So Caroline is all up in my grill about writing my post on the first section of Interrupted for the book club. “Are you writing yet? When are you gonna write? What are you going to write about? Have you written today or what?”
I’ll go with “what.”
It’s the first week of school, for crying out loud. If that weren’t enough, my pharmacy replaced the generic medication I’ve been taking for twenty years with a new generic medication, and it’s messing with me in a kill-me-now kind of way. And I’ve been walking around in a state of exhaustion because getting up at 6:30 a.m. is not fun. Eeyore’s dark cloud follows me everywhere. My keyboard is drizzled with snot and tears because my Zyrtec and Flonase decided they just aren’t up for the task this week.
My children are ducking for cover, peeking their heads out only to ask when I will return their confiscated electronic devices. My head then spins around, I barf up pea soup, and screech, “NEVVVVVEERRRRRRR!”
Right about that time, I get another text from Caroline asking me when I’m going to write my post.
She’s so annoying. In an endearing kind of way. She assured me that she would still be my friend after I told her the direction I’ve decided to take with this post. And she reminded me that I’m an introvert, so I really only need one friend. (But I’d like some back-up in case she changes her mind, so please reconsider your strong inclination to dump me after you read this.)
Here goes. Pick up your feet; I’m about to step on some toes.
(Brief footnote here: where I’ve included a block quote in italics, I’m quoting Jen Hatmaker in this first chapter. I’d give you specific page numbers, but Caroline’s husband is taking his sweet time reading my paperback copy of this book. Sheesh. He’s a middle school assistant principal, and it’s the first week of school…blah, blah, blah. Get it together, Ryan. Therefore, I’m quoting from my Kindle, which has no page numbers. The English major in me is breaking out into hives.)
I re-read “Winter 2007” for the third time this afternoon. I loved it even more than the first two times I read it, and I’m formulating a plan to make Jen Hatmaker my new best friend (sorry, Caroline) in the least stalkerish way possible.
Man, this chick is good. She is the real deal. She can speak convicting truth with sincerity and hilarity. She admits her shortcomings, her doubts, and her struggles with a self-deprecating humor I hugely admire. She told her 5th grader to grab a shovel and go dig his own grave after mouthing off. I love this woman.
In this chapter, she tells us how God royally messed her up. In a most loving way, of course. The tension began with a feeling that something was “off.” Several things “challenged my concept of success, beginning with the nagging sensation that Brandon (her husband) and I were far too consumed with worthless things…few around us questioned the American Dream, (so the feeling) was easily dismissed.”
Let’s talk about success, greatness, and the American Dream. I’ve had this hunch for the last several years, and Jen Hatmaker confirmed it. We are off. SO off. We have been HUGELY misled. I can’t pretend to be a historian, but I remember the high school football coaches teaching me in U.S. History that our nation’s roots began with a desire for independence – to live self-sufficiently, with no one telling us what to do, free to make our own choices, free to worship (or not) how we desire. So far, so good.
Somewhere around the Manifest Destiny, I think our egos may or may not have gotten a little bloated. Somehow we adopted this attitude that we deserve prosperity, that Americans are God’s chosen people, that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps without any help is an admirable quality. Wealth is good. Reputation is good. Power is good.
Just so we’re clear. God’s chosen people? That would be the Israelites. Not us. We’re blessed, absolutely. God had a purpose for establishing the United States of America. He’s done some great things here. But I think we’ve missed the point – at least in part.
Every time I hear someone talk about our country being “a Christian nation,” I throw up a little in my mouth. A nation which happens to house a large percentage of people who call themselves Christians? Yes. But – strap on your steel-toed boots here – if we were truly a “Christian nation,” we would have no need for Social Security. Or foster care. Or food stamps. Or government-subsidized housing. If we were what we claim to be, we wouldn’t have malnourished kids and homeless vets.
Nationality aside, if we were truly an Acts 2 body of believers, everyone would be provided for. No one would be in need.
As we stand now, we want what we want when we want it. We want to do what we want to do, and we refuse to do what we don’t want to do. We climb over every obstacle (a euphemism for “people in our way”) to gain a greater income, greater reputation, greater influence. We shop til we drop. We spend thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars to improve our appearances. We have pantries stocked with food that we will never eat, closets full of clothes we will never wear. If someone doesn’t have what he needs to survive – well, he needs to get a better grip on his bootstraps and work harder. We are self-absorbed, indulgent, and arrogant.
By the way, I’m including myself in this “we.” I am all of those things. And frankly, I disgust myself.
While the richest people in the world pray to get richer, the rest of the world endures unimaginable suffering with their faces pressed to the windows of our prosperity, and we carry on oblivious.
I think it’s high time we redefine success.
Biblical success equals humility. It is interdependence. It is community. It is caring deeply for every created being, providing for others out of our abundance – and out of our sacrifice. It is standing up and fighting for the oppressed to be free, the ignored to be heard, the marginalized to be embraced.
The righteous care about justice for the poor. (Proverbs 29:7)
Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? (James 2:14-17 MSG)
This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)
And there are approximately 1,997 more verses speaking about poverty, oppression, justice, and the sharing of resources. Just so you know. God slathered His obsession with social justice all over the Old and New Testaments. I’m not sure how we’ve managed to ignore it.
Hey, here’s something crazy: In the Word, poverty, widows, hunger – these are not metaphors. There are billions of lambs that literally need to be fed. With food.
Some of you might be bothered by the term “social justice” and the fact (yes, fact) that God is “obsessed” with it. I’m not sure when social justice became a dirty word. End of slavery? Women’s suffrage? Child labor laws? Civil rights era? All under the umbrella of social justice. It’s a good thing.
And obsessed? My thirteen year old daughter epitomizes obsession. There’s a cute little boy band from across the pond, and she is obsessed. She knows all their names and birthdays and every single tidbit of published trivia about each one. She lights up when their names are mentioned or their songs come on the radio. Michael and I were talking about our scattered priorities one day, and he happened to say, “we need to stop and head in one direction…” at which time Meghan, who had been ignoring us, jumped up and squealed, “WHAT?”
I can’t fault her. Those boys are pretty cute. And talented. And I’ve been known a time or two or twenty-seven to have obsessions of my own.
I side with Jen Hatmaker on this one. God is obsessed with social justice. He thinks about it. He talks about it. He lights up when we fight for it. He does a back flip when we achieve it. It’s all over scripture, and we can ignore it no longer. I say this not to heap a big pile of guilt on you. Believe me, I have beams of timber protruding from both my eyeballs. I’m with you. I’m hoping you’ll join me as I step out of this boat and figure out where we go from here.
It’s not that we don’t have good intentions, right? We want to do good. We want to be who God has called us to be. We want to make a difference. We are simply blinded to the suffering of the world outside our comfy little bubbles. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Most of us have no concept of our own prosperity. Nor do we have an accurate understanding of the plight of the rest of the world. Our perspective is limited and our church culture is so consumer oriented that we’re blinded to our responsibility to see God’s kingdom come ‘to all nations,’ as He was so fond of saying in His Word.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Let’s think about this. God’s kingdom in Heaven will be one of complete reconciliation. Peace. Equality. Provision. We will want for nothing. I believe that God’s call for this generation is to be the answer to this prayer. By God working through us, we can bring reconciliation, peace, equality and provision to Earth. Certainly, it will not be complete until we are all in Heaven together. But I think He wants us to get started now.
So this is my challenge for you and for myself this week: Let us open our eyes. Look around. See other people as stories – because everyone has a story. If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll share it with us.
And see yourself as their servants. Look at someone, and think to yourself, “I am your servant. I am here to serve you. How can I make your life better today?” Even those – no, especially those whom you may not like, who may not agree with you, who are different from you. Smile. Make eye contact. Yield. Affirm the value in every person who intersects your path. Clean up your own mess, even if there are employees who would do it for you. Change your thoughts, change your heart, change your actions.
Pray each day for God to use you to serve others, to show His love and grace in a very tangible way. Ask Him to use you to provide for their physical needs.
All I can do is make the tiniest ripple in the ocean. That’s about all you’re good for too. But it’s foolish to become paralyzed by the scope of suffering or discouraged by the limit of our reach…Alone, we can affect a few. But together, we can change the world.
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation…It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. (Robert F. Kennedy)
If you’ve made it this far into this post, and you’re still my friend, congratulations. You’ve done better than my mother. (Just kidding, Mom…Mom?) I’d really love to hear your thoughts and your ideas about what you can do in your corner of the world – not only for encouragement, but to give all of us ideas on ways to serve.
If you haven’t started this book yet, DO IT. You cannot walk away unchanged.
Caroline has informed me that I will write another post on Chapter 2 by Monday. (Seriously? It’s Labor Day. Dude. I’ll see you Thursday.) Miss Overachiever will surely have her thoughts on her blog by Monday, though. So it’s not like we’re leaving you hanging.
That’s all. Remove the boots. Resume the flip flops. And start walking.
PS: After I finished this post, I came across “In Which I Admit I Am Afraid of Poverty.” Breathtaking. And Caroline and I totally want to do a GS4O. Stay tuned.