Introduction- Part One

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” which Metzger refers to in his introduction (p. 2), paints a hopeful picture of a young, eager nation, ready to open her doors and give relief, freedom, and hope to the “homeless” and “wretched refuse.”

But something happened along the way, which affected these bright, optimistic ideals.

Greed happened. And along with it oppression, vicious cycles, barriers, and injustice.

Fallen human nature happened. Sin happened.

I realize that this is our country I’m discussing, not the church. But our church is in many ways a by-product of the nation to which she belongs. I can’t deny the parallels: both in the optimistic, passionate foundation and the broken reality which we experience daily, even though we still long deep down inside for those foundational ideals to be realized. That is where grace comes in, thank the good Lord, but that’s also where a careful, honest response and reform need to come in to play as well.

And now I see us, the church, trying to put the pieces back together—frantically, hurriedly, and ashamedly. When I talk with fellow Christians, I sense a weariness, a mutual acknowledgment that yes, something is deeply broken, but that we’re not quite sure what the remedy is, or what exactly is broken. That, to me, is discouraging, but also, in light of that, it is reassuring and irresistibly motivating. I am confident that this is where our sovereign creator has called us to be: discouraged so that we can respond. Upset so we can redeem. Disrupted so we can reconcile. But it will take time.

We all want quick fixes: quick meals, quick results, quick answers. But there’s no slow cooking oatmeal on this American stove. And if there is, the entire camp has left to find the closest McDonald’s. Can you blame us? With all of the opportunities, ideas, and limitless boundaries we have acquired with technology, mass communication, and globalization, we now have that much more at our fingertips. That much more to respond to, that much more to fit into our Blackberries. And with all the pollution in the air these days, who knows how long we’re going to be able to breathe to get it all done?

That’s the sense I get with the American culture at large as well as with the church. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the church is full of authentic, genuine people who love God. I don’t think that’s the issue. And just that fact gives me hope. I believe the issue is how we—myself included—view this thing called the church. How we view this faith we profess. How we view the Biblical concepts of redemption, reconciliation, restoration (reminiscent of John M. Perkins’ vision of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution for the church, which is discussed in the Afterword, p.176).

In Metzger’s introduction, he makes the connection between the disillusionment with the immigration clerks he and his wife experienced, and the church we find ourselves in today. “I have been sensitized by these and other similar encounters with structural coldness and insensitivity to the issues before us: race and class divisions in the consumer church. For we are also speaking here about those who are in and those who are out” (p. 2).

I often cringe when I watch church scenes in movies. A movie I watched last night portrayed the typical stereotype: an uptight, all-white, stuffy congregation, afraid to cough, laugh, or sing off-key. It paints the picture of a religion where people go to hide, to pretend to be un-human, or perhaps super-human. It breaks my heart, because that is not reality. That is not what the brokenhearted crave, that’s not what the poor need: a place to pretend, a place to deceive themselves and others. A place where you must look, dress, and think like those sitting on each side of you.

I believe this is partly what perpetuates the “culture wars” and “consumer culture” that Metzger refers to, which stifle our ability to communicate a truly loving, all-inclusive, compassionate Jesus (p.2). That is not what our culture sees in the church. I saw something entirely different when I was not a Christian. I saw ignorant, closed minded, oblivious, rich people who knew no true cares—and if they did have any, their problems were shallow and quickly resolved. Judgmental on my part? Yes. But that is what the church and her messages portrayed to me on a consistent basis.

The loud, dominant messages that carry the voice of evangelicals seem to be those of or similar to Rev. Jerry Falwell (p.3 ). Although he did apologize for ostracizing and blaming homosexuals, secularists, and materialists for 9/11, the damage is loud, clear, and pervasive. And once spoken, it’s out there for all to cling on to, reject, or accept as “the voice” of evangelicals. I look forward to a day when the strong, pervasive message among Christians is justice, compassion, and equality (similar to what the prophet Amos anticipates in Amos 5:24). Not polarization, homogeneous units or seeker-sensitive messages. The message of our Messiah is uncomfortable. It is scary. It’s risky. And I can’t help but get the feeling that so often when I am in a room of Christians singing worship songs that ask our creator to use us, and to help us “die” to ourselves for him, that we are failing to truly seek that. I can’t help but get the eerie feeling that we are begging, begging, begging with our mouths, but resisting, resisting, resisting with our hearts. That we are crying out with our words, but shutting down in our souls. I can’t help but get the feeling that the words we sing are empty. That we know the right things to say, but we don’t really want to be captured and led into the depths of reality and an abandoned pilgrimage, because maybe it won’t be pet friendly, or low-fat, or non-smoking. Our preferences will neglect us, our options will betray us, and suddenly, we will be going into unknown, uncharted territory. The control we are addicted to will no longer be in our hands. We would have to surrender all control to the Lord—the sovereign, almighty, compassionate Lord. But as scary as surrendering control and comfort to our creator can be, desiring the all-sovereign Lord is liberating and life-giving, and truly comforting. We can trust him with our lives.

If I don’t trust someone fully, I won’t follow that person into a forest. So the question that haunts me is, do I even trust my creator to lead me into his territory? Or do I simply want him to walk beside me and guide me in my own charted, plotted, temperature-controlled island and give me comforting words of affirmation? What does that do for his kingdom? If I truly believe that Yahweh acts out of love, then what do I have to fear? What do I truly believe, not just say I believe? I want to break free from my self-absorbed, homogeneous island and take off for distant lands right next door and down the street and across the track in search of peace and reconciliation. The flight and journey will be awkward, uncomfortable, and humiliating. But I want there to be unity in God’s creation, not millions of lonely, segregated islands. Just as America is supposed to be that land where those from distant lands and islands come in search of hope, longing to be free, so too is the church to be a haven of rest for all God’s children so often “tempest-tost,” longing to find home, longing to be free. But unlike the statue of liberty of which Lazarus’s poem speaks, the church is a people, not a stationary statue, waiting for the masses to come. The church must go to them.

Are we willing to go? Are we willing to move outside our comfort zones? The thing that breaks my heart is that Christ’s soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34 NIV) and yet still he earnestly prayed that not his will, but his father’s will be done—knowing full well that meant intense humiliation, suffering, and death. And not only did he accept the cup, but he drank it. He didn’t politely decline the offer.

Metzger argues that “all forms of disunity in the church can be traced, in the end, to an absence of practical love, an absence that hinders our outreach to the world” (p. 4). The thing that strikes me is that Metzger hopes that the all-consuming Jesus and his John 17 prayer will not only change the reader’s life, but more importantly, that it will change the church, so that “the world may come to know that the Father has sent the Son—not just for some, but for all” (p. 4). I believe this is an appropriate admonishment. I have been convicted that, like Hugh Grant’s character in the movie “About a Boy,” we live and view our existence as isolated islands, occasionally coming into contact with one another, but really, our existence is autonomous from everyone around us: millions of islands with our own appliances, gadgets, dreams, and hopes. This entirely undermines our social responsibility and our influence on structures and systems which make this country and world function as a whole. If the change stops with each of us, what good is that? We can sleep more soundly? Maybe, but it must go further than that for change. It must go further than our family or our social network. Jehovah is bigger than individuals in isolation. Jehovah is bigger than a neighborhood, a school, a city, a country, a nation. And he’s bigger than the powerful structures and oppressive systems which have deceived us, controlled us, and exploited his children.

My heart yearns for a day when I can stand in church as equals with others from different ethnic, economic, and equally diverse backgrounds, with our hands wide open and our hearts truly daring to enter into the “good, but not safe” narrative (referencing the beaver in C.S. Lewis’ Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Our hearts deceive us, pretending they don’t really hear his gentle pleading for us to go so much further than this. I pray we dare to enter into our creator’s story with fear and trembling, faith and reverence, awe and joy.

A friend of mine used to always say, “Without him we can’t. Without us he won’t.” It’s his story, and we are those whom he chose to be the messy characters. Let us be those characters, and dare to break past the barriers, systems, and structures that keep his children segregated, detached, and oppressed.

5 Responses to “Introduction- Part One”

  1. Halden Says:

    Good post. One of the things that I’ve noticed/experienced is the supreme difficulty of breaking out of the mode of detachment, fragmentation, and segregation. Part of me (or most of me) thinks that the only way to really get beyond the kinds of divisions fostered by a capitalist culture of consumption is to start denying our selves all the “options” that we want to keep open for ourselves. If we continut to allow ourselves the comforts of autonomy (living where I want, moving when I want, taking only the job I want, etc.) I don’t know how we have any shot at breaking down the divisions that exist between people in our churches.

    Or to put it another way, for us to really give ourselves to the demolition of these kinds of walls, we have to make peace with loss. Do we care enough about breaking down these divisions to say no to all the “options” that incubate this kind of social fragmentation? Because if we do give ourselves over to that inherently limiting way of being in the world we will be led “where you do not wish to go” (Jn. 21:18). Just some thoughts.

  2. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    Fallen human nature did not happen.

    In the theology of affections, it was not a battle against the will of a young nation to welcome the wretched refuse of foreign shores. It was that the desire to express that “hope that does not disappoint” was overcome by the desire to practice Martin Luther’s incurvitas in se. Had “God’s love that has been poured into our hearts” been more dominant and dominating than the natural human tendency of “total hostility” towards God, the ideals of “all men created equal” and that all men having the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would have prevailed.

    What is sad though is that this is not secular America that has advocated about ethnocentricity and the survival of the fittest: it is the same America whose forefathers came into this new continent to exercise the freedom to express their all-consuming love for the Triune God (“In God We Trust”).

    A cliche says it for us, “Those who do not learn from the mistakes and the sins of the past are bound to repeat the same in the future.”

    Like Ancient Israel who has to wander 40 years in the wilderness because of the stubbornness and hardness of their hearts, and their short memories about what God has done for them, Church-ian America continues to downplay and ignore class and racial tensions and divisions. And the many who are misled offer their children to be consumed by the Molechs of commercialism and consumerism, seemingly oblivious to the signs of the times but believing that ignoring the problem will make it go away.

    By the way, many evangelicals coming from Third Word countries are not teeming wretched refuse of foreign shores: they are bright-eyed idealists, brilliant men and women who might have become naive to the benevolent assimilation of American neo-colonialism; their naivette leads them to follow their American Dream of a land flowing with milk and honey, in pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness where grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

    Coming to America, they are shocked to find what Sir Thomas Gray once wrote in his Elegy:

    “Full many a flower are born to blush unseen
    And waste their fragrance in the desert air;
    Full many a gem of the purest ray serene,
    The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.”

    How are we as evangelicals and as sheep of that Great Compassionate Shepherd helping these multiethnic creation in Imago Dei find their place in God’s Kingdom, let alone see the consuming love of Jesus? In the first place, do we witness to these multi-ethnic naive “wretched refuse” how it means to experience the all-consuming love of the Triune God? How passionate are we consumed by the certainty that we were loved, are loved and will be loved by the Father regardless? And that the proper response to the “Christ who loved me” is to live adn stay “crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live”?

    If not us, then, who will? If not now, when?

    May we not go silently against the night… may we rage and rage against the dying of the light… with the passion of the Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us!

  3. Rachel O'Brien Says:

    I will engage the previous entry as well as the original.

    Kelsi, I agree, we say things we don’t mean. We are great pretenders. I love t hear that that shallow religiosity is under scrutiny. The Church fools itself by creating a segregated Sunday, only propogating the countries already rampant race and class divisions. I however do not agree with the previous entry, that “Had “God’s love that has been poured into our hearts” been more dominant and dominating than the natural human tendency of “total hostility” towards God, the ideals of “all men created equal” and that all men having the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would have prevailed.” The issue isn’t that God’s love failed us and that somehow because of that we are now faced with sin and the repercussions of a fallen world. Quite wrong, I beleive Christ in his outpouring was, is and will be victorious and I believe that the original speaks to that. One of the reasons that our diviciseness so plaques me and others, Christian or not, is because Christ rose, He claims victory. Why do we behave as though He failed us, that His love isn’t enough. Perkins mentioned in chapel that we have made the Gospel too small, that it isn’t big enough for racism. Because we know what God has done for us and saved our individual souls we must recognize how he seeks to reconcile our stuctures. Our total hostility cannot be greater than His outpouring of love and we strive continually to draw into his success story, running not alone but with our Church, His bride in tow. I agree the world wants this type of salvation, structural and individual. We must confess though that being Christian and honestly following Him, like you mentioned, is brutal. What is strange is that I have a broken heart now, He gave me a heart, when I had none, healed me and then exploded that heart to contain Him and His people. Some would say that’s amazing, but I see Christians take His love to its “illogical conclusion” and it breaks them for Christ and for others. What beauty.

  4. Artisanong Anakpawis Says:

    Kelsi,

    I believe the previous entry has a lot of inconsistencies both from theological underpinnings and empirical bases.

    When the Anabaptists left England for America, what did they purpose to do? Wasn’t it to establish a society and a country where they could practice their faith in freedom? These Christians did not come to America purposedly to “steal, kill and destroy” being the persecuted Church that they were in England. Marxist ideology proposed a look at Historical Materialism as basis for analysis. But even Israel was taught to have a good sense of history. Why did the Founding Fathers stated in their currency the words “In God We Trust”? Was that not an expression of their faith in the God that they sought in America?

    If the love of Jesus had consummated us in the first place, where have all the 500 years of Reformation gone by? Where are the years from Wilberforce to Martin Luther King to John Perkins? If we are consummated by that love, how come we still have to have books like Consuming Jesus? Because that Consuming Love of Jesus would have us taught “By this shall men know that you are my disciples: if you have love one for another… A new commandment i give you: love one another” and that command transcends race, culture or ethnicity.

    The reality is that, yes, the victory is won- but it is NOT YET! It is NOW, it is ALREADY, but it is still NOT YET.

    But it is both presumptuous and naive to think that we “strive to continually draw into His success story”? How does that play into what Paul said “It is God who wills you to do and to act according to His good purpose”?

    Do men really come to God and seek Him to be consummated by His love? Think again.

    It is certainly easier to look at the issue of Church and racism when one is white (whether blond, brunette or what-have-you) blue-eyed and enjoying the creature comforts of organized religion- while at the same time condemning it for being “self-righteous”. It is harder when your color of skin, or language accent, or cultural difference, is a barrier to a deeper fellowship, a more intimate friendship, a greater love, yes, even in the Christian Church . It is even more painful to realize that even when the Church tries to do “things” to abate racial divisions and discrimination, such actions tend to become but “projects” to make the white men feel good, look good and sleep well at night.

    It is interesting to note that when John Perkins talked at the Chapel, one can count within the number of the fingers of hands and toes the visible minority present for whom the message of breaking down cultural barriers and divisions were being preached. One implication could be that the predominantly large number of Caucasians listening to and applauding the message of racial reconciliation are offsprings who are paying for the sins of their fathers? Or could it be that such efforts at reconciling cultures and races fall short and are not sustained because they do not emanate from the very people who are supposed to benefit from such efforts? I.e., There are how many John Perkins in the Christian Church today who are bringing in reconciliation in a positive and sustainable ways?

    Interestingly, breaking down racial divisions is not only between blacks and whites but also among the Hispanics, the Asians, the Middle eastern races, in fact, every conceivable race in the Christian Church. So, in our churches, are we reflecting that kind of racial and cultural diversity? Especially in the Pacific Northwest, are we as diverse as we say we are? How far have come in expressing the Consuming Love of Jesus that does not disappoint by means of racial diversity in our Churches? A lot of times, we are simply one-generational, one-two racial churches. Thus, Dr. Metzger was right and prophetic: we are always wrapped up in predominantly white, upwardly mobile, economically well-off groups and we need to get out of this cocoon. Again, ships in a harbor are safe but that’s not what ships were made for.

    The world wants this salvation? Really? So it is wrong exegesis to cite the Bible:

    1. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first (JESUS, John 17);
    2. Men hated the Light because their deeds were evil (1 John )
    3. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James)
    4. Do not love this world nor anything of this world; if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; for everything of this world: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, the boasting of what one has and does- all these things come from the world. (I John 2)
    5. The Light shone in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1)
    6. And though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1)
    6. Etc., etc., etc.

    I think it is correct to say that the world needs the Consuming love of Jesus but it is incorrect to presuppose that the world wants that love. It was and still is God who took the initiative and continually seeks to win fallen humanity into the warmth of His embrace. That is why we say, we are not simply Totally Depraved, our carnal minds are also Totally Hostile to God and things of the Triune God.

    There go my Biblical citations for Total Hostility.

    The world does not want salvation but God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. It was and still is God who loved the world. This world is under the sphere and influence of the demonic powers and without the “love of JESUS poured out in our hearts”, it will not be able to distinguish its left from its right.

    Isn’t it inconsistent to note that the same saving love of God leads Christians to an “illogical conclusion” about the love of Christ? It is the most logical conclusion that those who believe in the love of God would die for it. Someone said, “If anyone has nothing worth dying for, then he/she has nothing worth living for.” The logical conclusion of “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering” is “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live” , “I fought the good fight; i have kept the faith” (days before being beheaded in Rome).

    But then again, what right does a brown-skinned, heavily-accented believer have to argue against those who have grown up in fully American structured religion who believe that their government is the “policeman of the world”? The unassumed is the unhealed.

    If you really want to understand us, live with us, laugh with us, cry with us; eat our food, wear our clothing, feel our pain from the oppressin and tyranny, dance in our weddings, sing our dirges, walk barefooted on the the grassy soil we travel and toil, be one with us, be one amongst us…

    Then, you have earned the right to be heard nad respected; then we are healed, because you have assumed our frailties…

    If not Now, WHEN? If not Us, WHO WILL?

    MORITURI TE SALUTAMUS! (“We who are about to die salute you!”) Mabuhay Ka!

  5. Ronaldo A. Sison Says:

    Hello Ms. O’Brien,

    Thanks for that nice piece of essay about Total Hostility and the Consuming Love of Jesus.

    That was quite perceptive and insightful. I wish to engage you in a deeper comment especially about the response which i find quite vitriolic, prejudiced and to a certain extent personal.

    It was succintly poignant of you to write that in your broken heart, God gave you a bigger heart to contain the love of God and for His people. JESUS actually said that “unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it does not bear fruit; but when it dies, it bears ten, twenty, thirty, a hundredfold”.

    When our brokenness are due to an experience of the efficacious love of Christ, and when that brokenness is brought by the Triune God into our crucified lives, then we truly manifest what you have written: an exploded heart that is big enough to contain Him and His people.

    May your tribe increase!

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