“…because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth!” Revelation 3:16
How much do you care? And what does it take to get involved? And what is the sufficient level of involvement in something in order to indicate you care?
These questions filled my mind several weeks ago. I had asked a suburban pastor I knew how he was engaging in Black Lives Matter, or the issues of police brutality and clear institutionalized racism against black communities in the city. The pastor’s response unsettled me.
He said, “I don’t feel called to participate in those things.”
I was unsettled because this white pastor was not the first, nor even the most famous pastor I’ve ever heard use the word “call” in this manner: what therapists call triangulation and what debaters call appeal to authority. We can question each other’s motives, but how are we supposed to question the motives of each other’s Gods? Which is why in an argument such an appeal is considered a logical fallacy. And it’s not a fallacy anyone practically applies often, mainly because most rational adults don’t buy it.
Even if your boss is a Christian, you’re not going to tell her, “God hasn’t called me to come into work today.” Granted, if you try it, you might as well add, “But God does say you should pay me for my normal hours.”
You may not feel like going into work. But is that really God?
The word “call” gets thrown around in Christian conversation all of the time, especially by church leaders and seminarians, as though we have God on SnapChat.
Peter Rollins wrote several years ago on his blog,
“I am rather interested in showing how what we really believe often has nothing whatsoever to do with what we say we believe (i.e. the story we tell ourselves about ourselves). Take the example of buying chocolate from a corner shop. If I know, or suspect, that the chocolate is made from coco beans picked by children under the conditions of slavery then, regardless of what I say, I believe in child slavery.”
I’m not sure what to do with this. But I see it in the church all of the time. We are glad to tell people who are part of communities fighting to breathe that we want them to be able to breathe. I have seen such rhetoric especially well-promoted in white suburban churches.
But as soon as we’re done saying “‘Even if I must die with you, I will never disown you!’” (Mark 14:31), some of us get swamped by other work, or we reexamine our to-do list. Or we’re already actively involved in a different ministry (or ministries), and we determine that another would be too much. Or satisfy ourselves with reading and talking about the issues, or telling other people about them.
For Shim’on Kefa (Simon Peter), he made it all the way to Christ’s inner circle just by being a close follower and an active listener. He showed up to every talk, visited Yeshua (Jesus) during office hours, and went out to Yeshua’s group dinners all of the time. But then one night, Yeshua was making cryptic statements, and one of Kefa’s friends ran out of the room under suspicion of treachery (at least, according to Yeshua). Kefa didn’t press the matter. He didn’t run out to catch the traitor. Maybe Kefa just couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Maybe he didn’t feel called to interfere.
The Gospel according to Mark tells us:
They went to a place called Gat Sh’manim; and Yeshua said to his talmidim, “Sit here while I pray.”
He took with him Kefa, Ya‘akov and Yochanan. Great distress and anguish came over him; and he said to them, “My heart is so filled with sadness that I could die! Remain here and stay awake.”
Going on a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that if possible, the hour might pass from him: “Abba!” (that is, “Dear Father!”) “All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me! Still, not what I want, but what you want.”
He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Kefa, “Shim‘on, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? Stay awake, and pray that you will not be put to the test — the spirit indeed is eager, but human nature is weak.”
Again he went away and prayed, saying the same words; and again he came and found them sleeping, their eyes were so very heavy; and they didn’t know what to answer him. The third time, he came and said to them, “For now, go on sleeping, take your rest… There, that’s enough! The time has come! Look! The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners! Get up! Let’s go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14:32-42 (CJB)
I know the names aren’t presented here in the traditional Greek transliterations, but you know the story. The authorities were coming; they were looking for Yeshua to take him to be tried and potentially killed. We are told that it was a time of great stress and emotional suffering for Yeshua, which is understandable considering what followed. A different gospel described Yeshua as even sweating blood because of his anguish.
Clearly Yeshua needed somebody. An accomplice, even. He needed someone to keep watch with him; he needed someone to stand by and pray. Everyone gives Kefa a hard time for the occurrence later in the night, but I think we saw even in this moment that supporting Yeshua wasn’t Kefa’s most important concern.
And yet Kefa didn’t want to just leave. He didn’t want people to know he had abandoned Yeshua. Rather than go home publicly to his own bed, he found a comfortable place between the roots of a tree, and as soon as Yeshua had walked away Kefa slept. Which is especially funny because as soon as Yeshua was crucified and buried, Kefa went home and hid.
There are people who are praying a few feet away in today’s midnight garden without access to social services, and who endure the sixteen shots from a cat-of-nine-tails, and who get crucified on the cross of deportation. They are the Christ of our time.
But to have a deep analysis of an issue or two, to respond to one or two of these problems well, and to have an impact upon the root causes of an issue through organizing, and political advocacy, and voting, will also mean that some of the other issues that we want to care about will take the back burner.
That does not mean that if your issue is police brutality, you can’t show up to an action against the deportation of undocumented people. The Not One More campaign had an action last month at which BYP100 and Black Lives Matter brought people and signs.
However, if you are too busy to participate in any cause, or if you or your church never affect change at the root of any matter of oppression or suffering, then at best you’re addressing symptoms without deep analysis, and at worst you don’t care about the problem.
So what’s the solution if that’s the case? Tell Yeshua and the people around you that right now you feel like sleeping. Be honest and vulnerable. Allow yourself and your community to be open about your and their priorities, and then examine them critically.
Remember that sometimes the first step in actually doing something is admitting that you don’t feel like it. Which is not the same as saying repeatedly as you do something that you don’t want to do it, and is better than saying that you will do something.
If you’re afraid of being overwhelmed, take baby steps. But don’t just talk. Recognize that wanting to pray and actually praying are as different as wanting to care and working for change.
Don’t go to the garden to sleep. Go to the garden to pray; or go home.
David V. Goodwin is a second year M.Div. student at McCormick. He grew up in several cities throughout the Midwest, but has spent the last four years in Chicago. He is currently seeking ordination in the UCC, works for the seminary, and spends his free time brewing beer and writing creative fiction.