How do you upend the world?

Photo: Greg Rosenke, Unsplash.

I get caught up in all things royal. I’m currently reading Spare by Prince Harry. He’s critical of how Buckingham Palace handled his adolescence. He claims the palace hired a spin doctor after Princess ­Diana’s death in an attempt to improve public opinion of Prince (now King) Charles.

The publicist played up Harry’s flaws and mistakes, saying he needed a tutor and went to wild parties. Harry says the publicist lied, claiming that he cheated on exams and drove while intoxicated. 

Harry says he was thrown under the bus so that his father would look like a put-upon single dad dealing with an unruly teenager, diverting attention from his plan to marry Camilla Parker Bowles. 

Prince Harry is no Paul or Silas, but the two disciples also knew a thing or two about being thrown under the proverbial bus. 

In Acts 17:1-9, Paul and Silas preach in the temple, converting Jews, Greeks and women. The temple leaders object, because this usurps their power. They get locals to start a riot and blame it on Paul and Silas. The pair are charged with — and this is a direct translation — “turning the whole civilized world upside down.” 

That’s quite a claim, especially since the riot was a ruse to make Paul and Silas look like troublemakers. And they were — just not the kind who start riots.  

A good Mennonite messsage here might be to talk about the upside- down kingdom, or how we need to engage in social justice work and disturb the comfortable, or how we shouldn’t be complacent when living out our faith. These are all great messages. 

But I’m thinking about how there are different ways of turning the world upside down.

There was a time where I did a great deal of activism work. I felt guilty if there was something that I should have been advocating for that I didn’t know about. 

This was a reaction to my fundamentalist, evangelical upbringing. I had been told that faith was only about me and my personal walk with Jesus. It was my job to “get right with God” and to help others get right with God as well. 

I was so happy to find the Mennonites, with an emphasis on actively living out our faith. Mennonites did relief work all over the world. Mennonites were active in their community. When I went to college, I noticed that sometimes this involved protesting. I was so encouraged!

After becoming a member of a Mennonite church, I lived in a way that I felt was a corrective to my childhood. I came to believe Christian faith was binary: Either you lived out your faith or you didn’t. You either navel-gazed or were actively bringing the kingdom on Earth. 

But what if you’re tired? I’m tired. I admit: I’m overwhelmed by the cares of the world. I’ve been working at anti­racism and inclusion for a long time. I think I speak for a lot of people from marginalized communities when I say that at times we have little left to give.  

Quite possibly, you’re tired, too. It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. 

Having been the “quiet in the land” for so long, I wonder if we’ve rightly corrected that by focusing on action. I wonder if some of us have made inner and outer work a binary choice. I know I did. A “true” Christian does things in a certain way, right? 

Reading this passage, I’m curious about all the different ways the Good News of Jesus turned the world upside down. What didn’t make it into the narrative? Who fed Paul, Silas and the other Jesus followers? Who gave money to support their ministry? Who went home and told their family about Jesus? Who turned their life around in such a way that it turned the world upside down? 

There are many ways to be a Christian, many ways to cultivate our spiritual journeys. Some lead, some follow, some take turns in these roles. Some are in the forefront, others in the background. Some are called to contemplation, or to activism, or to a combination of the two. 

There is no binary choice in spirituality. I hope people will sit down when they need to sit down and act when they need to act. We don’t all have to be carbon copies of Paul and Silas. My hope is that we all turn the world upside down in the way that only we can.  

Joanne Gallardo

Joanne Gallardo is conference minister of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA in Goshen, Indiana. Originally from northwest Ohio, Joanne Read More

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