A mini-letter to the church, and some honesty to challenge me.
I am needed.
I am important.
I am special.
I am not needed.
I am a grain of sand in a seashore full of them.
This world will go on without me.
Sound contradictory? Explanation provided by Barbara Brown Taylor in Leaving Church;
“I decided to take a rest from trying to be Jesus……not today. Today I will consent to be an extra in God’s drama, someone off to the side watching the scenery unfold with self-forgetfulness that is not available to me at center stage. Today I will bear the narcissistic wound of knowing that there are others who can say my lines when I am not there, including some who can say them better, and that while God may welcome my willingness to play a part, this show will go on with or without me, for as long as God has breath to bring players to life. Today I will take a break from trying to save the world and enjoy my blessed swath of it instead. I will give my thanks for what it is instead of withholding my praise until all is as it should be. If I get good enough at this, I may be able to include my sorry self in the bargain.” (141-42)
Catch the paradoxes? Barbara struggles with “narcissism” and yet sometimes views herself as “sorry,” wants to be “center stage” and yet wants to be satisfied with being “extra,” needed, yet not needed.
Psalm 113 speaks;
“Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, you his servants.
Praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.”
Paradoxes; the Lord is exalted above the nations, far above the heavens. He doesn’t need any of us, or even the Earth for that matter. Multiple times in Scripture it seems like God is considering cleaning the slate and starting all over again with us pesky humans. And if he did, he would be justified in doing so. We’ve really made a mess of things. And yet, this exalted God stoops down into the dust and ashes for the sake of the poor and needy and walks alongside the barren mother. We matter; especially those who have been told they don’t matter by twisted human society.
The more I read about this God in Scripture (which confronts and challenges the God I thought I knew of by myself), the more I am astounded at how distinct and set-apart and glorious He is, and even more so by the mind-blowing care he gives to this flawed, twisted creation he has made. The length and breadth and depth of this God, who expects us to interact with His creation in the way He does; to tend to the earth that he has called “good,” to invest ourselves in other humans whom he has called “very good,” and to elevate the status of those our world deems unimportant to stand alongside us as brothers and sisters. This is who this God is.
And this God is sharply distinct from the God the Christian institution has often presented in the past and present.
Sometimes (shoot, a LOT of times), I get angry that we the church have allowed ourselves to be so swallowed up in our cultural environments that we neglect the poor in favor of economic security, neglect the barren mother because her problems aren’t answered by a Max Lucado devotional, neglect our enemies in favor of national security, and neglect an honesty about ourselves that we aren’t the center of the universe. God is clear about this sort of lifestyle in Scripture. He will curse us when we live in this fashion.
Do we care enough about this situation to seek to change it? And do we have the humility to know that it doesn’t all, ultimately depend on us? Will we have the guts and courage to seek to work hard at times and take time to enjoy this astounding creation around us other times? Can we have hope, the kind that’s grounded in the reality that things are not as they should be? Will we have the guts and courage to know that life is a series of conversions from our limited, twisted perspective to a more whole, more true, more life-giving, more God-centered, God-glorifying life? Do we have the guts and courage to know that this commitment touches everything from sexual purity and marital faithfulness to questioning consumerism and individualism and nationalism and patriotism, as well as a deep concern for the health of the earth we have had entrusted to us to tend?
How can we faithfully think and pray and act?
Paul in Philippians 1;
“(I) will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…”
We are needed, but we are not. Life is complex and sometimes sucks, but we cannot change the gospel so that it denies the complexity and suckiness and tells us to forget the world around us as we wait for heaven (only to find that this lack of action may lead us to another place entirely). We will get frustrated, but we cannot quit. We will hate to be in the company of people who call themselves the church but look much more like the world; people who talk of the world’s sins but ignore their own. We will find that our discomfort with hanging around them is usually a projection of our own individual failure to love others (a hidden indictment that we are as guilty as they). We will want to leave them for the blissful comfort of our individuality and denial of our complicity in the problem, but we are called to find that we are called into community in all its discomfort and joy.
The truth is uncomfortable, but that is why it’s the truth, in all of its uncomfortable suckiness.