The first time I can remember being introduced to the idea of a radical Christianity was at the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering during Thursday night in the Superdome when Shane Claiborne gave a sermon. I’m linking it here (it’s only 30 minutes) so that you can watch it and be amazed by his beautiful illustrations of what it means to live out life as followers of God as well as get context for where this part of my story began. In this sermon he talks about the way in which his life was changed when he became a Christian and the ways he felt called to live out his faith. Following the Youth Gathering, his messages and anecdotes stuck with me, but I was only in high school and I wasn’t quite sure how to apply the lessons I had heard to my own life. I wasn’t ready to go out and start an early criminal record or travel to a war-torn area (not that Shane Claiborne is recommending these things). So I kept my head down for a few more years; I went to church every Sunday when I lived at home and had theological conversations with my roommates when I was in college. As I engaged with my faith on a personal level throughout college, I became more acutely aware as to how my actions represented or misrepresented my God. I made an effort to read and learn more about current events and politics; I actively sought out voices of those who didn’t look like me or live like me. But I did all this quietly, only sharing my thoughts with a couple of close friends.
Then, on Valentine’s Day of this year (2018), there was a school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, not too far from where my college is located. I had fellow classmates who had graduated from Stoneman Douglas and who had siblings who were at the school during the shooting. I was angry first at all the events that led to the death of 17 students and staff members, but then I was inspired by the activism of survivors. So I attended a March for Our Lives event where I protested inadequate gun safety laws. It was at that time I also decided to be less quiet. I began to slowly but surely inch my way towards letting people know what I believe in. But the reception was not always as warm as I would have hoped. I experienced rejection from friends who said I was getting too political for them, which has always left me slightly confused. All I wanted to do was live out my faith in a more active way. Following Jesus has never been political for me; while I believe he was an inherently political force of his time, for me he was simply a guide and teacher towards how to love God’s creation in the most compassionate way possible.
Now, as I spend a year living in Mexico and working with migrants, I hear the Holy Spirit calling out to me. I am called to use words that I previously shied away from like “racism,” “white privilege,” and “oppression.” I am called to take risks I use to avoid (though I still have no plans for being arrested). I am called to name injustice as the sin it is and say “this isn’t right.” I remember hearing during our orientation in Chicago that our relationships would change over the year and thinking “at least I have a solid support system so I have nothing to worry about there.” But as I become more vocal about these issues that are important to me, like creating safer, more ethical, and more legal pathways for immigration and the protection of migrant rights, I feel like I can see a great divide forming. Previously untouched by polarism due to my silent complacency, I was jolted by how quickly things could change when I became more vocal, even when that voice is given to me by God. I felt a brokenness arise in my support system. In part I am still being held up as the small church darling who grew from a young child into an inspiring missionary, but now I am given a contrasting identity as also being one of “those people” who is too political, too radical, too naive, and just generally too much of a lot of things.
To come to this realization brought me great stress and sadness. I was sitting in my bed with a fellow YAGM, Christine, and crying about feeling unheard and misunderstood when she graciously shared with me the story of when Jesus is run out of his own hometown for his preaching (Luke 4:14-30). I don’t want to draw a direct comparison and say that my sending community is driving me out of town. Despite the recent criticisms I have endured (and those I suspect exist but haven’t come to light), I have a great number of supporters who pray for me constantly and are encouraging me to be brave and bold and to speak my truth. I wouldn’t be here without their support. But still, I felt a connection to this story of Jesus being driven out of town and I’m grateful because it reminded me that this year isn’t about me. My hurt is personal, but the messages I am preaching aren’t my own. I certainly am not one of the first people to suggest feeding the hungry, protecting the vulnerable, or caring for the sick.
The Bible is filled with messages about the pain disciples have to endure to be followers of Christ. At first these verses made me resentful as I tried to nurse my wounds with anger that God would lead me down a path that caused me pain. I didn’t want to be hated by the world and it wasn’t a ton of comfort that they hated Jesus first (John 15: 18-19). But I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the humanity of Jesus and how his experience was like mine. God knows my experience deeply, in its most human aspects. I’m not a lamb being led to slaughter, I’m being led by my shepherd. In Luke 21:12-19 Jesus is teaching in a temple and he tells his followers that they will be persecuted, brought before the courts, and imprisoned because of his name. He even tells them how their parents, brothers, relatives, and friends may betray them. But, despite how I felt when I first read this passage, Jesus’s message isn’t bleak. He also tells them not to worry for they will get the chance to testify and not to be concerned about preparing their defense because God will give them the words. Then he says, “by your endurance you will gain your souls” (verse 19). And as I get ready to share this blog, I write words that I can hardly call my own and my soul is full and I know not a hair on my head will perish.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German theologian) said, “If we water down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands, then the cross is an ordinary calamity.” For me, this year is going to be a year of costly demands on my pride, my ego, my comfort, my complacency, and at times, people in my sending community. But I find such a beautiful and divine hope in God’s calling to me. I can’t stop sharing about the migrant I met who told me he’d lived in the US for 20 years before deportation and only wanted to return to be with his kids because his origin country isn’t safe. I can’t stop sharing about the migrant who, while having so little, offered to give me money for transportation when I had lost mine. I can’t stop sharing about the migrant who had tears come to his eyes when I asked him if his life was in danger and why he was migrating. I can’t stop sharing about how many times I have seen God in “the Other.”
I’m still the girl who went to the Youth Gathering and heard Shane Claiborne share about a radical kind of Christianity that loves so boldly and so bravely that it can’t help but draw opposition. I’m still the same friend I’ve always been, even when I am passionate. I just can’t keep quiet anymore. I love a creator and spirit that is so mighty and so benevolent that She can’t be held back by things of this world. Where God leads, I will follow.
The Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23)
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.