We Are the Resistance

I was privileged to be able to give a “cross testimony” tonight to the Resistance. This is a semi-regular chance for folks to come forward and share something about their faith and how they’ve connected to the Resistance, and then literally sign their name to a wooden cross. Below is what I said:

Hi, everybody. So, for those who don’t know me, I’m Robert Buck. My wife is Kirsten, and I have two boys, Sam and Nathan. We’ve been part of the Resistance since the week before the launch, and currently I serve by helping out with social media, organizing our efforts with Refuge of Hope, and being part of the “tear down” crew on Sunday nights. I’m also part of Ben’s Pocket that serves at the Pregnancy Support Center. So, I want to start out with a quote:

Man cannot live without acts of exaltation, without moments of trembling and revering, without being transported by grandeur. For weeks and months he may be confined to the routine of sensible interests, until an hour arrives when all his habits burst under the strain. Common sense may sign a decree that life be kept under the lock of average conceptions, but much in our lives is made to be burned up in a holy flame or it will rot in monstrous deeds, in evil thoughts. To satisfy his need for exaltation, man will plunge into rage, wage wars; he will set the city of Rome afire. When superimposed as a yoke, as a dogma, as a fear, religion tends to violate rather than to nurture the spirit of man. Religion must be an altar upon which the fire of the soul may be kindled in holiness.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, from God In Search of Man

I had a mentor figure in my life who used to say that he was less interested in why you became a Christian, and more interested in why you stay one. Another way of putting this is to ask the question that Kaylie answered last week: “Why follow Jesus when there are so many easier and less costly alternatives?” I would answer that in several ways. I have a pretty dramatic story, I guess you could say. I grew up in a Christian home and was very much immersed in the Christian bubble. I also grew up in a very broken and abusive home and have some pretty wild stories I could tell you. Since Kirsten and I got married almost 18 years ago our story together has been pretty wild too. My mom and her dad died within a day of each other, half a country apart. Since then we’ve tried to take care of our remaining parents as best we could until my Dad died a few years ago. When I went to seminary, for example, I was the only seminarian living on campus with my wife and my father, who came to live with us because he was really sick himself at that time, basically dying. Our son Samuel was born 4 months early, weighing one pound, five ounces. They told us he wouldn’t live through his second night of life. We’ve moved across the county multiple times, often in the midst of some trauma that was happening.  Along the way we’ve really been challenged to make our faith our own or abandon it, and honestly there have been lots of good reasons to give it up altogether. I have good friends who have done just that- quit following Jesus- and they wonder why I still struggle to.

I try to be honest with them and tell them that it’s really hard, but that basically I can’t help it. Like Martin Luther, all I can say is, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Let me give you another quote that may help explain why. Frederick Buechner is a writer and one-time pastor that has been indispensable to my journey with Jesus, in no small part because of this quote. He says:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

You see, stories are very important to me. The best ones tell us about their content, for sure, but often they tell us quite a lot about ourselves, if only we have ears to hear. Jesus’ parables are like that. Nathan standing before King David and telling him “You are the man” was like that. And for me, Jesus’ story is very much like that. Honestly, half the time I don’t want to follow Jesus, and if love is something you do and not just something you say, most of the time I probably don’t love him very well either. But try as I might, I can’t get away from him, which would be great if he would just pop through the clouds and force us all to get along and care for and feed and love one another. But he’s not like that. He hides. He hides when we yearn for him in obvious places, and pops up instead in the most inconvenient and challenging ones. I see him in the faces of the disadvantaged special needs kids I work with. I see him in my annoying co-worker who makes my job a thousand times harder than it should be. I see him in Fred Phelps and Elton John alike. I see him in the faces of starving kids in Africa, and hungry ones in Canton. I see him in Jews and Palestinians. I see him, quite annoyingly, in Tea Partiers and the President too. So I still try to follow Jesus because I believe him. I don’t just believe things about him. I believe Him.  I believe that he made me in and for love, and that because love is something you do, it only exists in community. I believe that he created the world and all of us because he couldn’t help it, because he’s so full of love that it couldn’t be contained; it needed a world with all of us in it to receive that love.

I don’t believe I was made to pursue the American dream or even my own happiness necessarily. I wasn’t made to follow a checklist of rules about my behavior or beliefs or voting practices or anything else. I was made instead to receive and express God’s love and to do so fiercely, which is necessary because so many of the world’s systems are set up in direct opposition to the kind of world that love is working to create even as we speak.  I would even dare to say that I was made for all of you. We were made not to attend a church, but to be one. We were made to be outrageous fools in the eyes of the world. God wants to do something wild and crazy and extravagantly beautiful, and for reasons only God could know he’s chosen us for this holy and glorious task. It’s crazy to start a peace-loving church in a time of war. It’s crazy to use most of our resources to love people and meet their needs rather than pay for a building or our pastors. It’s crazy to insist that we have a life together as the church that is right at the very core of who we are rather than just add a few good programs and a nice worship experience once a week to whatever life we’re already trying to pursue on our own. It’s crazy to think that some of us could pool our resources and share them with the world better by moving in together, but by the grace and wisdom of God ALL of these things are happening. You see, I believe that there is nothing better, and nothing harder, than following Jesus. I also believe that it’s so hard if you’re following him very closely at all that it simply can’t be done alone. It requires community. It requires us to really be an “us.” So if you ask me today why I’m following Jesus, I’d simply say that it’s because of you.

I’m Robert, and I alone am not the Resistance, but God knows we sure are.

“…Which Evidently is a Long and Difficult Task,” But I Digress.

So….I haven’t blogged since November. There are lots of reasons for that, most of them having to do with time. Even more than those, however, is the simple fact that for the first time in nearly a decade (basically since moving to NE Ohio), I don’t feel alone, and this is a remarkable thing. It was just August when I wrote about, in the ongoing wake of my Dad’s death, feeling more alone than ever. That said, of course I don’t mean alone “alone.” We have a few friends here, after all, that we’ve known for most of our time here, friends who care for us and for whom we very much care in return. Still, there was a time when the path we were on was (or seemed) very close to the one that they were on in various ways. Over time, however, it has become clear that our paths are now moving in different directions. That doesn’t mean we care about those few longtime NE Ohio friends any less (or they us). It just means that as we’ve been constantly searching for a community with whom to be people “on a mission together,” once such a community is finally found and we get to work pursuing that mission, the relationships that are formed within the community as a result of that shared mission naturally become most prominent in our lives. So, all of that is simply my way of saying how thrilled I am to be part of the The Resistance. I sometimes say that during our first decade here (minus our year-and-a-half in TX) it felt a bit like NE Ohio was God-forsaken. I know, of course, that that’s not the case. It’s just how it felt. While there are many wonderful faith communities here doing many wonderful things, including a few that we very much respect and appreciate, none of them afforded us the opportunity to really “be the Church” in a manner consistent with our calling.

I believe whole-heartedly that following Jesus is nearly impossible. It IS impossible, beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind, if undertaken like an American, which is to say, alone. As I’ve long said, all (or at least many of) those “you” verses in the Bible that describe how we are to live (and love!)  are addressed to you, the community. They’re plural, and they describe how we are to live together, in community. If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes one to follow Jesus and together be his Church. I’m not interested in a faith community that meets once a week to re-charge and have “fellowship,” all for the sake of getting ready to spend another week pursuing the American dream. I yearn and need to be part of a body that has a “life together” each and every day all for the sake of pursuing God’s dream and loving God’s world. So all these years we’ve spent here absent such a community have been very trying and lonely, indeed.

There will be more, no doubt, about the Resistance later. What prompted this little bout of writing, though, was a task I was given. I am very blessed and privileged to have been asked to give a “cross talk” for The Resistance tomorrow night. This will be a chance for me to share a little about my faith journey and why I’m part of the Resistance. As I’ve been reflecting and trying to distill my many “long stories” into a 3 to 5 minute narrative to share, I keep coming back (as I often do) to something that Bart Campolo used to say. I’ve known Bart for almost twenty years (holy cow!) by virtue of my participation in Kingdomworks. I’ve written a lot about my Kingdomworks experience in the past, including this (from this five year old post):

KW (Kingdomworks) brought in college students from all over the country and placed them on teams in inner-city Philly congregations for a summer to live in and serve the neighborhoods in which they were placed by reaching out to the youth. So I was a part of a team of 8 college students, and we ran a day camp, Sunday school, and youth group for the neighborhood kids. Quite simply, of course, it changed my life. I always say that during that summer I was able to “build a bridge between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there- in the world.” I saw some crazy stuff that summer, like a man wailing and lying down on the trolley tracks in front of the church building we slept in, trying to end his life. Apparently I was a magnet for suicidal people as one of the (gay) teens that I was working with started giving me all his stuff and then gave me a suicide note and took off. That’s a long story. Anyway, KW has now become Mission Year as its founder, Bart Campolo, realized that you just couldn’t build the kind of relationships necessary to change a neighborhood in a summer (and for that matter, a year probably isn’t long enough either, which is why he and his family now live in a disadvantged neighborhood in Cincinnati and run an incredible ministry called the Walnut Hills Fellowship). That being said, one of the biggest objects in both KW and Mission Year, I think, was not just to change the lives of the the disadvantaged, often minority folk who lived in the neighborhoods people like me came to serve, but also to change the often rich(er) white folk like myself who came to do the serving. Needless to say, it worked, as a year later I left school without graduating, got married, and moved to Philly.

Anyway, Bart said that he was less interested in why you became a Christian, and more interested in why you are still one. I think this will be the starting point of my talk. I also keep coming back to his infamous article on the “limits of God’s grace,” which someone preserved here. Some, perhaps many, view this piece as heretical in no small part because of the blatant appeal to universalism. Others are more troubled by his approach to Scripture and revelation. Nonetheless, I very much appreciate what Bart had to say and the honesty with which he said it. I know folks who say they don’t need God to be good, that they can live a life of service to others without being motivated by Christian compassion or duty, etc. I personally don’t know many that do so very well, however. Bart may be the exception to that rule, because despite the fact that his struggle with God may have robbed him of any ability of late to call himself a Christian (at least inasmuch as the moniker would be recognizable to most who also use it), Bart nonetheless lives a life of service, love, and community that I find wholly enviable.

Like Bart, I believe that God meant it when he said that it is God’s will that none should perish. Does that make me a universalist? I don’t know. What’s abhorrent is the notion that the God revealed fully and finally in Jesus would consign anyone, for any reason, to eternal torment (which is another reason why it’s helpful for Jesus to be the “lens through which one reads the Bible”). Of course, I don’t think that’s the case and the fact that this discussion is even necessary is one of the major sins of American Evangelicalism in the twentieth century. On this point (the nature of hell, etc.), I defer to Rod White of Circle of Hope, who writes the following here:

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about the end of the age when the sheep are separated from the goats. This is the line that bothers people, even if they have just heard about it: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” This seems to be a reflection of Enoch 10:13 (which did not make it into the Protestant Bible) in which evil angels are locked forever in a prison at the bottom of the fire, the “pit of hell.”

I do not think that God, who absorbed the ultimate violence the world could offer on the cross in Jesus Christ, is waiting around to come again in order to send millions of people to unending judgment – to absorb the ultimate violence he can offer! Yet some people do not want to follow Jesus because they believe the Bible contradicts itself by calling on people to love their enemies, while showing plainly that, in the end, God will condemn his enemies to experience ever-burning fire. Maybe quoting Miroslav Volf again will help with this misunderstanding (I think Exclusion and Embrace is a great book, if you can take dense arguing).

“The evildoers who ‘eat up my people as they eat bread,’ says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put ‘in great terror’ (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better, why not reasoning together? Why not just display suffering love? Because evildoers ‘are corrupt’ and ‘they do abominable deeds’ (v. 1); they have ‘gone astray,’ they are ‘perverse’ (v. 3). God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’sterror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah” (p. 298).

Those who do receive what no one deserves are welcomed into a renewed creation under God’s loving reign. That is the goal. The evildoers are not imprisoned, screaming in agony, in some eternal land of unrenewed creation. I think they get what they desire. They get themselves without God, and that is death.

Thus, as Lewis said in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’.” So God persistently, stubbornly, despite it being a “long and difficult task” in Bart’s words, works to overcome evil, respecting our freedom all along the way to choose to join him or not. When, in the end, whenever and however that comes, we finally choose not to join him in that task, God respects that choice too and in his mercy permits us to “get ourselves without God,” which is death/nonexistence.

But I digress.

The point of all this is to say that I’m not alone anymore. My family and I are rooted in a community working hard together to follow Jesus, and many wonderful things are happening as a result, including some very, very wonderful things for our little family and home, which I’ll write about later. Because I don’t feel alone anymore, I also don’t feel quite so afraid anymore. Thanks be to God.