Surrendering All to a Prosperity Gospel? Trying to Follow Jesus' Road while Living on the Road.
"There are two things you don't talk about: Religion and Politics."
Growing up as the fast-talking, youngest-child of a pastor in the American Midwest, I often struggled with this adage.
"Why not? They are so interesting," I'd ask. Unaware that as both a Lutheran and a Nebraskan, passive-aggressiveness was firmly in the cultural canon.
So while my current focus as a travel blogger is writing about the U.S. national parks' 100th anniversary, I also really want to talk about religion and how it's such a large part of my upcoming world record road trip to all 400+ U.S. national parks.
Because it's so interesting...
I recently read this New York Times piece "Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me." It was making its way around my gay/Christian friends' Facebook walls, so I figured it must be a good read.
I couldn't even make it past the first sentence before it got real real, real quick:
The author has Stage 4 cancer.
And then just two sentences later she tells us she's 35.
As if I wasn't already fretting about turning 30 and hyper-aware of how my dad's cancer and life cut short inspired so many of the distress prayers I'm now reciting while preparing to live out of a van for three years.
The author, Kate Bowler, goes on to talk about her Mennonite background in relation to her circumstances, and the prayers of Prosperity Gospel adherents for a #blessed life free of pain and strife...and I can't help but dwell on my current prayers:
"God, is this what I'm supposed to be doing with my life? WHAT am I supposed to be doing with my life? Can you help make it clear if this is really what I'm supposed to do?"
Prayers I have no doubt every believer utters copious times in their life, and that I've been uplifting as I'm less than 35 days from embarking on this trip I hope will survive on crowd-funding.
"Maybe I can tell my employer I'll come back after three months if it doesn't work out?" I often think to comfort myself. "If nobody reads my blog and a lack of social media followers confirms my fear that no one cares about a 30-year-old trying to see all the national parks, then I can return to my safe job and community, unharmed by my crazy idea."
Then boom again.
The author smacks me in the face:
"The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go."
And I suddenly realize I am the person the author is discussing. I am afraid of losing self-rule. I am afraid of relinquishing control. I am afraid of letting go.
Even after already doing a 9-month road trip around North America five years ago, and experiencing the most intense happiness I'd ever known, I'm still scared of this next adventure.
And then I get smacked in the face again.
Smacked by a faith I heard my dad preach about for 19 years until he surrendered all.
Jesus says, "Surrender all." Not "Keep a big safety net in case."
Jesus is the safety net.
Jesus already "paid it all" as the popular gospel song asserts, so that regardless of what sin or mistake I might ever make, Jesus already has me covered.
It's the reason I can do something crazy like quit my job and try to see all the national parks. It's the reason I can abandon my security for the hope that I'm doing what God wants me to do. It's the reason I'm a Christian, one who still believes in Jesus even when so many said I couldn't because I'm gay.
Jesus says "Surrender all."
I just have to have enough faith to do it.
(Camp Wapo, one of my favorite places on earth)
Click here to read about each of the 400+ national parks.