Healed and Humbled Followers
I’m reading about five very different books right now, all very slowly, which is quite possibly the least effective reading strategy I could muster up. Somehow, though, the stars (and books) aligned this week and the overlap has been insightful.
As a staff we are reading One Blood, a conclusive book written by John Perkins on the topic of race. In a chapter addressing the importance of confession, Perkins used the story of the jailer in Acts 16:25-34 to demonstrate an ideal posture for the American church and the American Christian. The Roman jailer, despairing because of his assumption that all the prisoners in his care had escaped, prepares to take his own life. Paul speaks up, assuring him everyone was still there, and the jailer falls to his knees astounded by the mercy he was shown despite the cruelty he had inflicted. He begs, “what must I do to be saved?” and then washes the very wounds that he likely inflicted (Perkins, 81). Perkins’ chapter begs the question, what would it look like if the American church were to take on this posture of ownership and humility? If we didn’t need to get the last word in, defend our intentions or righteousness, or add ‘but…’ to the end of our apologies?*
At this point I think every blog I’ve written has circled back to humility somehow. The resounding message of this year for me has been that humility is central to an encounter with the gospel and with Christ. I think that is what God has been teaching me again and again. So at the risk of sounding like a skipping record, I will echo this truth once more. Because of who Christ is, his deep mercy in particular, and because of who we are, our deep brokenness in particular, it is extremely difficult to pair arrogance with following, knowing, loving Christ. Perhaps this is why many look puzzled (at best) at American Christianity and dismiss it. All too often, our attitude and our Christ don’t add up. But I am convinced that this is not the kind of issue we fix by trying harder to be the way we should be as the corporate church. Trying harder usually just lands us in a different, more subtle version of arrogance where we might be measurably more correct in our thinking, but just as angry and righteous in the way we go about it. I’m calling myself out on that.
In Everything Belongs, a book exploring contemplative prayer, Richard Rohr calls out this internal arrogance and invites profound honesty. He describes God as “an all-embracing receptor, a receiver who looks at the divine image in us and almost refuses to look at the contrary” (Rohr, 66). This could be abused out of context, but the point here is to emphasize Christ as a lover and healer of the human soul. The parts of us that are competing with others and fighting for attention and yelling about unfairness and angrily insecure can be healed and silenced by encountering a God who is eternally predisposed to see goodness and beauty in us because he made us and he made everything, not scarcely, but perfectly.
I don’t think we can right our wrongs as the church by trying to do a better job at being the church. There’s no confession or humility in that, just a healthy dose of (well-intentioned) American self-sufficiency and hard work. Instead, my prayer is that we can come to Christ, who is the ultimate healer, and surrender our deep pain and hurt and confusion, which so often fuels anger and arrogance, and be healed. When we let ourselves relax and relinquish the need to prove our worth and our righteousness (which Christ has already proven), we are equipped to wash others wounds with the kind of compassion and mercy with which Christ has washed ours. In this place we are capable of true confession and humble action, which might just push the church to become what it should be.
*Perkins is specifically addressing confession and justice in regards to matter of race and ways in which the church has either participated in or ignored profound racial injustice. I use his point here more broadly, but do not intend to take away from the point he is making. Perkins book is focused and absolutely worth a read.