Years ago I was on an airplane reading a book about liberation theology. The woman sitting next to me saw the word “God” in the title and got excited. “I’m a Christian, too!” she said. I thought, “What could possibly go wrong?” In the conversation that followed, we rapidly discovered that our Gods, our Jesuses, our spiritualities were not synchronized. In fact, they were adversaries.
As we spoke we became more entrenched. I spoke of a revolutionary Jesus who fought against material inequalities and political oppression. She spoke of a Jesus focused on our personal lives, a soul-worker who cared solely for the state of our hearts and the content of our desires. I quoted Jesus in Luke 6, “Blessed are the poor,” and she countered with Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” She pulled out of the conversation with an impressive bit of shade as she turned away and said, “Well, it sounds like you’re interested in the social gospel, and I’m interested in the real gospel.”
In a widely watched TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story,” the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us against allowing only one story, one narrative or one voice to dominate our consciousness. She says the problem of the “single story” is not that it might be false, but that having only one story serves to “flatten our experience.” The woman on the airplane had a flattened Jesus. But so did I. My spirituality is wider and bigger now. I do not need to choose between a rebel and a soul-worker. I can embrace a Jesus who is both lion and lamb. In place of a flattened spirituality, I can seek a God who has contours, depth, caves, abysses, peaks, plains, marshes, and foothills. After all, there are two distinct creation stories in the Bible (Gen 1 and Genesis 2-3). There are two distinct accounts of the history of the Israelite kingdoms (Kings and Chronicles). There are four distinct portraits of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). And that’s just the diversity within my one-faith tradition.
I do not need to choose between a rebel and a soul-worker. I can embrace a Jesus who is both lion and lamb.
However, I do not believe the solution is that we simply “hear both sides” to every argument. To do so would ignore the massive imbalances of power, material wealth, representation, and privilege in our society. From a young age we are taught a flat version of history (e.g., In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue… yay, Columbus!). So, in order to develop contours in our social views, our spirituality, and even our identity, we must begin by seeking out the stories that have been systematically censored and delegitimized. In these times, may we cut the mic on folks such as Brett Kavanaugh, and begin to hear and embrace the stories of those who have been silenced for too long.
Only then will we truly gain contours.
Rev. John Helmiere, the Convener of Valley & Mountain.
The spirituality of disobedience
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