I feel like I am a living dichotomy.
A year ago today, I would have told you that it was us. That God has enabled his people to complete his mission, and to bring his kingdom. Heck, he even taught us how to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven”. However, I have found myself in a different place this year.
On my voyage last semester, I was struck with something called, ‘white consciousness’. I was in South Africa in an Art Museum during Heritage weekend. I remember it well. I had been stunned by the beautiful marriage of art and societal issues in this culture. Apartheid had its influence, and it was more than just a legislative influence. I remember walking past a statue which absolutely struck me. It was a statue of an African man’s face, a black statue. He had a white cloth draped over his head, and was holding the edge of it in his hand, in a contemplative manner. This is when white consciousness struck me.
Never before had I seen a statue of an African man. In fact, almost every statue I have ever seen was generally a man, and one of European decent (other than the one I mention now, and one of Stalin I saw in Vietnam later that month). I could not believe it. How could I have never seen an elated figure in society, to the point of being molded into a statue, that was of African origin?
Suddenly, my error was ever before me. I can quote 1 Corinthians 7:17 to you on any day, at any given time. But I realized as my voyage went on, how much I have missed it. Ever since I became a Christian, I have wanted to better someone else’s life. I have honestly wished I was poor at times, or of some other descent. I have coveted the poor and their few material possessions. I have hated myself for being incapable of relating, and for trying to relate when I clearly cannot. God slowly began to reveal the truth of a verse such as 1 Corinthians 7:17 to me: I am white, and I am privileged, and I do have an education, and I do love God, and I do love others, and I do want his kingdom to come.
I should not have to reject who I have been created as, in order to love God and love others well. I should use my whiteness, and my privilege, and God’s heart in me to do more for the people of this world, and to bring His love to them. God corrected my compassion to be less of a disservice to me, and allowed me to remember that he already was the sacrifice: that I do not have to be. I sacrifice, not by denying my identity, but by founding that identity upon the Godhead.
Now, I see that juxtaposition of the white cloth draped over the black man, and I feel it. It affects me and I am moved. I feel it in my life. As I sift through the Bible yet again, for not merely half truths, but for whole truths. When a year ago, I would wish to live in an almost socialist way, I now study the Word, and I do not see God condemning all people of private property rights. However, I see him warning them against any heartfelt connection to their property. This sense of idolatry works its way into both extremes in the sense of which I am speaking. One could be defined by the material possessions one procures and arrogant as he or she consumes ignorant of ethics or morals in a free-market capitalist society believing God to bring his Kingdom in His time, in His way therefore lessening the responsibility of His people. One could be instead, be so caught up in social justice and giving all one has to the poor in an attempt to bring God’s Kingdom as his children, and easily fall into Adam and Eve’s trap becoming his or her own God, in a self-gratifying manner, and perhaps even a self-identifying manner. Either extreme is to fall short of the main point in my own perspective.
Today in Chapel, Dr. MacDonald from Scotland summed it up well. Our exclusive passion should be God himself. Not ministry, not fellowship, not gifts. Simply God. Shane Caliborne also said it well, as he spoke tonight at Taylor. As we loosen our ties to our material possessions, we do begin to consume less and share more. The Gospel is then capable of its truest form: both vertical (personal) and horizontal (corporate).
I have to end with a touch of my own story. I have a friend who lived on a ship with me last semester. She was kind of a free spirit. I remember getting so frustrated sometimes, because she always wanted to share with everyone. She felt like she was being hospitable, when someone felt comfortable coming into her room, and taking whatever they want that was hers. That aggravated me. She would ask me for my things too. I thought, “no way jose, you are not going to just give me things so you can take mine, I don’t think so”. As the semester continued, I realized how unimportant her material possessions were to her. Her heart was for the Lord, so those things would come and go, and she would not be worried. I saw her ability to trust God himself. Not just the church, or her prayer partner or something, but God to be her protector and provider, and that he would provide through her.
I’m not suggesting a hate toward those who serve the poor by any means. I am encouraging the use of education while staying grounded in humanity of all kinds.
May you choose to trust God by giving away your extra cloak this week. May you feed him, and clothe him as you do so to the least of these this very week. May we use our identities regardless of status, for the further growth of His kingdom, and for the least of these.