By David Ramos
While a new year ushers in a feeling of newness and hope, many are feeling a degree of trepidation and anxiety. Two years into a global pandemic, an ongoing milieu of polarizing politics, a stream of public church leadership failures, and having to navigate the often-acrimonious diatribes of social media culture,have left many emotionally weary and psychologically exhausted. What we find is people pressing the pause button on their church involvement, some are deconstructing their faith, and others walking away from their faith altogether. While some may find fault in those who meander away from their faith, it behooves us to listen to a generation that is sounding the alarm not always by their words, but by their actions, that is, they are opting out of the perceived industrial church complex.
What can we do as we witness the spiritual hemorrhaging that is going on among us? How do we engage narratives that are different than our own?
We must first listen to the narratives of pain coming from spiritual refugees seeking asylum from different movements and resources. Our knee jerk reaction to judge that which is foreign to us. When we superimpose our own ideological and/or theological frameworks, this only serves to further alienate those we are trying to reach. When we acknowledge the authenticity of someone else’s pain, the sacredness of their soul, we can earn the right to sojourn with them in their process and journey.
Many leaders are used to taking charge and/or controlling the narrative. Some unconsciously or consciously dismiss information, ideas, or positions that do not serve their own objectives and/or agenda. While pursuing their sense of calling, the leader can dismiss people and consider them collateral damage to the “mission”. Leaders need to be perpetual students, learning from God, scripture, people, culture, science, the arts, and marginalized perspectives. To authentically be considered true learners, we must be 0pen to change, the alteration of our perspectives, positions, or even paradigms. The deconstruction and reconstruction of cherished belief systems can be challenging and painful as witnessed with Peter. In the book of Acts 10:9—16, we read of a God prompted and curated process of Peter’s calcified belief system. While Peter was not “wrong” to live by religious belief code, God was ushering a new moment of the Spirit that was inclusive to gentiles, this new epoch would necessitate a new worldview and a new spiritual and theological understanding.
Love moves in the direction of the wounded, the hurt, the needy, and the marginalized. Love does not first attempt to decipher if a person is “worthy” of help before rendering assistance to an individual made in the image of God. Many of us miss the Missio Dei (the mission of God) when we forget that our sisters and brothers, particularly those we do not like, are made in the Imagio Dei (the image of God). To truly love the radical other does not mean that we compromise our values, faith, and beliefs, however, love may call upon us to walk in uncomfortable paths, to see past our tidy doctrinal categories and acknowledge the humanity of the other, even when we disagree with them. Love at times will call upon us to suspend our judgment of others, for the sake of someone’s dignity, humanity, and/or woundedness; love tears down walls and seeks to build bridges.
As we move into an uncertain future, rife with biological, political, and psychological challenges, let us not forget the Imagio Dei of those around us and seek to listen, learn, and love those for God puts in our path.