Up until the past few years everything in life was going quite nicely. I wasn’t having many problems with my belief system nor my ideals about how life should be lived, and the problems I did have were minor and could easily be cured by reading any number of the best sellers in the Christian book stores. If you’ll allow me, I will be a bit more blunt than normal (if that’s possible), because I think it will help in explaining why everything is so messed up right now and probably will be for the rest of my life.
I grew up in an upper-middle class/white-colored church. Please don’t get me wrong in thinking that I am saying that the church I attend is in any way wrong based on its cultural backgrounds or socioeconomic demographic. It’s simply the facts of the area I’ve lived in, and just like anyone else’s background, it has shaped my opinions and my ideologies about the world. And on an even larger scale, I’m an American, which automatically brings along another whole belief system regarding our country’s supremacy in the world and how we’ve got to win every Olympic sport, despite the fact that winning in Curling is actually world domination, but I think that’ s more a personal opinion than an American opinion. Nonetheless, as Americans we must win. Period. (USA! USA!) And if we don’t win then it’s an upset for the other country because we’re supposed to win everything. I don’t ever remember my parents instilling any of this into me. It’s just the American way.
And from what I can see, this is how the Western Church breaks down (in a very broad sense):
Get more people.
Hold bigger events.
"Our church is better than your church."
"Our doughnuts are better than your doughnuts." (so maybe not the doughnuts part…)
You may think that these are overgeneralizations, and maybe I do in a sense too, but not really. I just say that to cover my own butt.
So here I am. I’m 22, I’m American, and I’ve grown up in the Western Church. I am a product of my surroundings.
Then I go and start reading the teachings of Jesus …
I didn’t really start this process until college. I’d been reading the Bible for a long time, probably since I was around the age of 12, but I think I was always reading it because I was told that’s what you do. Then at some point when I was about 20, I think I realized that Jesus was a brilliant teacher who threw out some radical ideas in really subversive ways with lots of hidden meanings. Something about Him intrigued me. And when I realized that a lot of His teachings had to do with other teachings all over the Scriptures, new doors were opened for me. I think God was starting to give me “ears to hear and eyes to see.”
So I decided that if I were really going to buy into this whole Christianity thing, I suppose I should read the entire Bible. I didn’t want to ever get into a conversation with anyone of another religion and have them ask me if I’ve read the whole book that I believe in so strongly. I would have had to hang my head and say "No I haven’t, but let me tell you about the things I have read." So my friend Tony and I decided to read the entire thing over the course of about 9 months at 5 chapters a day. It was eye opening, to say the least. I had no idea how much God cares for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the alien. It’s absolutely everywhere. And on a side note, what I found really fascinating is how ambiguous God is about church structure, especially since I’ve heard of so many churches being split over things like musical preference and building projects. *cough lame *cough
This is when Jesus began to mess up my entire life. After reading through the Bible I began to focus again on the teachings of the Great Rabbi. When I read the things He taught about, the things He cared about and the people whom He reached out towards, I was struck with awe. The King of the entire universe came down to hang out with a bunch of societal rejects. He walked around with intention to meet the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. I would have thought that He would have come as a governmental figure with lots of power and respect, but instead He did the exact opposite and came down to be with the people the government ignored. Fascinating. And I know that this is nothing new to all of you, but if you grow up believing that everything should be bigger and better and more powerful, than an idea like this will really cause you to have a lot of questions.
After reading the gospels all of my self-righteous motives were brought into the light. Owning a cool SUV became of less importance, and helping people I didn’t even know moved up towards the top of the list. Having certain clothes or living in a big house or even going to the most popular church slowly moved down the list, and giving, both of time and of money, moved in the opposite direction. Now I’m not even close to understanding all of these ideas, much less acting them all out the way I should, but I’m moving towards them with grace in every step.
You see there’s this tension that Jesus left us with. Like I said before, He was incredibly ambiguous on a lot of things. Here’s a terrific example for you: There’s this story of Jesus talking to a rich political ruler. The young man asks Jesus what he must do to enter the kingdom. And Jesus, in all His brilliance, says there’s one thing you lack (which must have sounded ironical to a man who had so many material possessions) and that is to go and sell everything to the poor. Then Jesus does something that still amazes me … He lets the guy just walk away.
So in that story we have Jesus telling a guy that the only thing he lacks is to go sell everything and give to the poor. Now compare that with the stories of Job or Solomon, both of which God gives wealth and calls it a blessing, and even goes as far as to lift up Job and single him out in all of creation. Do you see the tension in that when it comes to deciding how we should live? How do I handle my wealth? (And I am wealthy simply by the fact that I live in America. Relative poverty and relative wealth are great sociological studies to engage in.) How much do I give to the poor? To the church? Do I sell everything? Are my possessions blessings from God?
This is how Jesus messed everything up for me. Life was going so smoothly, or rather what I thought was smoothly, and then I read his teachings and my world gets turned upside down.
And I think it’s absolutely beautiful.
I think a lot of people see the act of helping the poor and the needy as necessary but also as a burden. But I tend to think that it’s more of an honor, that God gave us the blessing of helping others. Taking others in, giving of our time and our money, sacrificing so others can see the love of Jesus is to me a privilege, not a burden. It seems as though Jesus took great joy in helping and healing. I’m beginning to wonder if this is how He created it to be. And it turns out that this is the stuff that Jesus was most passionate about. He wasn’t concerned with building his reputation or increasing His fame. He was completely consumed with others, especially the weak. He also calls us to become less. To be last. To lower ourselves. To consider others as more important. To put the needs of others in front of our own. These things are completely against the American way of living, and therein lies even more tension.
And now, as I process all of this, do I stay comfortable and hide behind my words or do I act on these ideas that are messing up my entire line of thinking and way of living?
May Jesus continue to mess up our lives.