A friend of mine from far off places wrote me this week to tell me that she’s recently found a church, she reads this blog (Woohoo!), and she’s wrestling with something she’d like some thoughtful reflection on. Essentially my friend was wrestling with why folk choose to follow God and whether that decision should be an altruistic one or if, at its core, it is always a selfish decision.
What a great question! Seriously, it hits on many of the things we wrestle with as people of faith and as folk considering whether or not to begin a journey of faith. First off it touches on the question that Rob and I have been asking since we began in Phoenix: “in the midst of all of the amazing work that is occurring in the downtown area and beyond, what value do we add to the lives of the people we’re seeking to serve?” Second, it touches on the issue of hypocrisy, a critique often leveled at the church these days, by putting our claims of altruism up against the view that we really do what we do in order to reinforce our own worldview and make ourselves feel better. In this sense my friend’s questions feels very relevant to City Square’s work in downtown Phoenix particularly and to the work of the Church in the world today generally.
In order to reflect on this question in a meaningful way I need to explain my cosmology, why and how creation functions the way it does. I believe that God created us to be loved by God and to reflect that love back to God, out to each other, and onto all of creation, thus connecting us to God’s infinite work in the world. I believe that at some point we began to think of ourselves more individualistically, not a bad thing in and of itself except that apart from God’s infinite work in the world we feel small, insignificant, vulnerable, fearful, etc. We built walls to protect ourselves, literally and figuratively, disconnecting ourselves from God, each other, creation, and subsequently our purpose, eventually looking for new ways to feel powerful and important. Finally, I believe that God’s work in Christ was to become human, inextricably reconnecting us to our creator, and that our work in Christ is remembering how to allow ourselves to be loved so that we in turn might remember how to love God, love each other, and love creation as part of God’s infinite work in the world.
Okay, so back to my friend’s question. My reflection on whether or not our work as Christians in the world is altruistic or selfish is that I believe it to be both. On the one hand, what could be more selfish than seeking our own purpose in life, remembering how to be loved, and reconnecting with infinite life and power?
But instead of the pop-culture love that’s all about emotions and butterflies in the tummy, substitute the kind of love that says, “we’re all in this thing together,” and, “I can no longer ‘win’ if it means you lose,” and suddenly everything changes. Imagine eternal life not as the continuation of me in perpetuity but as a connection to something beyond myself and the whole paradigm shifts. Sure, love still benefits me, but it also forces me to think beyond myself. Power and eternity still give me comfort, but it’s a comfort that rests in others rather than comfort from the struggles of others.
I believe when Christ followers really find the heart of the Good News it is simultaneously the most selfish and the most selfless work they can ever be about, because it can’t really be Good News unless, at it’s root, it’s Good News for everyone. Now don’t get me wrong, that means much harder work than merely finding a path that makes me feel good about me or, better yet, makes me feel okay regardless of how I live in relationship to God, others, and creation, but the payoff is much bigger as well. In the end, I believe it’s the only payoff that will ever make us feel truly fulfilled. After all, it’s what we were created for in the first place.
So friend (and other friends who are walking this path with us, virtually or in-person), thanks for asking good questions. Thanks for engaging in the process of growth, both your own, and ours collectively. Thanks for reading the blog (Woohoo!). Most of all, thanks for engaging in a process of becoming who you were created to be, because the closer you get to self-realization, the more you help the rest of us get there, and I’ll take all the help I can get.
I’m selfish that way.