A friend of mine has a magic freezer. No matter how many containers of homemade soups she extracts from it, there are always more inside. I have decided there is some sort of soup multiplier that kicks in once the door closes, when no one is looking. It’s like a magician’s hat or Mary Poppins’s carpetbag—the freezer has more goods inside than logic can account for. It’s a never-ending supply of pasta e fagioli or chili or chicken noodle soup. This soup is indeed magic—it fills more than grateful bellies. It is love in action. It’s liquid warmth that welcomes new neighbors and soothes ill friends and feeds our small group.Instead of getting discouraged about the sorrows, we need to pick a trench, jump in, and do the hard and sometimes heartbreaking work in front of us.
Although I joke about this magic freezer, I know where the real magic lies: It is in the heart of my friend who labors over a steaming pot, praying for those who will receive it. And when she hears of a person in need, she knows it’s the Spirit of God nudging her: It’s time for soup. Such labor is quiet. It happens in a home kitchen in a small community in the Midwest. There is no press for this work, no public praise. But she dives into the trenches of real life, doing what she can to show care and love to those who need it.
Our world is weighed down with sorrows, overwhelmed by broken systems producing generations of broken people. It’s so easy to look at the many trenches that need tending and get discouraged. But labor like my friend’s is happening in every neighborhood, in every community, in every nation around the world. Where sorrows abound, there are quiet revolutionaries at work, giving soup to the hungry or raking leaves for the elderly or tutoring a refugee or fostering a child or standing against prejudice and injustice. Instead of getting discouraged about the sorrows, we need to pick a trench, jump in, and do the hard and sometimes heartbreaking work in front of us.
This issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine is dedicated to the messy, heart-wrenching work done day in, day out in the trenches. The features and support articles speak to the ways we both embrace and avoid the call to get our hands dirty with this good labor.
In “Getting Down in the Trenches,” Jason Arnold shares the discouragement and difficulties inherent in striving to see the Kingdom come in places short on hope. He and his wife spent years in the trenches of their struggling inner-city neighborhood. While the vision was sound, its execution fell apart, leaving the Arnolds wondering if such work was worth it:
For all the work and time and relationships, I’m still not sure if we had fulfilled the theological mandate to become the love of God. It turns out that “loving people” is easy to say and hard to do.[…]
In the book of Matthew, Christ teaches about the Kingdom of God. He says that the Kingdom is worth more than you can possibly imagine. It is the pearl of great worth. Surely, we are taught, something so valuable would require our ultimate commitment. We are to sell everything we have and to seek first the Kingdom. When the church issues a call to “sell everything, and seek first the Kingdom,” it should not be surprised when people actually do. The result is a glorious, chaotic mess of lives, all wrapped up together.
Arnold’s experience is one of both pain and beauty. It’s the pain others face that beckons us to help, but that same pain can also entice us to self-protect by checking out of the work altogether. We turn a blind eye to the needs because there are just too many troubles. This avoidance puts us on the path of dehumanizing the most needy among us as a way of justifying our detachment and disobedience. Christy Box calls such thinking to the carpet in her article, “God and the ‘Others': Loving in Difference”:
Christians are called to live differently and do difficult things. We are called to lend a hand when others are in trouble or troubled. But those worldly excuses are still so very appealing. They appeal to our longing to forget and our desire to categorize. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we are using them. They sneak into our thoughts in small ways, heard in the words used by us and by our friends, the dialogue in our favorite shows or movies, and even by our preferred political candidates.
God never equivocated when it came to His command for us to love and take care of others. So what makes it so easy to dismiss this call?
Recognizing our tendency to abandon our posts in the trenches is key. In addition, we need to acknowledge that loving others isn’t easy, despite God’s directive that we do so. We must bear with one another in our imperfect states, even as we labor together toward the Kingdom. Lindsey Scholl points us to this end by highlighting the work and words of Rich Mullins, whose songs were brutally honest in depicting the human condition. Discarding our rose-colored glasses is needful if we are going to survive the trenches God is calling us to. In “We Are Frail: Rich Mullins and the Human Condition,” Scholl says:
One of the things I appreciate about Rich’s music is that his songs don’t often have resolution. If he is singing about suffering, his song is entirely about suffering. In “Hold Me, Jesus,” there is no moment when the singer says, “Thanks, Jesus, I feel better now.” It simply ends with a petition for Jesus to be his prince of peace. In “We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are,” the entire song is about our inconsistency. There is no last line that says we’ve become strong in Christ. Rich lets us sit in that weakness, like soldiers stuck in our trenches. He forces us to own our limitations.
The limitations of our humanness make trench work difficult, to be sure. But in the gap is where we find our true strength, our true hope. In our failings to work as we ought and love as we should, we find Jesus. He enables us to approach the work of the day with humble hearts and steady hands. This is what our broken world need today. It needs more Kingdom work by humble hands, the kind that doesn’t get press but happens anyhow. It’s the kind of work that multiplies when no one is looking, serving up love like my friend serves up soup.