To my frustrated friends and family working for positive change,
Your passions are true.
God wants a redeemed world. God wants all of Creation working fluently. God desires a sort of peace where everything is in its right place. After all the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Shalom.
So, how badly do you want equality or equity or justice or any righteous issue solved? Pretty badly, right?
Yet, no matter how righteous your intention, no matter how immediate the issue of focus–you and I cannot usher in the Kingdom of Shalom through the influence of empire. Means matter! We cannot, like empire has taught us, focus on “me”, “now”, and “whatever it takes.” This influence of empire has become so invasive in our lives we no longer recognize it’s prevalence. And at its root…the heart; and matters of heart transformation take time.
But there is good news, we are invited into following the life of our Rabbi Jesus; the subversive, influential way that took Him years.
So, do not be dismayed my dear friend. Be patient. The harvest is not now and we are not called to focus on the weeds, as noticed in Jesus’ parable in Matthew:
“…The servants asked him, ‘Then do you want us to go and pull them up?’ But he said, ‘No, because if you pull up the weeds, you might uproot some of the wheat at the same time. Let them both grow together until the harvest…’” (Matthew 13:28-30)
Most farmers would say that’s ludicrous, they want those weeds managed ASAP. Yet, if love in fact wins, which Jesus’ life portrayed long before any court ruled, then maybe the idea is that our lives of love and the fruit they bear will out ‘compete’ the weeds.
Are the problems you face real? Yes! Does real systemic change matter? Yes!
The systems in place are a large large part of the problem. But those systems run because we put them there. And, frankly, because we want them there.
Look at whatever issue frustrates you the most. Follow it along its supply chain or organizational chart and I’m sure you’ll be able to discover why it’s still functioning. You and I feed it. We feed the empires of today. We feed the problems of today. We feed them because we built them.
I’m speaking about Western culture. “My way”. “Right away”. “Whatever means possible”. I’m speaking about the impatience of instant gratification. I’m speaking about demand. The demand of choices and prices. Yet, the two are not congruent. For example, if you want access to exotic South American or African coffee beans (which we all do) you cannot demand a low price. But we did. We demanded that not only do we want access, but we want it right now and for a price that is not livable for the producers. I’m talking about a burger, fries, and a shake right now! No clue where they came from or who received less than livable wages to get them to us, but damn glad they showed up before the song on our on-demand playlist changed.
I’m talking about a culture that is so pervasive that it’s like the air we breathe. And “we have no idea it’s there until we try breathing something else…(We) don’t feel the force that culture exerts on (our) life until (we) try to act against it” (Jean Twenge, Generation Me).
And because many of us never leave the U.S. (or worse, never leave the comfort of our middle-class neighborhoods) and enter into the cultures of foreign impoverished nations, we never breathe a new kind of air. We never get to inhale something so different than ours that our lungs realize how polluted our air is with consumerism.
The root of most of the issues you face stems from global colonization through the propaganda of Western consumerism. These Nations that we decided needed our help and would benefit from living like us once had the richness and provisions of hospitable community. Those undertones still exist, but are being strangled, by the demand for life like ours or worse the life we impose on them. The funny thing is, as Westerners, we rarely feel the joy of true living, because our generation has never known what not wanting or demanding or striving feels like. And so we strive and demand and want the issue solved no matter the cost, whether that be the expense of our physical and emotional health, or through force and coercion. All the while without ever looking deeper to the root.
Ultimately, the frustrations and tensions and maybe even the defeats you are facing are what I’m speaking about.
What you are facing is not the issue, but an unseen influence you’ve breathed from day one. You and I face a far greater battle than the issue; we face a Western consumerist culture. And if we can’t even recognize that we’ve breathed it all our life how can we begin to wrestle with it?
The consumerist culture (whether you recognize it or are willing to admit it or not) has forced you to move at an unrelenting pace because if you are not moving or producing it tells you (whether you hear it or not) that you have no worth, no value outside of your contribution to or production for society.
So, here’s how we wrestle with Western consumerism:
1- Take one day a week to rest from your fight. Completely walk away from it. It will feel impossible at first. Unfortunately, because of how blind we are to the influence of Western consumerism it will feel impossible for a long while maybe as along as a year. That’s how long it took me and I still struggle to completely stop. This day; once a week; one day of seven, will invite you into freedom. How? You are not the one person in the world your issue falls on. And subsequently you are not the one person in the world that will successfully solve the issue you face. Moreover, today, your day of rest, is not the one day your issue will be solved. Western consumerism wants you to think its all up to you, that you’re all alone and if you don’t work at it every single day you will never find success. The culture of consumerism thrives on your false understandings of success and victory. It wants you to burn the midnight oil until you’ve burnt your entire fuel reserve. It wants you run rampant. Because those systems that you’re fighting want you to quit.
2- Don’t quit. You are doing great work. Your issue is important. You can create transformation. But it comes through different means and will look different than the “successes” and “victories” of Western consumer culture.
3- You are not alone. There are still 7,000 that have not bowed a knee. You have allies working through the same tensions.
4- Do create it. Yes, you! You ARE absolutely asked to act and you ARE absolutely a part of creating the world to come. Again, the world to come will have no homelessness, no poor, no racism, no rape, no violence, no addiction, no greed and no coveting. It will have clean water for everyone, clean air for everyone, and access to nutritious food for everyone. I’m confident that the issue you are passionate about and currently frustrated over, seeks to resolve one of those results of empire. You are called to bring the world to come into reality. But it will not come through the means of force, coercion, manipulation, or exhaustion. You will, alongside a remnant, and the Creator of the Universe, create the world to come.
5-Trust. With this we come full circle back to point 1. Trust that the promise of a world free from homelessness, poverty, racism, rape, violence, addiction, greed, coveting, and pollution is real. Trust that you are a piece of bringing it into reality. Trust that God is not holding out on you. More importantly, trust that God is not holding out on the specific issue you are facing.
Oh, and anger cannot be what fuels you. It must be love. Just love. Love of God. Love of others.
*Much of my thoughts were shaped by the eye opening dissertation of William Westfall, D.Min.