“And they have this word they like to use…. ‘transformative.’ That’s it… They say it’s been transformative. And then they leave.
…Oh, he said. ‘So people leave because they’re frightened of who they’re becoming if they stay.’”
– Reblogged from a post by Chris Heuertz
I’ve walked through some of the slums in Tijuana, Mexico as a young high school student. Clearing some brush near a church where we were helping to build a wall, I saw one of the locals pull a dirty pillow out from under a pile of leaves and lay himself down with a tired but content sigh. Appalled, I saw germs. Relieved, he saw rest. I had the opportunity to work with the Red Cross in the Dominican Republic among hurricane-affected communities during my public health years. We visited the border between the DR and Haiti one morning, and the shantytowns that still stood were a good sign compared to some of the vacant hillsides where former communities had been emptied into the river by the hurricanes. I spent a few weeks in Thailand with ZOE Children’s Homes and was overwhelmed by the joy, life and generosity of these precious children who had once been at high-risk of being sold into human trafficking, but were now thriving in a safe, loving environment.
Transformative seems like a good word to describe these experiences. And then I read this post by Chris Heuertz, International Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, and my heart is unsettled because I have to wonder just how transformed I really was or am. I am unsettled – for the good – by the testimony of friends who have had the courage to uproot their lives in order to live out their convictions about genuinely loving those who are less well-off. Unsettled by conversations with Chia about how we still live out of a certain place of prescribed American comfort despite all that we verbally espouse about wanting to live closer to the oppressed than the oppressor. Unsettled by Bonnie’s eyes when she describes her work among the disabled population in Mali, looks at me and asks the burning question, “What are we doing here as Christians in America?”
I find that I still fundamentally operate out of a certain mode of default that defines my assumptions about how life is and how it ought to be for me (with emphasis on the “for me”…that is probably a hint to the root problem); a certain mode of default that subtly shapes my everyday choices.
Because let’s see. On most days, my first thoughts in the morning still veer towards something like this: I want to look cute and wear a pretty necklace to go with a cute outfit to go with cute shoes. If we expect guests this week, I want people to come over and admire my lovely home with everything just-so. White tea and ginger soap from Bath and Body Works in the bathroom, classy décor, a television that displays sports and movies in the highest definition possible. Wow, this is nice, thank you for having us over. If I have dinner plans this week, what fancy restaurant should I find on Yelp? How is their food, and will it be worth the $50 I pay for it? Yes, as long as they serve me well, refill my water glass and make the plate really, really pretty. Never mind that it’s just a few small bites… it’s so pretty. What slum in Tijuana? What vacant hillside in the Dominican Republic? What orphan in Thailand? I’ve got too much on the surface to think about already. No room to go deeper. This is my everyday default.
I suspect that the problem is not so much my wanting of these things, as it is my deeper sense of these things as the norm of life and my entitlement to them. I have to wonder, whose voices tell me these things are the norm, and what makes those voices right? After all, the voices typically come from other people in a similar socioeconomic stratum as me. I used to love watching the TLC show “What Not to Wear.” Makeovers are fun and I do think there is something powerful about people discovering how beautiful they really are. But something just doesn’t feel right about a society that casually flips channels between the Nightly News featuring stories about the drought in Somalia, and reality TV shows that hand out $5,000 left and right to improve a person’s fashion sense, without batting an eyelash. Please understand…I don’t write this to shame my middle-class friends who are making a godly impact in their sphere of influence and raising godly children here in America. But I just have to ask the questions…because I certainly don’t hear the orphan in Thailand telling me that this is the default by which everyone should or is even able to live by. ZOE’s tagline in reference to those at risk for being sold into human trafficking is “Fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.” If we don’t fight for them, who will? Has God not called us to more than just living by default…which I propose, is death by default.
The dictionary tells me that one context for the word “default” is when things occur (or rather, don’t occur) through the
lack of positive action rather than conscious choice.
This post is hard to write because it puts the issues on the table and begs the question, “So…what are you going to do about it?” The issues are complex and controversial, moral, political, emotional, spiritual. I have no easy answers. There are none. This post can be endless. But before we even start looking for answers, I think we need to break out of our default. Revisit and have the courage to sit with the hard questions.
What is our default that we have gotten so comfortable with that we give it no conscious choice?
We need a paradigm shift, and we need it to be transformative.
For those who are interested, here are a couple of books that have shaped some of these thoughts. Time to re-read these again.
“The Good News About Injustice” by Gary Haughen
Gary Haughen, who once worked as the Officer in Charge of the UN investigation into the Rwandan genocides, reminds us that we, as God’s hands and feet here on earth, are the good news about injustice. Just as God sent His Son to actively come against all that is wrong in the world, so Christ sends us to continue living out His missional love. Haughen also reminds us that “evil prevails when good men do nothing.”
“An Arrow Pointing to Heaven“: biography of Rich Mullins by James Bryan Smith
Rich Mullins was a successful, well-known Christian musician who gave himself a salary, living on just what he needed. He asked his manager to allocate the rest to various organizations that served the less fortunate in the world. He never knew how much he really made. His was an intentional life.