Part of healing from fundamentalism is staring straight in the face the kinds of things I used to say to other people as an obnoxious evangelical. It’s not the easiest of tasks. Actually, it’s more like trying to cleanse an open, blistering sunburn with rubbing alcohol. The sting is excruciating in the midst of being exposed over and over again as new repeatedly realizations emerge.
It’s not that I was in everyone’s face all the time. In fact, I was consistently shamed by conservative pastors who kept taking me aside and telling me that I wasn’t loud enough or brave enough in such holy endeavours as door-to-door evangelism. I hated those outings. And yet we always found ways to mock the JWs or the Mormons for doing the same thing. For some reason, what they did was cultish. What we did was love.
During that time in my life, I learned to hyper-spiritualize most of Scripture, including Jesus’ Beatitudes. Jesus had nothing to do with social justice. That would be considered ‘watering down’ the gospel. When Jesus pronounced his enigmatic words, he of course was referring to the states of our souls rather than the states of the dispossessed.
Perhaps it was because our whole church world was so scared of the power embedded in the social justice truths that shaped Jesus’ life and love that is was simply easier to run away from it. After all, realizing the holistic nature of Jesus’ “blessed are you’s…” would have forced us to confront how we have not been the peacemakers, or how we have helped force the creation of the poor in spirit, or been the instigators in making the mourners. We would have seen our complicity in marginalizing the forgotten ones — all those sinners unwelcome in the true faith.
The Beatitudes are spoken for and to people who have been oppressed by foreign imperial powers to the point where they have nothing left; they are spoken for and to the people who refuse to let violence be the last word; they are spoken for and to the folks that religious authority has repeated determined are less than and are undesirable.
These are the people Jesus calls blessed and whole and beloved of God already without having had to do anything, change anything, or be anything other than who they are.
Black folks, Indigenous peoples, queers, transgender folks, people with visible and invisible disabilities, kids in Canada’s foster care system, single parents…
And radically economical. Social. Religious. Economical.
“Blessed are YOU…”, “WHOLE.ARE.YOU…”
When the magnitude of the Jesus’ words began to settle on me, it was as if I lost all need to possess them. They belonged not to the evangelicals, not to the Lutherans, not to the Catholics, or the Anglicans or the Mennonites or the Coptics.
They were for and to the Others. These Forgotten Ones.
Jesus wasn’t creating a new system in the world. Rather, he was declaring embodied truth already lived out in the world in flesh, blood, sweat, and tears. The poor were already whole. The peacemakers? Yup, complete in their humanness. The meek? Wondrous in world as the image of God.
Whole people. Whole communities. Whole world.
We all awaken to Jesus’ truth again and again each day. Even after ‘waking’ from the coma of fundamentalism, I still need to awaken to Christ every day. No denomination has a complete corner on the truth of God. Even those of us finding new life in progressive denominations and theology must dwell in the shadow of humility, knowing that we still have so much yet to learn and to become.
Radical words are renewed in every age, after all. The familiar refrains drip with new meaning, new hope, and new truth as humanity faces old wounds along with new challenges. Holding on to a singular focus of ancient words only mutes my own life to the power and transformation of God. I am the one to suffer. I am the one to cause others to suffer.
I’ll never interpret Scripture — or any other work — perfectly. Perfection isn’t possible. Whatever notion of perfection I’ve held onto certainly wasn’t Jesus’ perception of perfection. So why do I try?
Chasing perfection means I don’t really have to focus on the deeper, harder work of new life. It means I’m free to forget Jesus’ divisive messages of honour and hope for the poor, the mourning, the hungry, and the meek.
When I realize, yet again, that I’ve exercised my grand super power of completely missing the point, I grimace and try again. That’s new life. Daily waking up to old habits that die so very hard, and learning to create new ones.
As a whole person. Whole people. Whole communities.
Blessed are we, those who have unravelled from toxic religion and faith systems, for we are the new life and breath of God.
And we are whole.