Friday, October 9, 2015

The BIG Mantra

My moms group is reading Jen Hatmaker's For the Love this term and I read one chapter yesterday that made me say out loud "Amen!" and "Yes!" at my daughter's gym/cheer practice. Seriously. What she wrote was so right on, I had to agree verbally no matter where I was.

One concept that so irks me in American Christianity is what I call "The Big Mantra." It's infected us like a disease, pretending to be what Christianity is not and making us believe a lie. The Big Mantra goes something like this: God wants you to get out of your comfort zone. Don't be content where you are. Do something big for God. Get out there and be radical. It often comes with suggestions, too: get out of the suburbs and live in the inner city. Go overseas. Start a service organization. Save the world. Do something big. And it also comes couched in terms of if you don't go big, you aren't living a Christian life. You're a comfortable, sorry excuse for a Christian who can't get off your butt for God.

Man, do I detest this mantra. I detest it because it is so biblically untrue. And it assumes that whoever is saying these things knows exactly what God wants you to do and God just never calls people to do "small things," things small in these people's eyes.

Jen Hatmaker takes on The Big Mantra in chapter 3 of her book. I wish I could quote the whole thing, but here are some snippets. She says it in a much better way than I can and is right on.

"It has taken me forty years to assess the difference between the gospel and the American evangelical version of the gospel. Those were one and the same for ages—no take-backs, no prisoners, no holds barred. I filtered the kingdom through my upper middle-class, white, advantaged, denominational lens, and by golly, I found a way to make most of it fit! (It was a complicated task, but I managed. Please be impressed.) But then God changed my life, and everything got weird. I discovered the rest of the world! And other cultures! And different Christian traditions! And people who were way, way different from me! And poverty! Then the system in which God operated according to my rules started disintegrating. I started hearing my gospel narrative through the ears of the Other, and a giant whole bunch of it didn’t even make sense. Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context, and I’m no theologian, but surely that is problematic.

There is a biblical benchmark I now use. We will refer to this criterion for every hard question, big idea, topic, assessment of our own obedience, every 'should' or 'should not' and 'will' or 'will not' we ascribe to God, every theological sound bite. Here it is: If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true."  YES!!!!!

"Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. This helps untangle us from the American God Narrative and sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-in-a-Pocket I carried for so long. It lends restraint when declaring what God does or does not think, because sometimes my portrayal of God’s ways sounds suspiciously like the American Dream and I had better check myself. Because of the Haitian single mom. Maybe I should speak less for God."

"Ah yes, 'The Calling.' This is certainly a favorite Christian concept over in these parts. Here is the trouble: Scripture barely confirms our elusive calling—the bull’s-eye, life purpose, individual mission every hardworking Protestant wants to discover."

"In many ways, the perception of calling is a luxury of the privileged. A life’s purpose need not be authenticated by a business plan, a 501c3, a website, a salary, or an audience. We get to labor over our 'calling' because we are educated and financially stable, so many of us eschew the honor of ordinary work and instead fret over the perception of wasting our lives. Our single mom in Haiti entertains none of this. She works hard because she has to. She isn’t attempting to discern an elusive calling. She is raising her babies, working for a living, doing the best she can with what she has. Her purpose may not venture outside the walls of her home. We will never know her name. She probably won’t step into leadership or innovation or advocacy or social revolution. Yet she is also worthy of the calling she has received. A worthy life involves loving as loved folks do, sharing the ridiculous mercy God spoiled us with first. (It really is ridiculous.) It means restoring people, in ordinary conversations and regular encounters. A worthy life means showing up when showing up is the only thing to do. Goodness bears itself out in millions of ordinary ways across the globe, for the rich and poor, the famous and unknown, in enormous measures and tiny, holy moments. It may involve a career and it may not. It may include traditional components and it may not."

"Maybe we can exit the self-imposed pressure cooker of 'calling' and instead just consider our 'gifts.'"

"Calling is virtually never big or famous work; that is rarely the way the kingdom comes. It shows up quietly, subversively, almost invisibly. Half the time, it is unplanned—just the stuff of life in which a precious human steps in, the good news personified."

Whenever I hear "The Big Mantra" I think of Tabitha from the Bible. Here's what the Bible says about her:  "Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, 'Please come to us without delay.' So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:36-42).

Tabitha lived in a comfort zone: Joppa. As far as we know, she didn't go on a mission to other parts of the Roman Empire. As far as we know, she didn't start a social organization. Tabitha could make clothes. So she did. For widows. She took her gift and made garments for them. That is all that she is specifically credited with in this passage. She didn't do anything "big" for God. At least, in the eyes of many American Christians today. But let me tell you, what she did was big enough for God. She used what gifts she had for his glory right where she was. And when she died, people were so moved by her life of serving the Lord with her gifts that they wanted Peter to come and God to bring her back. And he did.

Do you feel you are somehow less of a Christian because you aren't doing anything "big"? Let the guilt go. There is nothing elusive out there waiting for you. If God wants you to do something, he'll let you know. Right now, right where you are, live. Use your gifts. Whether a mom, or businessman or laid off employee or homeless, you can use what God has given you now. Let's stop with "The Big Mantra" and just determine to live for God in any circumstance we are in. God will use us no matter what.