What I Am Thankful for in 2017
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I forced myself to stay up and journal on what I’m thankful for. On many levels, we have much to be grateful for (I hope this is true for you as well). At the same time, I could not help but feel the challenges, threats, pains and uncertainty surrounding all of us in here in the tumultuous time of 2017. Let’s not sugarcoat anything, it’s been a culturally tense year on countless fronts, but I’m finding goodness too.
I am grateful to God for my wonderful wife and sweet kids, and the blessings of health, community and joy, but one does not need to be cynical to understand the tension that is surrounding much of what we are thankful for.
Consequently, it took me a while to figure out what I’ve been actually feeling. I’m thankful but I am also concerned. But some days, I’m more than concerned and some days I am hopeful and most days are a mix of it all. Maybe you can relate.
While I’d love to tell you all about my family ’s summer vacation and our kids’ activities, that’s what Facebook feels best for. Most of my anxiety is entangled on the ministry and culture front. I’m also very personally fulfilled in serving in ministry so I’m thankful for that. But I raise these questions: Where is the church headed, who and why are people leaving, who and why are people coming? What’s new, what’s similar to previous patterns, what’s unique? How and where do we navigate forward?
Similar questions on the cultural side: What’s going on in our society? Some of this is will be helpful, some of this won’t, and much will be helpful for some, and not so for others. Similar questions, what’s new, what similarities can we find in our history, what’s unique and where to go from here?
So for the sake of this blog project focused on nuance in faith and culture, here’s what I came up with.
– I’m thankful that countless evangelicals are rethinking the term “evangelicalism.” For some of us, it’s been a tricky term for at least the last decade. In certain contexts, I typically avoid the term and in other contexts I might refer to myself as a post-evangelical (See Footnote 1 below on what I men on post-evangelicalism).
I like the evangelicalism that says, “We are compelled to share the gospel and hope of Jesus with a hurting world so that many may experience life, healing and hope and much more.”
But that’s not what evangelicalism means to many. It has become a loaded term and among it’s usage is a political movement. If you ask some people, the notion of a conservative Christian comes to mind. Ask a number of people on Facebook and you shouldn’t be surprised if people tell you that the evangelicals are ultra-conservative Christians who are prone to racism, patriarchy, homophobia and are mostly white and leveraging their number and power to secure their interests.
I’ve been in a variety of evangelical circles most of my life. I know the underbelly, I know the shadow-side, and I’ve seen the ugly. And I’ve contributed to the mess directly and indirectly. At the same time, I would be in denying so much of the goodness that I have seen done for others and to me (again, directly and indirectly). Some of the kindest and sacrificial people I have encountered in life call themselves “evangelicals.”
Some of whom have been brilliant voices in responding to the chaos in our world. Some truly are passionate in loving their neighbor, their enemy and seeking the “common good.” I’m thankful for this.
And lately, some of them have been rethinking what that term means. That feels good to me because I am among the many that don’t care about terms, I’m more interested in pursuing a life that centers around Jesus and his way (aka His Kingdom). I hope that ultimately you are too.
– I’m thankful for many faces and messages found in progressive Christianity. We need voices that will call out injustice, that will challenge the status quo and that will examine the words of Jesus from various angles for the sake of the Kingdom. Similar to conservative evangelicals, progressive Christians are often misunderstood as well (See Footnote 2). I’m sure the terms and my descriptions come up short for some.
But similarly, it’s been my experience that some of the kindest and sacrificial people I have encountered in life are Christians who identify themselves as progressive (or liberal or however they prefer or not prefer to identify themselves).
Among the traits I admire of my progressive Christian friends is their heart for others are similar to what I admire from caring evangelicals. Many have responded so wisely and compassionately to the chaos of our world. Many have challenged the authority structures, they are championing for needed change, and they too are loving their neighbor and their enemy and pursuing the common good as well. I’m thankful for this.
I should note, in listening, I have found much hurt in the progressive Christian world. Many come from a fundamentalist or highly conservative evangelical background and left after one or a series of many painful experiences. Many still hold on to their faith in Christ, and have channeled their pain to pursue justice and compassion in this life.
While I prefer to describe myself as a moderate or use some type of “third way” language, I often find myself very safe and at home when I’m at a gathering mostly comprised of progressive types. I resonate with that in my own way and beyond the issues and debates, I find much commonality in pursuing something better. I am so thankful for my progressive friends and the voices I have found along the way.
– Thus, I’m thankful for space in the middle. Maybe it’s part of being a Gen-Xer, but I am among those that avoid labels. I feel they never get me right. And beyond generational, that’s also part personality make-up as well. But i like the middle, because while it may bring criticism from those on either poles, I like the space to think, critique, affirm and engage. I continue to feel that truth, meaning, and beauty are found all over the spectrum and cannot understand why there is a need for these dichotomies.
I’m thankful for those that not only resonate with this but have paved the way of such nuances. They have been in the form of family, and professors, and pastors and friends and kind strangers met along the way,
It’s my conviction that it’s in the middle that we can listen to a wider audience. Where we can engage the thoughts along the spectrum and perhaps even can break the echo-chamber effect. That said, there is a need for critique of idealogical shortcomings, inconsistencies, and outright misses. This post wanted to focus on the gratitude we can find. I realize I have offered a zoomed out view of progressives and evangelicals, but it’s to make a point – we can be thankful for the goodness found from all respective sides.
“Third ways,” “gray areas,” “the middle” have not only salvaged my faith but have allowed my faith to flourish. It’s where I have experienced the goodness of Jesus as it’s allowed me to marvel in the thought that “God is bigger than this and this and this.” It’s where I’ve seen God’s compassion, His unconditional love, the beauty and meaning of Scripture and the beauty and meaning found throughout my lens of life. And it’s allowed me to enjoy community with all different kinds of people, from similar and different kinds of ideological, social, and personal faith expressions. I hate to sound dramatic, but in all seriousness, my heart gets so excited over the goodness of this.
And so to bring this to a close, I’m thankful for the concept of nuance and excited to continue pursuing it, not just on this blog, but throughout life in the many scenes we engage in the world. Hope we engage and contribute to the goodness together. Thanks for reading.
(1) For those that need the clarification: post-evangelical does not mean that I’m no longer one as post- has a two-fold definition. I typically use “post-“ with the definition of “reaction to (this)” and rarely use “post-“ as “no longer (this).” When I want to use the latter, I prefer the term, “ex- …” And I’m not referring to myself as an ex-Evangelical.
(2) For those that need the clarification: In general I use progressive Christianity as a working definition of those who identify themselves as Christians and have described themselves as progressive or liberal, etc. I do not assign that label based on my observation.