into my own heart, became a bit of a drum beat in my soul as I moved through my days. 

Lord Jesus Christ, 

Son of God, 

Have mercy on me,  

Your loved one. 

That small and seemingly insignificant shift in focus started a shift in me.  What would it mean to live my life more focused on the good work God was doing in me, through me and with me, and less focused on all the things I’m not, all the weights and sins I haven’t conquered?  What would it look like to give my sinfulness a ride in the backseat while my belovedness drives for a while?  

In college, I really got interested in theology.  Not God Himself, so much, but rather the studiable, understandable, quantifiable attributes of God as put forth by Manyoldwhitemen.  I read a lot about God and rather enjoyed thinking about myself as a serious student of God.  None of this helped me to know God, unfortunately.  It did, however, help me to become arrogant, empty and disappointed.  Because, you see, I wanted to understand God so that I could control Him, or at least control my circumstances.  I developed a borderline obsession with reading the right Oldwhitemen and using their vocabulary and being familiar enough to have an intelligent conversation about this doctrine or that way of raising children or being married or stewarding resources.  I wanted to look and sound and act like the Christians I idolized.   

But none of that information gathering and Bible thumping taught me how to know God or how He meant for me to live and move in the world. 

Suffering did. 

It wasn’t until I lived a little bit of uncertainty that I started to get comfortable with a God about whom I couldn’t always be completely certain.  It wasn’t until he met me in the places where life was wearing me thin that I really began to know who He was. 

New town, no friends, no idea how to make any with two babies and an unreliable Ford Taurus. 

Long hours, many toddlers, husband working many jobs. 

Married young, both of us dumb and very self-centered. 

Over drafted checking account, 10 days from payday. Again. 

Is this depression?  Do I need medication?  Do you?  This can’t be normal.  Tell me this is not normal. 

Caring for another mama’s child for months, giving her back, uncertain of the future for any of us. 

Miscarriage. 

Marriage is hard.   

New baby, new darkness, new loneliness, failure, regret, new dread at each sunrise. 

These worn-through places where I was stretched to near breaking were where the Light ultimately broke through.  I found a community of women who were nothing like me.   They were nothing like the far-off pictures in my head of the women I had idolized.  They were hard working, truth telling, hands-and-feet-of-Jesus women.  They laughed without fear of the future, and they changed me forever.  Knowing these women and letting them know me has helped me know God because I heard his words on their tongues and I felt His presence when they prayed and prophesied the darkness out of my life.   They taught me about my belovedness in the ways they met my needs with food, spiritual and physical.

One night during that awful period of depression after my baby was born, my friend knocked on my door knowing full well I didn’t want to see her.  She risked rejection and embarrassment to elbow her way into my house that night after I had ignored her calls and texts for days because she knew I needed her, even if I didn’t.  She set in motion the cascade of events that led to my deliverance and healing and I know God better because I know her.  Another woman knew how physically depleted I was and juiced a half gallon of fresh vegetables for me every other day until I could see in color again.  Another friend arranged for my 3 big kids to have a ride to and from school every day for the entire year.  She will never know what a gift that was when I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to plan or execute a carpool. They gathered me up under their wings like mother hens and I know God better because I know them.  And again, I was beloved by God and believed it because of their tender care.

Time after time, God has met me in suffering. Not so often in my planned Bible studies or evangelism time, not so often in my long-winded speeches about what is right and wrong and who was in or out.  No, he met me in weeping, in raising up to try again, in learning to reach for the light when all I can see is dark and learning to whisper his name when the wind is knocked out of me again.  

I do not welcome suffering by any stretch, nor do I use any of what I have learned from it to try to justify the suffering I see around me.   

Instead, I am learning to see the suffering of the weary world as an invitation to look for those thin places where light breaks through.  I am tempted to turn away when I am faced with intense suffering, especially when I know I can’t fix it.  I know you are, too.  But what if the way to know the heart of Jesus is to be willing to walk the way of suffering, wherever it leads and for as long as it takes?  No sermons to preach, no judgments to cast.  Just a simple, abiding presence and persistent engagement.  I can’t fix our immigration system, but I don’t have to bury my head in the sand.  I can give my money to an organization like RAICES that is providing legal representation to families affected by zero tolerance policies.  I can’t solve global poverty, but I can engage with it by purchasing Christmas gifts from organizations like Preemptive Love that partner with people in Iraq and Syria, teaching them to make marketable goods to sustain their futures.  These small acts do little to change the world, but they do change me, call me to pray and invest my heart. I am neither all-powerful, nor altogether powerless.  Belovedness begets belovedness on and on forever, amen.

There is a subgroup of Christians who tend to get a little nervous when conversations turn to social justice.  These people are my dearly loved brothers and sisters and I hesitate to hint at criticizing them.  If my former life as a know-it-all taught me anything, it’s that I can certainly try hard to be right and get a lot of really important things wrong.  But.  What if Jesus really meant that the way we treat asylum seekers is the way we are treating him?  What if the Biblical texts instructing us how to treat strangers and sojourners are really the ones we are supposed to apply literally and without question? If God meets us in our suffering, aren’t we safe to assume He is present in the suffering of our brothers and sisters, near and far?  And if our thin places of grief and suffering are the places God breaks in and transforms us, how much more transformation will we know if we stop steeling ourselves against the suffering of others, and learn to engage with it right where we are with just what we have?  What if the first really are last and the last first and all this justification and posturing is as counterproductive as it feels?  He is near to the broken-hearted, the binder of wounds, the One with the bottles full of tears.  To be near to the suffering is to be near to him, to join Him in His ministry of bringing good news to the poor is our greatest honor.  If we love Him, we will feed His beloved sheep. In this presence of God practice of moment by moment making declarations of our belovedness and theirs by our words and our actions, the upside down is being turned right again and we get to see the Kingdom is coming.

 

You, O Jesus, are not disquieted 

by such news of cruelty and terror and war.   

you are nether anxious or overwhelmed.   

You carried the full weight of the suffering 

 of a broken world when you hung upon 

 the cross, and you carry it still. 

When the cacophony of universal distress  

unsettles us, remind us that we are but small 

 and finite creatures, never designed to carry  

the vast abstractions of great burdens, 

for our arms are too short and our strength 

is too small.  Justice and mercy, healing and  

redemption, are your great labors.  

And yes, it is your good pleasure to accomplish 

 such works through your people,  

but you have never asked and one of us 

 to undertake more that your grace will enable is to fulfill.  

guard us then from shutting down our empathy 

or walling off our hearts because of the glut of  

unactionable misery that floods our awareness.   

You have many children in many places  

around this globe.  Move each of our hearts  

to compassionately respond to those needs 

 that intersect our actual lives, that in all places 

Your body might be actively addressing  

the pain and brokenness of this world,  

each of us liberated and empowered by  

your Spirit to fulfill the small part  

of your redemptive work assigned to us. 

Excerpt from A Liturgy for Those Flooded by Too Much Information 

Every Moment Holy, 2017