(or, unpacking the Sermon on the Mount in a culturally relevant way)
by Diane Miller
How do we understand & do life with those not like us in 2013? It is challenging in a day & age when much of our time is filled with going, doing & screen gazing. We have limited margin left to simply sit still (w/o a device); meditate, pray & contemplate over life choices; or, develop relationships with others who might be outside our “normal” work or social routines or socio-economic status.
If we look at our weekly calendars, I believe we would discover something like this… We focus 50+ hours laboring; 25+ after-work hours & weekend time with family, activity & social commitments. Then, we have 10+ hours to restock & maintain our selves, home, children, vehicles & supplies acquired in keeping this lifestyle going. Then, add 20 hours of transportation time & prep for all of the above ~ it’s exhausting! Prosperous lifestyles are filled with this continual rat race & I haven’t even mentioned time for sleep or any other rest (if you are counting, like my husband did… there are less than 10 hours per day left).
After living this way for years, I was brought to a point of wanting something different. The only way I can explain it is that I was enlightened through reading many culturally-relevant books based on Biblical truth. Following are my top 5 pivotal reads that really wrecked me into a new lifestyle:
1 ~ Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This book is 60 years old; yet, if you can grasp the concepts of life in community & the ministry of listening, it remains impactful, timeless truth. The book is also one that most theologians seem to agree on, which makes it even more impactful in our current culture of polarization & individualism. “Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” (p. 97)
2 ~ Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers. This book helped me to begin identifying & unpacking my marred identity of privilege. I knew I had it; however, I did not know how to put it into words. I also had been unable explain why or how hanging out with homeless people seemed to bring healing & freedom from the depravity of my self-centeredness. As well, the book affirmed my personal practice of tithing of my time, not just my money… pivotal in a culture where time has become more valuable to many than money. “Have the non-poor begun to act like people who care & share? Are they becoming aware of the poor’s true identity as children of God? Are they recognizing that the poor have been given gifts to use for their own development of their community?” (p. 183)
3 ~ Trolls & Truth by Jimmy Dorrell. I have never, ever understood how most church folks can silo a majority of their time around teaching & learning scripture and not include relationships & integrating life with the poor. Teaching was absolutely an important part of Jesus’ life and ministry; however, he also modeled relationship as much… most of it was reaching out to those most vulnerable & overlooked within his culture. Jimmy lays out 14 current realities in church world that don’t quite line up today… “The church in America is in trouble. There are many reasons, but perhaps none so flagrant as the disregard of the unrecognized teachers from our midst. Isolated in gated communities & gentrified neighborhoods, most affluent Christians have been anesthetized by pretty words & pretty people and follow a distorted gospel. Yet it seems to be the misfits, the broken & the marginalized that cause us to look & really see, listen & really hear… really evaluate who we are in the prism of this inclusive gospel. Those without degrees or etiquette or business cards become our best mentors.” (p. 27)
4 ~ Love is An Orientation by Andrew Marin. I thought I was pretty open until I read this book. Thank you, Andy, for turning my world upside down & helping me rethink how I look at others & ask questions. We are all created in the image of God, each with our own special gifts. However, many in our culture are put in outcast groups & pushed to the margins of society. This was not how Jesus modeled love… he met everyone right where they were at, many times asking questions to answer a question (and he often caught flak from the “religious” leaders of his day because of it). I am still a work in process with asking good questions, having to unlearn some things I learned growing up & in church world. “Closed-ended questions don’t cultivate dialogue. The asker has already answered the question for themselves & is only seeking to figure out where the other person fits within their own preconceived metric ~ either for or against. Even the most well-intentioned people routinely ask closed-ended, opinion-based questions in an attempt to grasp who you are, what you believe & which camp you should be placed in.” (Kindle 1103-6)
5 ~ Unexpected Gifts by Chris Heurtz. I didn’t think this book would tell me anything more about community life. I’m a small town gal, I get community… we lived & breathed it as kids. My mom modeled service to others as a core value. Yet, the concepts Chris lays out in this book took me to a deeper walk in understanding faith & relationships. His principles on men & women building trust in community are powerful…”When attractional impulses collide with effortless, natural chemistry, friendships generally play out in one of several ways. Mostly, we hear how they end badly… Rarely do we find the courage to recognize them, navigate them with maturity & honesty and allow them to strengthen the bonds of all our existing relationships. Part of the problem is that many of us have never been trained to handle an unexpected attraction we experience toward someone other than our partner.” (p. 138)
Many days I am a mess with my words, questions & my attempts at love. However, my family & I are committed to pressing in and doing life different. We believe basing our life in a blended community creates a better posture for understanding others. And, we hope our lives are a tangible, sustainable model which could possibly break down the walls of poverty in our city. For we have come to know that if you only live with people just like us, you remain segregated, so to speak, in a homogenous zone… and you will never be stretched to understand how others think, suffer or prosper. So, these 5 books, along with many other reads we have digested over the past 2 decades, have wrecked us to a place of blended community & common good!