Summertime is my favorite. Every night, we sit on our back porch (which we can FINALLY enjoy without layers of coats and complicated zippered undergarments) passing a doobie back and forth, staring out at the view of our neighbor’s yard against a backdrop of low-slung mountains.
And we congratulate ourselves on being so damned woke.
I mean, here we are, sitting on piles of earthly treasures we earned from the sweat of our backs (or, in my case, brains). We’re providing a pretty insane upbringing for our kids that involves plenty of outside exploration and air travel. We’ve got a fairly diverse group of friends, financially speaking- a staple for any woke human.
Plus, we care very deeply (as shown by our persistent discussion) about all the right things: ICE raids, gun control, climate change.
As far as being woke goes, we’ve got a pretty solid starter pack.
“For I’ve determined to know nothing among you except Jesus and His crucifixion“ says the Apostle Paul.
“The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing,” says the ancient philosopher Socrates.
“Drifting around in bubbles and thinking it was us that carried them, we we finally got it figured out: that we truly missed the boat,” says the post-modern rock band Modest Mouse.
Here’s the thing – nay, the interminable paradox- about this “being woke” concept that gets me: if you know you’re woke… you most assuredly aren’t.
Ancient wisdom, passed down from oft-quoted philosophers to modern-day musical dabblers, supports this idea that we’re all, essentially, amateurs at life. As much as I strive to know more and exist in a constant state of raw awareness about the world and how it works… I’m a finite being. I seldom have all the information. I rarely get things right.
And when I AM right, I’m insanely proud of myself for being so.
Until, of course, someone comes along to challenge my notion of what “right” really is.
But what do I know?
In 2005, I was at the forefront of Godly revival at my small Christian liberal arts college. My four besties and I, we intended to bring nothing less than the pure, healing power of God’s Kingdom to the 500 students of Westmont College… and then, to the world.
We were His conduits. We knew this because we gathered nearly every night to pray for hooours on end about the subject. We read our Bibles. We sacrificed our collective time and energy being the “voice of truth” to our lukewarm friends, who only pretended to love God when WE were the ones walking the true path.
The one cleansed from sin. And godless secular music. #ByeByeBye
When former friends wouldn’t get with the program, I cut them off.
Following Christ is not a popular road, after all. Many are called, few answer… or something like that.
I was part of the chosen few.
In the end, all that really happened is: I felt very good and righteous and lost a lot of friends.
Then, I received The Phone Call. It was Saturday morning. I was ogling boys at a rugby scrimmage.
Suddenly, what was arguably one of the most pivotal moments in my adult life became the gateway to another life-changing discovery: nobody cared about my grief…
Though, that’s only part of the story. I mean, we were 19. None of us had the capacity- the perspective, patience, perserverance- to intentionally sit in someone else’s pain. We barely have that ability now.
And what did I want, really? A concerted tearing of clothes and gnashing of teeth for weeks on end? To see my friends with sunken faces and puffy, red eyes from a sleep interrupted by sobs?
No. I wanted to make borderline-blasphemous but tasteful jokes about Jesus and sit at the top of the bleachers during Wednesday’s mandatory chapel, doing my homework and Googling fan theories about Jennifer Garner’s latest shenanigans on Alias. From such a high perch, I could finally consider myself above the raised hands of my former footsoldiers, who were shouting an occasional “amen!” while taking copious notes on the sermon, faces buried in their journals.
As if their very salvation hung on the wordcount…
My own journal- an essential tool for making sense of the world that, since the age of about 9, never left my side- sat untouched for nearly a decade afterward.
Even as my original friend group welcomed me back, with very few questions asked. There was no finger-pointing, no placing blame. I may as well have been gone on a semester abroad.
The culture clash would’ve been about the same.
But I wonder if I would have learned half as much, particularly about the perils of sitting in The Judgment Seat over anyone’s life…?
Not that it stopped me from ever doing that again.
It did stop me from going to church. For quite a long time, in fact. About 1/3 of my lifetime has been spent benchwarming, not at all ready to jump back in the game and get my hands dirty.
Having once sat in judgment on my spiritually apathetic friends, I owed penance. I switched teams, batting for the agnostic intellectuals, certain that was a far better choice than joining the ranks of the holier-than-thou. Walking into a church made my stomach churn. The fake niceness, the faux joy- all trappings of a life in which I had once inflicted immeasurable harm on the people I loved.
Plus, these church folk were judging me, I knew it. And I didn’t like it. I couldn’t be a part of it.
But one day, God said “go.”
More accurately, He lined my path with situations and people that subconsciously began a barely tangible stirring to return to the journey. The faith journey, specifically. The God Journey.
And I found myself sitting in a shitty polyester chair that seemed better suited to a dentist’s office waiting room, looking around shifty-eyed at a gaggle of smiling faces, gripping my bag tightly just in case I felt the sudden urge to run away.
Which I did. Often. But not until I got my sip of communion wine.
It took me almost a year to finally sit through a whole church service, beginning to end.
It took me another several months to even sort of enjoy it.
Now, I count myself among this flock of weirdos. I like being part of Them, in the worldwide, grandiose sense of the term. Although I still don’t know many of “them” yet.
And I’ve finally gained the perspective necessary to realize: I really know nothing, except Christ crucified.
I thought I knew holiness. I thought I knew Christians. I thought I knew God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit.
I didn’t know jack shit. I still don’t.
But at least I know that.
The problem was never God. It was my own assumption of His power and interpretation of His calling.
The problem was never my belief in a capital-T “Truth.” It was my infernal need to beat people over the head with what I believed the Truth was.
The real Truth (and the only Truth that matters)? God is love. Jesus is the way to love. Sometimes, we – Christians, I mean – get in the way of His love reaching the folks who really need it.
And I’m sorry.
For years, I’ve carried the full weight of shame at having believed His love was as deep as my experience of it, when I’d only scratched the surface.
He is bigger. He is greater. He is doing something around us. Around you. Are you looking?
Because even when Christians like me get in the way, it never truly stops His plans. That’s a Truth you can rest on.
So, if I say I’m “woke,” I don’t mean I understand how the world works and what it needs, or how God works and what He’s doing.
I mean I am crystal clear on the fact that I am not even close to being the world’s source of salvation, wisdom, and truth. That’s God, homie. I’m just following His lead.