We are in a giant season of transition in our life (again!), so we’re trying to be diligent and are going through various devotional workbooks and such about re-entry to your home country after living overseas, and recovering from burn-out and trauma on the field.
I’ve tried to approach them with an open mind. I really, really have.
And while some of the bits have been beneficial and helpful, they mostly end with me increasingly frustrated with much of the platitudes, generalities, and niceties found in Western Christianity.
Many popular Christian resources seem to have a lot of underlying assumptions. Many seem to assume is that I am very middle class (and I am, I know, but I don’t appreciate the assumption). I read them and think to myself that so much of what they’re saying is not applicable to my refugee friends. I don’t think a Christian book, song, or sermon has to be in context and applicable to everyone to be good, true, or right. But if our theology leaves us with assumptions that are not applicable to all walks and places of life, I think they are worth revisiting.
For example, one of the lessons in the workbook was about worry. There were five verses (plucked completely out of their context) and the reflection questions at the end were things like “What caused you to “fret” or feel anxious during your cross-cultural experience?”
I get the implication. We should not worry. I mean, I get it. It is a good and important truth and we serve the prince of Peace and the Bible over and over and over tells us not to fear.
But it is obviously not considering the question for people who worry about their very lives or whether or not their very real daily needs will be met. People who are suffering and struggling day after day after day. The question is too easy and simple for people whose lives are incredibly difficult in complex ways.
I did fret and feel anxious in my time overseas. Not just that time I was interrogated, and not just when the city I was living in was at war, and not just when there were bombings of embassies or churches or when I had friends fearing for their lives. I also would fret and lose sleep over my friends who weren’t paid enough, who were treated as second class because of their status as refugees, were harassed daily, and who sometimes didn’t have money to see a doctor or buy their medicine. Yes. I depend on God for these things. I trust them in His hands. But I sure as heck would and do fret about them. And rightly so.
Another reflection looked at Jesus and John the Baptist and about how they had discerning hearts, and not critical ones, and we’re supposed to do the same.
See, the thing is, though…Jesus and John the Baptist both were both critical! Like, really critical. They were both explicit in their public criticism of some of the Jews, of the synagogue, and of Rome. It’s why they were both executed! Though they were discerning in their criticism, they were critical.
I’m not Jesus or John the Baptist, and I’m not taking this as permission to upturn tables, necessarily. But can Christian resources please stop implying that Christianity is sweet, uncritical, and easy? That there is nothing to fret about? That we shouldn’t be critical of our culture, church, government, or systems?
Jesus tells me to care about people who are trampled on and this causes me to fret because caring about people who are trampled on breaks the heart and the spirit with regularity. I fret and worry when I see people get trampled on. Telling me not to worry, or be critical of those doing the trampling is not helpful nor a solution. It’s a platitude.
I honestly don’t believe Jesus wants us to fret and worry. I believe he is for us and wants peace for us. But I also believe it is not that simple.
Jesus wants us to be at peace in him and he wants us to care deeply about injustice. We are to care deeply about the hurting and do all we can to help the hurting stop including being critical of those who cause or allow hurt, while ultimately remembering they are all in the Lords hands.
So many people have every reason to fret. Jesus is with them and wants them to know peace. But God is not happy injustice or the people doing the trampling. And he wants us to be upset about it too! When impoverished friends are worried about how they’ll feed their family until the end of the month because they have a boss that doesn’t pay them enough, my offering to them better be more than saying they needn’t fret so much, and their hearts should be less critical. We must remember the importance of those who daily suffer, and not be glib about not worrying, or think that God doesn’t want us to be critical.
Jesus tells me to expand my definition of neighbor, to expand my idea of people worth loving and caring about, and when that circle expands, the potential for hurt does too.
And I really think it’s ok when this causes me to fret and be (discerningly) critical.
Colored Pencil. Guatemala, 2007.