For while the heart is a necessary organ for us to experience being “alive,” it is also necessary for us to experience “life more abundantly.” It is the place where we store up the emotions that animate our actions and behaviors. This can be tricky, though, because unlike our actions and behaviors which can be observed, the purity of one’s motives, the quality of the emotional soil of one’s heart, cannot be seen and certainly discerned, if we lack healthy self-awareness and are not intentional.
To do this work, however, God has to have our full and undivided attention. Since many of us tend to have the attention span of a gnat, this usually means that God has to get us alone, remove all the crutches that have been propping us up, and peel back all the pretenses. It is not a pretty nor a comfortable proposition, and that is partly the point, because comfort has the uncanny ability to lull us back to sleep, while a little pain and discomfort will wake us up like a cold shower.
Now although the manner in which we are generative may vary, I believe we are all born with the capacity to be fertile, but the fact of the matter is that good soil requires not only capacity but willingness and mastery. This willingness begins with a readiness to hear as Jesus states in Luke 8:8, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” We all have ears, but we don’t always have ears to hear, or we are too busy talking to hear anything, or we believe we can talk and hear at the same time. Unfortunately, the art of listening is almost a lost craft and the capacity to hear what is being said not only by words but by body language and by what is left unsaid, is practically non-existent. Yet, being good soil begins with being willing to hear, so that you can become willing to heed, and in so doing, you can become a willing participant in your own healing–bringing forth a harvest that blesses you to be a blessing.
In seminary I was required to take Church History, and as we took an invasive and interrogatory look into the history of Christianity, the professor advised us that it was our responsibility to accept both the good and the bad as part of that heritage. From Christianity’s hook-up with the Roman empire during the reign of Constantine in 313 after the Edict of Milan decriminalized Christianity, to the sanctioning of the Inquisition, the Crusades, antisemitism, slavery, world-wide colonialism, and intolerance to name a few, Christianity has been and continues to be pretty brutal, violent, and anti-Jesus. We don’t have to go back far in history either, as in we only need go back a few months, a few weeks, a few days, or even a few moments ago. But if we were to consider a poignant moment in time, 11/9 of 2016 is as damming as any when 80% of American evangelical Christians helped elect a rabid racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, bigoted, fascist, white supremacist to the White House. On the heels of completing only two months in office, the unethical, unjust, immoral, unpatriotic, and plain un-Christian faux pas of 45 and his cabinet are too numerous to count and too painful to rehash, but rehash and resist and resolve, we must!
The bottom line is that knowing and acknowledging our ancestral context, which can be much more difficult for some us, is a worthwhile process to engage. In fact, Henry Louis Gates hosts a series on PBS that traces the roots of famous people called Finding Your Roots. About two years ago the show traced the roots of Ben Affleck, and Affleck asked that they not include the slave-owning history of one of his ancestors, and that truth was not aired. Trust me, we all have some characters in our family trees, but we have to acknowledge the good and the bad, the controversial and the commendable if we are to live our most authentic lives consciously preserving worthy legacies and creating new ones as we abandon worthless legacies and their remnants.
Jesus knows the pain of Black and Brown people who are living under a set of laws that were designed to kill them physically, spiritually, economically, psychologically, and emotionally. Jesus knows the pain of being arrested on “trumped up” charges, and being held without due process. Jesus knows the pain of being treated as less than human, of being assumed a threat without any provocation, of being unjustly convicted and brutally murdered. Jesus knows this pain, because Jesus lived it under a Roman system that sought to kill him from birth, that legalized the killing of boys of His ethnicity, that continually saw Him as a threat, and that eventually executed Him–capital punishment style. It is this Jesus, Who paid the price not just through death on a cross, but through life in a hostile system that I hope we recognize and reconcile with our history that we may find a way forward.
Now, while Mary’s mission was mothering the Messiah, Jesus never let his relationship with his mother limit him; he did not let it define him; and he did not allow it to interfere with his own life’s mission. People tried to limit him based on his pedigree asking questions like, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” (John 6:42) Jesus was undisturbed by their line of questions and by anything that would take him off the course of his mission–including his mother. No, Jesus was NOT a mama’s boy nor was he a people-pleaser. Jesus was not afraid to say “No” nor to give an honest and forthright response–even if it might hurt your feelings or offend you. Jesus could not be manipulated emotionally, mentally, relationally, etc.
We are all born into a particular family that helps to shape our identity and even gives others a reference point for knowing who we are. In fact, it is as if the questions who yo’ people? and where are you from? are conjoined twins. When Philip introduces Jesus in John 1:45, he essentially says that he is Straight Outta Nazareth and he is Joseph’s boy calling him “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But these are only descriptors not definers of one’s identity nor limiters on one’s capacity.
Now, whether you find N.W.A.’s message and method palatable or not, there are a few factors this group shares with Jesus, the Liberator and Emancipator Straight Outta Nazareth! They both ignited revolutions, gave voice to the oppressed, and spoke the unadulterated truth to abusive authority. Now, Jesus certainly was not known for his vulgarity, but Jesus did not mince his words nor water down the truth. So, don’t just accept the “meek and mild” depiction that we have been sold wholesale. Jesus used his share of harsh words from “you brood of vipers”,”you snakes”, “you hypocrites” to “you blind guides”, and “you blind fools”–just to give you a few. And if you think I’m making this up, read up on the Seven Woes in Matthew 23.
Between the time that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and the time he was affirmed by the Spirit at his baptism, Jesus, like each of us, had a plethora of life experiences–some that reminded him of his true essence and others that tried to distort the image of the divine in him. The extent to which those experiences impact us varies, because not all experiences are created equal, but they do not change the truth.