When I first started this blog, I wanted it to primarily focus on my writing - albeit with some Christian spirituality. I didn't intend to start anything theological, because most of my publications have been in secular journals and most of my writer connections are not Christians. But with recent events in Ukraine and the world just being awful, the preacher in me feels compelled to speak into it. This will include some of my own theological journey to embracing a more resilient theology.
I went to Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2017. Around that time, there was a referendum in the northern area of Iraq for the Kurdish people to become their own nation-state. The referendum passed with 93% approval from the Kurds, only for both the American and Iraqi government to respond by shutting the vote down and closing all the airports. Pretty soon, people I knew were being thrown in prisons and there were riots.
I left two days before the referendum, but I remember watching all of this unfold and then looking around me in an otherwise peaceful environment. I felt bizarre going around in my day-to-day life trying to make sense of it all. I remember telling well-intentioned Christian friends about the injustices and oppressions I saw, only for most of those same Christians to reply: "Well, at least God will make it right some day."
I don't blame any westerner for replying like that. There really is no decent, good response in the moment unless we take time to fully understand what our own role is to play.
Regardless - for the child who is now an orphan and for the family that is now homeless due to war and conflict, that answer doesn't solve anything. The thing of it is that it is so easy to distance ourselves when we assume that there is nothing we can do. But the words of Jesus tell us it's our mandate to not give into despair, or inaction, because it distracts us from the things we ought to be doing.
Miguel A. De La Torre in is book Embracing Hopelessness tells a story about taking some seminary students to Mexico to witness poverty and listen. One of the students told him afterwards, "When I looked into her eyes, I felt comforted by her hope."
Torre looked back at her and said, "That woman is either going to be homeless or marry someone abusive just to survive day to day."
He doesn't tell this story to discourage her - but to force her to see the reality of the situation. Rampant poverty and systemic injustice exists, and we can't ignore them because we sense that some day things will be right.
Grief and sadness are invited into this space of seeing these very real problems exist. But the truth is that all is not yet lost. And, while I do believe God will make things right one day, I also understand I can't make my own hope toxic and ignore the Kingdom work that absolutely needs to be done.
Basic to my own brief despair after Kurdistan's referendum. I found myself trying to cope with this bizarre trauma of feeling like my own world was falling apart. Then I discovered the work of Jurgen Moltmann, particularly his book Theology of Hope. This book made me look at the concept of Resurrection and social justice in a clear light. If I embrace orthodoxy and even Hope, then I must embrace the radical life that Jesus calls me to live.
Moltmann writes, “That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it."
That's what helps me continue to hold on to hope, and that's what God invites us to today. But hope can also be toxic - inviting us to distance ourselves from the pain of others because of a vague understanding that God will make it right somehow. We may not able to control all of our circumstances, but we can do much with the little we do have if we have the resources and the willingness to understand first - and when we realize that is the space where God waits for us, there is no more empowering life we can live.
George Fox in his journal writes about an instance where he witness wealthy people have a Christmas party. Then he looks down the street from the party where the beggars were. He realized God was more with them than with those ignoring the situation. We encounter those situations every day. Are we willing to listen to that of God in our neighbor?
In Matthew 25: 31-40, Jesus preaches:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
To truly embrace the other is to embrace God, and to identify with another's struggles is to understand what they are going through. It is in that space that God calls us to live. Even when that same neighbor is across an ocean, we can have the willingness to learn how our western culture impacts those issues and work on ways to fix things here.
Let God bless you this week with these words, and may you cling to a healthy, non-self savior centered sense of hope.