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We underestimate the foolish and the kind ones: On building the Kingdom of God, peace-making, and bridge-building

Nearly a year ago, I had one of my first in-person conversations with Christine Caine. If you don’t already know Chris, well, get ready – she’s an over-caffeinated, fast-talking, Pentecostal Aussie who is filled with the Spirit and leaves most of us slack-jawed while she preaches her face off around the world and sets the curtains on fire. And I love her. But in this story, we were just chatting quietly in the back of a room, getting to know each other. She was kind enough to encourage me in my work, particularly as Jesus Feminist was just weeks away from releasing. Off hand, she mentioned that she feels like we need to create pipelines for people to move towards God’s idea of equality and justice.

In a way, we all start at a different point in our journeys. If I imagine this journey towards God’s full realization of justice as an alphabet, some of us start at Point A and others start at Point S.

At the end of our lives, some of us might finish far away from Point Z perhaps but it took a tremendous amount of courage and faith to end up at Point P. And so we can celebrate any movement towards justice and wholeness in each other, however far from perfect.

We all need a way to move forward. We need an invitation or a way to onboard to the journey. We need the bridges to be able to cross over.

Even if, in our lifetime, we only move from Point A to Point M, at least we are moving towards God’s heart for justice, at least we are being moved. And I think so often in our work for justice, we lack patience for those who are on different points of the journey, we want to leap them from Point A to Point Z. Sometimes I want to make that leap myself or leapfrog someone else to where I am already – forgetting that it took a lot of pipelines, bridges, prayers and conversations for me to end up where I am.

I find the true and long-lasting work happens when we take the time to walk with each other in that journey. I have needed men and women to walk with me as I move on this made-up idea of the justice alphabet, they are the ones who have created bridges for me to cross, space for me to grow in real and meaningful ways. I have been discipled.

We are all moving from different places and experiences, backgrounds and teachings, contexts and privilege. But I have hope still that God is moving us forward – if we are open to the Spirit and to each other.

I think this is also the holy work of justice and peace-making.

I’ve thought of that metaphor so much since our conversation. Because the truth is that we do all start from different places on different issues of justice. And I felt like Chris articulated much of how I feel about that little yellow book, and even my own ongoing work: I want to create the pipeline, to build the bridge, to hold out my hand and say walk a while with me and see for yourself. (I’m always so thankful for those disciples who are ahead of me in the journey.)

Wherever people find themselves in their journey, am I creating pipelines or building bridges? am I inviting my brothers and sisters further out into the holy and wild work of redemption?

***

I believe that our God is at work in the world, setting things right. I also believe that God accomplishes this in our world through, well, us. God’s redemptive movement, the slow and steady arc towards justice. We are learning that there is no fear in love – as of 1 John 4 says, we are letting “love have the run of the house.”

***

My friendships in Haiti have changed a lot of my theological opinions just like my friendships here at home or the ones built throughout a lifetime. (This is the way of community, I think. If our theology doesn’t evolve and change during our lives, then I have to wonder if we are paying attention.) I have written often about the man who moved a mountain so that a school could be built. The metaphor of moving a mountain as it relates to doing the work of peace-making and justice-seeking since my first visit to Haiti crops up often in my life and work – in fact, I ended up dedicating an entire chapter of my book to this beautiful idea).

And with every day that passes, it takes on new meaning and nuance to me. Because sometimes, yes, we speak to a mountain and it will lift up and be cast into the sea. What a glorious image! But I’ve also learned over my lifetime that it is just as holy and just as ridiculous and just miraculous for the people of God to pick up their own small shovels and shoulder into that mountain with faith.

Sometimes the mountain is cast out and other times, I believe, we see that mountain move by blood, sweat, tears, and patience, by joint effort, a million small stones at a time.

I have decided that, rather than be someone who denies the existence of the mountain entirely – whatever that represents in the moment – or simply gives up in despair, that I will be a woman who picks up small stones and moves them. Small acts of faith are still acts of faith. I will be a woman who slowly and over time and alongside of many others will make that mountain move.

But it will also be an act of love.

***

I’ve been thinking about the women of Exodus a lot lately. I lay the blame – okay, fine the credit – for that squarely on the shoulders of one of my best friends, Kelley Nikondeha. She has always been enthralled with the Old Testament. In fact, her work and her whole life centres around the themes of Isaiah through Communities of Hope in Burundi. Jubilee, justice, swords into ploughshares, all for the restoration of both lives and the land.

Kelley taught me about the women of Exodus, how they quietly turned over the empire in their own ways, paving the way for Moses and the exodus of Israel from Egypt. She writes here about the midwives, Pueh and Shiphra, who subverted Pharaoh in their own way. They were meant to murder any boy babies that were born to the Hebrew women but instead they quietly delayed their arrivals or “forgot” to look if the baby was a boy. All this to ensure that mothers delivered their healthy babies. When Pharaoh challenged them, they blamed the strength of the Hebrew mothers. And they kept right on delivering life to the people of Israel. This is why Moses survived. The mountain of slavery for the Hebrew people was moved in the big ways – the parting of the Red Sea, for instance – but that mountain also moved in the small and secret ways, like the midwives.

It was behind the scenes work. Small stones work. By the very nature of midwifery, it is holy work that is done in secret and in intimacy. But the result is life and hope, stretching for generations, changing the trajectory of the story.

***

I think that the work of the Spirit is often silent work. Perhaps that’s why it’s so rare – silence is so rare.

We don’t see what is going on in each other’s lives and hearts, as the Spirit moves among and within each of us. I think the greatest work of the Spirit happens in the secret places of our lives. We’re moving and changing, slowly being scrubbed clean on the inside. Who cares if we give all of our attention to the outside of the cup if the inside is filthy? (Matthew 23:25-26)

Not all of the redemptive movement of God is visible to our judgment. 

There are moments in our lives when we are silent because the Spirit is at work. Midwifery happens in the hidden places.

***

The paradox is that the  Spirit is also a movement, a mighty wind, a rushing river, a burning tongue of fire setting our mouths and our minds and our hearts on fire. There is usually movement – change perhaps? – after an encounter with the Spirit of the living God. The Spirit never calls us to apathy.

***

We think of a revolutionary as a holy warrior and it is exciting to be angry and to turn over tables. I bless the ones who are called to that work.

Peace making is not passive aggressive.

Some of us are called to the combative and visible work, but here’s my quiet word of caution: don’t look down on your brothers and sisters whose work in the Kingdom may well be done in secret, in quiet, in kind ways.

There are a lot of ways to challenge the empire. My way is not the only way. Your way is not the only way.

***

Revolution doesn’t look like changing diapers or making meals, right? Kind people don’t change the world. We can’t imagine overturning the empire through these small stones that we lift up, one after another, through the small lives we spare, through our words and our prayers.

But some of the most Christ-like people I have known in my life, the ones who have changed the world, are doing it in ways that we often think are beneath us. I know we’re dazzled by social media platforms and conferences stages, bullhorns and accolades. We take liberties with them, perhaps.

Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God in small ways: a seed that grows to a mighty oak, a mustard seed of faith, a bit of yeast that causes the whole loaf to rise.

I have a bit of a preference for the grassroots folks, I admit. I see the ones far from the usual power and leadership narratives as the heroes.

The Kingdom is often taking root in small ways – in our kitchens and in our parish halls, in our streets and our subsidized daycares, in youth group mentoring relationships and after-school care, in prayer circles and by-law meetings at city council.

We walk right past each other, never knowing we’re in the presence of a peace maker, never knowing the full ways that we are each engaged in the radical work of reconciliation, rescue, and redemption. 

And I think we underestimate the bridge builders, the ones caught in the middle with their arms outstretched.

I think we underestimate the kind and the foolish ones.

***

I am aware of power differentials and privilege, of systemic injustice and evil, of my own anger and my gross tendency towards an evangelical hero complex.

So of course I want to name the empire for what it is: crippling and soul-sucking, dehumanizing and evil. Whether it’s racism, patriarchy, war mongering, dehumanizing, it’s counter to God’s Kingdom. But the people caught in those systems are rarely the enemies – often they are just as caught, just as longing for a rescue as the rest of us. We don’t battle against flesh and blood, not really, but against the powers and principalities that hold us all captive.

And so I believe that we – as the people of God – are called to prophetically live out the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives. So that means setting up our lives as an outpost for the Kingdom way of life, the life of a disciple, the life and life-more-abundant of our God’s dream for humanity.

There’s room for the ones who dismantle and the ones who plant gardens in exile. There’s room for the midwives and the Moses.

 

***

I’m also suspicious of empire tactics being baptized and employed to “build the Kingdom of God.” 

My soul recoils from the use of the very tactics of the empire – silencing, bullying, judging, other-ing, dehumanzing, mocking, name-calling, ganging up and piling on, violence - used against the oppressed and marginalized now somehow being used for “good purpose.”

I see this tendency in my own soul and it grieves me. The Spirit often calls us to repentance before we are called to our ideas of revolution. 

My friend Kelley that I mentioned above here tells me that sometimes we think we’re called to fighting but really we’re called to farming.

This is the very nonsensical part of discipleship that our need for power bumps up against. It’s all very well to talk about “the upside down kingdom of God” until that discipleship asks us to actually live it out. 

To the world, it’s foolish to choose peace instead of war. It’s foolish to forgive. It’s foolish to be kind. It’s foolish to hope. It’s foolish to offer grace and conversation.

It’s foolish to care for your weaker brothers or sisters, let alone change our own behaviour to accommodate their growth and discipleship, their freedom and their journey.

It’s foolish to live without legalism and “clear boundaries” that apply to everyone. It’s foolish to make it our business to pursue a quiet life. It’s foolish to lay down our power. It’s foolish to be silent and listen to others instead of rush to make our own point (after all we have things to say! important things!). It’s foolish to recognize your own privilege and walk softly. It’s foolish to believe that your life matters. It’s foolish to honour one another.

Foolish things will confound the “wise” of our world. 

Those things all do seem foolish to me. So much of what Jesus and then the early church calls me to in Scripture seems foolish to the world. They confound me. They often go against my very real instincts to burn down bridges and shut down dissent and pick fights and turn over tables. But I think we are being foolish in the ways of a disciple. We are living prophetically into the Kingdom of God.

We can prophecy a better world with our very words and actions, even in the ways that we overturn the empire.

The Spirit transforms our hearts and minds and then our lives: regardless of our past, regardless of our context, regardless of our privilege or lack thereof. If we are disciples, we are participating in the life of Jesus now. And the way in which we engage in our lives matters. The way in which we engage our enemies matters even more perhaps.

This is how we will be known: by our love.

I want my work and witness to be marked by who I build up, not who I tear down. I want to be known as one who speaks life, not death; who empowers and affirm and speaks even the hard truth in love and invitation. I want us to be the ones who boldly deconstruct and then, with grace and intention and inclusion, reconstruct upon the Cornerstone.

I want to embody the character and nature of the kingdom of God, of our holy God, even when it seems so foolish.

I guess I’m foolish enough to believe it, they will know us by our love.

 

image credit: Kenny Louie

Continue Reading · faith, Jesus Feminist, social justice · 20

In which God is transforming the world :: on hope, Iraq, and everything else

One of my tinies has a particularly sensitive spirit.  (Well, to be honest, I tend to think most kids do. Maybe some of us just get really good at dulling our sensitivity early.) One night, he couldn’t sleep and seemed very rumpled in his soul. Finally, hardly able to speak the words for how they gripped his mind, he told me about a poster he had seen at a community event. He had been out with his dad for the day. And there were booths set up at the event, not only for local businesses but also for local charities. And I guess one of them was for a charity that works to prevent child trafficking.

“It was a kid, Mum, and he had chains wrapped all around his body and he was scared.”

My son was devastated at just the memory of this poster, unable to sleep. He was too young to see such a thing perhaps, because he didn’t understand marketing materials. He was just at a little community event and was confronted there with an image that now tortured his sleep. We didn’t notice it and so couldn’t help him understand or process it at the time.

That night, I wrapped him in my arms. We prayed and talked about it and prayed more. He curled up into our strength. He slept with us all night.

But I admit that I lay awake wondering why I’m not more bothered – especially because I know the truth behind images like that. And so many others.

A religious minority chased up a mountain to starve to death in Iraq, their children being beheaded and crucified. Forced female genital mutilation. The girls still in the clutches of Boko Haram. The situation in Israel and Gaza, so many Palestinian civilians dead, their children weeping or injured or worse. There’s the Russian escalation, planes being shot out of the sky, the spectre of people littered in a field without proper care for days, 24 hours news coverage of carnage. There are the kids caught in the midst of the central American refugee crisis, pouring over borders and now being kept in detention centres. Lonely, sad-eyed children trapped in airless buildings without hope. Ferocious ebola outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now into Nigeria it seems. Unarmed young African-American men killed o the street or in the Walmart toy section without provocation as they move through their daily lives.

And the list goes on. and on. and on.

I scroll through Twitter and in between snippets of snark and jokes, people are posting pictures of someone else’s dead kids.

With the news coming out of Iraq, I remembered – almost against my will – every single sermon I have heard in my life around Easter, a preacher usually describing in terrible detail the crucifixion of Christ in gory nuance (why do preachers do that?) and then I found myself applying all of those same descriptions to someone else’s child in the cradle of civilization just yesterday, and my stomach heaves and then I shut down my entire mind and heart, unable to bear it.

I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it. No one could. This is evil, this is hell.

I hear of these things and then I cannot bear it so I stop thinking of them. I simply close the gates of my mind and heart to it, it’s too terrible. And yet I move through my day somehow. I sleep well. I eat meals. I am consumed with my own concerns.

But on the night one of my children came to me, utterly devastated by just the sight of marketing materials having to do with child trafficking, I knew he was more right than me.

I should be devastated. We should all be devastated. It should disturb my sleep.

Perhaps lament and anger and grief is the most godly response and posture. 

Grief and lament and anger is the beginning point of hope, it seems.

I lay in bed with my broken-hearted boy and saw the truth of this. His heart was broken by just the glimpse of injustice towards children, and I had to wonder why my heart is not more broken, why my sleep is not more disturbed when I know and have seen so much more.

My son was right in his response. I have become too callous to suffering.

It’s been a hard summer in this old world of ours. The Kingdom of God seem so far away in these days. It feels foolish to pray and hope sometimes.

The dream of turning swords into ploughshares seems laughable. Who could turn tanks and missiles into farming equipment? Who could dare speak of a day when all tears will be wiped away? Who is foolish enough to hope for the desert to burst forth into bloom, for streams of water to flow in the parched and barren places?

I turned to the words of the great Desmond Tutu, who carries both hope and sadness like an anointing. He wrote, “Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now–in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. … Indeed, God is transforming the world now–through us–because God loves us.” 

And so I find myself hoping.

Foolishly, perhaps. But it’s a company of holy fools, spreading like yeast. Small seeds grow to mighty oaks.

We feel small in these days. And that smallness makes us feel powerless in the face of such suffering. Even stretching out our opinions from the place of disinterest and objectivity on each story is a privilege.

So how do I hold onto that hope that God is transforming the world now through us?

We can’t willfully push away the suffering of humanity and the terribleness of the world out of selfishness and discomfort with the truth.

We can listen – truly listen – to the stories that people need to tell. Maya Angelou wrote that there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

We can kick against the injustices and amplify the voices of those who are suffering. We can read the prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah. We can educate ourselves and seek to understand complexity outside of our pet sources. We can light candles and, oh, we can pray.

We can write letters and advocate. We can be teachable. We can hold space for the suffering. We can both prayerfully and practically support people and organizations who are working towards peace and shalom in the front lines. We can do that work ourselves, daily small and unsexy as it is.

We can let our children lead us back to the right response – compassion and tenderness of heart again.

In the words of Isaiah, we can sweep our lives clean of evildoings, say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless. (Isaiah 1:12-17)

Isaiah

If we want the light of God to be the light by which we live, let that light shine in our lives and let it expose the truth. The truth shall set us free. We can give myself over to a sleepless night, holding vigil with all those who weep and watch and wait. We can create beauty. We can be what Kathy Escobar calls a “pocket of freedom and love,” setting up prophetic outposts of the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives.

And we can pray with our children and then raise them to listen, and to work, and to partner with God in the work of truth-telling and reconciliation and justice. This is God’s work, to love well.

We can be men and women who love.

Sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time.

Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.

Sometimes it all begins with the terrible prayer: Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.

Be careful, because when your heart breaks, everything and everyone can tumble right in, right where they belong, right to the centre of your love and your hope.

Kyrie eléison. Lord, have mercy.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, peace, social justice, suffering · 36

In which I check in with you – a new video and a new article

Hi friends! Just a quick pop in to say hello. I hope you’re having a lovely summer so far. Life has been full here. The school year ended early due to the teacher strike here in B.C. and so all of a sudden the tinies were full-on at home and we’ve all been readjusting. I love having them home but it’s busy!

I did write one article a few weeks ago and it’s up now at The High Calling. It’s called Rethinking Scarcity: A Legacy of Abundance. It’s a sweet one for me – a bit about my dad, for instance – but it’s a bit of a taste of where I’m at these days as I’m writing and working, too. Here’s a snippet:

Out of all the richness studying and learning have brought to my life, one of the loveliest is the discovery that my father’s inherent and rather humble beliefs about the God he loved were, in fact, deeply and theologically correct. The Holy Spirit led my father and my mother to this knowledge without any of the “proper” books or seminary-trained leaders, perhaps, but they knew the truth about the nature and character of God and about our true citizenship as part of a prophetic and alternative community.

It was a sweet moment to read ancient liturgies for the first time and discover parallels with our own prayers, to read biographies and stories throughout the ages from other believers who had experienced and known God in this dance between Scripture and Spirit, and then recently to read theological greats like Dr. Walter Brueggemann, for instance, and there find the language for what our hearts already knew about God’s abundant life.

Few theologians have influenced me the way that Brueggemann has— perhaps N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard are up there with him— from my political and economic engagement to my vocation as a writer to even my personal discipleship. His work on the “Liturgy of Abundance versus the Myth of Scarcity” is primarily for the big picture—the empire, economics, justice for the poor, war— but because I am a small woman with a fairly small life and realm of influence, I find that his words illuminated even my own life in the individual and communal ways, too. In his words, I found my father’s legacy articulated.

The myth of scarcity tells the powerful to accumulate and take and dominate, to be driven by the fear of Not Enough and Never Enough. We make our decisions out of fear and anxiety that there isn’t enough for us. These core beliefs can lead us to the treacheries of war and hunger, injustice and inequality. We must keep others down so we can stay on top. We stockpile money and food and comforts at the expense of one another and our own souls. Throughout Scripture, we can see the myth of scarcity’s impact on—and even within—the nation of Israel. The prophets wrote and stood in bold criticism against the empire’s myth of scarcity that built on the backs of the poor and oppressed.

(You can read the rest of it over at The High Calling, if you like.)

And what I wrote there ties in very well with the video I wanted to share with you, too. Travis over at The Work of the People sent me the latest video he created out of our conversations back in April. He is so dear to our family now.

This one is called Detoxing.

The rest of our videos together are here as well.

I do miss blogging – and I miss our conversations! – but I’m keeping up on my Facebook page and Instagram and even a bit of Twitter (particularly when I travel).  All my writing energy is being poured into my new book these days. It’s a slow and quiet process.

My love to each of you. I pray for you often.

Cheers,

S.

Continue Reading · faith, video, vlog · 6

In which we have another video for you :: Lean Into the Pain

One of the phrases I often write through or return to in my work is to “lean into the pain” and this is a 5 minute video from Travis Reed of The Work of the People on where it came from.

Talking about things like this is a bit hard for me – I’m not a verbal processor and to think “on my feet” like this is a bit of a stretch.  I’m more comfortable as a writer obviously. And so I’ll also share an excerpt from my book about this very thing:

Lean into the pain.

Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there, too. You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Your fear will try to hold you back, your tension will increase, the pain will become intense, and it will be tempting to keep clinging tight to the old life; the cycle is true. So be gentle with yourself. Be gentle when you first release. Talk to people you trust. Pray. Lean into the pain. Stay there. and the release will come. 

Hurry wounds a questioning soul.

You can also watch You are Not Forgotten and Live Loved.

 

Continue Reading · faith, giving birth, Jesus Feminist, journey · 19