by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
There’s this nagging feeling that has risen up lately after many of my recent posts, and it goes something like this:
Why are you spending so much time focusing on individual healing? Why are you taking so much time focusing on individual brokenness and hurt and shame when there are these large systems of oppression at play?
This question necessarily arises because it’s one I’ve directed towards a lot of mainstream pop-psychology preaching. Christianity isn’t, after all, another self-help scheme.
The church is not a support group. Christianity isn’t a human-centered path to your own personal utopia, no matter how many popular preachers try to convince us that we can create better lives now, activating our prosperity, wealth, and sense of meaning.
Christianity is none of those things, and yet it does have something important to say about the God-inspired pursuit of wholeness.
The truth is that I crave wholeness. I strive to ensure that there is enough for my friends and family. But when I return to the story, I’m confronted with something bigger than my self. Something stark and startling.
When I return to the story – that fraught confusing narrative we find in the Hebrew and Christian testaments – I find myself re-entering tales of unmet expectations and broken promises on the search for wholeness.
Our story starts in wholeness, in beauty, delight, creativity, and wonder. And it ends that way too, with a tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
But it isn’t always that way. As I dive deeper and deeper into the story of God’s constant self-offering, of God’s renewed and renewing convenants with Creation, with Israel and with the church, there is a trail of tears.
There is a highway of brokenness.
There is a perpetual sense that things are not quite as they ought to be.
And they are not.
It all starts in belovedness, continues in belovedness, ends in belovedness. Belovedness in the midst of brokenness, hunger, despair.
Even as God tells me I am beloved, I am invited into something greater. You are beloved, and you are invited into something greater. The world is beloved, and while its wholeness may be temporarily hidden, that wholeness will one day, and is now, being revealed.
Our story tells us that the wholeness we once had, and the wholeness we once lost, is the wholeness we will one day know.
Even as it now seems nothing more than a dream. A glimmer. A hope: a hope made manifest as a longing, a deep inward groan beyond words.
We are familiar with the groan. And our most sacred stories remind us that this groaning in travail is not new – though the situations that cause us such longing in the midst of hardship are different.
From the dawn of time, the prophets have been the ones groaning on our behalf, poetically and musically calling us to break free from the shackles that have dulled us to the dream of wholeness, the dream of God’s all-encompassing shalom.
From the beginning of the world, Jesus, the very embodiment of God, bears witness to God’s dream of wholeness, restoration, homecoming. Through the outstretched arms of self-emptying, self-sacrificial love, Jesus embodies God’s embrace for us: God’s beloved.
And lest our imaginations be captive to humanistic pursuits, Jesus and his witnesses proclaim good news for all of God’s broken yet beautiful creation.
We are a creation. We are a people created with divine spark. Tarnished, muted, dimmed, but a divine spark all the same.
Some days, in the face of my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world, the best prayer I can offer to God is essentially, “Oh, Shit.”
It’s percussive. It’s a deep felt groan. The sense that little is right in the world.
As Brian put it in his post the other day,
There is something about groaning and crying out
that is at the very heart of covenantal life.
Somehow, the Spirit is deeply active in such groaning and crying out.
And somehow, it is this groaning and crying out
that cuts through the numbness of the empire,
and even breaks into the very heart of God.
And that’s so much of it. The empire is built on the noise that lulls us into numbness. Today’s empires, like the empires of old are built on the triumvirate of fear, hopelessness, and isolation. They traffick in currency guaranteed to leave us suffering and alone in silence. Isolated with no one to hear our groanings – collective and individual – our collective hunch that all is not well.
It’s not just what we see on the news, or whatever version of reality is plugging up our social feeds. It’s the lies we’re being sold that make us feel less than, or more than, depending on how each successive advertisement lands.
Neither ‘superiority’ nor ‘inferiority’ are signposts on the path to wholeness. But ‘beloved’ and ‘enough’ are.
This is as true for me as it is for the communities, society, and world of which we are a part. There are dimensions to this wholeness that are both personal and social. The striving for this state of being is both physical and spiritual. Or perhaps it’s all spiritual.
In a world where the darkness is both in and around us, we groan and we cry out. Brian goes on to say:
People who don’t groan and cry out,
are people without hope.
They don’t groan or cry out
because there is no point to it.
Sometimes we lose hope. There are times we give up. There are other times we’ve just plain forgotten.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten, yet more likely than not, we’ve never been told that this story is better than the one we’ve been given, let alone the one we can dream of with our captive imaginations.
I know for my own part there are days, weeks, sometimes years it seems my imagination has succumbed to numbness, acquiescence, forgetfulness. On my own, without co-conspirators who have encountered a better story, faith becomes stale. Faithfulness is a stagnant pool.
Yet again I am reminded that In biblical faith we meet a piety that
refuses to forget.
To live out a biblical faith, we’ve got to wake up.
We need to dismantle the lies we’ve been told about ourselves. Our imaginations need to be reignited by a prophetic biblical imagination capable of dismantling the lies circulated that vastly misjudge the belovedness of our communities, our society, and God’s entire beloved world.
To live out a biblical faith, we’ve got to get woke. All of us.
These are things I feel I’m only just waking up to. I’m only stumbling towards the realisation that to live out a biblical faith, we cannot do it any other way but with our eyes wide open. There is no autopilot.
And to do so, Jesus has called together a community. Jesus calls together an unlikely, beautiful, challenging and diverse community. And he prepares us to move beyond ourselves, beyond our walls and silos, to join in his prophetic, healing movement.
That we might begin to experience – in some small foretaste – what wholeness feels like. And that we might participate with God in extending that wholeness to others.