At one time or another, you and I decided that the words, spirit, healing, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth meant something to us.
At one time or another, we made sure that the things we were thinking, feeling, and the actions associated with those thoughts and feelings were to somehow align with the gospel of our Jesus.
At one time or another, we decided that the church is a body created to spiritually house and care for the world.
But today in America, the word Christian has a lot of connotations to the average person. It’s confusing, and it brings up a lot of conversations about dividing lines and political parties and inclusion versus exclusion.
For other Native Americans like me, it brings up stories of Indian boarding schools and the origins of this country, in which the name of God was used for Christian Europeans to take over the land and lives of whatever indigenous peoples they could find. It was a tool of forced conversion, assimilation, oppression, and genocide, and continues to be today for people of color and indigenous peoples.
So here we are today, and often it comes down to the fact that we are paralyzed by what’s happening around us, and our attention spans cannot hold more than a few minute’s worth of information at a time.
Our news reels and Twitter feeds are stockpiles of opinions, and the words and stories of the Bible are being used to back up argument after argument on all sides, because we are in crisis.
Do you remember, Christian, how Jesus calmed storms and spoke openly in the face of oppression? Do you remember that it probably looked like the teenagers we see on our television and computer screens today?
Jesus, the leader of a nonviolent resistance, still leads, and we ought to be paying attention, because he won’t look and sound like we think he will.
He will look like the least of these, like the victims of oppression. He will look like the ones that have been beaten down, silenced, and systematically villainized.
He will look like the ones who quietly beat their weapons into plowshares.
He will look like the ones who fight against violence in our schools, but it doesn’t end there.
He will also look like those who come against the violence we perpetuate within the institutional church toward women, people of color, the poor, people of other religions, indigenous peoples, peoples with disabilities, and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
It is a violence of white supremacy that is being named today, and because it’s being named, our institutions, the very ones we have trusted all these years, are beginning to crumble.
And that’s the exact reason why we cannot give up.
Because even Jesus, when he walked this earth, saw institutions from the inside out. He watched them begin to fray at the edges. He overturned tables when injustice seeped from the deeds of the holy and powerful.
And the truth is, for America, the “us versus them” narrative isn’t working anymore.
Those teenagers who are leaving their classrooms with threats of expulsion are mirror images of us, and we cannot deny that.
The earth that cries out in pain because we have encroached on her beauty and resources time and again is also a mirror image of us.
The immigrants at our borders and the indigenous peoples who have always belonged to this land mirror the humanity of those who oppress them, and so we cannot lose sight of one another anymore.
Dear Christian, if you hold steady to the love of the Jesus of the Gospels, you hold steady to the call to shalom, that denies violence and takes up the work of reconciliation in all of its forms.
You take up the call to care for the oppressed (in every form) despite how our individualistic faith traditions have taught us to view the world around us.
You take up the call to risk your own comfort to comfort those who are tired and afraid, and to listen more than speak.
You take up the call to openly break down systems of oppression, even if and especially if those systems bring you privilege.
And you take up the call to make the church itself the very thing it was created to be, a body of people who live under the fully inclusive love of Christ, who is for all created things the keeper of our wholeness.
Dear Christian, the exact reason you cannot give up is the reason Jesus didn’t.
There is too much work to do, and it is a work of care and love for self as well as care and love for others and for this world we inhabit.
Love, above all.
Love, when there’s nothing else.
Love, because it’s necessary.
Love, instead of cycles of hate.
Love, in speaking truth.
Love, in times of tension.
Love, that breaks through barriers of oppression.
Love, that sees the full picture.
It is beyond political party and opinion, beyond sets of rules and regulations, beyond labels.
We do not give up because this kind of love was there in the beginning and will be there beyond the horizon.
We do not give up, because if we choose to follow this Jesus, we choose the opposite way of a world in which power wins over people, in which profit gets the last word.