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Jesus quieting me down in my thirties
One of the best questions I got at Sunday’s “Ask Me Anything” with Tricia was from her husband about what my 31-year-old-self would tell my 24-year-old self. I briefly spoke about becoming friends with my limitations (something my mentor told me a decade ago) and also learning that the anxiety of my twenties was fairly normal. But I’ve had more time to reflect on the question, and I thought of something else to offer.
A few of the other questions that Tricia and I got, about education, abortion, and how to talk about peace on Memorial Day, helped me think about the difference between organizing and messaging, and winsomely convincing someone of something. I have written about the tension of liberation and reconciliation, the problem of virtue signaling recently, and this relates to both of those subjects. When I was in my twenties, I was really proud of my beliefs, and I was excited to find some like-minded folks in Circle of Hope to share them with, and so I felt moved to declare them rather loudly—not unlike the president of the time, who boldly proclaimed that you were either with him or with the terrorists. That kind of messaging, which the Internet is full of, can organize and encourage people of the same mind, but it doesn’t do much for convincing someone who disagrees with you.
It’s so easy to share the memes that we all agree with. Or to post the hot takes that your followers on Twitter will retweet. That does something, for sure—it organizes and messages—but what it fails to do is convince.
Circle of Hope’s big idea is that though the Good News needs to be shared, it needs to be done personally, winsomely, and “incarnationally.” That’s the whole idea beyond Jesus coming to earth. We don’t deliver the Gospel like the brutal Evangelicals that are following Trump around. We do it face-to-face, in our Sunday meetings and in our cells. It’s gentle. And there is a time for that, especially in an era of loudness.
The God of Israel appeared as a pillar of cloud and fire to the Israelites, and as some sort of fire that rained down on the assembled Jewish people during Pentecost. Those are decidedly loud images. And to be sure, there was a time and place for that. In both cases, it encouraged and supported a movement of oppressed, enslaved, and scattered-about people. It united them.
Jesus came not to unite a set group of people, but to include many different kinds of people, across the Jewish political spectrum, and even into the Greek and Roman world. And he came in the form of the ultimate quietude, a baby. He came to bring hope, peace, and good will. And he did so with the gentleness of the whisper that Elijah heard from the God of Israel.
To be sure, there is a time to be loud and a time to be quiet. A time to meme and a time to winsomely convince. In my twenties, it was easy to scream in my echo chamber. And honestly, there is still a time to do that today. But in my thirties, I’m learning that there is an art to quietly expressing something, empathizing with someone, and helping to move them from here to there. It’s not just a one-sided dialogue, either. We influence each other.
Leading and following Jesus is about meeting one another where we are at, and offering the light burden and easy yoke of Jesus. He meets us when we are weary and distressed, and we don’t need anyone shouting at us. Jesus wants to redeem the whole world and reconcile it to himself. And he does that through his gentle, nurturing embrace. He meets us where we are, offers us his love and grace, and helps us follow him.
Loud messaging can sometimes be encouraging, but I think a face-to-face approach is more effective in helping someone who is on the outside get in. We might be able to accomplish our goals, if our goal is to win a culture war, by shouting; but we’d be accomplishing them through tyranny and oppression. No one is convinced with our loud-hot take, but we can consolidate allies. I don’t want just a cultural majority, though. I want people to follow Jesus—not just be subjected to his followers. I want to agree to agree and not to compete to become the new moral elite. I want to come together, not in some neutral banality, not because we are amoral, but because God moves our hearts to redeem the world and share the Good News.