For a long time, I have found a big part of my identity in politics. I identified myself as a somewhat liberal Democrat, and a party activist. I identified myself with the political thoughts that I would express, sometimes without much tact, on social media. That is starting to change, and I need to get some thoughts down on “paper:”
No, sorry, I’m not conservative. That’s not changing. I believe that as Christians, government and citizenship are just two of many tools the church can and should use to bring about righteousness and social justice. I will use my vote to help the poor and the sick, the refugee and the prisoner. But I am trying to identify myself as a radical Jesus follower first, and a political person after that.
Any political or social system where so many people can support or ignore the marginalization of refugees, immigrants, minority children, the sick and the poor isn’t a place where a Jesus Follower can find many kindred spirits. I am trying to Identify more with the radical way of Jesus than any modern American political ideology. Because you know what? Neither the Democrats or the Republicans or left or right come close to representing that radical new way of thinking. I think maybe Christians need to be an example, outside of politics, of how society could look when focused on Jesus.
These thoughts started a few weeks ago. I came to the realization that social media was not good for me. Honestly, I came to the realization that social media is not good for all of us, but that’s a whole other soapbox… I realized that I was constantly concerned with politics and “my party” scoring political points against the “other party.” So I suspended all my accounts and I started doing some thinking. Then 3 different things happened that I would like to tell you about:
- I stumbled onto this book:
Its called Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile.
The book is written by Rob Bell and Don Golden. Then a week after I read it, I had lunch with Don, one of the authors. This book is all about how Christianity, I mean REAL, radical, Jesus following, sell your possessions and give to the poor, adopt a refugee baby, protest war, give a second chance to a death row inmate, demand access to healthcare for the oppressed Christianity is not compatible with being “part of the empire.” It is not compatible with a safe American Dream life, as hard as that is for me to hear. It’s about how God is a God of the oppressed. Time and time again in the Bible, God shows that he is a savior for the oppressed, the marginalized, those who need justice. When the oppressed call out to him, he answers. Every time.For a long time, I have been very dissatisfied with modern American Christianity. The kind of Christianity that builds big fancy megachurch buildings, and also votes to take away health care from the poor. The kind of Christianity that supports the life of an unborn baby, but cheers the death penalty, deport children and turns its back on bombs being dropped in our name all over the world. Reading this book, I realized that I am part of the problem. By identifying more with my political party and beliefs than with a radical lifestyle designed by Jesus, I just add to the noise.As Christians, we have been called to live life in a completely different way. We are called to support peace and social justice in Christ’s name in every way, everywhere we go. For thousands of years, our Jesus following ancestors were killed and persecuted for the belief in this radically loving way of life. Now, the fact that our biggest fight in America is to not bake cakes for gay people tells us we’ve become part of the empire. We need to go back into exile. We need to live in a way so weird that it demands an explanation… I read this book and realized I need to focus more on Jesus and loving the oppressed, less on politics.
- I went to a midnight candlelight service:
My dad is also my pastor, the pastor of a large church in my town called Church of the Open Door. Even though he preached several services on Christmas Eve, he still went with me to a midnight candlelight service at an urban Presbyterian church in York. During the service, they read Isaiah 9:2-7. You know, that classic Christmas Passage “unto you a child is born, unto you a son is given…. you shall call him wonderful… prince of peace…” that one. We have all heard it. But they read THE WHOLE passage. Maybe its because I had just finished reading Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book, or maybe I truly had never heard the whole passage, but I was struck by how radical it was. Here it is in full:
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
WOAH. Christmas isn’t just about a manger. It’s not just about Jesus coming for our personal salvation so we can live comfortably and risk-free. It is RADICAL. The Prince of Peace came to earth, and because of that every soldier’s uniform, every weapon of war is going be destroyed as fuel for the fire… seriously? He has come to shatter the yoke that burdens the oppressed. He has come to show us this crazy, insane, counter-cultural, way of loving others. I am just not sure I can do that while focusing so much of my attention on scoring political points and achieving the American Dream.
- I went to the woods:
Over the last few months of inner turmoil about my identity, my faith in action, and my cynicism about “the Church,” I realized that I needed to spend some intense time focusing on my relationship with Christ, and what he wants me to do with my life. I decided I needed to escape for a couple days, do some reading, some praying, honestly, some yelling at God, and some soul-searching. Less than a week after Christmas, my dad and I headed for the mountains of West Virginia.When I got there, I started writing in my journal about what I was feeling, and why I “went to the woods.” I wrote that I wanted to be a radical Jesus follower. I wanted to give my life up completely to his calling. I wanted my life to be an example of this new way of being in the world, of being exiles living for peace and social justice in a world focused on violence, greed, and self. I want to take every chance I get to share the gospel and to help those in need. As I wrote, I came to the realization that I really haven’t spent much time in my life studying what Jesus actually said.
I grew up in the church as a pastors kid, went to a Christian college and work in Christian organizations. I’ve taken for granted that I understand the Bible and the guy I claim to follow. The last line in my journal says, “Dude if you want to follow Jesus, read his Bible.” I read more than half of the New Testament that weekend. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t put it down. As I write this now, I want to pick it up and continue reading. This feeling is brand new for me. The few times in my life that I have made a real effort to do devotions, it has always been half-hearted and lame.
You know what I found out? Jesus is even more radical than I thought. I follow an absolutely insane and amazing new way of living in the world. I’m still learning about it, and deciding what it should mean for my life and the Church. I am not sure where all this leads or what new directions my family will take, but I’ll let you know when I find out.