It’s not enough to just repent. We have to then work to make things better. Which brings up an important question: How best do we move forward after repentance?
Richard Rohr speaks to this. He says if we want to move beyond repentance to acceptance and then on to transformation, we must learn to “include and transcend.” This is the formula. But just know, this step is hard.
For the past few weeks, I have been studying Jonah, and it’s noteworthy that moving from repentance to transformation is one step Jonah cannot make.
In chapter four, Jonah cannot imagine a world that includes the people of Nineveh. He sits under a shade pouting that God saved such a people. He cannot include Nineveh in his worldview; and because he cannot include them, he cannot transcend his anger. He is stuck in liminality.
I hope you are not. In wherever you find yourself in your spiritual walk, I hope you can do better than Jonah. He cannot see the transcendent love God has for all people. Even the wretched, broken, brutal people of Nineveh are worth saving for God.
But they are not for Jonah. He cannot include them in his narrative and, therefore, he can’t transcend. So he literally sits in the hot sun staring at the forgiven city hoping against hope God will change God’s mind. And that is how the story ends. It is terribly sad.
If we are going to grow spiritually, to awaken and arise as followers of Christ, we have to learn to “include and transcend.” Jesus does this on the cross when he says, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” He includes the pain others carry as well as afflict on him, and because of it, he transcends.
This is the formula that moves us beyond repentance. We must include in order to transcend. And this works starts within us first.
We have to include our past. We cannot whitewash our own history and think we can move on from it. We have to do the hard work of including and naming it. There might have been times in your life where you have thought or acted on racist or hateful feelings. You may have belittled a people group or told an off color joke that got cheap laughs. But now you are imagining a world in which you see differently.
In this new world all people are equal and you feel ashamed of your past self. But if you ever want to help build this new world then you must learn to include the awful realties of your past. You have to include the systemic cultural lens that gave you permission to be hateful and off-color. Only then can you transcend it, for we cannot transcend anything without including it first.
Which means we have to enter into the pain of our past. All true forms of spirituality, at some point, are about what we do with our pain. We can either run from it like Jonah tries, or stew in it like he actually does. But neither of these are healthy.
The better way is to include it, to see it for what it is, to name it and then transcend from it.
The best example of this is systemic racism. We were born into it. It is not our sin alone but rather the sin of our culture. But to ignore it, to pretend it is not causing pain and division and death, is to run away from the reality of it like Jonah.
I have noticed on social media there are a lot of white people who have been truly affected by and awakened to the systemic oppression to people of color in our country. I have seen your posts about recent events. You are lamenting. This is good. But you cannot stop here.
You must move to the next step if you want to be a part of God’s good future and help be a presence of light and love, then you must learn to “include and transcend” your past.
We are not going to solve systemic oppression or violence individually anymore than Jonah can create peace on earth. But we can change the minds of those around us, starting with our own.
I went home to Tennessee this past week to visit family. I sat around the table talking to my family and obviously we discussed the current events and news. How can you not? My brother asked me why I thought the division was so paramount. I thought about it for a minute and said, “Because we aren’t all in agreement that each person, each child, every single human being is made in the image of God.”
And as long as some people do not believe this, we will not ever include everyone as a society. And until we include everyone, we cannot transcend from this sin of racism. We will sit on the edge of history waiting for it to burn.
Jonah’s story is a reminder that, for God, all people are worth saving and loving. And the hard, spiritual work we must do is to include and transcend the systemic sins of culture. It’s hard work. But we must do more to help all people experience God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.