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From Insurrection to Resurrection
An Excerpt from "Filled to be Emptied" by Brandan Robertson
On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I sat in my bedroom just ten blocks from the U.S. Capital. Just days ago I had moved across the country from San Diego to Washington, D.C. in order to begin a new season of my ministry doing full-time advocacy work. The day before, I had gone out to pick up lunch and noticed that the city had been filled with military vehicles and increased police presence in anticipation of a rally and protests being held by supporters of President Donald Trump the next following day. In my short walk, I had come across dozens of tourists shuffling off the Metro trains with their luggage, adorned with red “Make America Great Again” hats and a rowdy energy about them. I hurried home with my lunch, and prepared for what was certain to be a wild day in the nation’s capital. But I didn’t know just how out of hand it would become.
On Wednesday morning, I greeted my roommate who works in the Capitol, where our legislators would be meeting to certify the electoral college victory of President-Elect Joe Biden. “Be safe out there today!” I said. “I’ll try” he replied, with a nervous laugh. Within a few hours, I began to hear a cacophony of sirens and helicopters around my house, and I turned on the news to see thousands of people storming the U.S. Capitol, breaking windows, beating police, and successfully halting the certification of the votes as lawmakers were evacuated from the building. Earlier that morning, President Trump had provoked this crowd with emphatic declarations that our election had been stolen, that he had won in a landslide, but that socialist forces deep within our government were working to ensure he didn’t remain in office because he was actually fighting on behalf of the “American people.” (meaning white, straight, cisgender, Christian Americans)
Now, I will not try to offer a comprehensive analysis of how America got to this dark moment- it would certainly take more than a book this size to even breach the subject. But what will say is this- this moment of insurrection, incited by a President whose primary message was rooted in preserving systemic privilege for white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, Americans, and returning our nation to an era where every politician was a “Christian”, where people of color were not a “threat” to white peoples jobs because they wouldn’t be hired anyways, where women were treated as second-class citizens, where LGBTQ+ relationships were criminalized, and where the only acceptable immigrants were those coming from Europe, this moment was one of the most blatant reminders of just how powerful, prevalent, and destructive white privilege, Christian privilege….privilege in general, is.
In an era of history where America, along with many other nations, is really beginning to grapple with the dark beliefs, laws, and practices that form the very foundation of our nation, and is beginning to slowly and imperfectly work to dismantle our systemic injustices, those who have been blinded by their privilege and power are feeling deeply threatened and afraid, and they have shown that they will use every ounce of privilege and power they have left to fight- with literal violence- to preserve the status quo. As we’ve explored at length in this book, when the mountains are lowered and the valleys exalted, it’s easy for those on the mountain tops to feel that what they are experiencing in unfair and unjust. When you’ve lived with undeserved advantage for generations, when the moment of reckoning comes where you are asked to forfeit that privilege for the sake of equity, such a request can feel like too much to ask.
Which is why, in a moment like this, it is essential that all of us who claim to follow the way of Jesus should pause and reflect on how we will respond to this moment of our collective history: will we be a people of insurrection or resurrection? Will we be a people that fights to overturn the movement of subversive justice that Jesus called for or will we be a people who yearns for the renewal of all things, where all people are at last seen as the children of God, worthy of equal dignity and opportunity as us?
If our version of Christianity fuels us to fight to preserve our privilege, to keep the structures of empire in place in order to benefit people who believe like us, look like us, and love like us, then perhaps we should take some time to reflect on the kenotic example of Jesus and ask whether or not we’re truly interested in following his path. Jesus was never acting for his own benefit, he understood that when each of us acts selflessly for the good of others, then everyone will be taken care of, everyone will have opportunity, and everyone will ultimately be led towards a life of flourishing.
It is true that Jesus himself launched an insurrection of sorts against the systems of privilege and dominance in his world, but his insurrection was not one that sought to overturn the empire by force, but rather through subversive acts of love. This is why the better and ancient word for Jesus’ actions is resurrection- raising up that Edenic vision of how the world was created to be from the ashes of the endless destruction and greed of many human systems of governance. The resurrection that Jesus promises is not one of personal benefit or personal reward, but a collective one. Jesus calls this the “renewal of all things” (Matthew 19:28), every aspect of creation is included in this restoration of justice and righteousness to our world.
But this resurrection cannot happen on its own. This resurrection is contingent upon human beings, you and I, choosing to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of our renegade rabbi. It requires us to return, again and again, to the “mind of Christ” that Paul describes with the Kenosis Hymn, where we willingly, recklessly give up our privilege and power in order to bring healing and restoration to those who are broken, cast down, and oppressed. It requires us to orient ourselves each and every day towards the cross, where Jesus was executed by empire to show us where the rode of empire leads- always to death and destruction. We must reclaim the cross as an icon of the way we are to live- subversively working to undo the systems that perpetuate prejudice and bias, willing to sacrifice our own advantages so that others can have a fair shake at life.
Christianity today has become one of the most powerful tools to promote and protect racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Christian supremacy and so much more. Christianity bears almost no resemblance to the Christ it claims to worship. If our world is to begin to experience the resurrection that we long for, it must begin with followers of Jesus being willing to abandon Christianity for the sake of following Jesus. If your faith is more concerned with doctrines, dogmas, and upholding traditions, then daily seeking to use your time, energy, and money to undo the damage that your own privilege has wrought, then can you truly claim to be following Jesus?
This question isn’t posed in judgement. It’s a question that I really believe the Church must consider. Is the heartbeat of our faith religious devotion, theological ruminations, and liturgical traditions? None of these things are bad, but if they are the extent of our faith, then we ought to be honest that we are actually cultural Christians rather than authentic disciples of Jesus. In fact, to be a disciple of Jesus one doesn’t even need to belong to a church or believe in the creeds, one simply needs to believe in the vision that Jesus cast for a more just and equal world, and begin applying his teachings to our lives in an attempt to work in his spirit to make it a reality. Jesus himself made this clear, saying:
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
Many are happy to sing songs of praise to Jesus, many desire the benefits of claiming to be a Christian in our society, but very few seem to be ready to do the will of God, which is prerequisite to entering the Kingdom that Jesus envisioned. This passage isn’t primarily about salvation beyond the grave, but rather about those who will enter the more just world here and now because they have chosen to actively live in the pattern of self-emptying that Jesus embodied. If you want to experience resurrection, you have to live it. If you want to overcome the forces of insurrection, we must live in the pattern of resurrection, which requires dying to the pursuit of privilege and power and giving birth to a new way of living in the world.
This is a moment of reckoning. Whoever you are, wherever you may be in the world, whatever your political or theological bent, we are being asked to choose. Will we follow the path of empire, the path of privilege, the path of exploitation, or will we follow the path that calls us to come and die in order to give birth to a new kind of living, a new kind of being, not just for us, but for all of creation? This is not a choice any of us can make lightly, but the consequences of this choice have rarely stood out so clearly as they do in our era. The planet is crying out, oppressed peoples are raising their voices, and the privileged and powerful are raging. The time has come for followers of Jesus to begin following in bold, prophetic, and costly ways. It is my sincere hope and prayer that each of us will awaken to the Spirits call and respond with brave and faithful commitment to living in the way of Jesus.
May it be.