when we know we need to
Pine Tree Dr.
There’s a line in a song called The Resistance by Josh Garrels that haunts me. It comes at the end of the first verse. After poetically describing the power structures of this world that abuse the masses, Garrels asks, how do good men become a part of the regime? The question assumes these systems of captivity to be the handiwork of good people, good Christians even. Ethical businessmen. Rule followers. It’s an assumption that runs contrary to our own. Unlike Garrels, most of us think that the waves of oppression, domination, and injustice arise solely from the drug lords, crooked politicians, and criminals—in other words, from the bad men. They are the ones responsible for the regime. Yet while bad men certainly play their part, I think Garrels has a point.
The truth is that good men contribute much to the structures of this world. Think about it. Good men are prone to protect, and so they work for stability. Good men like to keep the boat steady, and so they don’t allow for radical course corrections. Good men want to give assurances and make promises, and so they create lots of policies and procedures to keep us safe. Good men like to show the prettier side of things, and so questions that poke holes in their presentations are often labeled as negative or even disloyal. Good men can be conservative in the worst sense of the word, stiff-arming innovation with rolls of red tape, declaring with confidence, “The system works well enough. We’re doing the best we can. Our intentions are noble.” And so the status quo holds fast due to the diligent efforts of good men.
How does this happen? How do good men become a part of the regime? Garrels offers an answer: They don’t believe in resistance. They fail to critically analyze the ideologies of this world, and so they are unprepared to resist them. Too many good men fail to heed the words of the Apostle Paul, “Don’t let yourself be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age” (Rom 12:2). Obedience here requires active resistance; the regime flourishes by subtle means when we let down our defenses. Without resistance, we’re assimilated, and we don’t even know it.
Without resistance, good men with good intentions will inevitably slip into the patterns of this evil age.
It’s not that sooner or later good men are unwittingly going to turn around and start shooting people, but rather that popular notions, incompatible with the ethic of Jesus, will begin to sound reasonable to embody—certain notions of success, of courageous leadership, of religious conviction, and of personal ambition. These notions slowly become the subject of our conversations, the content of our imaginations, the stories we tell our children, and ultimately the fuel of the very regime we say we despise.
I had a professor who once offered his students this proverb: “I used to think that bad people did bad things for bad reasons. Now I believe that good people do bad things for seemingly good reasons.”
That’s my fear.
That’s why this lyric returns to my mind again and again. And so I pray, Heavenly Father, save me from becoming a good man who quietly and unknowingly becomes a part of the regime. Teach me to practice resistance.
Wes Gristy is an associate pastor at All Saints Anglican Church in Jackson. He’s been married to his kick-butt wife Abbie for eleven years, and they have a brilliant four-year-old daughter and hilarious one-and-a-half-year-old son. Wes is one of my very best friends who has taught me much about the costs of resistance, and about what it actually looks like to push hard into the questions and compassion and work of the kingdom. I’m grateful to him for guest posting, among many other things.
This post is Part 1 of a 2 Part series. For Part 2, CLICK HERE.
It occurred to me while getting a cross of ash smeared over my brow, hearing the words, “from dust you came, and to dust you will return,” that one of the things I appreciate the most about the faith I’m finding myself leaning into more and more is that we are a people not only allowed to tell the whole truth, not only even encouraged to do so, but ultimately demanded to do so.
We must tell the truth: the good, the heartbreaking, and the completely unexplainable.
And so we operate in a season of lament and reflection. We begin it by marking ourselves with the dust we come from and the dust to which we will return. We take time to fast from things to remind us of our desperation and dependence on the king of the coming kingdom for anything to be worth telling in the end.
And even when shiny churches and slick preachers grin and tell us how to be happy, we must tell the truth that the world goes not well. Injustice abounds and work toward justice often feels like tiny drops in an enormous ocean. Hearts ache with broken families and open wounds. Loss stings years later like the day death stole life from our fingertips.
And so we tell the truth. All of it.
The hope of the kingdom coming is only truly hopeful if it is the refrain after the we see the deep gray all around us, and admit that we are both broken by it and perpetrators of it.
Until all is made new.
And so, for lent, we remember that from dust we came, and to dust we will return.
The church calendar calls into consciousness the existence of a world uninhabited by efficiency, a world filled with the excessiveness of saints, ashes, smoke, and fie; it fills my heart with both dread and hope. It tells of journeys and mysteries, things “seen and unseen,” the world of the almost known. It dreams impossibilities: a sea divided in two, five thousand fed by a loaf and two fishes, a man raised from the dead. My daily calendar reminds me that what I experience in the wold of faith must be measured against what I see, what is happening around me. + Nora Gallagher
The last two or three weeks have found me enslaved to my calendar. The calendar, however, has been filled with meetings and classes and groups and sessions that often find me wondering afterward if there is any reward in seeking and more so doing justice. But there is a rhythm to it. This past Sunday, visiting a church that has grown fond to me for multiple reasons, I found myself partaking of the bread and the wine, and the moment froze in time, or at its fastest began moving in slow motion.
I totaled my car several months ago in transit from my great grandmother’s funeral to the graveside service. I remember as the car began spinning and flipping. I took my hands away from the wheel and put them in my lap. There was no screaming, no cussing, no praying, no yelling. I remember seeing slowly, the way movies freeze the frame for scenes like these.
And I remember thinking nothing other than, “this is happening.”
Last Sunday morning was much the same. I was kneeling, looking three people over at the two boys of close friends kneeling also with their parents, and I felt the thickness of tears flood to my bottom eyelids. I grinned, and time slowed down. I kneeled there, participating in a kind of holy moment that I’ve participated in for more than twenty years. I had no control, no wisdom, no input, no heavy thoughts.
And I remember thinking nothing other than, “this is happening.”
These last several weeks have found me feeling slave to my calendar and slave to my intentions. I’ve wondered if the things I hope for and the things I end up being willing to stick my neck out for are actually worth it. I’ve wondered if it’s worth seeking justice, because the strong are louder and find immediate reward. I’ve wondered if doing the right thing, while potentially unpopular, is ultimately the right thing. I’ve wondered if my personal reputation is worth the suffering of a nameless person. I’ve wondered if a paycheck that brings more stress than income is worth whatever work I hope I am doing.
But when I knelt at that rail to take the bread and wine, and join in histories of men and women across the globe doing the same thing, and wondering the same things, and especially looking three people over to see my little buddies kneeling at the same rail, I remember thinking nothing other than, “this is happening, and I give thanks. And ask for courage.”
It’s surprising, really
the way it rattles the ribcage
and then leaps into the lungs.
missing and needing.
especially on days like today
the missing and needing arrive
when face to face again.
the miles and miles made it easier
to forget the ways they make up my world
to forget that it was them who began to teach me
who I was
who I was not
what the world could be
what the world actually was
how the kingdom insists on bursting through
how the kingdom waits to be released.
but today, this morning
on the edge of the literal sunrise
on the bumpy, muddy roads
on the way to school
when seeing your faces
and hearing your giggles
and feeling your faces
the way we feel faces when it has been so long
I was reminded that you are a part of me as I carry you inside me
and the only words are thank you
thank you to the kiddos who keep growing
growing in their shrinking sandals
growing in their brilliant brains
growing in my heart as they expand my world
expanding the spaces inside me that
had closed in a little too tightly.
And all is well once again.
And the world grows bigger once again.
And the kingdom protests once again.