On “Not Getting It” and the Virtue of Humility

by Brian Walsh

I am always amazed and deeply gratified by how many people take the time to write to me emails and letters of gratitude for my books. And they often come at just the right time for me. You know, when you’re feeling a little empty or discouraged and out of the blue comes a word of encouragement.

But there is also a theme that seems to recur in a lot of this correspondence. Here is what someone wrote to me recently:

“We are VERY happy at our church, and they are great in many respects (strong on trade justice, social issues etc) and a real family to us in many ways; but they just don’t get it! I asked recently why, in light of the current economic crisis, no politician has said that perhaps it is the system itself that is wrong. The blank looks were legion! We are trying to work out where to go next – and are unsure how we put into practice (in a way that just won’t overwhelm and cause us to fail) all the things we are and have discussed.”

“They just don’t get it.”

There is a frustration here that has become increasingly common. There is a sense amongst my correspondents that they come to a deeper discipleship, rooted in a certain way of reading Scripture (that books like Colossians Remixed and others have helped form) that leads hem into important counter-imperial choices in their lives.

The problems comes when their friends, co-parishioners and family members “just don’t get it.” They are, if you will, “remixing empire” in their lives and beginning to feel very alone in it all. And that occasions hurt, frustration and perhaps even anger.

I confess that I’m both honoured and a little overwhelmed by the fact that so many people write to me, and often to Sylvia and I together, about these things. Honoured that total strangers feel that by reading one or more of my books that they know me well enough that they can trust me with these struggles. And overwhelmed by the thought that I need to come up with a path of hope, and some modicum of wisdom in my replies.

So I’m going to write a few blogs on this issue over the next few weeks. The writing may get interrupted by other things that we need to talk about at Empire Remixed, but I’m committed to trying to offer something to folks who have trusted me with their struggles.

And I want to begin with humility. I really appreciated the tone of the correspondence I just cited. “We are VERY happy at our church, and they are great in many respects (strong on trade justice, social issues etc) and a real family to us in many ways….” VERY happy at church! That is not a common theme amongst a lot of people who write to me. This person’s church is great “in many respects” and “a real family to us in many ways.” That really is incredible. That is gospel. That is very, VERY good news! But … “but they just don’t get it.”

I know exactly what he means (the correspondent is a guy).

Let me tell you about my church in small city Ontario. This is a place of encouragement. People drop notes of encouragement in your mail box from time to time. They pray for each other. They are generous with their time and their money. And they are indeed “a real family to us in many ways.” What else could anyone want from a church?

Well, maybe I’d like it if the bumper sticker on many of the cars in the parking lot that reads “Support our troops” didn’t mean “Support the war in Afghanistan”, but perhaps, “Get our troops out of Afghanistan”. I’d be happy if there was more critical thought around an inherent bias towards the conservative political agenda in our church. And I could go on. I could talk about an individualistic piety, I could complain about a lack of ecological concern (try to raise the question of an ecological audit of our church building!), etc., etc.

But these folks will allow Sylvia and I to open the Word to them from the pulpit. And they will struggle with us about the meaning of the gospel. They were welcoming and accommodating to us and our children when we arrived here. They have created a space for ministry to young people that is pretty much at the heart of such ministry in our whole area. They are in the old folks homes leading services, they are foster parents to hurting kids, they are involved in the local pregnancy crisis centre.

I’m not sure that many folks in my church “get it” when the talk turns to empire and to the need for a radical remixing of our lives in the face of empire. But, in some of the most important ways, they profoundly “get it” when it comes to the meaning of the Kingdom of God in their lives.

So this isn’t my last word on the struggle with folks who don’t get it, but it is my first word. And that word is “humility” and maybe I should add, “gratitude.” I don’t mean this as a hard word, but as a gentle word. I don’t mean to say to my correspondents that their frustration and loneliness in the midst of folks who don’t seem to “get it” is invalid. But I do mean to call us (and I mean it when I say “us”) to humility and gratitude for those sisters and brothers who aren’t where we are.

Remember Elijah, feeling all alone and bitching that he’s the only guy with a radical and prophetic vision. And remember that God does not answer this prophet of dramatic demonstrations with the power of a hurricane wind, nor with the earth-shattering drama of an earthquake, but out of a still, small, gentle voice.

Sometimes that voice whispers through the very folks who we thought didn’t get it. And it is then that we begin to realize that we aren’t alone. We have the humility to see a cloud of witnesses where they just weren’t there before.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

3 Responses to “On “Not Getting It” and the Virtue of Humility”

  1. Lisa

    “Sometimes that voice whispers through the very folks who we thought didn’t get it. And it is then that we begin to realize that we aren’t alone.”

    This is something I’ve seen over and over again in my own life, it’s really amazing.

    beautiful essay, Brian — I look forward to reading more.

    Reply
  2. M.joshua

    This is an encouraging post.

    Reply
  3. David

    Brian, I was very encouraged by your following two parahraphs;

    “But these folks will allow Sylvia and I to open the Word to them from the pulpit. And they will struggle with us about the meaning of the gospel. They were welcoming and accommodating to us and our children when we arrived here. They have created a space for ministry to young people that is pretty much at the heart of such ministry in our whole area. They are in the old folks homes leading services, they are foster parents to hurting kids, they are involved in the local pregnancy crisis centre.

    I’m not sure that many folks in my church “get it” when the talk turns to empire and to the need for a radical remixing of our lives in the face of empire. But, in some of the most important ways, they profoundly “get it” when it comes to the meaning of the Kingdom of God in their lives.”

    Observing the emergence of the Kingdom of God in our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters is a beautiful thing. Celebrating the unity we share in Christ, inspite of the frustrations we may feel about the speed (or lack thereof) with which others see the need for a radical remixing of our lives in the face of empire”, may be exactly what Jesus expects of us.

    I look forward to your future posts.

    Reply

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