“I’m going to shake the dust off this crummy old town and I’m going to see the world.” –It’s a Wonderful Life
When my husband and I first started dating, he took me to a Slam Poetry event in Chicago and we saw a wonderful poet named Anis Mojgani perform. One of my favorites that he performed was a piece entitled Shake the Dust.
I recently ran across this poem and after reading it again don’t think I liked it then for the same reasons I like it so much now.
Back then, I thought it was a poem for the reject, the neglected, the hopeless, and the down-trodden, encouraging and inspiring the lowly to be heard. But back then I did not connect it with what Jesus tells his apostles in Matthew 10:14:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.
Anis isn’t the only one who borrowed this phrase to describe a need to be listened to and recognized, even as an imperfect and ignored human being.
“Shake the Dust” is a feature documentary by Adam Sjöberg that tells the stories of break-dancers in struggling communities around the globe. Although separated by cultural boundaries and individual struggles, these communities are intrinsically tied to one another through their passion for hip-hop culture and the freedom to express themselves.
(If you have time to watch the video in the above link, I highly recommend you do so)
And now for some more Bible-talk!
In Acts 18:5-8, the apostle Paul and his traveling church are all in Corinth, and he initially spends his time preaching to the Jews. Unfortunately they don’t listen and are unwelcoming (to say the least). So Paul shakes out his clothes in protest and says, essentially, “Fine! If you’re not interested, from now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
And so he does, and the Word is heard.
This is a story about what to do with “difficult soil,” and oddly enough we find out that it’s not to keep on keeping-on. It’s to high-tail it outta there. This story also highlights a principle of fruitfulness in disciple-making and gospel ministry.
Essentially the message is: Cast seed widely, but concentrate your efforts where the harvest is ripe. If the harvest isn’t ripe, move on.
Everyone remembers the parable of the “Good Soil” right? Well, it’s in Matthew 13, if you need to review.
Here’s how Jesus explains it:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Paul, unlike many Christians now-a-days, did not waste his time with rocky ground, or weedy soil. He spread his seeds wide and waited to see where they would come up strong and healthy; he waited to see where the good soil was, then he spent his time here.
Many Christians can get caught up in staying persistent with people who just aren’t producing fruit, and that makes it difficult for them to produce fruit. Jesus tells us not to “cast our pearls to swine”, meaning we cannot afford to waste our words or time with people who will not welcome it or hear it.
Sometimes it’s hard, and it almost sounds crass and mean, but Jesus makes it quite clear what the cost of his discipleship is, and it is far from easy to be a follower of Christ:
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40
Jesus rebukes people and tells us we have to do the same. We have to learn when to Shake the Dust and move on to people who are worth our time.
So what does all of this have to do with Anis and the brake-dancers I mentioned earlier?
My guess is that these artists were greatly inspired by the idea of leaving and going elsewhere if you are not being accepted and listened to where you are or with what you are doing. Anis’s poem encourages the lowly that they are loved above the rest, just like Jesus’s message! And Adam’s documentary helps tell the story of underprivileged children who find their voice through hip-hop, never letting their struggles get in the way of their expression, but rather, allowing them to fuel their talents and strength. Jesus tells us to deliver our own message in a way which others will hear it too (ie: putting it in good soil rather than bad). He also tells us to expect trials of great pain when spreading his Word.
If your message is falling on deaf ears, stop talking to those ears!
If you are not welcome where you are with your Spirit-inspired words, get outta there!
Jesus promises that there will be people who hate you because you love Him. (Matthew 10:16-21) So get used to shaking that dust and never letting it get you down or stop you on your mission.
What truth do you find in Jesus’s promise of pitting brother against brother and added persecution? In what ways have you shaken the dust from your feet and left someone or something hard to leave? Is it mean-spirited to think that some people are so-called “lost causes”?
What do you think?