I recently returned from a family trip to Mendocino, a small town on the northern coast of California. It was lovely in all the ways you’d expect: unspoiled, rugged, breathtakingly beautiful…and, for our family, the added bonus of super-cool temperatures. Sun-worshippers, we are not! Anyways, part of the charm was its remoteness. We quickly realized *how* remote when we discovered our cottage had no wifi or cell coverage. I had no choice but to turn off Facebook and Twitter, focusing instead on the stack of books I’d thrown into the minivan.
I’m probably the LAST person in Silicon Valley to read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. Friends had told me that it was quite good, and since she lives down the street and has kids in class with mine, I added it to my vacation reading pile – which is otherwise dominated by social justice books (these days, at least!). On a foggy Mendocino morning, I cracked it open, reading about her journey after losing her husband suddenly in 2015. Into her own personal narrative, she integrates research and lessons learned in facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. In the midst of her grief, a good friend told her….
“Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
Post-Eden: Option B
Church, we are living in the era of Option B, Biblically speaking. This broken and hurting world is NOT as God created it nor is it the way He wants it. Option A was Eden. This side of heaven, there will never be full shalom. But, that in no way means that we are meant to circle the wagons around our holy huddle and wait for the rapture. We are called to bring ‘up there’ to ‘down here’. The other book I read in Mendocino, was Love Mercy, by Lisa Samson. Given that Micah 6:8 has become my own mantra, I was keen to dive into the personal story of another believer trying to put this verse into practice. She writes about the moment God met her on the pages of Isaiah 58, solidifying her conviction that she was to orient her life around loving the least. She shares:
God keeps sending me this message because I keep doing a half-baked job of following. Expend your life on behalf of the poor? Expend means to be be worn-out, dried up, caved-in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned & tattered.
I read that and paused. I am on the same journey, but what will it cost me? What is it going to ultimately lead me to? It still don’t fully know. But, I am more convinced than ever that it is time for a revival of love, mercy and justice. It is indeed time for the church to kick the shit out of Option B.
So, part of the reason Mendocino sounded great is that I did NOT have to worry about being ‘swimsuit ready’ come June. With temps in the 50’s and 60’s, I stayed mostly in jeans and sweatshirts. No matter where you spend your summer, I can assure you that most moms out there watched the hilarious video by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley, “I Swimsuit Season So Hard.” It went viral, in part, because all women can identify with the crazy expectations modern life throws our way. And, let’s be honest, when you’re juggling ALL that and then someone wants to give you a lecture being ‘worn-out, dried up, caved in, broken-down, melted, sapped, burned and tattered’ for the poor…..I mean, seriously. It. Is. Too. Much.
But, faith doesn’t always make sense. Jesus makes these outlandish claims, like we are to lose our lives in order to find them. But, how do you do that and still pay your bills and raise your kids? What ‘exactly’ are moms meant to lose? Tell me. This chica needs details. I read these amazing books and blogs by the likes of Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans. It looks and sounds so good, but how do you make it happen, a truly missional family and life? Do we go to Africa? Foster kids? Work in the inner city? Must everything we eat, drink and wear be fair trade? What happens if I suck at composting and my kids don’t want to donate their birthday money to charity? Seriously. Where do you draw the line? What does it all mean for a regular family, like ours, just trying to get from one day to the next? How do you make sure you’re stumbling forward in the right direction?
Don’t ask me for answers.
The “control-freak, Type-A, hoping to impress you” version of me would love to unveil my journey as a roadmap that others could follow. But, all I have is my story…a messy one, at that.
Exhibit A: In my last post, I shared how God opened doors for me to donate my car (I truly thought life and faith were all falling neatly into place.) Would you believe that my brand new car was recalled!?!?! As in…I CAN’T DRIVE IT!!!! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been driving around a rental while my new minivan sits in the driveway. That was not Option A!
even in these headaches especially in the headaches, God is teaching me. It seems faith falling into place does not equate to life going smoothly.
I’m not sure my messes and lessons will be helpful. But, I’m nonetheless going to walk through some of the lessons God has taught me since I began my journey, nearly one year ago, to *actually* live a Micah 6:8 life.
For the less ‘wordy’ types….here’s a diagram. But, suffice to say that those who truly love me and/or God will read to the end. (JK)
Sorry, white, evangelical, upper-middle class American church – you’re not being persecuted. On the contrary, you’re privileged beyond what you fully realize (Note: central to understanding privilege is acknowledging our own blindness to it). The full extent of that privilege in my own life – born out of my race, nationality, education, income, etc., is what I’ve come to more fully understand and appreciate these last few months.
Research shows that people like me credit ourselves for fortunes, rather than factors outside our control. This hindsight bias, as economics professor Robert Frank explains in his book, Success and Luck, Good Fortune and The Myth of Meritocracy, describes our tendency to think, after the fact, that an event was predictable even when it wasn’t. A similar myth pervades much of Christianity, most blatant with proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. Even Christians who don’t ardently propagate such dogma, still outwardly praise God, while inwardly crediting ourselves. Naturally, we then rationalize stinginess with the rest of the world, citing laziness or bad decisions or immorality, etc., as the explanation for their misfortune. If we get the credit for successes, they conversely deserve the blame for failures. (Or so the logic goes.)
If Americans are good at either not seeing or not caring about suffering at home, they are even more indifferent to the injustices beyond our borders. Folks, concepts, such as manifest destiny, are not Biblical. Americans are not *entitled* to some material global hegemony or economic prosperity or made sacred by our mere desire to justify our excesses at the expense of or in the face of other’s need and suffering. Our brothers and sisters of every tribe and nation carry equal weight with our Father, and so too must they with us.
Remember high school? I’m turning 40 in a few weeks. My boys (ages 6 and 9) declared the other day in the car, that they did not believe I was EVER a kid. Precious, huh?!? Contrary to their belief, I can remember being young. Books were my BFF’s. I remember reading Emerson and Thoreau, finding an inner resonance and harmony between these great transcendentalist thinkers, my adolescent desire for independence and my sincere patriotic belief in American exceptionalism. I saw no conflict between these ideas and my faith, and there is a good reason for that.
The ‘American’ Christian mentality has made subtle but significant shifts overtime, elevating individualism far above the collective. (Note: the worth of an individual should not to be confused with Individualism as an ideology.) Even as Jesus came so that we might enter into an individual relationship with Him via the Holy Spirit, we recognize that Jesus came to save us all.
“For God so loved the WHOLE world, that He gave us only Son…”.
While we are saved individually, we are called collectively. Christ said we will be known by the love we have for one another, not for ourselves (John 13:35). Even the personhood of God testifies to a harmonious duality of One God in Three Persons.
So too must we look for a similar balance between the individual and the collective in our own faith. Sadly, individualism as an ideology within the church has facilitated an unholy indifference to entire communities, from people of color to immigrants to even the poor (and many more). I include the poor because I know most Christians bristle at the suggestion that they or their church don’t care about the poor. What church hasn’t organized a charity drive or two? The problem is that even as WASPY types publicly profess regret and even compassion, they privately support (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) the institutions and systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.
This is not who we are. In Matthew 22:38-39, Jesus clarifies the essence of faith:
This is the first and greatest commandment (Love God). And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
To the natural follow-up question of ‘Who Is My Neighbor’ Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which paints a picture of God’s heart for the oppressed, marginalized and forgotten. These days, we look a lot more like the Priest and the Levi than we do the Good Samaritan. The Bible is explicit in its call to love the least, calling out women, children, migrants, the poor, etc.
Sadly, American Evangelicals are quicker to wag a finger at individual failings than offer a hand to marginalized communities. By our own doing, we have projected ourselves into the public square, with our moral majorities and our compassionate conservatism. And, now that we are married into these often unholy alliances, we cannot wash our hands. To the vast majority of America and the rest of the world, being an evangelical means protecting our individual interests above the needs of the communities where we live.
Even before #45 (who has taken indifference to a whole new level), evangelicals consistently backed policies and politicians that too often help themselves at the expense of those already at a power disadvantage. To that end, Beth Moore recently tweeted:
“We keep empowering the powerful/equipping the equipped/saving the saved/feeding the full/helping the helped and we wonder why we’re unfulfilled.”
Even worse, we not only excuse, but as Judy Wu Dominick calls it, we Christianize our pagan practices. God help us. Thankfully, He does. And, writing about the alternative faith mindset and practice, author Erin Straza advocates what she calls a ‘Comfort Detox‘ (which also happens to be the title of her book. She writes:
“There is too much to do and too much brokenness in this world for any of God’s people to sit idle, amused by life pursuits that benefit only ourselves.”
A church that gives a damn about a world, cares more about meeting the need than counting the cost, loving the broken rather than admonishing the sinner….and, in the midst of it – seeing our OWN need and our own brokenness.
“If your theology prevents you from changing your mind when confronted with the immense suffering it causes, your theology is your God.” – Rachel Cohen
At the end of the day, the gospel is inherently about reconciliation of ALL things….not the well-behaved, polished or polite….but, the ‘as far as the East is from the West’ Redeemer of ALL.
Crap. This is rubber hitting the road. It isn’t easy. But, discipleship is key to spiritual wellness. And, in the same way that physical wellness requires effort (do those damn planks and try to like kale) – so does this effort require carving out space from our crazy lives. We all want a magic wand, to make the problems go away or to create more time. But, sometimes what we need is not a magic wand but an eraser. We have to let go of something else in order to make space for new practices and mindsets.
I love to read. And, there is a growing library of literature on justice and/or faith. Truth be told, much of it’s been there for a looooong time (starting with my favorite, Old and New Testament scriptures!). But, once we find our bubbles, it’s astonishing how little we see outside. Even if you’re not ready to physically step into the margins, you can begin your journey as I did, with a book. I started with white, female Christian authors – women not that different from myself. But, overtime, I’ve found some of the most moving and perspective shifting lessons to be from people NOT like me…..people of color or people with a completely different life story and experience. So, even if you don’t pick a book off of my ‘Favorites’ List – please break your bubble and look beyond your own clan or comfort zone.
- Isaiah 58
- Matthew 25
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
- The Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
- Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
- Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
- Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
- Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
- Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Favorite Folks to Follow – Twitter & Facebook
Some of these categories overlap but they nonetheless provide some categorization. And, this is also the tip of the iceberg! This is a large and growing community, that I was blind to till a couple years ago. It’s been like pulling back the curtain and discovering an entirely new universe.
- Faith and Justice: Jim Wallis/Sojourners, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, DL Mayfield, Eugene Cho, Sarah Bessey, Laura Ortberg Turner, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, Judy Wu Dominick, Red Letter Christians, Jonathan Merritt, Jonathan Martin, Joy Beth Smith, Lisa Sharon Harper, Katelyn Beaty, Mihee Kim-Kort, Jenny Yang, ACLU, Preemptive Love Coalition.
- POC: TruthsTable, SafetyPinBox, Efrem Smith, Deray McKesson, Shaun King, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Terri Givens, Austin Channing, LaTasha Morrison, Trevor Noah, Charles Blow, April D Ryan, Charles Blow, Bryan Stevenson.
- Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee
- Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew Hart
- Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
- Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
- Comfort Detox by Erin Straza
- The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
- God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
- Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan
- Wake Up White by Debby Irving
Sheryl Sandberg writes about the value of journaling, in her book, Option B. I’ve never been good at journaling. I start a journal, write for a few days, and soon completely forget about it, as To Do Lists and Cranky Kids overshadow the empty pages. I began blogging because it was a way to hold myself publicly accountable to this journey.
There’s a Japanese proverb that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Folks who go out on a limb, usually take a beating. #JenHatmaker It takes guts to call out injustice or speak truth to those with power or privilege. If you see someone taking a risk, say ‘thank you’. We need to be allies who stand first and foremost with those in the margins. And, next, we need to be allies to those who are advocating for others, be it a pastor teaching to his white congregation about racism and privilege or the young reporter writing in the wealthy town’s local newspaper about persistent poverty of neighbors next-door. And, as recent months have demonstrated during the current health care debate – your voice makes a difference. Call. Write. Tweet. We cannot afford to be silent.
It doesn’t feel like I’ve made much progress, but God help me – I was so blind, with so much to learn. And, thankfully, it’s been a year of wrestling and questioning and painful growing. Much of it began with a crazy invitation to a handful of girlfriends,
“Hey, would you be willing to meet regularly to study racism and white privilege with me?”
Amazingly, even though they’re all super busy moms with 101 things to do – they all said YES. And, so began a journey that has been broken and transformed all of us.
At the beginning of this journey, roughly one year ago, I honestly didn’t know where God wanted me or what I was supposed to do. But, I could not stand before God and attest for my life, given the delta between what I KNEW the Bible taught about loving the least and what I was actually DOING about it. I needed to take going OUT into the world as seriously as took going to church each Sunday. I needed to take listen to the stories of marginalized or oppressed people as often as I listen to Christian radio (if not more!). I needed to get my head OUT of the books and blogs and INTO the margins I claimed to care so much about. It was time to check my Savior Complex at the door, and just humbly GO. Like the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes, once I walked through the door, there was no turning back….I could see with painful clarity the pain and suffering of so many. While many questions remain and I still feel woefully inadequate, God keeps calling ME back to a few groups.
WHO: People of Color, the Poor/Homeless, Immigrants, Children
WHAT: Education, Social Justice and Anti-Poverty Service Organizations
WHERE: Bay Area
HOW: Launch Community Equity Collaborative, Continue volunteering with Life Moves and Live Able
As a busy mom, trying to ferry kids to appointments and activities, it is easy to fall into ‘paralysis by analysis’. Seriously, there is a lot brokenness out there. Where do you start? How do you decide what issues to pursue or partners to work with? Here’s how I’ve made my choices:
Read books, read your local paper, drive to the other side of town. Identify the areas of greatest need in your community. Here are categories frequently mentioned in the Bible that you can use as a lens when looking at your own community:
hungry/thirsty, strangers/foreigners/immigrants, poor/homeless, sick, prisoners, women/widows, children/orphans.
I loved the way Nish Weiseth put it in a recent tweet:
“Regardless of your theology, when there’s pain (ESPECIALLY in the margins) that’s always where the church should go first. Always”
The margins are holy places.
Charity is a cheap substitute for justice, and God knows, many well intentioned charities have done more harm than good (Check out, When Helping Hurts). Pick organizations that are not only alleviating present needs but also working to knock down barriers and create better opportunities for future wellness. For your sake and the sake of the folks you’re trying to help, be smart in picking partners.
What places are either my community or my church turning a blind eye too? How can I help fill that gap? Frankly, Evangelicals are largely MIA from the margins (POC, immigrants and LGBTQ folks are more common targets than recipients, recently!), so I highly recommend going with a humble heart, ready to listen, learn and help there. And, here’s the crazy thing about the least….even if we have to leave our usual church activities in order to love the least, the margins are where we find Jesus. As Jonathan Martin puts it,
“Theology that cuts you off from the messy reality of human experience ultimately alienates you from Christ, too.”
Looking back on my life, I’m struck by how desperately I’ve tried to sanitize my life when I actually should have been leaning into the mess of myself and others, for at the foot of the cross, we are all broken.
What can I actually do? What days of the week or times of the day work for me? For me, with young kids and a husband who works long hours in Silicon Valley, my availability is while my kids at school. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I want to find new rhythms of life that can become my life-song for many years to come.
A few days ago, I saw Hamilton with my husband in San Francisco. Brilliant show at the beautiful and historic Orpheum Theater….which happens to be located in what can best be called, a ‘gritty’ part of town. Even my sincere desire to see worthiness in the homeless who encamp nearby, with their needles openly littering the ground and the stench of old urine hanging in the air – does not inoculate me to the deeply engrained norms of my lifelong privilege. If this blog sounds preachy, know that I preach to myself first and foremost. I still fall into my old ways of thinking, but I catch myself….I pivot. Bit by bit….that’s the only way.
There’s a refrain in Hamilton that is often repeated: “No, I’m not going to give away my shot.” And, this is the line that reverberates in my mind….I cannot give away my one shot at a Micah 6:8 life…for myself and for my family. I’m leaning that God isn’t asking me for the answers – just willingness to follow, one day at a time.
I’ve matured in my posture to Thoreau, since those high school days long ago. Though, there is much that still resonates, including this quote from Walden:
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
We cannot say we value and love others and yet be unwilling to make significant exchanges to their end. Loving the least means taking your shot and kicking the shit out of Option B, no matter the cost. Ditch the bracelet. Pick up the cross.