Protest is in, and it comes in many guises. The online petition, the ‘9 out of 10 of my Facebook friends won’t share this’ memes, the march, the blog post, the song, the documentary, the sit-in, the lapel-badge. More still.
I don’t mean to decry it. I write as one who took part in a campaign to bring to awareness the plight of a jailed Christian pastor in a country where his faith is not given freedom. That campaign met with success in that his situation became news and he was eventually released. Success.
Yes, success. A good thing. I’ve turned a blind eye, though, to the similar plights of many others. I haven’t made the same effort to effect the release of people in equivalent situations, not even in the same country as that man. Why? In part because there’s only so much time and I only have energy enough for so many causes; in part because that one story grabbed me at the right time when I had the opportunity to do something about it; in part because compassion fatigue is a real thing; in part because I’m lazy, too comfortable and prone to a life of ease.
All of that is true; the real problem, however, is with my ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The story of one pastor – some nugget of detail, some subtext – touched me in such a way that I knew that what was happening was wrong. I said ‘no’ to it. That 2-letter word gave me enough energy and motivation to try to do something about it. Not enough, though, to get me to do something about the bigger picture. There are innumerable people who are not free to practice their faith and I do little or nothing about it; because I don’t have a ‘yes’ resounding in my spirit. Shameful as it is, it just doesn’t fire me. I’d need to meet more affected people in person, I’d need to have more information that speaks to my spirit, I may even need to experience some actual persecution (I mean actual persecution; not just a little bit of opposition) for the ‘no’ to tip into a ‘yes’ that would work in order to see something significant changed.
That’s not to say I don’t pray about this; I do. That’s not to say I feel no empathy for people who are persecuted for faith; I do. It’s more that like all of us I am finite and I’m part of a body of believers which means that others carry that particular burden and I weigh in occasionally.
It’s easy to be against something. We all mostly know that murder is bad, racism is wrong, oppression is sinful and torture self-defeating. For a cause to bite in our lives we need at least one of two things: to be personally affected in some way, or we need to catch a vision and a passion and an energy for the ‘yes’ that’s behind the ‘no’.
Think of it like menu. You choose not to have one dish, not to have another dish … and so on. No one thinks like, do we? What we’re really doing is saying ‘yes’ to one dish, as well as ‘no’ to all the rest (unless you’re one of those who habitually takes bites from the plates of others at the table, in which case ignore the analogy). You don’t think of it as ‘no’ though; when people ask you what the meal was like, you don’t talk about all the dishes you said ‘no’ to; you talk about the one you said ‘yes’ to. As with restaurants, so with life partners – in saying yes to one person, you say no to all the others. The important one is the ‘yes’; focussing on the ‘yes’ reminds you to keep saying ‘no’ when temptation arrives.
So to following Jesus. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘no’: to protest war, poverty, division, women bishops or the lack thereof, payday loans, homosexuality or the rejection thereof, abortion … You name it. The no is a slogan, fits on a t-shirt and arouses anger, which can lead to action and money. In the short-term. Rarely does the short-term no translate into a longer term ‘yes’.
So what am I, what are Christians for? What do we say ‘yes’ to? The way of Jesus, though goodness knows there’s enough controversy amongst us as to what that actually means. There’s the rub. At the end of it all the way of Jesus is nothing if not cross-shaped. Not much of a clarion call, is it? It won’t get many retweets or likes or slogans. It won’t attract funding; making ourselves nothing is a tough ask, but it’s both our example and our calling. Mutual submission is a harder ask than putting ourselves in convenient culturally conditioned boxes. Saying ‘yes’ to a cross-shaped life may involve a repeated declaration of ‘no’, but that will require a bigger, deeper and more luminously compelling vision of the beauty of what a life laid-down on a cross can become in the hands of a God who specialises in resurrection. It requires us to have eyes on eternity and feet on the ground, or more likely nailed to our own particular cross, literal or metaphorical as it may be. It requires us to be so struck by our dependence on the deep and death-destroying love of God in Christ that we move towards that which would naturally repel us in order to model what’s been shown to us.
No is easy; yes is hard. No is for today; yes is for life. No needs a deeper, stronger, louder, sweeter, harder, tougher yes.
Yes won’t rally round a cause; it will rally round a life and a (new) creation.
Yes won’t fit in a slogan but it will spelled with a lifetime.
Yes won’t speak to a political allegiance or an ecclesiastical group but it will redefine both.
Yes will say a thousand times no in order for the yes to be heard.
Yes will knock down only to build again.
Yes knocks at the door and waits for me to open.
Yes, come in.