the valley of the shadow of death is anything but silent. a cacophony of voices weave a terrifying symphony of truth and lies, doubt and faith, condolence and condescension. the lonely silent one exists in a clamor perhaps more suffocating than the cliffs of the valley itself.
but occasionally, a voice whispers, and its very humility sets it apart from the rest. these are the voices that lead us out, from the valley of death to the mountain of peace and justice.
i had a valley.
today, i want share with you the soundtrack of my journey through it, from terrified church-goer to armchair activist to gospel-inspired justice caller. i originally compiled these quotes in the aftermath of the ferguson ruling, as i searched within my heart for the root of my strong emotional reaction to this story. i found three essential elements that could not be told separately: the valley of darkness, the emergence into a faith that has room for doubt, and the call to empathetic activism.
this series of quotes tells that story through collage; it is my story, in the voices of others.
At its most basic, the allure of fundamentalism, whether religious or ideological, liberal or conservative, is that it provides an appealing order to things that are actually disorderly.
~ Peter Mountford
“I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals. False fundamentals make it impossible for faith to adapt to change. The longer the list of requirements and contingencies and prerequisites, the more vulnerable faith becomes to shifting environments and the more likely it is to fade slowly into extinction. When the gospel gets all entangled with extras, dangerous ultimatums threaten to take it down with them. The yoke gets too heavy and we stumble beneath it.”
~ Rachel Held Evans
“My friend Adele describes fundamentalism as holding so tightly to your beliefs that your fingernails leave imprints on the palm of your hand… I think she’s right. I was a fundamentalist not because of the beliefs I held but because of how I held them: with a death grip. It would take God himself to finally pry them out of my hands.”
~ Rachel Held Evans
“The world changes too fast. You take your eyes off something that’s always been there, and the next minute it’s just a memory.”
~ Michel Faber
“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt.”
~ Yann Martel
“For so many years I lived in constant terror of myself.
Doubt had married my fear and moved into my mind,
where it built castles and ruled kingdoms and reigned over me,
bowing my will to its whispers until
I was little more than an acquiescing peon,
too terrified to disobey,
too terrified to disagree.
I had been shackled,
a prisoner in my own mind.”
~ Tahereh Mafi
“…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
~ Barbara Brown Taylor
“…she taught me how to ride the Dragon Coaster and what to do when you’re flung into the mouth of whatever it is you think will kill you. Throw up your arms and laugh until you come out the other side.”
~ Ian Morgan Cron
“Miss Annie, is it wrong for me to believe it was Jesus who asked my forgiveness?” I asked her.
She frowned and shook her head, “Lord, what do they teach you at that school?” she said. Then she faced me head-on. “Did God humble himself by becoming a man?” she asked, every word spoken more loudly than the one before.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. I’d never used the word ma’am before, but it seemed an excellent time to start.
“Did he humble himself by dying on the cross to show us how much he loved us? she asked, waving her spatula at me.
My eyes widened and I nodded, yes.
Miss Annie’s body relaxed, and she put her hand on her hip. “So why wouldn’t Jesus humble himself and tell a boy he was sorry for letting him down if he knew it would heal his heart?” she asked.
“But if Jesus is perfect–“
Miss Annie ambled the five or six feet that separated us and took my hand. “Son,” she said, rubbing my knuckles with her thumb, “love always stoops.”
~ Ian Morgan Cron
“And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
“Being a Christian, it seemed, isn’t about agreeing to a certain way. It is about embodying a certain way. It is about living as an incarnation of Jesus, as Jesus lived as an incarnation of God.”
~ Rachel Held Evans
“For St. Paul, the core of the Gospel was about reconciliation – God and sinner, Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free (Gal. 3:28). This was the necessary implication of justification by faith alone. Justification was never simply a get out of jail free card, an individualistic guilt-appeasement balm. Justification opens the gates to freedom, to reconciliation, to wholeness inside and out. It puts into contact with the outsider, the person who’ll make us feel uncomfortable, the different – a sexual, racial, and geographic outsider (Acts 8), for example. It puts us into contact these cut-off parts of ourselves. It levels the playing field; the powerful are brought down and the powerless are brought up. And the Gospel invitation, particularly for those of us with privilege, is to go down willingly, to be crucified with Christ, to be the impoverished, broken, brought to the end of ourselves, dying like that grain of wheat that must fall to the ground to bear fruit. All for the sake of the other. […]
Jesus crosses the barriers. His Gospel is not domesticated, it is invasive, courageous, pursuing. God became man, crossing the ultimate barrier, crossing into death, going down, going further than I’d ever want to go. But we need to, now, with courage.”
~ Chuck Degroat
“Jesus doesn’t call us into a life of ascent where we move further and further away from the things of this world. Rather, I believe he calls us to a life of descent, of downward mobility, where we move down into the trenches of real life, real pain, real hope in our lives and in the lives of others.”
“We must break down the walls that separate people, which create an “us vs. them” mentality, and actively resist the upward pull of comfort and away from pain.”
“The world is not desperate for new knowledge; there’s plenty of that to last many lifetimes. The world is aching for authentic people willing to be Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes, and heart and boldly go where he goes – to those on the margins of life and faith.”
~ Kathy Escobar
“It was in my college Liberation Theology class back in 1990 that I first discovered different ‘Gospel’ perspectives – perspectives from those steeped in death and persecution, suffering and scarcity. […] It may have been the first ‘aha’ moment for me, the first realization that the Gospel wasn’t just about getting saved and voting pro-life.”
~ Chuck Degroat
“Love is about justice, not sentimentality. Standing on the side of love is choosing to stand with all those excluded, marginalized, and oppressed – without succumbing to hate for the oppressor. Nothing could be harder – or more essential for our common flourishing.”
~ Serene Jones
“Sometimes I wonder how we get so up in arms and culturally empathetic with people in other countries. But can’t do that in our own backyard. We rushed to Haiti. We Adopt in Asia. We empathize with Africa. But struggle to humanize our struggles here in the states. Some people are responding out of hurt and are met with smug responses. If I tell you my brother got killed in a gang war, would you tell me “That’s what he gets! Shouldn’t be gang banging!” Of course not.
As a Christian I see a Jesus empathize with the MOST undeserving people ever. He offers a thief on the cross a home in Paradise. He dies for a rioting mob of angry killers. He looks upon a sinful world with compassion. And here we stand saying we believe that and all the while unfazed at the pain of a community. Offering statements that don’t comfort but only add salt to a wound we refuse to see.”
“sky’s death was no less unjust than that of babies dying of malnutrition in 3rd world countries. his death was wrong. his death was senseless. it was unnecessary. it shouldn’t have happened. there’s no ranking in injustice. either the scale is evenly balanced, or it is tipped to one side. just as pain cannot be ranked and compared, injustice cannot be ranked and compared. we and he are victims of the same injustice that has caused every human rights violation, natural disaster, and betrayal in history.
his life released so much passion, energy, and drive in my heart. not his death, his life. now that i cannot pour it into him, it threatens to go toward fighting the feelings and the reality of his death. instead, i must consciously direct it to fighting the injustice that took my son. God did not take him, injustice took him. God keeps him safe, loves him, and will make this right in the end. God has already beaten death and injustice and continues to work through people to fight it in the world. when we fight injustice we’re really fighting death, which is perhaps when we’re being the most christlike.”
~ lani roberts; journal entry from december 2011