Important note: This post is best enjoyed while listening to this song, if you have the auditory or mental or literal bandwith: Flags by Brooke Fraser
So this is my response to myself a week and a half ago (see this post, particularly #5). I wrote that post I think on a Friday [while staring down the barrel of saying goodbye to a baby we had for ten months], and then literally it was Saturday just like bumming around doing some random thing that several things popped into my head: that song (linked above), a PowerPoint presentation I made for the youth of our church a few months ago, a South Sudanese bishop…
Well, there are a lot of theological mines to dance across here, I am sure. I hope we don’t all get up in arms, I’m not trying to pick a fight.*
Basically, I thought of the bridge of that song, “I know the last shall be first…” and it got me thinking about this talk I gave to our youth about “the least, the last, the lost,” back last spring. I went through, while preparing for that lesson, and basically found everywhere in the entire Bible that it talks about the poor, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, or the foreigner/alien.** I left out prisoner that particular day, but I could have done that too.
Turns out, in basically every single instance in the Bible, God is on the side of those very people. “I will place them in oppression and ignorance, and then in my infinite justice I will hold them accountable for things they could never have possibly known,” says God never.
“I will lift up the people who have had full bellies, earthly wealth, and impressive educations on earth because they were super lucky to be born into homes that put them in Sunday School,” says God never.
“The people who are born into slavery and live and die in slavery on earth pretty much are stuck that way because of the sins of other people, and will never know me,” says nothing in the Bible, ever.
What does it say? Over and over, in a hundred different ways, blessed are the poor, slaves will be freed, hungry will be fed, blessed are they who mourn, I will hear the cry of the poor and lift up the oppressed; in Matthew 25 Jesus basically says “I AM the poor.”
I feel like you can’t really read the Bible without realizing that God pretty much sets himself inexorably and unarguably on the side of the poor and the oppressed. All the time.
That’s one of my favorite things about the God of the Bible, actually. Weird as that might be for a wealthy, white, educated, healthy, American girl to say. A God who identifies with and promises justice to the poor and the oppressed is pretty much the only kind I can figure out how to get with, at this point.
Because of my particular position in life, I think to me and people like me, he’s like “I’m with them – with the least of these. If you’re with them too, then you’re with me.”
Oh, the last thing was the South Sudanese bishop. He’s a guy that’s a friend of my boss, and good friends with a guy that works with us. He recently received a big prestigious peace award and had a gala with the Clintons, etc. and something reminded me of him and all his hoopla recently, and I thought about the other South Sudanese people I know that live here, and I thought about how often the people who seem the most convicted about the goodness of God are the people IN poverty and UNDER oppression.
I thought: I have had tiny peeks into the mess that goes on into this world, but my friend Michael (a S Sudanese pastor) has been IN IT, and he is an absolute giant of faith. I thought of the stories I’ve heard about the Christian church in Egypt right now exploding in fervor and numbers. I thought about Mother Teresa. Seems to me like some of the people who are most confident in the presence of God are the closest to the “least”. I guess it’s kinda like he said: he’s among them. Not standing far off in a fancy church telling them they haven’t said the right words in the right prayer.
I love traveling; if you know me at all you know that. Have you ever traveled somewhere and felt like you just fundamentally didn’t fit? We recently went to LA to visit my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. It was a great trip and it was GREAT to see them. I enjoyed every minute with them, and they were great tour guides. But I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so out of place somewhere as I did in LA. Not even in rural Cambodia. It seemed like everything was about being thin, young, rich, and beautiful. I know this is hardly ground-breaking or new of me to say, but I definitely picked up that vibe. From people on the streets to posters in windows to businesses being advertised it seemed like everyone was selling things and ideas that I am just straight-up not even remotely interested in buying. I know there are lovely, hard-working, kind and compassionate people everywhere. But as a culture, that one didn’t sit well on me at all.
On the other hand, I have traveled to places that felt more like home than my own home does, in some ways. I love Ireland to death. It is a place where (with exceptions, obviously) the culture values stories, music, knowing the same people your entire life, keeping promises, being content with what you have, working hard, and laughing harder. And food. And beer. There is a culture of permanence and contentment there that might exist in isolated places in Dallas but I couldn’t call it Dallas culture, even though it’s my home. These are gross generalizations but you get what I mean.
Anyway, I think sometimes about Heaven that way. I think there might be people who make it there, but they are so out of line with the way things work, that they won’t even really enjoy it. Then there are going to be other people who spent their lives on the poor, the fatherless, the widows, the captives, always feeling ill-at-ease with the power structures and the way things work here on earth. Those people are going to slippety-slide right in (as my husband would say) and feel like they are at home at last.
I think if we don’t find a way to pretty fundamentally identify with the “least” during this life we have right here, we’re going to be in for some significant culture shock if we manage to make it into the kingdom of heaven. I know this is like some weird theological stuff I’m dipping into as far as “if we make it in,” but I’m just talking about this one idea right now.***
So anyway, for me this issue is not solved, but evolving. Tough stuff to think through, even tougher to put into words… What do y’all think?
* Oh my goodness, pretty sure that sentence has approx. 4 metaphors in it. Somebody stop me. Being literal is so DULL though.
** Yay biblegateway.com! So much easier to do this kind of exhaustive search than it was in the OLDEN days (of even like the mid-90s).
*** I mean if you read that Matthew 25 part to the end, sure sounds like some “if you make it in” language to me…