Today a timely article convinced me to forge a new path, and to step away from the digital distraction. I’ll admit, not only have I become addicted to thumbing my way through everybody else’s life, but I’ve grown weary of the free form rants of public opinion.
Do you ever feel that way too?
Not only has social media driven me mad, I also feel paralyzed and a tiny bit traumatized by recent events. I feel like everything’s gone slant, off-kilter, out of whack. The once stable, familiar ground upon which I walked tilted sideways, and I’m straining to find my bearings. So, I thought I’d share with you a bit of my process.
First, to be clear, this is not a political statement on the results of the election, but a citizen’s assessment on its aftermath. Lately I’ve felt as though our country has been carpet bombed by an acerbic war of words, and I’m trying to sort my way from beneath the still smoking-hot-rubble. As I’ve climbed out from beneath the debris of words I’ve found teaching 1 Peter to provide the best perspective. Within this short epistle I’ve found not simply trite, religious, feel-good platitudes, but instead a deeply grounded and culturally relevant perspective. You may recall that Peter penned this letter to newborn believers scattered across the Roman Empire in the first century, and from the context we learn that they’re suffering, in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons, including political.
Rather than sling mud over to the other side, Peter exhorts these believers, aliens in their surroundings, to stand firm in their new identity-they’ve been born again to a living hope. The letter crescendos as Peter declares,
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
His words echo all the way back to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 19:1–6). Always present and stitched in the folds and along the margins of redemptive history, the thread of deliverance holds together the “true story of the whole world.”
No matter what culture says or looks like, the story of redemption surges forward. And while today’s current events seemed to tip the nation sideways, God’s message of redemption turned the world upside down. As children of God and part of his chosen race, we are called to proclaim his excellencies and to “bear up” in the face of grave misunderstanding. Peter says it’s a
gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrows when suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19)
All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble spirit. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8–10)
Jesus left us this example and bids us to follow in his footsteps.
So, what does this look like for you and me? Here are some suggestions that have helped me along the way:
1. Be a priest.
Exercise the role of a royal priest both inside and outside of the church. We’re called to minister, to give hope, to show kindness and compassion, and to care for the least of these. This requires an awareness of our surroundings and an other-centered posture that doesn’t always come naturally and is often terribly inconvenient. As agents of the gospel, let’s replace microaggression with microcompassion.
As a frequent traveler I work (this doesn’t come naturally) to notice the otherwise invisible people who serve in airports and Starbucks and taxicabs and hotels. I often will look them in the eye and ask, “How’s your day going?” and most of the time they tell me their day isn’t going so well, so I have a chance to exercise my role as a “royal priest” and respond with understanding, or to offer to pray, or to show kindness somehow. Sometimes all I can do is say, “Thank you for your service.” Either way, this involves listening, which leads me to my second suggestion.
2. Practice “double listening.”
Practice what John Stott calls “double listening” and tune one ear to Scripture and Christian tradition, and the other to the sounds of the surrounding culture. For instance, passages in the psalms give voice to pain and suffering, and biblical history reminds us that God reigns in the rubble.
Additionally, double listening involves a willingness to intentionally pursue the anxious and afraid who live among us. Often difficult, painful, uncomfortable and humbling, listening affords us the opportunity to learn how to communicate the gospel in these changing times. Over the past week I’ve had people tell me that this election, and its aftermath, has helped them understand why people leave the church. Others have described Christian answers to the day’s problems as flat and meaningless. Responding with compassion requires double listening, and a personal and ever-growing awareness of the gospel, and the courage to talk about Jesus.
3. Proclaim Christ’s excellencies.
So my final suggestion, for now, is that we seek to proclaim his excellencies all around. What you and I need today is the same thing the janitor in the Miami airport, the barista in Austin, the cashier at Anthropologie, the person next to us at church, our friends and family, and our next-door neighbors need: a glimpse of the glory of God, a taste of his goodness, an experience of his forgiveness and the life-transforming message of the gospel.
These excellencies communicate a hope that will never disappoint. So, as those chosen of God we have the privilege of pressing in and getting to know him, we need to bring our questions his way, to cast our anxieties at his feet, and to proclaim the gospel: the true story of the whole world.
Peter ends his letter with these words, appropriate then and in this moment as well,
Casting all your anxieties upon him because he cares for you. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6–11)