I went to bed early one night. After a meeting with church members who are signing up to walk with students at the university. After discussion about what it means to be present in the lives of students we know and those who are strangers to us. What it means to show we care about their lives.
I missed my favorite Tuesday night activity – a Google hangout with passionate, earnest, loving people who want more for God’s church.
And I woke up in the middle of the night to a Twitter storm. And at the middle of this hurricane was Suey Park and Rachel Held Evans. I felt torn. Because I’ve been blessed and inspired by both.
We need both. We need both because:
We need the conviction that Suey gives the church.
Suey has gone through the wringer (understatement) when it comes to her history with church and specific Christian communities. But, it wasn’t in the subculture of US American Christianity through social media and blogs where I first encountered her. It was #notyourasiansidekick and #notyourmascot, and her cutting, convicting words about race/racism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy that drew me in. These were words for the church, too. And when I learned of her faith, and how much she integrates her faith and justice work, I realized that we have a prophet in this beautiful, young woman. We need her.
We need her to convict the church.
Conviction is maybe a strange word to use here especially since its appropriation by Christian culture. The meaning has become diluted, and means something different from: “a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense, made by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge in a court of law,” or even “a firmly held belief or opinion,” (Thank you, Google search). Sometimes we might say that a person was convicting – maybe a sermon or testimony or blog – meaning it moved us in an emotional way – that it while it speaks some kind of truth, generally, in evangelical culture, in my observation and experience, I’ve felt it mostly associated with the moral or spiritual (read: abstract and esoteric). In other words, I never felt like the word actually had any traction.
But, with the rising voices of women of color feminists who follow Jesus the word conviction is finding new meaning – and feels closer to the original. Because people are being called out. The church is being convicted of complicity and oppression, racism and sexism, and numerous injustices. And Suey is a powerful voice pointing to this reality. It’s my conviction, I’m convinced that the church needs her in such a time like this now.
— Frank Yamada (@fyamada) July 3, 2014
We need the compassion that Rachel gives the church.
Rachel Held Evans has provided people who are broken and hurt by the institution of US American Christianity with a description, even a prescription, of recovery. She presents and embodies healing, redemption, and grace. Her journey gives us not only a template but a possibility of what happens when people are loved for who they are and where they are in their seasons, and with all their baggage, all their questions, all their desires for genuine church. I’ve read so many of her words, in books and blogs, and see why people find her so relevant and accessible – she is who she is. There’s no agenda. There’s no pretension. There’s simply an honest living-out, a living testimony of a young woman who loves God, loves people, loves the church, and wants the same for others.
We need the conflict that both give the church.
But this isn’t to say at all that Suey is not compassionate or that Rachel is not convicting.
Because Suey has offered me love and grace – cared for me – in moments when I’ve revealed personal stories that I can hardly utter with words (I literally had to type the story out in our Google Hangout because it’s still painful for me to verbalize/vocalize out loud). And instead of responding with strategies and plans to fight sexism, harassment, rape culture, she simply said, “We love you.” She has the heart of a pastor.
And Rachel’s recent post in response to #womenagainstfeminism on why we need feminism blew me away. She’s got a knack for these litanies where images and statistics are weaved together – almost like poetry – and I think to myself, RHE preaches and prophesies – she speaks truth and convicts me over and over again. She gives me words to speak truth, too. She has the heart of a prophet.
Is this maybe a part of the problem? We pigeon hole these voices and assume that they are one-dimensional and incapable of being more than what we see on Twitter or what they say they are according to their blogs. We dehumanize them. We villianize them. We use them and make them less. We pitt them against each other but not for any reason beyond the K-drama of it all.
Because, actually, the conflict can be good. Productive. Healthy, for the church. We need their struggles. We need their differences. We need their dialogue. We need their voices. There’s dignity in differences, as one beloved seminary professor said recently. The church was never meant to be a homogenous and happy body. We fight tooth and nail through these issues – they’re more than issues, you know, there’s people and lives at stake here – because God’s kingdom is reconciliation and a radical peace. It’s a peace that isn’t just swords into plowshares, it’s peace that means tears, pain and angst, rejection and resolution, fought-hard-for connection and reconnection.
Sometimes those differences are more pronounced not between those on the either side of the line – those are pretty obvious, right, and a totally different issue. It’s harder when you’re on the same side.
But, the hard-fought win is not in the winning of an argument or the changing-of-others-minds. It’s that we stand with each other. It’s that we journey together towards Emmaus together with the hope that those strangers – those we deem foreign, unfamiliar, different from us, even those on the same side of the railroad tracks – those strangers will reveal Christ to us in new ways.