On a search for a better world, finding it in the most unlikely places
We know the scene all too well. Proponents of a grand Something (though we’re not sure what) are shouting angrily, waving signs, hoarsely screaming slogans, chanting grammatically dubious rhymes. Facing them down in staunch disapproval, the proponents of the Other Something join in the cacophony, voicing their undying opposition to, well, the elusive Something. All but the staunchest politicos cringe when this scene flashes on our television screens. Yet in a time where the voice of the individual is drowned out by the party line and the corporate commercial, how is one be heard without screaming?
Welcome to the culture of antagonism. Today we despise. Today we minimize. Today we hurt. Liberal. Conservative. Independent. Undecided. Homosexual. Fundamentalist. Muslim. Christian. Jew. Take a sign, scream an epithet, bite, claw, and scratch until you can declare yourself the dubious victor of yet another micro-culture-war. Tired of this endless cycle? Well maybe you’re just too weak to be a True Believer. Maybe you’re one of Them…
In the age of Omnipotent Information, we have forgotten much. Perhaps it is not intentional, perhaps there’s a conspiracy, and perhaps we’re all involved. And somewhere in the background, a Still Small Voice that we all want to ignore whispers outlandish things like “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies…” Stop the presses! Love my enemies?! What heresy is this? Yet the Voice continues: “If you love those who love you, what good is it? Are not even the corporate scumbags doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the ignorant do that?” What heresy indeed! Yet this Voice belongs to the alleged founding father (or at least co-conspirator) of all this discord…Jesus.
Wait, Jesus said this? We all know Jesus, and we’re all pretty sure He walks, talks, and looks like one of Us (you know, the True Believers…). What’s more, He endorses our agenda…or does He? From whence comes our insatiable drive to be “righter” than those who we disagree with? Certainly not from the Homeless Rabbi. Indeed, among the consorts of the wildly misrepresented Messiah, one could find every social, economic, political and ideological demographic of His time. the Prince of Peace consorted with fishermen, pharisees, prostitutes, gangsters, high-rollers, and power-brokers with a shocking disregard of their position or belief about well…anything. What was He thinking?!
There’s this incredible scene in the gospel (the story of Jesus) about a time when Jesus just wanted to get from point A to point B. in the course of his Messianic wanderings, Jesus and his posse rolled into a village that was Samaritan territory. All Jesus and the disciples wanted was a place to stay, but these Samaritans would have none of it. Understandably, the disciples were incensed (and not with the stuff you get at the gas station, either…). In fact, they were so worked up that they asked Jesus if they could call down “fire from heaven” on those stinking non-believers. In our time, the conversation would go something like this: “Jesus, I can call my congregation, my cousins, and create a Facebook cause. We’ll show those stupid non-believer (young, old, hippie,hipster, redneck, spineless, warmongering, commie, punk, backward, you get the point…) what happens when they mess with us. If we play this right , we might even make cable news, the blogs, or talk radio. Let’s stage a protest. Andrew, hand me the cardboard and markers!” Yet Jesus told them to put a lid on it (if you watch the old Jesus movies, it was something like “Shut thy face”…). Weird.
So what gives? We get it backwards when we put “rightness” before righteousness (clever, eh?). It’s not about shouting louder, winning the argument, or even having one. It’s not about beating people down, it’s about coming alongside them and lifting them up. Of course it’s not popular in the polls or the pulpit, but if you want to be “right”, then you have to be like Jesus. What’s that like? Well Paul the apostle (said in a deep, gravelly voice) said He is our Peace, the breaker of walls. Walls in our hearts, walls that we’re so sure keep us safe, but actually keep us in the dreary confines of narcissism.
Jesus talked a lot about something He called the Kingdom of God. A lot of people argue about this Kingdom (of course!), but there’s one thing I can tell you about it: You can only begin to understand it when you stop shouting and start listening to that Still Small Voice…the one that tells you to love instead of despise, to listen instead of shout, the one that tells you to put down the signs and swords, and pick up the sign of Peace…the Cross.
In conclusion, I am well aware that there are some of us who need more than this; we need a reason…a practical one. how about this? In His prayer, Jesus told us to ask God to forgive us “as we forgive”. Sounds like a good reason to lower our proverbial and literal swords to me. In addition, in His lauded-but-never-heeded “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers”. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be blessed than vindicated.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.