Our Collective Quandary: Re-Examination, Reformation, and Liberation
(As published in Whosoever Magazine)
It is easy for the blinded oppressor, from an ivory tower of privilege, to look around at the burning world and declare, “everything happens for a reason.” It is easy for the white slack-tivists, who reap the reward of systemic oppression, to ponder quietly the theoretical injustices that exist outside of their screens.
When self-appointed governors of the status quo place suffering at a safe distance, the painful experiences of those on the margins are sterilized and minimized until all that remains ar
e textbook-ready case studies barred of emotion, reality, and spirit. This is to say, the “comfortable” omit The Comforter’s holy call to collective participatory defiance and liberative action.
It is easy, for all of us, to build a cardboard citadel of unquestionable doctrine. For it is this flappable tradition, without concern of experience, without concern of reformation, and without concern of the Spirit of Creation, that is the most dangerous of all.
It is hard to doubt and to question. It is hard to align ourselves so closely with those on the brutalized margins as to lose the very power that we have inherited from our ancestors. It is hard to beat our heirloom — i.e., weapons of privilege — into keys of extrication.
We walk this earth together
It is hard to truly listen, to uplift, and to liberate.
And yet it is necessary, holy and good.
It is good to amplify the cries of others, while granting resources, power, and care to those suffering within the systems that we must collectively work to change. It is good to say that lived experiences are valid and that painful trauma is true.
We walk this earth together so that we, as a collective body, may stand in solidarity with one another. We are not here to silence the margins nor are we here to dilute reality. We are here for far more than mere clinical observations and platitudes.
We are here for each other. Our lives, our destinies, our journey towards tomorrow are tied together.
As Gabriel Marcel once wrote in The Philosophy of Existentialism:
Evil which is only stated or observed is no longer evil which is suffered: in fact, it ceases to be evil. In reality, I can only grasp it as evil in the measure in which it touches me — that is to say, the measure in which I am involved…
If we as people of faith — especially those within the United Methodist Church of which I am a part — are to resist evil, injustice and oppression, we must first be willing to get uncomfortable, to get our hands dirty, and to become inexplicably intertwined within the participatory liberation that we are called, by the Body of Christ, into.
If we are not willing to do so: We are committing the so-called sin of the Pharisees, we are inflicting the pain of Pharaohs, and we are initiating the sorrow of Judas.
The precedential call to question doctrine and to reform toxic theological stances was canonized within an unlikely book: The Book of Job.
The Book of Job: Profoundly subversive
Written between the 7th and 4th century B.C.E., the Book of Job is a story of profoundly subversive truth. In a time of great crisis, depression and pain, Job cries out to his closest friends. Once a man who was comfortable within his pious unwavering tower of faith, Job now must reconcile the presence of injustice and sorrow.
Once comfortable within the privilege of his wealth, once distanced from the threat of loss, Job is suddenly left with nothing to his name but the raw scars of reality. Everything in his life is lost, not for any fault of his own, but because the promise of tomorrow is never known.
His friends hold tight to a doctrine blind to experience. They proclaim a transactional theology accepted and venerated by the culture to which they belong (much like the “Prosperity Gospel” found in modernity).
They, representing the privileged few, discredit Job’s experiences of loss and besmirch his truth of pain. They are unwilling to question their doctrine of theodicy which states, “If you are good, good things will happen. But if you are bad, sorrow will follow.”
Job, frustrated by their innocently ignorant circular arguments, declares in Job 16:2-6:
How often have I heard all this before! What sorry comforters you are! “When will these windy arguments be over?” Or again, “What sickness drives you to defend Yourself?” Oh yes! I could talk as you do, If you were in my place: I could overwhelm you with speeches, Shaking my head over you, And speak words of encouragement, And then have no more to say. When I speak, my suffering does not stop; If I say nothing, is it in any way reduced.
Their doctrine does nothing for his care. It does nothing for his healing. It does nothing for his past, present, or future circumstances. In fact, it is actively causing harm to his already hurting current reality.
Job demands a re-examination of the systems he once believed without question. He demands a reformation of doctrine he once trusted. He demands liberation from the toxic faith which shackles him to unjust suffering.
As Gustavo Gutiérrez states in the chapter “Sorry Comforters” in On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent:
The friends believe in their theology rather than in the God of their theology… they do so because they have not experienced the abandonment, poverty and pain that Job has.
They have placed the pain at a distance, shielding themselves from the reality of existence. For them, it is easier to dutifully regurgitate doctrine than it is to worship their God through the care of Holy Creation.
Duty to doctrine, or duty to care?
In much of a faith leaders ministry two duties are held as central tenants:
Duty to Doctrine
Duty to Care
When these two divine duties converge in conflict with one another, the Duty to Care must always be given ultimate priority: For doctrine is but a document of humanity, but humanity is a testament of divinity. In caring for one another, we care for the Well of Justice… the River of Peace… the Source of Unyielding Love itself.
So now I ask: Who is your doctrine besmirching? Who is your theodicy silencing? Where does your Duty to Care dwell? Are you protecting your stale doctrine with pacifying platitudes like those who surrounded Job?
Or… are you allowing space for doubt-filled re-examination, subversive reformation, and divine Liberation within your faith?
The moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it shall only do so if we bend it ourselves.
You — yes you — are called to collective liberative actions. You are called to the discomfort found in a fight toward equity. You are called to be like Job. You are called to be like Christ.
You are called to be a Christian: Not by name, but by deed.
You are called.
You are called.