I went back to school a year and a half ago to pursue an education in Social Work. My training has been the most personally fulfilling work I’ve ever done outside of my family. It has opened my eyes to a world that is comfortably veiled for most of us. At least, it was for me before doing this work. I’m thankful to finally feel like I am alive and actively living the life that God had created me for from the very beginning. Finding your calling is a bit like labor – hard to tell someone how to know when it is happening except to say when it is happening you will understand.
A strange culmination of events has boiled to the surface over this past couple of years since I decided to leave a 20+ year career in the finance industry. I have found my calling in the realm of social justice at the precise moment that it feels our country as a whole has awakened to the need for social justice. Of course, that is not true. There have been pockets within our communities that have been fighting for social justice for eons while I lived my life blissfully unaware and naively confident that we had moved past the horrors of our collective past. Nevertheless, it does feel as if we have collectively been slammed into awareness this past couple of years in a way that we had somehow escaped previously. It’s a weird time.
Fortunately, right in the midst of all this chaos the show Strange Things came to Netflix and gave me a word for what is happening. I live in the Upside Down. Everything I thought was true about how I was raised, is the underbelly of a sick society that had been painted in pretty colors to lull me into walking around the wasteland joyfully oblivious. And while waking up is scary and treacherous, it is so much better than staying asleep. My faith informs my life in active and personal ways.
A large part of the Upside Down for me has been watching people I know and love reading the same sacred texts and come to wholly opposite conclusions. Part of the Upside Down for me is feeling as if the core tenants of my faith are up for interpretations that I never thought possible. So this piece is my attempt to take care of myself by writing down what I believe, as clearly as possible.
1. My allegiance is to the Kingdom. I believe that we are all connected through our creator. This idea of Kingdom is very froufrou and weird sounding to people who don’t believe in a creator – but based on my life experiences, I believe wholeheartedly in a God who loves us and has a plan for good that permeates our lives. My calling is to take action to bring the Kingdom, which is already at hand, to fruition in this lifetime.
I can do this by loving my fellow man – all over the world, and right beside me. Inherent in this first statement is the idea that my allegiance is not to my country. I love my country. I love the people who defend our country from attack. I in no way, shape, or form, believe that my country is considered better by my God than any other country. When I see people I don’t first ask – are you one of ‘us’ – I ask, are you made in God’s image? There is only one answer to that question, and therefore there is no one that I would reject or place second in line for my love.
How this works out practically in my life: I will work toward humane and just policies that honor the sacredness of people.
2. I am called not to be afraid. Fear is the cancer of our current environment, and I fall prey to this roaming invader more often than I would like. I am so scared that the people who believe in Nationalism will win. I am afraid that white supremacists will infiltrate our society in more invasive and insidious ways, and continue to sow division. I am worried that we will turn our back on the message of Christ to love one another, even our enemies. I acknowledge that fear fuels much of my passion each day.
But when I am still and quiet, I know that I am not afraid. It is important that I allow space in my life to be quiet and still and remember what I believe to be true. I know that there is a loving arc to the story of God that is playing out right now. All beauty is born of pain, and this time is yet another arc in the story, and the pain will bear beautiful fruit one day. I believe that to always choose love is the very best choice I can make. I refuse to let fear settle and metastasize into hate. I choose love over fear. And even if I were to die because of my love, I would die with great love in my heart. If I must die early, let it be with great love.
How this works out practically in my life: I do not fight against those who disagree with me, I work for those who need me. I do not hold in my heart those who are working to support what I fear; I keep in my heart the faces of those who need me to continue.
3. I can stand firm in my beliefs, and I can care about multiple things. I will not fall victim to the work of evil that tries to trick me into thinking I must choose who to love. I will not fall victim to the idea that to love one is not to love another. I know that love is boundless and endless and that nothing can overpower love. I can support our troops and the right of oppressed people to protest. I can support our police, and work for criminal justice reform. I can appreciate the need for humane border policy, and lament the children separated from their parents after fleeing danger. I can honor the good that our country has done and acknowledge the horror that we have also perpetrated. I can be proud and remorseful.
There is a dominant force in the world right now that supports either/or. Either you are for me, or you are against me. I believe in both/and. We can always find a loving compromise that consists of both/and.
How this works out practically in my life: I don’t engage in the ‘whataboutery’ that is so popular. I do not participate in the distractions that begin with, “How can you support X when Y is happening?” I do not allow my heart to be hijacked by false equivalencies. I trust in the all-encompassing, expansive, and powerful love of the Creator. I believe with all that I am that God is capable of caring about every ounce of pain in this world, and will equip me with that same expansive love.
These are my three touchstones –
Does this bring the Kingdom of God to fruition?
Am I operating from love?
Does my action demonstrate my belief in the limitless and expansive love of Christ?
I am not afraid to speak truth to power as Christ did throughout his life. Jesus was a very politically outspoken defender of these three points, and I believe that I am called to do the same.
I am not afraid to love people who I do not understand. I recognize my responsibility to educate myself on the stories that other people are living and how those stories impact their decisions.
I believe that empathy is a calling of Christianity and it is holy to develop empathy. I do not believe that my desire to love means that I do not stand up for these beliefs.
When a moral sphere is broken, and someone’s beliefs cause harm to the Kingdom and the people made in God’s image then it is not only necessary to stand up and defend those people, it is holy. I can both feel empathy for the fear that drives people to do bad things and protect people against that fear.
So those are my touchstones: How does this impact the Kingdom of God? Am I driven by love? Do I believe in the power of God/limitless love?