On social media commentary, it’s come to my attention that I am not very original. My tendency to be verbose gets in the way. Often my response is “Amen” to something I feel strongly about and simply “me too” as agreement. Having been in the Christian tradition for so long (and particularly in the South), most people know what I mean when I say “Amen!” Yet, as my friends in social media have pointed out, many are not religious or belong to a religion other than Christianity.
Those of us raised in the Christian tradition know that “amen” means “so be it”. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about all those who don’t know the word’s meaning. What do they think my response means? Because I don’t want to seem like a religious fanatic, I don’t say it around strangers. At least, not aloud. Do even people who think they know me understand that I am on their side or in their corner if I say the word?
Language is important to me both as a writer and as a theologian. In the book of James, one of the scriptures talks about the power of the tongue and how we must be careful in how we speak for our tongue can be like a rudderless ship. Right now, in our world, shipwrecks happen all over the globe because people are being careless with their words. People are not thinking before speaking. There are many things in life that should not be blurted out. Like the Ecclesiastical writer states, there is a time and a place for every season.
As I worked on a collection of prayers this morning, I was using my voice-to-text application on my iPad mini. First, I must say that none of these apps understand Southern. Secondly, some of the theological concepts we pray about are foreign to the computer so it guesses at what might be meant. That can mean some funny sentences or phrases. One of them that made me both laugh and also think, was when saying the word “amen” after each prayer, the computer typed “I’m in.”
Wow. I think that’s a better way to describe the meaning of Amen. By saying it means “so be it” there’s an unspoken implication that G-d’s going to handle it and we don’t have to worry about it anymore or participate beyond saying Amen. But if we can translate the word as “I’m in” (which is also, “so be it”), then there is participation and accountability for OUR actions along with G-d’s guidance.
One of the arguments I have is with the many ways that people talk about Jesus taking care of everything. For some, there’s the misconception that if we have enough faith, G-d will take care of everything. We don’t have to WORK at faith. Here’s the thing, we are still human. Everything about being a human is challenging in some way. Though we have a technologically advanced society, that has only made the striving easier. Hauling hay is still hot and hard work; but not as hard as with only pitchforks and an old mule pulling a cart.
“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
We also forget (or don’t want to admit) that our striving or struggling is what makes us stronger. We are willing to go to the gym and flip huge tractor tires or lift twice our weight in metal to strengthen our body. But changing our habits, our ways of thinking, speaking, and being in the world takes a different kind of strength. What we are called to as people of faith is this kind of strength training. We are training our hearts, minds, spirits, and souls to be strong during hard times so that there is always hope.
We can shout an amen, but what are we gonna do to make that happen? I’m not talking about changing others but changing one’s own self. Can I get an amen to that? Even though I planned on asking that question before writing it, there was still a tired gut reaction to the question. Why? Because facing our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities means we really have to look truthfully at how we live. Using the word “live” as a verb meaning how we interact with other human beings, plants, animals, and even our environment.
What does that mean to you?
How do we treat another?
How do we treat the earth?
How do we treat our own bodies, souls, and mind?
Many spiritual practices encourage the disciple to look back on the day gone by and reflect upon the actions taken. How does one’s day stack up beside of the Love of G-d? Humans are not G-d or Jesus but don’t use that as an excuse. You have control over your choices and so do I.
From this moment forward, can we choose to work for the well-being of another? Is it entirely possible to stop berating those who believe differently than us? We don’t have to do it perfectly; we just have to try and work at it. If we fail, we try, try, try again. Living with the knowledge that G-d is a G-d of mercy, we have the privilege and opportunity to start each new day to try again and live a life that is good and that respects others.
Jesus respected those where were poor, uneducated, diseased, outcast, hated, and also women. Jesus reached out to these same people offering kindness, compassion, and love. That is the living water he spoke of to the Samaritan woman. Think of the times when life was hard and then someone, some stranger perhaps or a friend, offered kindness, compassion, love, and understanding in the midst of the trial. What did that feel like? Can you be that person?
Many too easily claim to be Christian. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, about the challenges to be a Christian.
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Can we who claim to follow Jesus give up our lives for another? Can we be willing to die for the immigrant child who is caged? What cost are we willing to pay in order to claim to be a Christian? Because claiming to be a Christian means one who follows AND practices the way Jesus lived. Bonhoeffer’s book is an entire book talking about the importance of costly grace instead of cheap grace. The ways of living he suggests are not easy:
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
“The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”
“[God says] Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.”
Can you say amen to that? Can I say amen or I’m in? Like any human being, I’m not fond of suffering. I get tired of my enemies and those who would hurt me or another. I want everyone to be kind, but that’s not realistic.
What I have learned as I seek to live a life of grace is that when I can follow Christ’s lead to love those different from me, life is better. Not always easier, but it is better. Our world is in a chaotic mess right now and it’s going to cost each of us some kind of sacrifice in order to make life better for those in need, for our neighbor, for the outcast, for the unloved. By choosing to live a life of discipleship, we must be willing to give up some things. In order to stand up for justice, we might have to give up our lives like Bonhoeffer did. Or maybe we have to give up life only in the understanding that life is not only for us or the great “me”. We are all in this together. When we work together for good, life is better. Now I am all in for that? How about you? Amen
*Robin chooses to spell out G-d in such a manner to indicate respect toward the Holy. This is a tradition most often practiced in the Jewish faith. When quoting Bonhoeffer, Robin chose to leave the spellings as written by the author.
For more information on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, please read his books or this article with Christianity Today.