It’s hard to be different. “Dork,” “geek,” and “loser” are the schoolyard terms meant to reign in those who are different. Clothes, gadgets, language, skin color, religion, sexuality all make it hard to be unique. Our culture gives lip service to being unique and authentic, but only tends to enforce sameness.
But it’s even harder to be hated as different. Take for instance the recent story of a Christian gay man receiving death threats from another attendee at a Christian denominational gathering. Can you imagine clinging to God in prayer through this scenario? This can’t be easy. Or imagine how you would feel as the minority religion in a country and told over and again you are not worthy, you are not loved, you need to leave, and you are hated for who you are. Given the comments on Young American Muslim’s blog, it’s clear many still love to hate those who are different.
I’m fascinated by the spirituality of these people, people our culture calls ‘the damned.”And by all people who have been set aside: victims of abuse, rape, violence, oppression, wage theft, harrassment, etc… How do they survive? How do the oppressed embrace “God loves you” when everyone screams “God hates you and so do I!”? How do they cultivate a spirituality of resistance and transformation? What sustains that fish while swimming against the flow? How does spirituality for the dominant differ from spirituality for the different?
I’m living into this question in three ways right now.
First, a growing awareness that Jesus was oppressed and ministered to the oppressed. Howard Thurman, speaking within the black church context, says in Jesus and the Disinherited, “The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed.” This view is echoed everywhere Christians find themselves oppressed (such as in the birth of Latin American Liberation Theology). As someone who lives within dominant culture (white, male, educated, wealthy, Christian) this has been a deeply powerful new insight.
Second, a growing call to focus more of my own pastoral energies on marginalized communities. In an earlier post I talked about certain groups our world ostracizes, marginalizes, and demonizes, what I called The Community of the Damned. But I’ve not been equipped with a spirituality that can sustain minorities, the poor, victims of abuse, or those ostracized because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. Like Bart Compolo says in his latest blog, “Being poor is hard work,” and I want to know and experience a spirituality that will sustain the lives of those who are poor.
Third, My own experience blogging as The Peace Pastor has reminded me again that my own faith tradition is clearly “different” and can make it hard for Anabaptists and Mennonites like myself to want to publicly proclaim the good news of Peace. Here’s some of what I’ve received for proclaiming a third way:
- Helen says “you don’t deserve the privilege of living in this country.”
- El Machete says, “you are a yellow bellied coward who hides behind his religion.”
- Pdh42 says, “you (IMO) know nothing about the Bible with all of your communist social justice garbage that you preach.”
- True believer called Christian pacifists “silly people” and my blog a “waste of space.”
- Carpenter says that pursuing peace is “unrealistic and even dangerous.”
In other words, to be a Christian peacemaker makes one a dork, geek, and a loser. This experience has demanded a refurbished spirituality (one fellow blogger called it “thick skin”) that I am still growing into. Thankfully, I’m reminded Jesus’ original disciples didn’t get this overnight, so there’s still room for my growth. Core pieces of an oppressed spirituality seem to be fixation on the person and humanity of Jesus, belief in God’s abiding presence within us, deep longing prayer, genuine community, honesty about systems and power, an assertion that the world is not as it should be, and a vision of the world as God intends for it to be.
The vision for this blog is to proclaim the whole gospel of Jesus in a context which marginalizes Jesus, justice, and holistic faith. Dominant Christian culture (and its inertia/energy) doesn’t always energize the comprehensive vision of doing justice, loving neighbor, God and self; often it will oppose this voice. Thus the Christian’s pursuit of peace happens in the midst of pressure to narrow our voice. Likewise, dominant secular culture may be open to the quest for justice, but find our insistence on keeping Jesus at the center of our work and words baffling, if not stifling. For this reason, small intentional Christian communities are essential in developing people who can live the life of Jesus in our world. Likewise, introduction to a “missional” or just spirituality has also proved essential for overcoming my blocks to following Jesus and sustaining my call to live a life of just Christianity.
If you are different, or oppressed, how has your spirituality sustained you? How have you witnessed spirituality give life to communities who are marginalized, victimized, or oppressed? What are the songs, texts, stories and rituals that energize marginalized communities to be faithful to God in a world that is not?