That particular Sunday, one of the rotating teachers from the older end of the age spectrum delivered the homily. He began by comparing several photos of Jesus found on the internet, ultimately settling on a photo of the actor Chris Hemsworth playing Thor as the best representation of our "conquering savior." This was announced after some mild mockery of other options, which included one image depicting a gentle-looking Jesus holding a lamb over his shoulders.
I was deeply troubled, to put it lightly. I disagreed profoundly with his assertion that the best picture of Jesus is one that mirrors our culture's concepts of strength and power, when in fact the Gospels (not to mention the entire narrative of Scripture) portray a Messiah who reveals a God who consistently chooses to use the things the world considers weak. Jesus blessed the poor, called the first last, upset the established religious leadership by being too inclusive, defined the greatest as the one who serves, and ultimately, modeled a way of life that embraced weakness even unto death--only to reveal this apparently weak way was actually the path of resurrection, the path that leads to surprising redemption and new life emerging out of once-dead places.
If I'm confusing you, this simple illustration of the upside-down kingdom by my dear friend Bob summarizes it more succinctly than I ever could:
I confess that it rattles me to look around and see many of my peers--fellow graduates from SPU, often with comparable backgrounds and similar journeys of change to my own--happily attending churches that make me squirm. To tell you the truth, when I have attended church services these past few months, I feel angry or frustrated in the pew, then go home and weep. Truly, weep. Many of the homilies I hear rattle and upset me because I disagree with some fundamental aspect of the theology presented.
Why is it that I am seemingly the messy one, the bothered one, when many of my friends who agree with me theologically can sit through services like the Thor illustration and just calmly shake their heads? Why are they not fighting back tears the way I am?
I suspect a key to navigating theological disagreement with grace has something to do with being in community. When we establish relationships, disagreement and pushback can happen within a context of intimacy. My friends have eaten dinner with this Thor-pastor, have met his wife and talked about sports and the weather. They know him. I think relationship rightly provides a larger context for them, so that one shaky sermon can be considered in light of what they know of him from weeks and months and years of relationship.
Even so, relationship alone doesn't offer a perfect solution for disagreement and differing convictions. There are times when I suspect people I know make the decision to remain silent out of something close to political motivations--let's not rock the boat, let's keep the peace. But maintaining the status quo is not what we are called to as Christ-followers; for heaven's sake, Jesus was crucified for rocking the religious boat. We are not always called to silence for the sake of getting along, just as we are not called to leap and attack at every differing opinion.
And it could just come down to this: our callings might be different. Some of my peers, even the ones who studied theology and would hold views generally similar to my own--perhaps their ability to enthusiastically embrace their churches reflects their calling right now to belong, intimately, to a local expression of the global church. I find that beautiful. I want that for myself, and I'm doing all I know to do to head in that direction. And yet, I wonder--perhaps my discomfort and tears and even anger reflects a different sort of calling: a necessary voice for pushback and accountability.
While I hesitate to declare or label myself anything, I remember that prophets have been challenging and shaping the church since the days of ancient Israel, calling attention to spiritual apathy and injustice and hypocrisy in every generation. Priests and prophets both serve the church, and both love the church, but their callings and functions are quite different. (And the prophets tend to cry a lot more). I see leaders like Shane Claiborne, Rachel Held Evans, and Pope Francis as prophetic voices in the twenty-first century, tirelessly reminding us of our Christian identity when distractions lure us away. Perhaps my own voice, however small, can be added to this chorus of prophets.