You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice the sons of hell that you are. -Jesus
I stood over the Haitian men self-assured.
I was also worthless.
The only person who couldn’t see that was me, until much later.
“What are you working on?” I asked.
“A generator,” they say. “Can you fix it!”
Their eyes light up with excitement.
I’m a philosophy major on a church trip to Haiti, of course I can’t.
A few days earlier, shocked by what I have seen in Haiti, I blame the poverty on their supposed mutual pact with the devil.
They chose satan, it’s their fault.
Of course. Because anything that feels uncomfortable to my white, middle-class, American upbringing is from satan.
“Why did you come to Haiti?” they ask.
“To talk about the love of Jesus!”
I started by barging in on their garage like some sort of British Aristocrat inspecting his estate. Then I blame their struggles with post-colonialmism on their pact with satan.
To spread the love of Jesus. First barging in on them. Second blame them for their poverty behind closed doors in sharp judgment.
Maybe my answer should have been, “I’ve crossed land and sea to succeed at making these people twice the sons of hell as I am.”
This reframing of a mission trip I took a few years ago is the sort of eye-opening I’ve been experiencing these last few years. So much of what I believe, how I perceive the world, and the way I interact with others has been dominated by a very specific worldview.
For most of my upbringing I was inundated in the evangelical framework, going to school and church in the same place.
If you take a step back, you might notice how much the evangelical church mirrors its business-minded spirit. Cold-pitching, convert statistics, brick-and-mortar upkeep, income (tithe), and even business attire has long dominated this peculiar religious institution.
But I also have to remember, that in these pews are genuine people desperately seeking to be good, to be on the right side, to make sure they are living righteously. There isn’t some intentional, aggravated assault on human flourishing.
But, this does not mean that this culture is healthy. In fact, it is directly responsible for massive amounts of human suffering from war, to famine, genocide, and the destruction of our planet.
Such a paradox is precisely the soil in which all of the prophets have had to speak a message. Their message is consistent: “Free God up for people, and people up for God.”
So first, a few apologies are in order.
If I have ever hurt you, directly or indirectly, from the rooted place of this evangelical worldview, I’m sorry. And on behalf of any other evangelical-types or Christians in general, I say sorry. It isn’t right, your offense is real, and it was unwarranted.
I even cringe at the way I have said things to people in my family, blaming the demonic instead of agreeing to disagree. I’ve been trained to see division as sourced from the pit of hell. I have been blind as to how pre-fabricated my mental stream of conscious has actually been. I’m sorry.
But, as I turn into 2018 I feel pressed by something new. I really want to grow into a new awareness of life. I want to shift my writing away from criticism.
If you have seen in my earlier posts, I was uncovering criticism as a love-language of the institutions I care deeply about. It was in this place that I was trying to call for reform from the edge of the inside, as some have labeled it.
But this year, I want to transition away from loving criticism, and instead move into what is.
For a while now, I have been obsessed with cause and effect. Basically, I would feel stirred in my soul deeply about some issue. As I moved closer to whatever the problem was, I would begin to see how the problem arose.
Take the church’s interesting love-affair with money, or war for example. I’ve spent countless hours trudging through as much history from as many different sources as possible to understand why we have used God to justify so much evil.
But lately, I’m coming to outgrow cause-and-effect.
Think of it like this: why do we call a fist, a fist?
It’s a hand making a fist after all, right? And, if that hand were to be extended the fist would become a palm, correct?
The fist isn’t some sort of concept created as a response to something else over the course of time. It’s not like the fist emerged out of a succession of events which naturally created its emergence.
Rather, both the palm and the fist are expressions of the hand, and an expression of the same hand at different moments, regardless of a linear progression of time.
In nature, time isn’t so rigid and linear.
A heart beats in cycles.
An acorn becomes and oak, and oak becomes an acorn.
You inhale, and exhale.
Your body is composed of the same minerals that derive the soil, and when you die these minerals are accepted and used again by the earth.
It exhales life, and inhales death.
Comparing the ticking of the clock to the time of nature is like comparing a military march to a spontaneous stroll in the forest.
And, as the old saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. There only is, what is.
I am, what I am, if you like.
And so, this moment is actually all we have, it’s all we ever have. Because this moment is nature’s way of becoming the future. Of evolving. In rhythm.
God could have crafted a fist as an independent object for the purpose of punching, but he made a hand, connected to brain and heart capable of both violence and gentleness.
And so in this moment, I must make the same decisions that everyone has had to make since the dawn of consciousness.
Do I chose the tree of life, marked by love, awareness, and genuine pursuit of the kingdom of heaven?
Or do I chose, death and the patterns of a wounded world?
Patterns of hate, violence, division, unforgiveness, evil, and oppression?
This is the distilled message of Jesus. But, unfortunately, we as Americans in 2018 often find ourselves on the wrong side of the oppression to understand the radical message of our Lord.
Because the wars are “over there,” the sweat shops out of sight, the damage to our planet hidden in plain view and discounted, the atrocities of negligence limited to famines in post-colonial wastelands.
So perhaps then if you allow yourself to be fully in the moment this year, the kingdom of heaven might be revealed inside you. Jesus did not teach us to strain to a super-moral being floating in the clouds, but to recognize the image of God that is inside us at this very moment.
That’s inside our neighbor.
That’s inside our enemy.
Because, if we’re not careful, we’ll use our carefully crafted God to justify all kinds of evil without realizing it.
So maybe this year, we should give religiosity a rest. Perhaps we should trust our ability to know the love inside of us that is the Kingdom of Heaven. And, like the master said, perhaps it really is at hand.
P.S. this message was heavily influenced by a few of my favorite thinkers. If you’d like to know more about who they are and what they’re saying, drop me a note on the Contact page and I’ll send you some material!