Chris Kyle, Martin Luther King Jr., and Our Complicated Relationship With Heroes

I saw a preview for the movie “American Sniper” several months ago. Bradley Cooper had his face behind a rifle scope, he was on patrol, he was at home with his wife. According to the screen, this was “based on the true story” of Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in US history.

And I thought, “I definitely will not see this movie.”

To be fair, I felt the same way about the movie Lone Survivor, which chronicled the harrowing tale of Marcus Lutrell in Afghanistan, and how his entire unit was lost in an ambush. I feel the same way about most war movies. The problem that I have with these movies is that they’re so close to being real, so very authentic in the way that they almost portray the realities of war.

People go to these movies and sit in silence for two hours. They cry. They get angry. They applaud at the end.

And then, they go home.

People are served up war as an 80s training montage, and then allowed to leave the theater feeling that they finally get it. They now understand what war is like, or at least they’re a little bit closer.

And so many of them leave the theater in a patriotic fervor, feeling deep in their soul, “These guys are heroes.”

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I knew Chris Kyle, if only in passing. The Seal Team that he was assigned to operated in the same area of the city of Ramadi in 2006 as we did, and they could often be seen at our Combat Outpost. We always got kind of excited when the Seal Team came to town, because we knew that we’d be seeing a lot of action. We knew that we’d be killing a lot of bad guys.

I have never read “American Sniper”, nor have I seen the movie, but I have read a lot about both works in the past few weeks. The opinions seem to be broken down into two categories:

Chris Kyle was a hero who saved America with every precision round that he fired.

Chris Kyle was an ignorant, psychopathic monster who symbolizes everything wrong with our country.

I’m not surprised by either of these viewpoints. America is not well-known for her focus on moral complexity. This is the country where you’re either Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, “For us or with the terrorists”. If you don’t think Chris Kyle is a hero, then you’re forced to view him as a monster. If you don’t think he was a monster, you must reluctantly conclude that he was a hero.

This is the thing that I hate about war movies: war movies never give us any new information. All that these films do is cement already formed viewpoints. If you go into a war movie with a sympathetic view of soldiers, then you’re going to come out with an even more sympathetic view. If you think that war is evil, you’re going to come out of the movie with an even firmer conviction.

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We celebrated MLK Jr. Day a couple of days ago. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. hated war. One of his less famous quotes – one rarely spoken and not written on his memorial – is as follows:

“(I)n the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers, (a)s I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — ‘what about Vietnam?’ They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. (Emphasis mine) For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

While I watched the news channels and social media explode with either adulation or criticism of our American Hero, Chris Kyle, I had to wonder about Dr. King’s quote. Here we were, celebrating a Federal holiday in honor of Dr. King (killed by a sniper’s bullet), and the most popular movie in the country was “American Sniper.” The most celebrated man in the country on January 19, 2015, was a man who killed people in service of the government of the United States. I had to wonder where Dr. King would have stood on the issue of Chris Kyle as Hero or Villain.

I also wondered where Jesus would have stood.

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We have a cognitive dissonance problem when it comes to heroes in this country.

We built a monument of stone to Dr. King, but the monuments in our hearts are built to men like Chris Kyle.

We give our worship to Jesus – a man who commanded us to love our enemies, who forgave the men who killed Him as He was dying – but our real faith is in a man behind a rifle, dispensing justice to our enemies and those who would do us harm.

Any man or woman who puts on body armor and picks up a gun, then goes and stands guard against the barbarians at the gates is considered a hero.

Forgotten are those who stood toe to toe against corrupt police, oppressive governors, and a racist citizenry. They are given secondary consideration, even though they were neither armed nor armored.

Forgotten are those who go into the same warzones that the military do, only as unprotected civilians, to give aid to those who have lost their homes and families to the conflict.

Forgotten are those who risk life and limb every day, in dozens of unknown countries, to help fight against epidemics, hunger and poverty.

We have all the wrong heroes in this country, but we don’t know that we do. We really want to believe that we are the kind of country that MLK dreamed about, but we don’t want to acknowledge that his ideas would run contrary to what we think of us a Hero. We don’t want to acknowledge that Dr. King would see Chris Kyle as a symbol of what is wrong with this country, just as we don’t want to acknowledge that Dr. King and his mobs of protestors are exactly the kind of people that Chris Kyle would have gladly taken a shot at if asked to.

To paraphrase another popular movie: Dr. King is the hero that we need, but Chris Kyle is the one that we deserve.

Is it any wonder that our country is in such a state of polarization, when even our heroes are diametrically opposed?

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I picked up my first rifle for our government in 2004. I went to war for the first time in service of my country in 2006. I finally laid down my weapons in 2013.

When I was a soldier, deploying to Iraq for the first time, they told me (and all of us) that going “over there” was the only way to keep ourselves, our families and our country safe. We were told that we simply had to kill all the bad guys, all the people threatening our way of life, and we would all be safe again.

While we were there, we did just that. We shot and killed the people that threatened us. We eliminated the enemy. And we felt safe, as long as we could keep killing the people that threatened us.

But, then we got home, and it wasn’t safe. Suddenly, there were enemies in every room we entered. There were enemies in every car on the road.

And, unlike “over there”, over here we had no issued weapon, no standing orders, no rules of engagement. We had to find a way to make ourselves feel safe again.

Some guys do that by stockpiling all the personal weapons they can get their hands on.

Some guys do that by constantly wishing they could go back “over there”, to the only place in the world they really felt safe.

So, I understand what Chris Kyle felt when he wrote that he would go back “over there” in a heartbeat. I understand why he helped veterans treat their PTSD by taking them to a shooting range.

Chris Kyle bought a lie that said he was only safe behind the sights of a rifle. He bought a lie that said he and the people he loved were only safe when he was pulling a trigger. And, while his work with veterans was effective, it was built on that same lie, the lie that tells all of us that we’re only safe when we have the ability to kill the people that threaten us.

I don’t think Dr. King would have hated Chris Kyle. I believe that Dr. King would have pitied Chris Kyle. I believe that he would have seen the terrible moral complexity that turned a kid from Texas into the most successful government-sanctioned killer in American history.

But, I don’t believe that he would have seen Chris Kyle as a victim. He would have acknowledged his choice, even as he mourned the awful system that gave him that choice over and over again. He would have praised the good that Chris did, even while condemning the evil that he had in his heart.

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Or, maybe I’m just projecting my own feelings onto a man that I consider a hero. Maybe I want Dr. King to be alive today to believe all those things, just like I want Chris to be alive today to undergo the redemptive process that comes when you let go of hate and the absolute need for safety-by-any-means-necessary.

Maybe I really hate war movies because I’m tired of mourning my slain brothers-in-arms over and over again.

Maybe I want all the talk about Chris Kyle to stop – on both the left and right – because I just want him to rest in the peace that he never had in this life.

Maybe I feel the need to justify him, because if I do, it justifies all of us.

Maybe I feel the need to condemn him for the same reason.

If The Children Are Our Future, Then We Are Squandering It (Why I Am A Youth Pastor)

When I tell people that I am a Youth Pastor, I tend to get the following responses:

“Thank you for working with our youth.”

“That’s a really important job.”

“It must be tough to handle all those teenagers.”

“You volunteered to do that?”

The general mood of these responses is that youth work is important to our future. There’s an acknowledgement that youth today face very different issues than the ones that previous generations have. Even at the tender age of 32, I have a hard time relating to some of the cultural and generational issues of the young people that I minister to.

I took some time to think about what makes us so different several months ago. I came up with a couple of facts about this generation of young people (between the ages of 12 and 19), in order to help frame the difference:

The oldest person in my youth group was 4 years old on September 11, 2001. The youngest member of my youth group wasn’t even born yet. Neither of them are old enough tor remember a world before the Twin Towers fell.

The youngest member of my youth group was born the same year that we invaded Iraq, and was almost done with elementary school when we ended combat operations.

It’s a little strange to look at a group of young people and realize that the events that have shaped and defined your entire adult life are simple realities for them. To me, war and terrorism were things that disrupted my way of life. For them, war and terrorism has been their entire life.

More than that – more than actual events – I think the thing that separates my generation from this new generation of youth is the climate of fear that has pervaded our nation since September 11, 2001. They have never known a world which felt safe and secure.

This became very clear to me on a night a few months ago. We decided to hold a candlelight vigil shortly after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Rather than confine it to Michael Brown’s death – and thus make a controversial political statement in a small Tennessee town – we expanded our vigil to include all recent victims of violence throughout the world. Some of the other youth leaders got some pictures together for a slideshow, we had our worship band play some soft music, and we sat and prayed for the victims of a world gone mad.

Afterwards, I asked them, as a group, how they felt about the stories they were hearing out of the media. And, a little boy of 11 raised his hand and said, “I feel afraid. If this can happen to someone my age, it can happen to me.”

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I feel afraid.

At 11 years old, the only thing this young man should have to fear is rejection by potential romantic interests, or bad grades on tests, or whether or not he’ll make the football team. When I was 11, I certainly wasn’t afraid of someone blowing up a plane that I was on. I wasn’t afraid of getting shot in the street by a police officer. I didn’t have to fear that my father or mother was going to be sent to war and never come back. I didn’t have to worry that my Mom or Dad just lost their job, or couldn’t get a job, and that I wouldn’t be able to eat next week – much less go to college and have a life of my own later.

Our time was a more restless, difficult time than that of our parents, but our time was still an easy time. But, for the youth of today, anxiety is the word of the day. Fear is the prevailing mood.

Is it any wonder that 11% of young people will be diagnosed with a depressive disorder by the time that they are 18? 8% will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, with only 18% of those getting any kind of treatment.

Is it any wonder that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 12-18?

Is it any wonder that today, in this country, there will be 5400 suicide attempts (on average) among young people?

Those are the sobering statistics for youth overall.

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But, there is a special class of youth today for whom this is a much bigger problem. For youth who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered, the risk is much higher. The Jason Foundation, an organization that works to help end the “Silent Epidemic” of youth suicide, estimates that over 80% of LGBT students have faced harassment and bullying at their school, specifically because of their sexual orientation. Over 60% of these students have reported feeling unsafe at school.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, LGBT students are two times less likely to finish high school or pursue college degrees. LGBT youth make up 40% of the total youth homeless population, with the most frequently cited reason for homelessness being either parental rejection or being forced out of their home after coming out.

Once homeless, LGBT youth are far more likely to attempt or complete suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, due to rejection from charities and shelters. Gay male youth are much more likely to become sexual victims through prostitution or assault.

Our future, the most important group of people we have in our nation today, are sleeping out on the streets tonight. They are selling their bodies for food. They are killing themselves in droves.

And we aren’t just letting it happen. We are making it happen.

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This epidemic has a face for me. We have faced a few suicide attempts in the last year within our own youth group. In a group that averages 20 or less, the number we have faced is significant.

I cannot tell you the stories of those young people that we have almost lost in my own community. But, there is someone who perfectly encapsulates the way that we are failing our youth today, the way that we are squandering the only hope we have of a future.
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Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Alcorn, was a 17-year-old transgender teen. Leelah reported that she felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body from the age of 4. At 14, she discovered the word “transgender” and ecstatically told her mother. Her mother did not share the enthusiasm, and told her that it was “just a phase” and that Leelah would never be a “real girl.”

At the age of 16, Leelah asked to go through gender transition therapy. Her parents sent her to Christian “conversion therapy” instead.

Her parents isolated her, taking her out of school and not allowing her to access any social media for over 5 months.

Her parents told her that she was going to hell. They accused her of attacking their image. They degraded her.

On December 28th, 2014, Leelah stepped in front of a semi-truck that was driving on the highway. Her mother called it an accident, and talked about how much she loved her “son.”

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Leelah Alcorn was a good Christian youth, with the slight problem that she had a gender identity that didn’t match her body.

And the Church refused to understand her.

And her parents refused to accept her.

And now we must all mourn her.

And we do all mourn her, because who knows what Leelah might have become, if she had lived in a world with hope instead of fear?

Fear is what killed Leelah Alcorn. Fear is what is killing so many of these young people before they ever have a chance to grow up. Fear that there is no future, no happiness, no success, no understanding.

No hope.

And this last statement is why it’s a Christian problem. We are supposed to be the givers of hope, the purveyors of Good News, and we have become peddlers of fear instead.

In the New Testament, 1 John 4:18, Followers of Jesus are told, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I am a Youth Pastor because I believe that what young people need is unconditional love, and hope in the future. I am a Youth Pastor because I know that the world is a scary place, and young people need places and people in their lives that make them feel safe and accepted. I am a Youth Pastor because there are far too many Youth Pastors who spend far too much time giving young people more to be afraid of – fear of hell, fear of sinning, fear of displeasing God – and I need to be an alternative. I am a Youth Pastor because I believe that the words of Jesus are Good News, and I believe that the youth of today have a great need to hear Good News. They need it after growing up in a world where there is so much Bad News.

I don’t know if I’ve made much sense today. I know that I’ve wandered from youth suicide, to youth homelessness, to LGBT youth issues. To me, these are not separate issues, and they all hold equal importance and urgency. If we do not do something about this climate of fear soon, we will stop seeing youth who are afraid and start seeing a generation of adults who are cynical and jaded by their 20s.

I will leave you with a video that I watched a few weeks ago, that really touched me. It’s some spoken word poetry, and it’s wonderful if you watch all the way to the end.

If you are a young person who is having thoughts and feelings of fear, hopelessness or harming yourself, please seek help. If you cannot talk to your parents or a trusted adult, call:

1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

If you are a parent of a young person, talk to them. Seek to understand them, rather than judge. And, if you feel that your young person is at risk of suicide, ASK. You can find resource materials here.

And if you are a Youth Pastor, watch the following video.

Grace and Peace to you,

Michael Woywood

Adam and Eve Didn’t Do It: Part 1 of A Layman’s Ideas about Original Sin

As we begin this wonderful new year of terrible Back To The Future II jokes, I’d like to start tackling some equally terrible theology.

When I say “terrible theology”, I’m talking about the kinds of religious ideas that have caused immeasurable spiritual, emotional and psychological harm over the years. I’m talking about the kinds of doctrine that have driven people away from the Church, that have inspired Internet memes and atheist comedy routines.

Today, I’m talking about the doctrine of Original Sin, and its ugly stepbrother Total Depravity.

First, let’s get some things out of the way: I’m not a scholar of theology. I have never been to a seminary, but I have benefited from many others’ seminary educations by way of my local bookstore. I am not ordained in any specific denomination. I am a lay pastor, and so I can only give you my ideas, and my interpretations of the ideas of others. You can take this stuff or leave it.

I’m writing this particular piece because I am part of a community – called “Progressive Christians”, “Emergent Christians”, “Post-Modern Christians”, “Post-Post-Modern Christians”, or “Dirty Liberal Heretics”, depending on who you’re talking to – and in this community, we’re very uncomfortable talking about Original Sin or Depravity. As I’ve said, many people have been harmed by this doctrine; more specifically, people have been harmed by various interpretations of this doctrine. As a result of this harm, many in our community have done away with the doctrine altogether. While this creates a much more pleasant “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay” kind of environment, it also produces a theology with a very weak core, a theology that ignores the unpleasant parts of human nature and has a hard time explaining why our world just seems to err on the side of tragedy.

So, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, here is a summation of the doctrine of Original Sin:

Adam and Eve were created by God, in His/Her image, and given the keys to the Kingdom in the form of an earthly Paradise called the Garden of Eden. They were told that they could eat of any tree in the Garden, except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said that if they ate from that tree, they would surely die.

Along comes the Serpent (who is commonly understood to be Satan, though the text makes no such claim) who asks the poor woman Eve, “Hath God really said…?” The Serpent then convinces Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, saying that she will not die, but will become . She eats, then gives some fruit to Adam. Adam eats, and they suddenly realize that they are naked, and they feel shame. God comes walking through the Garden looking for Adam and Eve, and they hide from God. They finally reveal themselves to God, and God asks why they are hiding. Adam says, “I was naked.” God says, “Who told you that?” Adam says, “This woman you gave me made me eat from that tree.” Eve says, “That Serpent tricked me.” God curses them and their descendants forever and throws them out of the Garden.

Now, the doctrine says that because of Adam and Eve bringing Sin into the world, we all are born with a “sinful nature.” That means that we are born with a tendency towards doing the wrong thing, a tendency towards disobeying God. (NOTE: there is a great deal of debate on whether the Original Sin was pride – wanting to be “like God” – or simple disobedience by eating from the Tree that God told them not to. More on this later.)

The doctrine of Total Depravity sort of piggybacks off the doctrine of Original Sin. Total Depravity states that because of Original Sin, our entire nature has been perverted and we are completely depraved. According to the doctrine, we cannot do a single good thing of our own nature, because that nature is evil. We might outwardly do good things, but all such goodness is a result of egotism. We cannot even choose to love or follow God, under this doctrine, and God has to choose us and make His grace irresistible to us.

Over the years, we’ve softened this doctrine to allow for a certain amount of human agency in choosing to follow God. There are a very limited number of people who hold to the hardest-of-the-hard-core Total Depravity.

In any case, here is how this doctrine has been twisted and used to harm people.

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I’m standing in church, enjoying a wonderful worship experience. The worship leader stops singing for a few moments to pray while strumming soft guitar chords.

It’s a pray of Thanksgiving. He’s thanking God for the wonderful gift of Grace, of Divine Love, of Forgiveness. He’s thanking God for the continuing work of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And he says, “Lord we know that we don’t deserve it.”

And I think, “No, of course we don’t deserve it.”

And he says, “We didn’t do anything to earn it.”

And I think, “No, we didn’t do anything to earn it.”

And he says, “We are worthless/unworthy/undeserving of your love.”

And just like that, my worship is over.

Now, there is nothing sinister in the prayer that worship leader just prayed. He is praying an earnest prayer from an earnest heart, and he’s only repeating theological tenets that he’s been hearing, reading and understanding for years. He learned that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely given, it’s unearned, it’s undeserved. All of these lessons are fine and seem to be true through a reading of the Scriptures.

But then, he was either told or made the intellectual leap himself that the fact that the grace and love and forgiveness he received was undeserved and unearned… that fact makes him as a person unworthy, undeserving or worthless. He has taken God’s generosity, love and kindness in giving grace, and inverted it to making himself unworthy of it.

We all have this tendency, especially in “Evangelical Christianity”, to declare our complete unworthiness before God in order to accentuate His/Her worthiness and kindness and love. On its face, it’s not a bad thing. We believe, rightly, in humility. We believe, rightly, that “we must decrease, so that He can increase.” But, there’s a thin line between proper humility before God and self-degradation.

Because here’s what happens: someone in a pulpit somewhere is preaching about how worthless you are. He’s not being humble, or using his unworthiness as a way to give glory to God. He is telling you how worthless and awful and depraved you are in order to instill you with a sense of guilt and fear. He’s telling you that all your efforts are worthless. He’s telling you that all your good thoughts and good actions are selfish at their core. He’s telling you that what God really wants is to burn you in Hell for eternity, but He’s willing to let you go to Heaven, because Jesus “took the nails” for you.

He’s telling you that God never stops being angry/grieved/offended at your sin, and that you have to constantly be aware of your own awfulness and constantly seek forgiveness for how worthless you are

He’s telling you that all the suffering in the world is because Adam and Eve screwed up, and that you are destined to screw up as a result.

He’s telling your kids that the fact that they like members of the same sex, or the fact that they know that they were born the wrong gender, is the result of Adam and Eve screwing the pooch and eating from the wrong tree.

And people are dying from it. People are staying in abusive homes because of it. People are living their entire lives in fear and guilt because of it.

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I don’t think the doctrine is to blame. I just think that we’ve twisted it beyond all recognition. I think we’ve missed the point of the story entirely for thousands of years, and that we’ve used it as an excuse to keep the world in a state of dysfunction for just as long.

First, the story: if you’re taking this story literally, you’re missing the point. One of my first questions about the Bible (the first step on the long journey away from inerrancy) was: “What was so bad about knowing good from evil?” The answer was generally, “It wasn’t the Tree; it was that God told them not to eat, and they did it anyway.” To which I would respond, “Why would God tell them not to eat from the Tree in the first place?”

Part of the problem with our doctrine is that we take the story of Adam and Eve as a literal event in history, rather than an allegory, and thus miss the important lessons of it. If we take it all literally, it’s easy to mistake the Original Sin as being one of disobedience. “If God tells you not to eat something, then don’t eat it.”

It’s also easy to think that our Original Sin was pride. “If you eat it, you will become like God, knowing good from evil.”

But, I have an alternate interpretation, one that I think explains our actual nature. This interpretation doesn’t come from the act of eating from the tree – it comes from the actions afterwards.

So, after they’ve eaten from the tree and their eyes have been opened – they’ve gone from a state of innocence into a state of knowledge – they hide from God. And God comes looking for them. God wasn’t angry, He didn’t immediately start in on the guilt, He just wants to know where they are.

When God calls out to them, Adam admits that they are hiding. When God asks Adam what he has done, Adam immediately blames Eve.

When God asks Eve to account for her actions, Eve blames the snake.

So, here’s the Original Sin: not disobedience, not pride, not knowing good from evil, but a willful evasion of responsibility.  When Adam and Eve were called to account for their actions, they immediately took the selfish path – they blamed the Other for their disobedience, they refused to take responsibility, they chose survival over righteousness.

Again, I don’t think this story should be taken as a literal event in history, yet I think that as allegory it still teaches us this. Human beings are prone to selfishness, to survival at all costs, to self-gratification. In our natural state, we will always do the thing that benefits us over the thing that benefits others.

Even today, we’re blaming our nature on mythical characters instead of taking responsibility for our personal failures and shortcomings. We’re choosing to say, “Adam and Eve made me do it”, instead of “I am the one who does this.”

Because, if we ever acknowledge that our nature is our own, and not the result of a decision made 10000 years ago, we will also have to say, “I am the one who has to stop this.”

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In my next post (due on Sunday), I will discuss how Jesus negates Original Sin and how we need not be worthless as a result.

What are your thoughts? Do you think you still live under the Curse of Adam? Do you think that you must be worthless in order to receive God’s love and grace?

Share your thoughts.

Grace and peace until next time,

Michael Woywood

A Quiet Kind of Good: Let’s Keep Taking Jesus Seriously in 2015

As the New Year approached, I became more and more anxious that I had no ideas for a new blog post. Every blog that I follow seemed to have a “Year in Review” kind of post, but I just… couldn’t…. do it.

2014 was a rough year for a lot of people, both in my small circle and in the larger circle of our nation and world. I felt that if I wrote a New Year’s blog post, it was going to be a lament for 2014. When I first opened this site – on January 1, 2014 – my first post was titled “The Year of the Church Triumphant.” My prayer was that 2014 would be the year that we would turn it all around, the year that Christianity would become a positive, relevant force in the public sphere. I hoped that 2014 would be the year that all the Sarah Palins, Pat Robertsons and Ken Hamms of the world would find Jesus, and start doing good things in His name, rather than perpetuating evil and oppression and calling it “good.”

Thank God I didn’t decide to hold my breath while I was waiting for it.

Throughout 2014, I responded to situations that were coming out of the news on this blog. I wrote about Hobby Lobby, I wrote about Ferguson, I wrote about Eric Garner. I wrote about all the awfulness that was happening, and I desperately waited for some kind of massive Christian presence to match the volume of the hypocrites.

I was waiting for the wrong thing.

In the midst of all the awfulness, there was a legitimate, strong movement of people who were being Jesus (and not just in His name) that I was missing. I fell victim to the very thing that I feel has kept the rest of the world from hearing the Gospel – the shouts of those who would use the name of Jesus to advance their own power and prestige. I was so intent on out-shouting those voices, that I forgot to look and listen to the faithful remnant that were quietly, humbly doing the work of the Kingdom in the midst of the darkness.

I don’t think that we deserve awards or pats on the back for being faithful to the Gospel, but I think that it’s important for people like me – people who have accepted a role of “the voice crying in the wilderness” – to acknowledge that the Church has been triumphant in a lot of small, yet meaningful, ways.

In the midst of a humanitarian crisis at the border, there were a number of charities – both Christian and other-than-Christian – who brought much needed food, water, clothing, toys and compassion to children and families who had traveled a long and dangerous road. The number of charitable workers was smaller than the number of people waving signs and screaming hate at those same refugees – but those who were there to help were far more important, and far more valuable, than those who were there to hurt.

In the midst of ongoing protests surrounding police actions in Ferguson, there was a small number of clergy and other people of peace. These peacemakers were a small part of the often angry mob that cried for justice, a smaller force than the militarized police presence that often met the protesters with force, but they were willing to stand between the two groups and pray for justice and peace. This place between the two extremes often put them in the way of rubber bullets and tear gas, but they stood there anyway.

In the midst of an Ebola scare, there were religious and non-religious relief organizations that responded to the cases in America and beyond. More than that, the presence of the fatal disease on our shores highlighted the great work that those same organizations have been doing the whole time to combat the epidemic in places where there is little in the way of proper medicine and health care.

In the midst of ongoing hatred and lies concerning the LGBTQ community, there were still churches and Christian writers who opened their doors and their hearts to an oppressed and excluded group of people. They were far outnumbered by the voices who shouted for condemnation and judgement, but they were still there. There were still ministers willing to risk the wrath of their denominations in order to perform same-sex marriages. There were still churches willing to be excommunicated from their denominations to become welcoming to all.

In the midst of a national shouting match about the torture of prisoners, there were still Christians who joined non-Christian peacemakers in protesting the death penalty. There were still Christians who visited prisons, who ministered to those who were incarcerated.

There were people and organizations serving food to the hungry all year long.

There were people and organizations giving clothes to people without all year long.

There were people and organizations visiting the sick.

And even while some with untold wealth were using that wealth to gain even more, there were more who have little who were giving to those who had less.

I missed so much of this during 2014, because I was so concerned with all that was going wrong. And while it is important to be concerned with injustice, while it is vital to be a loud and insistent voice for the oppressed, it is just as important to stop and take note of the good that is happening behind the injustice, to find the hope in the midst of the darkness.

The faithful remnant might never have the numbers or the volume of the Church of Empire, but what that remnant does is far more important, far more lasting. When Jesus told us to go out and make disciples, He was telling us to go out and convince people – sometimes with our voices, but more often with our actions – that His Way was the Way of Life. And, when we commit ourselves to this quiet kind of good, we convince more people than a street preacher with a megaphone or a politician with a platform ever could.

Let’s keep committing ourselves to this quiet kind of good in 2015. We’ll still engage in the battles and the shouting matches from time to time – but only in between the moments when we’re truly changing the world one life at a time.