Over the past year, which has seemingly overflowed with massive amounts of upheaval, loss, disruption, and systematic injustice, I have heard the words from Matthew 10 ringing in my head. It took me this long to sit down with this thought and search it out because, in complete transparency, I've been in such a long process of deconstruction - both in my faith and in my worldview - that it has been hard for me to open my Bible much. When I do crack the pages open it's usually because something has been nagging at me for awhile - just like this. These words keep surfacing, tugging on me. I acknowledge them and then slide past, not ready to lean in just yet. Until this week.
Rob Bell says that there are some things that we are meant to do - and we know it because the only thing worse than doing it is NOT doing it.
Hear me, friends. I know that this year has been rough. I know that some of us are just now learning phrases like, "white privilege" or "white fragility". I know that the very idea of being born and bred into a system that automatically extends privilege, opportunity, and protection to some of us and not others is wildly offensive. It is. It's offensive because we were handed this normalized, imbalanced way of living, but a lot of us have never even known we were contributing to the ache just by not recognizing it. It's offensive because it challenges the underlying safety and control white people hold, simply because of the color of their skin. In a sense, to admit we hold privilege is to lay it down. We can't unknow what we know. We can't go on clinging to our privilege and maintain the title of 'Decent Human Being' once we've named it. And this election year has amplified more than we anticipated. We've heard the voices of marginalized and oppressed minorities crying out, we've heard the indignant response of truly good people who have yet to sit with their own inner selves and let the truth seep into their existence (it's not too late to do this, friends), we've heard the overtly racist declarations of a man who now holds a position of extraordinary power, we've heard white allies giving voice to our brothers and sisters who are POC. We've heard a lot, friends, and it has felt to me like the blood of the oppressed crying out from the ground. It has felt like Creation groaning on it's axis, holding the weight of human suffering.
And Matthew 10 has been surfacing for me over and over again. Mostly in moments of despair over the silence, apathy, or glaring privilege of the American Church. It hurts to see the positions being held by lovers of Jesus. It hurts to hear justifications of racism, rape culture, injustice, and fragility spilling out of the words of people who have committed to serve Love. It hurts to hear cries of, "unity!" and "stop dividing!" as a bandaid for the gushing arteries of minorities, women, disabled, and LGTBQ. It hurts, you guys. And I'm a white woman. I'm not a minority. I'm not gay. I'm not disabled. I can't even fathom how it hurts for the people who are being pummeled back into the dust, minimized by words, actions, and silence.
Jesus said this: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:34-38 NIV)
I'm not a theologian, I've never been to seminary, and I haven't extensively studied Greek, but my dad taught me how to navigate Strong's Concordance when I was 15, so I've been digging into this particular Biblical text with honesty for the first time in my life. I'll admit, it has never sat right in my gut. What happened to peace on earth? What happened to the Prince of Peace? It has never made sense to me that Jesus would say something so seemingly out of character, so I mostly avoided it out of fear. Because what happens if we start questioning interpretations, and scripture, and tradition? I'll tell you: freedom happens. Massive amounts of holy, wild freedom happens. Not because God is wrong, but because human tendency is to try to define God and Divine Love will not be defined. Deconstruction is a lonely, painful process, but I have never regretted a second of allowing myself to wake up to the broadness and vastness of The Divine. I have never regretted relinquishing any pretense of my control to Mystery.
So, here I am. Here we are. With Jesus' own words staring strangely back at us from ancient pages.
When Jesus said he didn't come to bring peace on earth, the word for peace is "eirene" (Strong's Number G1515) and it means "to join, one, peace, quietness, rest, + set at one again." And when Jesus said that he came to bring a sword, the word is "machaira" (Strong's Number G3162) and means "a knife, figuratively, war, judicial punishment."
The cries of "unity!" are empty, friends. They're empty because they are missing something so vital and so necessary - they are missing the remembrance of this God in flesh. Jesus didn't come to bandaid the world, or to wait until the Pharisees were comfortable with their privilege. He didn't come to sugarcoat injustice, or wait to hear both sides before he sat in the dirt with the woman caught in adultery. He defied the law over and over again (in Mark 3 and Luke 8 to name a few) in order to heal, rescue, and breathe life and value back into human beings. He sought out a Samaritan woman and drank out of her jug - the equivalent of sharing a glass of water with a black woman in the 60's. He held nothing back in exposing the religious privilege and systematic injustice overflowing from the Pharisees. And he knew that picking up this cross and following his path would bring a strong divide between people. He knew it and he said it would make us worthy.
It makes me think of a live feed from Standing Rock I watched on Facebook last week. One elder spoke up and honored the sacrifice that a woman named Sophia (who was injured in the protest and may lose her arm) made for their cause. It struck me how powerful it was to acknowledge and honor the sacrifices that are made for the freedom of a people group who have been oppressed and pushed down for centuries. It struck me that Sophia is worthy.
It makes me ache to know that, as I pick up my own cross and sit long enough to hear The Divine speaking in my own soul, a line will form between some of us. It devastates me that the price I pay for amplifying the voices of the oppressed, for standing with them in solidarity, and for relinquishing the right to my own privilege so I can lend it out to others, is relationship. But the only thing worse than doing it is not doing it. I would have to deny myself, Divine Love, and the cross that calls to me in order to make someone else comfortable.
Here's what I know: I do this work because Love demands it. I use my voice because there is no other way for me to love all of humanity with all of my vulnerability and courage. I walk this road because it is the only way to true unity. If we are going to live in the reality of finally belonging to one another, it has to start with clearing the ground for the oppressed. It has to start with those of us who are willing to sit down in the dirt with someone who is in fear for their life and, without hesitating, put the shame back where it belongs (John 8). It has nothing to do with hearing both sides of a story when I've been living one side. I know privilege and fragility - I don't need anyone to attempt to explain its non existence to me. I've already been a product of it. I don't need someone to send me an article arguing the rights of people who actively oppress. I don't need to hear another white voice declare that peace is being dismantled - the absence of peace has been festering under the surface of our existence all along. This act of picking up the cross is not something someone else can do for me and it isn't a call I can ignore. When Love itself declares that the path to being One is paved with disruption, we follow. We follow because we know that God will always shepherd us and that, somehow, this dark valley will produce light. We trust that the carpenter from Nazareth, who himself was a refugee in Egypt, who was hunted, who was challenged, who was tortured and unjustly murdered, knew all along that that would be the road to Love.
And if we forget, we are already lost.