Tyler Mennsen is a dear brother, pastor, colleague in The Evangelical Covenant Church whom myself and Wendi met some years ago as he was serving at a Cov. camp in Minnesota. He’s now a happily married man pastoring in Colorado.
Tyler is disabled and he mentions this in his piece.
I asked and received permission to share the following which he had posted in a private Ev. Cov. minister’s forum. It is so rich and so solid I suggest you read it slowly, thoughtfully and prayerfully. This is transformative truth.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn
THE MOST DANGEROUS CHRISTIAN -by Tyler Mennsen
I sometimes ask the question in bitterness because of the attention racism gets: Would you rather be black or disabled (born deaf, blind, with down-syndrome, etc.)? The fact the question enters my mind makes me the most dangerous type of Christian (and Pastor). What about you? Our pains will either consume us or transform us. Our pains will either make us narcissistic and selfish as we grasp for attention and respect. Or our pains will transform us into selfless individuals who practice solidarity as we draw near to the suffering of others. Consumption of our pain leads to a lack of empathy, a lack of repentance, and helps us justify building our own Kingdom. Transforming our pain leads to looking outside of ourselves, relating with the suffering of others, bearing one another’s burdens, and allows us to sacrifice our kingdom for God’s Kingdom.
I am as a Christian either setting the example of consuming my pain and feeding my own narcissism and kingdom or I am setting the example of transforming that pain, living a Christ-like life, and building God’s kingdom by loving others in their suffering? Do I want people to bear my burdens or am I more concerned about bearing theirs (Gal 6:2)? Every day I have to guard especially against these two things which come from the consumption of my pain rather than the transformation of it.
- A lack of empathy. Here are some examples in recent times that have entered my mind. Why should I care about your pains when you do not care about mine nor can you possibly imagine them? Why should I care about your minor surgery to fix your broken bone (whatever that bone may be) when I have had thirty-three major ones? Why should I care about your balding spot when I have lived my life without ears? Why should I care about you missing your graduation when I had surgery and missed most of the last half of my senior year and had my mouth wired shut at my own high school graduation? Racism? Yeah it sucks – but try being a disabled person of any color. Want that life? I didn’t. The list goes on. I compare my past and present experiences and pains to yours. Instead of caring about you, I think your pains and suffering aren’t as great as mine so why should I care? If I am a consumer of my pain, I do not see your pain. I only see mine. I minimize your pain and suffering and maximize my own.
- A Lack of Repentance. When I am a consumer of my own pain, the things I can justify are so many! I have been hurt, I am bitter, and I have not been respected. This justifies my poor treatment of other people, my not caring about their own situation, suffering, and the injustices they are experiencing. I am only concerned about myself and protecting my own life even if in so doing I participate in behavior that hurts others. When I consume my own pain, my attitude is “me vs. them.” Therefore, I don’t repent of my actions that have hurt others because I justify that hurt because it has helped me. Or I don’t repent of my actions because I ask myself – have others repented of how they have treated me in the past? One honest question I have asked recently: Why should I repent of how my actions have hurt black people when one of my most violent tormentors in middle school was a black kid? Bitterness? It has a long life-span!
A lack of empathy and a lack of repentance are signs I care only about my Kingdom. Anything that takes away tension from my Kingdom becomes either irrelevant or a threat – neither can I let stand. I believe that is why whites, especially struggling whites in more rural communities where drug addiction, poor living conditions, and lack of employment opportunities are decimating communities have such a difficult time with the Black Lives Matter Movement. And why I, if I am being honest, get frustrated with the attention racism gets compared to other systemic injustices people face (like not being an able-bodied human being). Seriously, I ask again, would you rather be black or disabled?
Yet that is my flesh talking. That is me talking when I am consuming my pain rather than being transformed by my pain. I ask that question when I am pitting pains against one another rather than standing in solidarity with people who are in pain or facing unjust systems.
That’s the irony isn’t it? Our pains, instead of making us stand in solidarity with others feeling pain make us think “Why aren’t you paying attention to my pain?” Logically, if we want our pains to go away and be heard, shouldn’t that apply to others? It makes sense, logically, and that isn’t even getting to the example Christ set for us.
What is Christ’s example? You know the answer and I know the answer. Even if I hate admitting it sometimes. Christ bore our sins so we could be free. Christ died so we could have life. Christ, instead of consuming His suffering, transformed His suffering on the Cross so we would not have to suffer an eternity in separation from God.
What if that was my attitude? What if, instead of consuming my suffering and making it all about me, I used my experience to want to end suffering and injustice for all people. Even if that means I have to focus on their suffering and injustice and not my own. Even if that means I have to quiet my voice to hear their voice. Even if that means I have to sacrifice my platform so someone else can stand on that same platform. Even if that means I have to repent of my actions against others when I don’t feel they have repented for their own.
My pain is transformed when I realize it is not about me. Have I gotten there yet? Absolutely not. And that’s what makes me dangerous. Woe to me (and you) if we care more about people bearing our burdens rather than us bearing theirs. Wanting people to bear our burdens is fueled by sin and selfishness. Desiring to bear another’s burden is fueled by the Spirit and selflessness. One is the mark of Satan, the other Christ. Which Kingdom do we want to serve?
[GK insert here: note he is preaching to a predominantly white congregation. Context is always important.]