“This country’s going down the tubes!” You can almost hear him. The guy says it with such force, you realize that, in his mind, there is no truth more self-evident. His friend is nodding in agreement, but redirects the first man by stating that the reasons for the decline aren’t as cut-and-dried as the he might believe. A strong, but still somewhat civil, argument ensues.
The first man points to all the ‘moral decay’ he has observed as the society tolerates ever more of what was once considered indecent, improper, or just bad manners. The other, with equal conviction, argues that the ‘real decay’ is found in those who inhibit the choices of others with intolerant, old fashioned ideas and norms.
The discussion degrades as the labels and name-calling ensue, both attempting to drive home their point by generalizing the other’s ideas and convictions with labels meant to belittle and even demonize. Neither likes the others jabs, as each dig gets more personal and closer to home.
Emotions are up and the friendship is straining, but the level of conviction drives them on, to the point of division. Internally, each is conflicted, as each knows, deep inside, that the other is truly more important to them than the chasm they are creating, but neither knows how to slacken the tension, fearing they may appear in retreat or lacking complete conviction.
Ultimately, one turns and, with a snort, declares the other unbearably lost and beyond the pale. The other, frustrated by missing the opportunity to take the last word, shouts painful epitaphs at his retreating friend. Both withdraw, mumbling to themselves as the emotions ebb and the inevitable regret begins to set in.
The pain has accomplished nothing. The friendship goes on hiatus. Another tear in the fabric of their souls. Each silently swears they’ll never let it happen again. But they likely will.
Polarized we are. The rancor is at a fever pitch. Accusation rules the day. In homes. In businesses. In civic settings at every level. In media. The call for justice by folks on all sides of any issue has never been more intense. Blame. Shame. Ridicule. Disgust. Humiliation. Derision. And all of that compounded by an inevitable sense of foreboding, hopelessness and despair.
Often it feels like being stuck in the middle of a bare-knuckled, verbal brawl. And, sadly, since we’re all equipped with tongue, we can all participate... and quite often do.
At this point, there are some popular platitudes that are often prescribed. None are necessarily wrong, but they prove feeble as they typically call us to live moderately or generously, or simply passively. The problems seem simple enough, but, in real life, it’s never really like that. Ignoring, pacifying, or stuffing it is only a band-aid, because inside we’re either dying or fuming. And growing apart.
If I were the Enemy, I suspect I’d be all over this. And instigating more. At the risk of adding my own over-simplified platitudes, I would suggest that somewhere in the family of God, there needs to be some insulation from this kind of thing. Not that Christians should strive to “be above” the rancor, but maybe instead, below it.
It’s pretty incredible how Jesus-followers -- all who we presume have read the books describing the life and teaching of Jesus (we call them Gospels) -- somehow manage to gain the reputation of being narrow-minded and bigoted. The Jesus we’re looking at in the book of John seems completely taken by the grubby sinners he encounters and, in the same encounters, rolls out some pretty strong words for the religiously high-minded around him. And he does this consistently! In our self-centered ‘piety’, we somehow become polarizers not unlike the (former?) friends mentioned above . We might even cite our own causes for the degradation of society as justification for our righteous indignation, which often leads us to smugly separate ourselves from folks who live ‘worldly’ all the while freely blaming them for the decay of our society. Makes sense. But what if we’re wrong?
It seems logical that disciples of Jesus would follow His lead when it came to making disciples; doing His work the way He did it. If that’s true, then perhaps we’ve made a mistake when we shrink away from relationships and interaction with people other than those who are already in the family. Not only did Jesus hang around these folks, he seemed rather at ease with them.
Remember that the religiously-minded of his day criticized Him specifically for being too involved with those they deemed ‘beneath’ themselves! Jesus recounts these criticisms as He challenges their thinking; “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19) Earlier, Jesus questioned a Jewish leader who was critical of Jesus when he tenderly encouraged a ‘sinful’ woman who anointed Jesus’ feet as she wept in repentance (Luke 7:36-50). It’s almost like Jesus actually enjoyed them... imagine that!?
As we move ahead, I’m challenged by the fact that we’re called to the same. Jesus made it clear that he never expected people who didn’t know Him to behave any differently than they did. It’s pretty obvious that His process started with knowing their Heavenly Father and then becoming a member of the family before the process of being a disciple would initiate the transformation to become like Jesus. Adopting new members into a family can be a messy thing since everyone comes with their own background and spiritual DNA. Which might help us understand our tendency to make the church what we like, guarding the doors from the messiness outside, instead of welcoming them home where their Father and the family can help them heal and grow into maturity.