Culture

September 06 2013
37

 

My friend Alan Hirsch was recently talking about growing up. He described his 50’s as “living in his own skin,” compared to the angst of his 20’s and 30’s which included much wrestling, struggling, trying to fit pieces of the puzzle together that don’t seem to connect. This trajectory toward peace sounds like a balm. There is something beautiful about getting older, settling in, becoming softer, less abrasive, less tortured.

I am somewhere between these seasons. I am on the front edge of a generation that deconstructs, turning new soil for the gospel in an increasingly post-Christian society. We assess the exodus as worthy of urgent attention, so we beat our drums and wave our arms and question the establishment. Much of the young generation emerged from organized religion with numerous wounds, and the healing process occupies the enormous brunt of our narrative.

But.

Sometimes I reach cynical saturation. Sometimes I just cannot handle another lengthy dissertation on our hurt feelings. Sometimes I worry that our journey toward the kingdom takes on a disproportionate level of narcissism. Jesus the One and Only can very much get lost in the story of our personal angst, the latter usurping the former. Because while we may disagree vehemently on methods or doctrine, we can surely agree that we serve a you-first, me-last Savior. That is not even a gray area.

Yesterday, my girlfriend sent me a screenshot of a selfie collage posted by a grown man she knows. In every picture, he was looking pensively off in the distance while his less-tortured arm and hand took a picture of his deepness. This person is in his 30’s. This is not okay.

i-dont-always-downvote-but-when-i-do-its-a-selfie-or-repost

This display of self-importance wears a bit thin, and it goes to my concern with my generation regarding our spiritual journeys:

I wonder if we need fewer spiritually tormented selfies in the world?

Don’t imagine I’m pointing a finger; I’m first in line here. I constantly struggle to balance prophecy and humility, truth and grace. I could link you to multiple blogs of mine in which I am indicted by the previous paragraph. I have cleaned up my own relational messes as recently as last week. Where is the Servant Jesus in all that? you would ask. I don’t really know, but notice how pissed I am and how the church jacked me up and also notice the numerous things about me. My personal things. Because I have Big Feelings that should be noticed.

Last Sunday, my husband Brandon preached on the believer’s freedom in 1 Corinthians 10: 23-33. It is extremely beautiful theology, which underscores God’s bent toward freedom but our responsibility to steward our liberties carefully. The entire passage boils down to a simple habit:

Preferring others.

I should prefer your history, your convictions, your predilections, your station. Assessing my words and actions through the grid of your conscience is the substance of Paul’s instruction. How will this sound to you? How will this make you feel? How will this affect you? How can there be less of me and more of you in this interaction?

This position is the height of Christian maturity.

The beauty of this theology is that it works in all circumstances. Sometimes, we prefer the conscience of a fellow believer, even if, for a thousand different factors, he doesn’t share our freedoms. This means we consider the weight of our words when we cast stones at Christians who’ve built before us, who build differently than us. We discern the cost of our stories, preferring to honor rather than always dismantle. There is a way to tell our truth without inflicting permanent collateral damage.

“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God…” (vs. 32)

Sometimes this means preferring the conscience of the unbeliever, respecting her baggage or fears, not projecting our convictions or weirding out the conversation. It means making space for different worldviews in the relationship, creating a safe place to belong over a place to be right. People were drawn to Jesus’ grace long before they understood his divinity.

“For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (vs. 33)

Preferring one another is truly the highest way to live, not just for the health of community but for ourselves. Honestly, it is exhausting maintaining the dissenting view all the time. The anguish gets old. There is actually more pressing kingdom work to engage than kicking everyone else’s tail constantly. Let the teenagers duke it out in the parking lot behind the Sac ‘N Pac in the glow of their headlights; they’ll settle down in a few years. How about the grownups sit on the porch together and pour some sweet tea? We’re old enough to know no one actually wins those fights.

Obviously, preferring others doesn’t apply to the context of abuse or terror, exploitation or harm. Scripture isn’t a template for victimization. That is a separate conversation entirely. But within ordinary relationships among Christians and atheists and agnostics and Old-Schoolers and Young Bucks and different denominations and cultures, preferring one another could quite literally change the world.

What would it look like to prefer your nemesis? Would it mean laying down a few barbs and finding a shred of common ground to capitalize on? What about preferring someone who doesn’t share your convictions? If being right took a back seat, would it change the way you communicated? If we preferred our spouses, marriages would leap back to life. If we preferred others, churches would regain their prophetic voices. Preferring one another is the first spiritual pavestone toward healing and mending, releasing and empowering, connecting and loving. It is the way Jesus came and the substance by which we are saved.

We can dismantle one another with precision, particularly behind the protective covering of the internet, but when all the dust settles, we’re left with carnage, and that is not a legacy worthy of a Savior who washed the filthy feet of his betrayer. May we be creators, not just critics, preferring building over deconstructing – building up people, communities, the church of God.

I’ll prefer you, and you prefer me, and everyone wins.

37 comments

  1. Amen and amen
    And yes, that gravatar is a selfie…my first and my last.
    Thank you ma’am.

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  2. This is a hard word but a good message…and much needed by me right now…

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  3. Leslie

    Oh my word, this is beautiful. I’m in my (early) 50s and just *starting* to settle down in my vehement need to be right — and (ugh) universally seen and recognized as right. Preferring others. Beautiful.

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  4. Jenny Hanes

    Amen sister girl. Preach it.

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  5. Bonar Crump

    “It means making space for different worldviews in the relationship, creating a safe place to belong over a place to be right.”

    “BOOM goes the dynamite!”

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  6. Jennifer Norwood

    Ouch!

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  7. katie

    love this. thank you. and love that you separated this from stories of victimization. good words for friday and for life.

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  8. Dave

    Jen, as always, thanks for the wake-up call. I really needed this today.

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  9. Amen! My husband and I always say “let’s focus on where God is taking us!” Our wounds or disagreements are not where we are headed! :D

    Selfies-Lord help us! I took one at work the other day, because I love my new haircut. Dear goodness, I felt so convicted! He has been pressing me lately to make sure instagram, facebook, blogging isn’t a giant “me-monster!”

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  10. Becky

    Thank you. So beautifully true and I feel the Spirit gently convicting. Grateful for you and your gift with words, Jen Hatmaker!

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  11. PREACH.

    (And ouch. Because yes.)

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  12. Tonya

    Thanks for continuing to share your thoughts with us! This post is so relevant to me right now as I am attending a book study that Dr. Glenn Sanders (you may have had him for Western Civ) is leading. The book is “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel. You may be interested in reading this as your statement…It means making space for different worldviews in the relationship, creating a safe place to belong over a place to be right…goes along with the reason he founded the organization Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago.

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  13. Thank you so much,Jen. This has been heavy on my heart as of late. So many authors, bloggers and speakers I have followed for years on Twitter,FB and blogging have really cut me deep recently.I don’t typically get offended but boy it just seems to be a victim mentality and a real focus on blame and condemnation for so many of the values, structure and traditions that i grew up with. I have never thought of my church upbringing or denomination as perfect in the least but I also have not been eager to throw it all out as hogwash. It pains me to see so much criticism within the Church as a whole. I can only imagine how painful it must be for the Father. Age does have it’s benefits. I am so thankful for the less abrasive, wiser and calmer views that my 40s are affording. Bless you!

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  14. Mary

    “People were drawn to Jesus’ grace long before they understood his divinity”. And people should be drawn to me because of grace that I am extending to them before they know my theology. Ouch and thank you!☺

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  15. stephanie suber

    so beautiful!

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  16. That’s great language to have this conversation. Preferring one another. Love it. Note to Live it.

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  17. Thank you, Jen. I’m continually amazed when I read your writing how I feel like you express so well the very things I’m thinking/feeling/processing too. It helps me to read someone else’s words for it all…

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  18. Leah Naylor

    You always do have a way with words but this is my absolute favorite blog post of yours. What a world it would be if we could all try and get this “right” even half the time. Such wisdom here. Thank you!

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  19. Yes–just turned the corner on 50, and it’s true that it feels more settled and gentle, while at the same time far stronger in willingness to go to the wall for what really does matter. And this does. As a partner in a church plant, I see this dilemma constantly, and the balance of truth and grace is so critical yet elusive. To speak as well as to live.

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  20. Nicole

    JEN…
    Just when I thought I had lost you to msn.com and huff post, here you are… The old Jen that lives in honest conviction of meaningful faith. Thank you. Your gift, Jen, is scripture teaching. Period. Your hilarity and syntax are amusing, but the heart of your purpose is revealing truth through scripture. Please remember this.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • I appreciate your comment and thank you for popping in. As for “remember this,” I’ve always valued and written with humor. That does not derail the “heart of my purpose” in the slightest and is no different than how I’ve always written online. My most intense books are a mix of spiritual depth and slapstick humor. I’ve actually never forgotten my purpose. This is the kind of writer I am. Feel free to skip the funny ones. ;0)

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      • I love that some of your posts have gone “mainstream” and I am so thankful for your humour….and your grace, and your passion to reach those that have given up on the church or are close to giving up. I have never felt you have been doing “selfies” spiritual ones or the actual kind. I like reading about you :)

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  21. Very wise words Jen. I get it. Totally. Still feeling lots of angst about things….perhaps I need to do some more forgiving and healing.

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  22. I feel so convicted and encouraged by these words. Thank you.

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  23. Andrea A

    “People were drawn to Jesus’ grace long before they understood his divinity”. And people should be drawn to me because of grace that I am extending to them before they know my theology. Ouch and thank you!☺

    This. Thanks, Mary, for saying exactly what I was thinking.

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  24. Ro elliott

    When I was in my 30′s 50′s sounded horrible…old….over the hill..but I can say…being 55 is awesome…and there is a freedom that does come with age…I really think in the fifties is where 2 paths diverge…one leading to a life of self…this is my time…living for me…becoming rigid with less and less flexible….or it is time to really shed those old grave clothes ..to finishes stronger than the started…and to really live an other centered life…I am choosing the second….and I think my best years are ahead….which is exciting….because the past has been quite an adventure…
    I love the encouragement here…the younger generation needs strong but kind voices turning their heads back off themselves …looking at others and the world around them.

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  25. Karen Brittain

    Lovely. At 52, following the hardest years of my life, I know who my savior is. I also know the overwhelming measure of grace that has been extended to me and I simply must not withhold it from anyone. This process caused me to leave one church home for another, leaving a situation with shrinking grace in favor of expanding grace. More Jesus, less “church”, no turning back.

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  26. Oh friend. Preach. If we could just lift our eyes over our screens we would see there is not so much that is different, not so much to fight about.

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  27. Lauren Terry

    Thank you so much for this post, Jen. So, so good and speaks to something I’ve been feeling and thinking about but haven’t articulated as well as you did here. Powerful. Beautiful. Thank you.

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  28. Kristin

    Thank you for your gentle reminder. I always feel the need to be right and stand strong in my convictions and be effective but what would happen if I just started to prefer others? Thank you. Will be chewing on this one for a while.

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  29. Hey you – this is terrific!!! Thank you for all you write out here in the wildness of cyberspace, the ones that make me fall down laughing and the ones that make me think. I happen to love every bit of it. This one is so on the money and so important. And man, do I miss it sometimes! You are right – getting older does help with the whining. But ‘preferring others?’ That’s always challenging. And ultimately, always rewarding and life-changing. Glad you’re around, that’s for sure.

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  30. Tara Bradford

    “It means making space for different worldviews in the relationship, creating a safe place to belong over a place to be right.” I feel like conversation and discussion turns to conflict when one party feels the need to be right and we begin to drip shame on each other when we can’t amicably agree to disagree.

    I’m grateful for the genuine “YOU” Jen and how you shine the light of Christ in humility, honesty, and love for ALL. Thanks for writing for Jesus as you always do and show through your words… love you dear sister!

    Reply

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