Monday, April 16, 2012

Making the Invisible Visible

“The Kingdom of God can easily seem like a dream,” writes Kathy Escobar in her book Down We Go. It doesn't take much observation to concede how true that statement is. The Kingdom of God calls for peace, love, justice, mercy, compassion and a number of other attributes that run counter to the dominant trends in human society. Yet, we cannot give up on the Kingdom as a hopeless ideal. We need to remain “hopeful dreamers” as Kathy describes herself.

When we work with God to bring the Kingdom here on earth we discover that “dreams are much prettier when they are just dreams.” When we really start on the downward life, Kathy assures us that we will confront this difficult reality. “Diversity usually sounds best in theory,” she states. It would be far easier to keep talking about the Kingdom and upholding its lofty ideals while remaining safe, comfortable and secure in our everyday lives. I'm naturally inclined to that. I don't want to have to actually “do” anything that would make my life messy and uncomfortable.

What's more, if I want to enter into real relationship with others in this downward life, Kathy reminds me that I must embrace humility and a theology of brokenness. What does this look like?

“A theology of brokenness embraces our spiritual poverty, questions, doubts, and desire for love, hope and redemption, and reminds us that the stink and the beauty are wrapped into one. We can't just focus on the group of people who will confirm that our ministry is a success. Instead, we must include people who will challenge our definitions of success and stretch our imaginations about what the Kingdom of God looks like. It turns things upside-down. It includes people we wouldn't. This is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This is not easy stuff. It means I have to admit my own brokenness and stop trying to uphold the image that I've got it all together. It means admitting that I don't have all the answers because, as Kathy puts it, “An 'I've got it all figured out' attitude leaves no room for God or others.” But admitting these things means making myself vulnerable and I hesitate to do that, even in Christian community, for fear that I will be judged or deemed less spiritual by those around me. Going to church or most any Christian community more often than not becomes an exercise in hiding and denying that brokenness, because admitting it is too risky. The truth is too ugly and painful and it is easier to hide it than to acknowledge it and begin to find freedom. Kathy says: “Maybe wholeness begins with accepting our brokenness.” I am increasingly inclined to agree with her.

When we embrace our brokenness, Kathy tells us, we can begin to see the world with new eyes. We can begin to see those whom we didn't see before. We stop giving priority to those who seem to have it all together, to those who are talented or esteemed in the eyes of others. We see past appearances. We begin, as she says, to make what is invisible visible. We affirm the worth of each and every person, regardless of how much he or she exhibits the qualities that this world values.

“I believe wholeheartedly that Christ-followers could change the world, a city and their communities if we humbly and actively participated in making the invisible, visible—if we were part of calling out the dignity, beauty and worth of every human being regardless of race, age, gender, socioeconomics, religion, brokenness, weird-life-circumstances and social status.”

That's a vision I can embrace. So I am asking myself how we can become authentic people, particularly in our Christian communities? How can we not only allow for vulnerability, but actual invite and affirm it, not in an effort to “fix” one another, but in order to accept our mutual brokenness and release its power to control us through shame and fear? How can I affirm the dignity of each and every person I interact with and how can I actively seek out those who have been invisible to me? I am wrestling with these questions a lot these days. For myself the first step is to stop pretending, to own my failures and my brokenness and to let go of an attitude that claims I have the answers. I'm trying to live a more authentic life, but it's scary because it's not so neat, orderly, secure and controlled.

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