When I realized that the creator of the universe who is revealed in Jesus Christ wanted to have an intimate relationship with me, my life forever changed. I understood myself as existing at all times in the presence of God, a presence that could be experienced in every moment.

However, my life was equally changed when I realized that God does not stop at a relationship between just the two of us. The framework of how I live my life was shattered when I realized the vitality of serving the Kingdom of God — of being a peacemaker and servant to the oppressed and marginalized — that in those moments with the poor and broken hearted, I encounter the person of Jesus in a way both mysterious and existential.

The modern church does a decent job of emphasizing the idea that Christianity involves the entire person. God wants all of you, not just an hour on Sunday mornings. However, I believe many churches and movements within Christianity (especially in the Evangelical realm) extend this concept into a hyper-individualism. We move beyond offering ourselves to God and rather live selfishly to “have that spiritual experience.” All the while, we miss the core truth that spiritual experience is found most potently in our encounters with those who suffer. In our hyper-individualism, we turned ourselves into spiritual consumers within a corporate Christian market of monopolized megachurches whose goal is to satisfy your religious desires in a marketable and capitalistic manner.

We must learn to set aside our selfish concerns of being able to relegate religious experience into a corporate model that can be reproduced, bought, and sold to meet our desires. Instead, we must understand that the Kingdom of God is experienced with those who mourn, with the poor, with the peacemakers, and with those who suffer persecution (Matthew 5).

Chris Hedges spoke beautifully of the religious life when he said the following in a debate against Sam Harris (who argued in support of torture) on the nature of religion:

“For once you talk torture — even in the name of reason, even in the name of security — you unleash sadists and killers. You consign human beings to moral oblivion. You become no better than those you oppose. The point of religion — authentic religion — is not that in the end it is not about us. It is about the other, about the stranger lying beaten and robbed on the side of the road, about the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the sick, the destitute — about those who are being abused and beaten in cells in Guantanamo and a host of other secret locations, about what we as a society do to gays and lesbians, what we do to the […] millions of Americans without health insurance, the illegal immigrants who live among us without rights or protection. Their suffering is as invisible as the mentally ill we have relegated to […] prison cells. It is about them. We have forgotten who we were made to be, who we were created to be, because we have forgotten that we find God not in ourselves finally, but in our care for our neighbor, in the stranger, including those who are outside the nation and faith. The religious life is not designed to make you happy or safe or content. It is not designed to make you whole or complete, to free you from anxieties or fear. It is designed to save you from yourself, to make possible human community, to understand that the greatest force in life is not power or reason, but love. [Quote]: ‘Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe […] Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.’” [1]

[1] (this is a quotation from the end of Hedges’ opening comment)