Letter

Engage messed-up world, get messy

The good news is that we’ve been invited into a story like none other – a story in which we prepare the way of the Lord – not because he won’t come unless we do, but because it’s a joy to walk with brothers and sisters on a level road.

Editors note: This is a respons to Nate Buchanan’s article which first appeared in Geez 15. See other responses by Leroy Barber and Eliacín Rosario Cruz here, and by Shane Claiborne here. - Aiden Enns, Editor, Geez magazine

NATE BUCHANAN IS RIGHT: privileged people end up center-stage far too often. But learning to tell our own stories as a part of God’s story doesn’t mean any of us lose our history. (People who try to deny history are dangerous.) We are, instead, adopted into a family where the poor find bread and the rich find meaning because we find one another in the process of reconciliation. God invites us to learn to love one another, disparate histories and all.

Is this messy? You bet. But, by grace, this is how the kingdom breaks into a messed-up world. India’s independence required Gandhi and the rich kid Tolstoy who walked away from his daddy’s money and wrote a book about Jesus (the book that taught Gandhi his tactic of nonviolence). The Southern Christian Leadership Conference needed poor folks and Martin Luther King, Jr., who knew he was a son of privilege. L’Arche is not possible without its “core members.” But neither could we imagine its witness without Jean Vanier, who met marginalized brothers and sisters on his journey of downward mobility.

Any of these movements – just like any new monastic community – could be criticized for not going far enough toward transforming the world that is into the world that ought to be. But we ought neither despair nor let our critical skills turn into judgmentalism. The good news is that we’ve been invited into a story like none other – a story in which we prepare the way of the Lord – not because he won’t come unless we do, but because it’s a joy to walk with brothers and sisters on a level road. Thanks for the honesty of your confession, Nate. We can’t be satisfied with the way things are. But we are forgiven. So let’s get back to leveling the road where we can.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an associate minister of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. His most recent book is God’s Economy: Redefining the Health & Wealth Gospel.

Nate responds

I’ve been trying to live by the 12 Marks for over three years and consider myself part of the movement. My critique was aimed at trying to improve and self-examine. All I’m really suggesting is that our altruism be balanced with honesty; if we see ourselves as servants of others, it requires that on some level we need to see others as needy. This can perpetuate the injustices we’ve grown up in. I wish there weren’t racial tensions at New Jerusalem where I spend my time, but there certainly are. Until we’re able to be honest with ourselves about the need to be at the centre of our narrative, we’ll continue to overlook the centuries’ old expressions of that lifestyle that Leroy and Eliacin pointed out. – Nate Buchanan

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Issue 16, Winter 2009

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