This is a story about flip-flops. Not to be mistaken with my previous post this week about praying for a real way out. Hold back the laughter please.
My old flips flops were about two years old, still technically usable but had big holes in them. I didn’t have the money or the desire to buy new ones. So I was looking for hand-me-downs or second-hand store finds to replace the ones I wear now. But it turns out most men want to use their sandals until they aren’t usable anymore, like I do with mine. In the end, I thought I could always get me some Dollar Tree flip flops, slave-labor and all, simply because I was running out of time (yes I take having some flip flops that seriously!). Instead, but partially as a way to procrastinate on going to the store, I decided to pray, asking God for some flip flops, and wait a little longer.
Then I was running out the door yesterday and I couldn’t find my hole-y sandals anywhere, probably because things in our house right now are extra cluttered with Gaby’s Birthday party preparations. I searched under beds, looked in every room, and tried to make everyone at home look for them. With no luck. It’s always someone else’s fault when my sandals go missing, but since I was in a hurry and couldn’t keep looking, I got down one last time and looked under our bedroom dresser just in case they got shoved under there somehow. Well, they weren’t there.
But, to my chagrin, I found another pair of old flip flops that were in surprisingly better shape than the ones I lost in the first place. So, after brushing a few cobwebs aside, I felt much better about my feet being covered, and they worked just fine.
Maybe abundance (even a little excess?) isn’t such a bad thing when you’re poor.
Something a friend wrote struck me this week: “I’ve found the best way to subvert an oppressive economic system is simply to give gifts. And receive gifts. The more, the better.”
This inspired me to write down a prayer for myself and Julissa, especially as the spiritual compromises at work have kind of intensified. I don’t presently see another option for us, apart from getting another job. So my prayer right now is that God would help us see a way to live out the hope-filled life Jesus lived. And that we might find some way to give and receive our work here more freely.
In a world so full of social and political turmoil and immense human suffering, people of faith will often be ridiculed because of their so-called ineffectiveness. Many will say: “If you believe that there is a loving God, let your God do something about this mess!” Some will simply declare religion irrelevant, while others will consider it an obstacle to the creation of a new and better world.
Jesus often tells his followers that, as he was, they will be persecuted, arrested, tortured, and killed. But he also tells us not to worry but to trust in him at all times. “Make up your minds not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:14-15). Let’s not be afraid of skepticism and cynicism coming our way, but trust that God will give us the strength to hold our ground.
An excerpt from a letter I wrote to a new friend:
I guess I see our democratic context lying within the same root that Jesus challenged in the 1st century: hierarchy, power, and human rule. Given Israel’s history in exile, living as a weak nation among Empire, Jesus had to offer real solutions to people who didn’t understand “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). And I’m seeing evidence now that he can offer us those kind of real solutions too, if we’re wiling to follow him. He didn’t turn a blind eye to injustice. Yet he refused the temptation to rule over others. He often avoided the crowds, chose not to use his considerable social influence, and even rejected the people’s attempt to make him king (John 6). He continually put aside the crowd’s expectations of a Christ that would triumph as a military and political leader–to the point of allowing his cousin John the Baptist to remain a prisoner and die at the hands of a cruel puppet politician. No letter-writing campaigns, no riots, no protests, no storming the city, not even a word to the authorities on John’s behalf…
Of course, like John the Baptist, Jesus made a deep mark on society through his suffering and execution. But the power of their message and example was the miraculous way that God brought them back to life again, without any human social strength or political power to account for it. “We, the people,” whether coming from an activist or from a politician, is a false promise compared to the greatness of God’s eternal love. Worldly citizenry makes reference only to itself and, thus, we have the painful experience of domination by an idol of our own making (not to mention the demonic influence which tempts us to worship ourselves and the “gods” we create). Simone Weil wrote about this here: “The power of the social element. Agreement between several men brings with it a feeling of reality. It brings with it also a sense of duty. Divergence, where this agreement is concerned, appears as a sin. Hence all returns to the fold are possible. The state of conformity is an imitation of grace” (cited from this essay). As followers of Jesus, our basis for community and a just social order comes not from conformity to “We, the people” but through a power and authority we did not create. Being united with others who live according to Jesus and his kingdom helps us continue to trust God’s promises of true liberation and healing. Not needing to wait until others decide it’s time or until we make ourselves move fast enough, work hard enough, muster enough energy, etc.
The apparent freedom and power that comes from voting (along with other democratic tools of engagement) is an illusion coming from “the power of the people,” and seems pretty weak when compared to God’s love and strength. So I don’t vote. However, I have been accepting government medical insurance for my kids and some food stamps. Maybe that isn’t a very consistent message here, I’m not sure. But following Jesus in his poverty and powerlessness has, in some measure, shown me what the root of our captivity really is. And more “hard work” or merely rearranging the chess pieces of society’s structures do not inspire me very much, even if the immediate results sometimes seem good. Trust in his promises, on the other hand, not a mere structure of our own creation, seems to be the only way to truly prove the reality we seek to live out…Jesus’ one true “Body” offers a real alternative and authentic peace for those of us who need it.
I’m reposting my friend’s journal entry for Labor Day.
…I was just reading an article yesterday about a currently popular theologian, and at the end of the article his wife described him as a “workaholic.” I think that’s supposed to be a negative term (what if she had called him an alcoholic, Heather wondered). But if workaholism is a fault, it’s hardly frowned upon in our society. It’s much more admired. The hardest workers earn more, get promoted, and are widely admired for their ambition and productivity. They usually end up being the bosses (that’s how it’s been most places I’ve worked). People give them more work and more responsibility because they are willing to take it—so we end up with the workaholics setting the work schedule and defining the goals. Which is great for a society that wants to get things done.
But Jesus wasn’t like that. And I think we should be especially careful not to follow workaholics as our examples and leaders. The reasons that drive people to work to exhaustion are almost always physical need (and the fear of lack) and personal ambition. Neither of these are good motivations from a spiritual point of view. Jesus taught us not to worry about our physical needs but to trust our Father to provide, and to give up our own ambition, abandoning our own will and embracing the will of God. Jesus preached, not hard work, but total dependence on God. Our lives need not rest in our own calloused hands.
While society endlessly praises the hard workers, Jesus withdraws to the wilderness to pray. Or carelessly leaves behind a wildly popular and productive healing ministry to more clearly preach the “good news,” a message that society’s top hard workers would kill him for: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
I’m reading about Father Gregory Boyle’s experience working alongside gang members in LA. His book, Tattoos on the Heart, has this quote in it that was like a flash on the page when I read it last night. I’d like to hear more about his reason for making this distinction in the work he does. But even without knowing more, I like where his words took me.
It’s like he’s saying activism and other types of crowd-based work are much less important, almost less like Jesus, than the pain and struggle that come from human vulnerability and faith. That’s always encouraging news for a social “drop-out” like me…
Jesus was not a man for others. He was one with others. There is a world of difference in that. Jesus didn’t seek the rights of lepers. He touched the leper even before he got around to curing him. He didn’t the champion the cause of the outcast. He was the outcast. He didn’t fight for improved conditions for the prisoner. He simply said, “I was in prison.”
The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place–with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.