From Disorientation Toward Place
Some words that I hope will find their way into a book, possibly at the end of a first chapter titled Disorientation.
When looking at Jesus or contemplating God’s dream of shalom, I am often drawn back to mournful questions: how did we get here? How did our notions of the good life lead to a culture that destroys life? How did we build collective ways of relating to one another that led so egregiously away from communion? The dissonance between scripture’s eschatological symphonies and the lived facts of this broken world are so dramatic that it is easy to despair. Our guttural longings for shalom grate against the unjust suffering forced on God’s beloved.
Late colonial modernity has left us deeply disoriented from this garden we were planted in to tend. The root of our disorientation is a lost understanding of the sorts of relationships within which we are woven, and an ignorance of how the ethics of Jesus apply to those relationships. Rugged individualism and its claim of anonymity from the world’s suffering is a fantasy that can only be sustained in the short-run of a privileged life. We are all tangled up in each other’s well-being. That is the lesson of shalom. Discipleship for a person of privilege involves becoming nailed to the world’s burdens alongside the Christ whose crucifixion epitomizes compassionate solidarity with the oppressed. The juxtaposition of shalom, the way of Jesus, and creation’s suffering speaks in the imperative: solidarity must become the defining feature of Christianity in the twenty-first century.
Native American historian Jack Forbes taught that “while living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past” (Dunbar-Ortiz, 235). One way or another, the road to shalom passes through the sins of our fathers. It is long past time for white people to take courage and begin the downward journey. Many of us are encountering these revelations with the frightened jerk of a sleeping man who wakes up underwater. But we must wake up. And as we do, disoriented and gasping for air, we must listen for God’s most regularly repeated refrain: do not be afraid.
Jesus extended a better way to be human, one that grounds us in our own flesh, lovingly reconnecting us to the other and to creation. Place is the site of reunion, but becoming reacquainted with its terrain requires the hard journey of decolonizing our imaginations. Centuries of maladapted socializing in the Western world have aborted the gift-giving nature of Christian community: a community which, like Abraham, was blessed to bless the world (Genesis 22:17-18). In lieu of intimacy and care, we constructed relationships of hostility and domination. As we gaze out on a planet at war with itself, heedlessly rushing beyond the point where life can be sustained, the futility of that path has never been more obvious. Lament and anger are natural, holy, and necessary places to turn in this milieu. Certainly these recent years have been pregnant with both emotions. The danger in this state, however, is that we can so easily devolve from weeping and frustration into the darker terrain of fear. When fear takes hold, we cannot build community across boundaries. We cannot open our arms from defensiveness to heal wounds or join in embrace. Fear multiplies suffering by reacting to discomfort with exclusion. The miracle of Christ’s coming is that the most human pivot from our dark night is no longer fear leading to violence — it is hope leading to redeeming love.