“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one” – Bruce Lee
That pretty much sums up chapter 7. In this chapter of “Letters to the Church” Francis is normalizing suffering. He said he did a sermon series on suffering and talked about all the books of the New Testament where it is mentioned in order to show just how expected it was in the early church.
Jesus taught it and endured suffering himself. The apostles did as well as their brothers and sisters in the church. We should as well.
He calls much of our non-suffering version of the gospel a “false gospel” (p.144) and calls out the prevalent idea that we actually call God into question during suffering rather than expect that suffering is going to come with the territory.
He also mentions numerous conversations from Christians in the Middle East and China and how normal suffering is. It is to be expected. This is, in essence, true Christianity.
At one point he offers up the idea of tearing down this whole project we call church and starting over again “with actual Christians.” (p.132.).
While I appreciate his sentiment I also struggle with this a bit. Who gets to determine who those people are? My mind goes back to Matthew 13:24-30 where Jesus says this parable,
“24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
This can be a dangerous exercise and we must proceed with caution on an idea or suggestion like this one.
Chan basically believes we have tossed aside the biblical gospel of suffering and replaced it with a gospel of convenience. We have de-normalized suffering. In doing so we have ripped out the heart and soul of what it means to be a disciple and accepted pew-sitting in its place. This is not what Jesus called us for or why he suffered himself, first.
He also calls out our tendency to blend in with culture when we put the feelings of others ahead of the truth of the gospel. You can find this on pages 136-140. He makes some hard-hitting and excellent points on these pages. He also says that it all boils down to us not loving Jesus enough. That is largely true and we have accepted things contrary to the gospel without even a hesitation.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter. My question for Chan is how would you determine who the actual Christians are and who aren’t and what would you do with both?
The point, in my opinion seems to be that he is trying to remove us from the comfort and convenience of doing ministry or making disciples with the American model of discipleship. Inviting people to church, going to “worship services” where the “professionals” are the ones doing the participation or parts of corporate worship. We need something to “shock” us back into what our true mission is. Chan does this with this chapter. Church people no longer desire suffering or consider it a part of what it means to be a part of who we are. Richard Rohr call this “necessary suffering”. He considers it part of the “second half of life”. How can we truly disciple people without having experienced loss, pain, suffering and then experienced joy, peace, and compassion on the other side of pain and suffering? We NEED desperately to get out of our comfort zones of the four walls of a building and reach into the world…this is what Chan is suggesting and it’s powerful…
However, I take small issue with Chan when he speaks of “…putting the feelings of the others ahead of the truths of the gospel”. Most progressive Christians I know who are trying to live the gospel take seriously Jesus’ declaration when his disciples were hungry and needed to eat: “…the sabbath was made for people; not people for the sabbath”.
I think that some in their zealousness are too quick to place any needs or desires they personally are not comfortable with in the “insignificant feelings column”. Maybe this is what Chan does. But what some might call feelings, to those who actually experience them they could be authentic pieces of their humanity.