Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it remain in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me (John 15:4 KJV)
Our journey on Earth requires pushing through darkness and reaching for light. So much surrounding us signals death, decay, and suffering—whether it’s 2.4 million dead from COVID-19 worldwide, 2.2 million people in United States prisons and jails, climate catastrophe, or growing inequities between rich and poor. How do we press on? What offers hope? For viruses, vaccines. For an overzealous carceral state, reimagining justice to include restoration and wholeness in people’s lives and communities (for more on this, see scholar-activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s book Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition). For a precipitously warming planet, transitioning to carbon-neutral energy sources. For a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, policies oriented toward broad-based human flourishing.
Creating social systems promoting human thriving is a life-long commitment.
It’s clear that for each of these monumental challenges, we’re not devoid of action options for positive change. Why is progress so elusive? We’re missing the collective will to act as conduits of God’s grace and wisdom and disciples open to His constant correction. Paul writes in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In line with Paul, I submit we need spiritual humility and anchoring to overcome our tendency toward individual and collective sin and moral stultification. It’s beyond our capacity to sustain individual and collective goodness, justice, and mercy without connection to a source greater than ourselves, a higher power directing our action and empowering us to persist when we face resistance inside ourselves and outside forces of human and spiritual evil. As R.C. Bingham wrote eloquently over the past months, our national politics often embody human evil—with the immediate former president a case in point. Ephesians 6 warns us about spiritual evil: “Put on the whole armor of God that we may stand against the wiles of the devil. For we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
We cannot save ourselves. Jesus Christ is our Creator and Sustainer, our Savior and Shepherd, pointing to the need for personal and collective salvation. Yet many of us who call Jesus Lord acquiesce in the face of the relentless commodification of the Earth, and the division of people into “deserving” and “undeserving” categories, to justify hoarding by the few at the expense of most. We see a clear example of such twisted faith expression in Kathy Edin’s recent post detailing how people are discipled into a militaristic White nationalist faith (Undivided is an inter-racial Christian organization empowering pastors and laity to overcome this schism).
Moral clarity and unity need not slip through our grasp if we start with a core revelation of Genesis, that we are all imago dei, made in God’s image. Paul mirrors this in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we’re all made in God’s image and all one, we all deserve human dignity. Full stop.
Creating social systems promoting human thriving is a life-long commitment. And we have radical hope in our pursuit because we’re tethered to the true vine. Individually and collectively, we must seek the Lord’s face, asking: “What next, Jesus?” God enables our growth through self-examination and then calls us to live in community with others doing the same. We’re Jesus’s hands and feet, his ambassadors, even as we manage our frailty.
If we’re serious about upending injustice and ushering in life-affirming social systems, we must be sober-minded, steeped in understanding our socio-historical context. And we must be spiritually-grounded, so we have open hearts the Spirit can equip to bear fruit that remains. There is no shortcut through the valley of the shadow of death, BUT I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thus, I’m fortified as I march in His glorious light, however circuitous or confounding the path. If The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, let’s seek the Spirit’s guidance for creating the Beloved Community…where the fruit is sweet and bountiful, where our cup runneth over because there’s more than enough for us all.
I look forward to our fellowship on the vine and to getting into good trouble with you!