Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Reason You Can’t Make Disciples Without Relationships

I tried. I really did. When I was a young man I tried to use those “evangelism in a can” methods of outreach. We were trained on how to use them to go out, find people to study with, sit down with them and go through the information.  At the end of the lesson there was always a question (or several) that asked if, on the basis of the information they had been given, they would like to be baptized. Some would but most would not (I was eager but probably not too persuasive). We made arrangements to baptize the “converted” and asked the others to continue in thought and prayer about their decision. It was all well and good. The information was biblical with a strong Church of Christ leaning application. The presentation was cordial and conversation kept polite without arguing too passionately on the areas where we might disagree. All in all I would say the interaction was…clinical and academic. In retrospect it is not hard to see why people seldom responded as we hoped they would.

Far too long our ‘go to’ strategy for outreach/evangelism/discipleship has focused on disseminating information to people we barely know or don’t know at all.  While there is nothing wrong with knocking on doors or inviting the community into our facilities for meals and events, that kind of strategy has yielded unsatisfactory returns for decades.  The reason is that this strategy routes us around the very thing that allows people to genuinely see Jesus in us. That thing is – relationship.

Jesus and his disciples used the information blast method as well but it was not their ‘go to’ strategy. They preferred relationships.  They wanted to serve those with needs, to heal the sick and wounded and to do life with those who followed.  They got their hands dirty and not only told people of the Kingdom of God but led them there and allowed them to experience it with them.

We will rarely be successful in making disciples by merely teaching people what we know about Jesus.  They will want to see our faith working through us.  They will seldom respond to the challenge to “dig a little deeper” or to “read their Bibles and do what it says” if they don’t know that people of faith will be there whether they respond with increased faith or not. We can’t expect people to leave the support of the world and a lifestyle they know (regardless of how dysfunctional) if they don’t know we will be there for them regardless. We need to stop being afraid we’ll get messy. As disciples we are asked to meet people where they are and lead them to the kingdom.

As you plan to make disciples, rather than relying on the hope of meeting someone new why not start with someone you know. Begin praying for people you now know who have “messy lives” and ask God to reach them through you.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mercy for the Broken

          The issue of sexual immorality is a difficult one to speak about in a corporate worship service and that for a list of reasons.  First, it is awkward because of the differing ages and positions of life of people in the average Sunday Morning church audience.  Sex is a sensitive topic and for differing reasons. Adults have usually reached a different level of understanding of sexual matters and can bear a discussion of a more graphic nature while that same discussion might be completely inappropriate for the average teen.  Younger children can be introduced to the subject prematurely and some older folks may not feel comfortable talking about it at all.

          There is also the consideration for those who are guests to the services.  It is imperative that the preacher consider those visiting in every sermon.  The culture bears a very different message about sexuality, what is acceptable and what isn’t as well as how one might express or hold to a different opinion regarding what is acceptable. Secular visitors may struggle when hearing a Biblical exposition on human sexuality.  Any effort to communicate Biblical truth around this topic might well be seen as judgmental, hateful and condemning of one segment of the population or another.

          Another reason sexual immorality is a difficult topic to tackle is that it is an area filled with shame for many.  We live in a sexually broken society.  Our culture has ventured far from God’s design for human sexuality and as a result has been plunged into sea of shame; one from which few will remain unscathed.  Anytime one speaks of sexual immorality from a Biblical perspective there are mature Christians, new Christians, seekers and unbelievers who struggle with guilt and shame produced by abuse and/or mistakes from the past.  Some are confronted with necessary changes in their current walk of life and those changes are never easy.

          Let me address those three reasons briefly here.  First human sexuality is an issue that receives significant focus in our culture with little respect for those who are innocents.  Children are learning about sex from peers at a younger age than ever. I personally believe as the authors of scripture also believed that it is important to have those discussions in the church, even if awkwardly, so that God’s people are hearing God’s word on the topic. It is a topic that receives significant attention in both the old and new testaments. The old testament is especially graphic regarding God’s design for human sexuality and the boundaries he places around it giving it context in which to make it pure, sacred and holy. It is up to the church to remind Christians of God’s design and the boundaries he put in place. We want to be sensitive to a culture that is clearly being carried by a wave of immorality toward the acceptance of a deeper and darker brand of hedonism but we also bear the burden upholding God's will for God's people.

          In regards to the second issue, I believe it is worth the risk of “turning off” people from the culture in favor of speaking plainly about God’s design and his intent for human sexuality.  I think what is spoken should clearly be labeled as part of the ‘cost of discipleship’ being that when one chooses to follow Christ, they also choose his standards for behavior and his definition of right and wrong.

         Finally, I also believe that messages about sexual immorality should be heavily seasoned with the message of grace. Because we are surrounded by a sex-saturated society we must seek to understand that just being a part of that culture is in and of itself wounding.  Those who are sexually wounded are far more vulnerable to temptation to stray from God’s plan for sexual expression. The church must be a place where the broken can come for help. We cannot stand at the door with measuring stick for sexual purity requiring certain standards be met before those seeking God’s presence can come in. The church must be a place where the wounded find healing and where those struggling can find peace from their struggles not judgement for them.
          If we are to be the church Jesus built, one of our defining qualities must be to well manage the tension between holding disciples to the highest standards of sexual purity while offering mercy for the broken, healing for the wounded and help for the struggling.


Friday, March 18, 2016

The Age of Disillusionment (part 2)

In a previous post I discussed how we seem to be on the cusp of a whole new era in our country or perhaps we are already there.  The past era has been dubbed the “age of information” and as a result, we have information galore.  The problem is trying to figure out which information is reliable and which is garbage. A consequence of choosing poorly is that unreliable information often lets you down.  A lot of unnecessary challenges pop up when the information used to make important life decisions disappoints. A natural consequence of continual disappointment is disillusionment and that is epidemic right now.  When people live their lives in a fog of disillusionment they often become cynical, bitter and hopeless. 

          It is interesting to see the level of cynicism in many of the candidates running for president this election cycle. Could it be that cynicism may be one of those things that voters find appealing?  Perhaps it is exactly what connects with them.

          Still, many long for the principles that, in their opinion, made our country great.  People used to relish hearing about individuals who started out with nothing but hard work and God’s blessings they made something of themselves.  They took advantage of the opportunities in a country with a vigorous economy and strong manufacturing to work hard and make their own way leaving a legacy for their family.  Government was at one time expected to create an environment and a context in which people could work to write their own story. Most folks just wanted to realize the American Dream. 

          We seem to have gotten away from that somewhat.  I know it has been repeated too much but remember when it played well to remind people of the old JFK quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country?”  In modern times so many of the questions being asked seem to revolve around “what can the government do for me?” Discussions around health care, education, human rights and many other issues all seem to center around the expectation that government should take care of us and let us do what we want. The focus is on what is best for the individual and not what is best for the country.

          Call me old fashioned but I still like the concept of expecting individuals to take personal responsibility for their own mess, for their own decisions, for helping those around them who are needy and caring for those under their own roof.
         Christians need to take the lead here.  We need to be a people who face adversity and challenge by leaning on God and going to him often in prayer.  I for one would rather lean on God in times of trouble than on a politically correct government that is being weakened by the overwhelming demands of a populace consumed with materialism and in possession of an unquenchable appetite for government services.

A prudent government might be able to fix economies, improve foreign relations, enforce laws and defend the nation against threats but it will never be able to fix people.  Only people can fix people and that only with a faith in God who is able to change hearts and draw others to Him with his amazing love. It is His love that is desperately needed now because only His kind of love can offer the hope required to overcome disillusionment.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Age of Disillusionment (Part 1)

This presidential election is already proving to be interesting.  Before I go further let me assure you that I am not a person who will venture into telling you for whom to vote. I won’t publically endorse candidates or take positions on political issues that have no direct moral or religious attachments.  In this current series I plan to discuss several things that concern me about the direction and tone of the election in general and specifically about why the electorate seems to be enthralled with more and more extreme candidates.  Regardless of the outcome this November, we are electing a president who will lead us into a whole new era or age for our country. In my view, we are leaving the "Information Age" and venturing into "The Age of Disillusionment."

          I’ll start right off by stating my premise that we as a culture are becoming more and more disillusioned. I believe the genesis of our disillusionment is the erosion of what is culturally accepted as truth. The concept of truth today is so muddy that it is almost laughable to even have a discussion about it.  We love to listen to debates over the issues that matter to us. However, our cultural penchant for spinning facts to win the debate is places winning over discovery and that is largely causative. Tie that to the fact that either side of any debate has a virtually limitless resources on the internet (and other people and places) to support their version of the ‘truth’ with facts (valid or otherwise) to "prove it."  The absence of absolute truth has led to the rise of individual truth.  If you ask someone today to tell you what truth is, you are likely to get an answer that starts with, “Well, MY concept of truth is…”  And there you go.  MY concept of truth means I went out on the internet and talked with a few friends and if I’m real ambitious I read a few articles or maybe a book or two and combined the elements picking out bits and pieces that I liked and that became my truth.  Because the concept of truth has become virtually unverifiable, what we see as true has become a matter of personal taste.

          Here is an old example: “Life begins at conception.” Just the mention of that statement inflames old debates and old arguments that when played out always ended up with how opposing intellects defined terms and whose definitions were used.  Rather than seeking to discover truth we settle for opinions that justify our personal world view and call that "our truth."

          We have moved so far from being “one nation under God” that we have lost our anchor. We debate but we have no ultimate authority; no bedrock for truth. That will leave us drifting further away from each other and continually weakened over time.

          Because there is no authority that can win the debate or find the truth we fall into cycles of endless bickering.  Bickering like we see these days would be thought childish and labeled effrontery just half a century ago.  People, especially the young people, grow weary of the bickering and when they grow numb to the bickering they tune it out and focus on things that feel safe and comfortable. It’s no wonder that when young people are asked about what things that really matter to them they often respond with tales of fantasy movies and video games. They chase after vanity and recreation.  They seek escape from the world of relativity and take refuge in what they can control.

          Is it possible that the most extreme and abrasive candidates could be elected in this election? You bet it is.  In the climate I have just described where concepts like 'truth' and 'right' are irrelevant the only choice for the disillusioned is ‘the opposite of what we have had.’

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Experience of Being Christian in a Post Christian Culture

Post-Christian - the loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs. (Wikipedia)

 It seems many of us are having a hard time dealing with what that means exactly.  I don’t know all of what it means but I do know that it means Christians no longer enjoy a majority sufficient to drive public debate, legal battles and the discussion of contemporary issues with the kind of momentum it takes to consider the Christian perspective to be normative. The Christian perspective is no longer the gold standard in America.  Political candidates no longer see pursuing the Christian voting block as crucial to their election. The Christian worldview is being painted as archaic and more often reminiscent of where we “used to be.”  Christian viewpoints are viewed with suspicion and often considered synonymous with judgement. Churches and Christian institutions are being subtly warned even now that they should change their views on important social issues or lose favor from the government, social agencies and society in general.

Some may fear that it means Christianity is slowly fading away.  Well, Christianity is not going away but the experience of being a Christian is changing.  It’s not that some other religion is overtaking our country.  The transition is not to another religion but to no religion at all.  America, like much of Europe before it, is becoming more and more secular. Secular people are neither driven by nor interested in what God thinks about things.  They don’t believe in heaven or hell and don’t want to be told that their behavior is going to take them one place or another and they are completely unmotivated to change by the threat of eternal punishment.  They are not interested in what the Bible says about any issue.  They think Jesus was a fine fellow who got an unfair shake at the end of his life but in their view he is not risen, not real and not relevant in our culture.  The more Christians arrogantly try to paint the secular point of view as “stupid” the more Christianity will resemble a majority “has been” who can’t deal with adversity. 

Let’s be clear.  Christianity thrives in adversity. The declines we have experienced of late may be due at least in part to a lack of adversity.  Churches will continue to decline for a time because where as “polite culture” used to be defined in church settings, it now is defined in social settings where moral boundaries are more relaxed and no one is so rude as to suggest that there might be one standard that applies to all.  What will cause Christianity to thrive will not be adversity itself but will be our response to it.  I have three points to consider for how Christians might respond to the coming adversity. 

1. Don't build walls or fence off the church from the secular culture.

An interesting thing is happening as our culture becomes more and more secular.  I can’t prove it but it is observable.  I believe that as the church and the culture grow further apart on views of values, morals and issues of right and wrong the number of ‘fence riding’ Christians is going down.  It makes sense because as the chasm grows wider it becomes more difficult to stretch across. Behavior that would not be sanctioned at church is more and more difficult to hide because the secular culture insists that there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Biblical teaching you get at church is often unacceptable in the secular world.  They want to hear all about Jesus’ love and grace but don’t try to set limits on their behavior (even limits that are reflected in plain teaching in scripture) and now they have larger numbers to back up those claims.  As a church we either already have or will soon lose most if not all of our fence riders.  Fence riders don’t want to make a choice but if put in a position where they have to they will usually choose the path of least resistance.  Living a Christian life is like lighting a lamp in a dark room.  It is very visible and likely to be less and less popular.  It will be easier just to scoot off of the fence and disappear into the landscape of the world.  They will allow you to keep doing nice things for people as long as you don’t draw too much attention to it. Unfortunately, the life of a disciple of was never meant to be quiet and unassuming.  It was meant to attract attention to God’s glory even if the attention is unfriendly.

So what do we do with these emptying fences that are in our world?  What happens to the barriers between the church and a secular world?  We are told that these fences, these barriers erected between the flock and the wolves in the world are for our safety.  They are there to protect us therefore they need to be maintained even violently if need be.  Unfortunately again, the life of a disciple was never meant to be safe.  Our orders are to tear down the fences and move among the wolves taking the good news of Jesus to the sheep outside the fence.  We can’t just hole up in our church buildings and endure this current crisis.  We must move into the world, into the darkness and take the light there.  We must reach to those on the outside, grab a hand in holy friendship, build relationships, meet needs, help the hurting and the downtrodden and be Jesus in the world.

You can’t be salt of the earth by staying in a salt shaker.  You can’t be the light of the world by hiding under a bucket.  The darker the darkness, the more difference one small light makes.

2. Suffering and rejection are to be endured, not fought.

       When we are in with the wolves, there will be persecution. Often the persecution and rejection comes from among the ranks of the vocal, extremist secular and religious activists who ridicule conservative, religious believers because of what they see as the wrong stance on certain social and political issues.  You have heard or read public statements and possibly even endured personal attacks claiming that your view on some issue means you must ‘hate’ certain individuals. You didn’t vote for a non-Caucasian candidate so you must be racist and hate all people with differing skin tones. You oppose gay marriage so you must hate all homosexuals. You oppose abortion so you must hate women. The statements are extreme by design, intended to inflict injury, intended to evoke a defensive and ill-conceived response and often, that is exactly what they get – an emotional, poorly worded response that adds further fuel to the fire and continues to escalate the temperature of the public debate.

Two things are sure. 1. It is easy to make a fool of someone who quickly opens their mouth when goaded and 2. There is nothing to be gained for the sake of Christ when Christians add sharp, abrasive replies to sharp, abrasive critiques.  I know.  Its human nature.  When we are challenged or criticized we want to respond in like – “an eye for an eye.”  However, that was never what Jesus told us to do.  Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil person, when struck on one cheek - turn the other as well, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” (from Matt 5:38-44).   “Stand up for Jesus” can never mean “stand and fight for your rights as a Christian.”  It can only mean “stand and proclaim the good news of Jesus even if it means you go to jail or to your death.”   In scripture phrases that communicate “stand up for your faith” or “contend for your faith” are reserved for standing against false teachers and hypocrisy from within our own ranks.  It was never a recommended or even desirable strategy for coping with persecution from pagans, secularists or other religions.  Persecution and rejection were meant to be suffered and endured, quietly and with great love for the perpetrators.  The next time you see a political comment or hear a statement that is insulting to your faith or makes Christians look stupid put your discipleship into practice.  Refuse to reply in kind.  Love the person who posted the comment.  If you know them personally, go out of your way to do something nice for them.  Say something like, “I don’t always agree with you but I love your passion,” then add a gift card from Starbucks or another preferred merchant.  You may not feel vindicated but you will be bringing them the blessings of Jesus which brings Him closer to them, something a sarcastic response could have never done.

3. Disciples must be held to God's standards of holiness but secular people won't be.

          There can be no doubt that the change in what is considered moral and acceptable in modern times is a large scale paradigm shift from just 10 or 20 years ago and even more earth shattering for those who remember the moral climate in America in the 1940’s and 50’s.  The Post-Christian world values non-judgement, non-violence and healthy choices but they also embrace sexual freedom, the freedom to make one’s own choices and resist limits on behavior that is not inherently harmful to others.  This world largely accepts that consenting adults should be free choose whatever form of sexual expression that makes them happy.  They accept homosexuality, bisexuality and welcome the concept of same sex marriages.  They embrace the philosophy that gender is what you think it is and not determined by the body parts with which you were born.  They have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in several states and are not likely to stop until they legalize it in the entire nation.  Just a quarter century ago most of those things were considered by the majority (and often by law) to be evil, unnatural, immoral and even criminal in some cases.   It is troubling to see the distance which we have come but even more disturbing to think of things that are now considered criminal, unnatural and immoral that may become culturally acceptable within another quarter century.

          We grieve the way it used to be.  We mourn the fact that our views, biblical views on moral and political issues are becoming viewed as relics from a time when the Christian world view was the dominant influence in our culture and kicked aside as irrelevant, judgmental and draconian. Grieving is appropriate in cases of loss and this represents a loss especially when we think of the world our children and grandchildren will face.  There is a silver lining in this dark cloud however as we remember that the more our culture falls to the moral base line, the more permissive and accepting it is of what used to be considered deviant, the more it becomes like the culture of the 1st through 3rd centuries in the Greco-Roman world and that is precisely the world that first received the gospel of Christ.

          In the mean-time, we must remember that while God expects all to please Him and follow the nature of His creation, He also gives everyone the choice as to whether or not they will follow His leading.  From the very beginning of time He has allowed those who would walk away to follow their own passions and desires to do so and often with little consequence beyond the ordinary and eternal.  We have to remember that our sanctions and cautions only hold influence over those who have an interest in following God’s paths.  We can instruct and inform from scripture those who wish to know Jesus and those who long for His will but for those who don’t believe or don’t believe as we do those instructions are merely going to fall on deaf ears.  They even sometimes feel judgmental and offensive.  We have to remember that God values sinners.  He loves even the vilest moral offender and our responsibility is not to tell him where he is wrong at least not at first.  Our first and most important responsibility to the sinner is to tell him he is loved; loved like crazy by God who wants him to come home.  Let’s make that our message to a post-Christian world.  Love first, then share, then disciple.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Religious Freedom?

            There has been much stir of late about the various state legislatures passing laws loosely being described as “Religious Freedom” laws.  They seem to be a response by conservative law makers to the anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage that will most likely result in mandating that every state allow same sex marriage.  The gist of the law appears to be that business owners can refuse services to a person or a couple or group representing beliefs and/or behaviors to which the business owner or service provider objects on the grounds of religious views.  The example often cited is the one where the owners of a wedding cake business  refused to make a wedding cake for the wedding reception of a same sex couple. The owners refused services to the couple on the grounds that their union, though at the time legal, violated the owner’s religious views on homosexuality.  

            The discussion has added fresh inflammation to an already sensitive area of public discourse.  One side sees the legislation as protection for those who disagree with the concept of same sex marriage on religious grounds.  While the orthodoxy of all three major religions in America (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) shares the view that same sex relationships are immoral and outside the limits God places on sexual expression, the common view is that this legislation is about protecting the free expression of the Christian faith. Those who share this view believe that people of faith should not be legally required to participate in or validate beliefs or behavior that, legal or otherwise, stands in violation of their religious views.   The wedding cake business is one example but others abound.  Restaurants, resorts, reception venues, churches and ministers will all be scrutinized to see if sexual preference will be an issue over which they might be willing to create public stir over moral views. 

            The other side of the public debate tags this legislation as not just allowing but promoting discrimination against the LGB/T community.  They cite the plight of pre-civil rights African-Americans being denied service in restaurants and retail venues because of the color of their skin.  They fear that these laws will be seen by some as permission for the open persecution of gay and lesbian individuals and couples. Refusing to make a wedding cake is bad enough they say but what if it comes to refusing emergency medical services or a life-saving organ transplant based on sexual orientation? 

            The public debate will certainly rage on but each person of faith will need to come to their own personal stance on the issue.  In my personal reflection on the issue I have found that it is not easy to reach a resolution I feel at peace with.  In scripture the same God who eats and fellowships with prostitutes also condemns those who are greedy and dishonest.  That to some would seem contradictory but it is actually consistent with God’s purpose and design.  He is always pursuing the lost with loving offers of mercy and grace but challenging the faithful to higher levels of compliance with His will.                

            So what is the proper Biblical view on such an issue?  How should Christians position themselves in the public debate?  Before I go further I feel the need to remind you that I do not hold myself up as the one who defines the Christian or even the Church of Christ position on anything.  I could say I define the Tripp family position on such things but I would need to get Lenore’s permission before doing so!  My objective here is not to tell anyone what they should believe about such things.  I just wish to give fuel to the discussion and make points that each might want to consider in formulating their own position.

            Landing on a position with which to frame the public debate is difficult given our culture’s obsession with sex and insistence on the free expression of one’s sexual desires.  It is also difficult when we see that Jesus ate with prostitutes and chose common sinners to be his closest followers.  Pair that with the fact that while he openly fellowshipped with sinners he often had open disdain for the pious who he called self-righteous and hypocrites.  But that seems to be a consistent thread between Jesus and the Spirit led authors of the New Testament.  Welcome the sinner with open arms in the love of Christ but hold believers to the high standard of holiness of being “imitators of God therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…” (Eph. 5:1-2).  It is clear that spirit-filled believers in the New Testament are held to a much higher standard than those who are outside of the body of Christ.  The objective is never to force the unbeliever to follow Christian values and views but instead to reach to them with God’s love and forgiveness.  Once they are touched by the amazing love God has for them and they respond to the offer of forgiveness by committing themselves to life in Christ then they must consider what it is like to “take off the old and put on the new” (Eph. 4:22-23).

            We have another thing coming if we believe that we can be relevant in an evangelistic way by requiring the un-churched to look and act like us before they understand God’s desire for them to be holy.  As we consider how to form an opinion on “Religious Freedom” we need to remember the foundational call of all Christians is to “go and make disciples of all nations” NOT to ‘demand that the world follow the teachings of scripture and accept only those who agree with you.’ Any view that challenges to objective of making disciples in light of the offer of love and forgiveness just might be the wrong view.

            So ‘what would Jesus do?’  Let’s look at an example and see how the Lord would have us to respond in light of his will.  Let’s say that Barbara is a dedicated, godly Christian woman who is also a real estate agent.  She is approached by two men who make no effort to hide the fact that they are a couple and wish to use her expertise to assist them in buying a home in the area.  Let’s say Barbara lives in a state where it would be within her rights to refuse service to them based on their sexual orientation.  What would be the right thing, the godly thing, the Christ-like thing for her to do?

            Her basic options are to either refuse services because she might feel that helping them find a home would be seen as approving of their lifestyle, validating a path that might lead to their eternal destruction or agree to help them in hope of building a relationship that might in some way draw them closer to the Lord.     

            You are welcome to differ with me but it seems obvious that when dealing with ‘sinners’ and unbelievers, Jesus and his followers in the New Testament nearly always chose enlightening, loving, healing relationships over the hands off approach.  When there were exceptions it was because of complications (hypocrisy, ulterior motives, evil intent – see the story of Elymas in Acts 13:6-12).  Jesus routinely broke with cultural conventions and built relationships to people others would have ignored (see the Canaanite woman – Matt. 15:21-28, the sinful woman – Luke 7:36-50, the woman at the well – John 4:1-26, and others).  His example to us was to value people who are struggling with sin, honor their strides toward godly thinking and godly actions and readily forgive others of their offenses as quickly as possible.

            In a recent commentary on the issue, a friend of mine, Eric Johansen suggested a fine guideline.  He said that if the service violates ones conscience then it might be refused (e.g. a Christian counselor being asked to do relationship counseling for a same sex couple). However if the service does not violate the conscience (baking a cake or looking at homes) then it should be done regardless of the customer/client in the spirit of directing the light of God into a place that needs it. I think putting the emphasis on the service rather than on the lifestyle of the customer/client is an excellent way of looking at it and a great way to shine the light of Christ to a world that needs him.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Can Tragedy Bring Us Together?

Many of us who were aware of world events in the 1980's will remember the epic words of Ronald Reagan as he stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and challenged the leadership of the USSR and especially Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!" 

The wall that then separated West Berlin and East Berlin had became a symbol of oppression and bondage.  It was a reminder of the acrimony and mistrust between the east and the west after the fall of Germany at the close of World War Two.  It divided a community that had needed one another to heal from the blight of the Nazis and the war that nearly destroyed them.  When the wall was torn down not long after Reagan's now famous speech, Berliners were once again united and eventually Germany was brought together again as an independent nation now proud and strong. 

We may not have large block and mortar walls dividing friends, families and communities these days but there are many walls among us.  These walls are made in the clash of opposing world views,  polarizing ideologies, and inflexible beliefs.  They are coated on both sides with sharp rhetoric and the tops are lined with barbs of blame and vitriol.  When on one side of the wall it is easy to hate those on the other side and define them by their most extreme words and behavior. It is a simple thing to dehumanize people we don't know or care to know. From those we dehumanize we feel justified to withhold any and all forms of human love and compassion.  The walls weaken our schools and neighborhoods.  They divide our cities and communities.  They polarize political parties and blur a national identity. 

These walls are strangling our society at every level diluting us from a hardy melting pot of cultures and world views bound by a common vision and purpose to a thin fractured society too blinded by the structure of our own world view to see the beauty in that of others.  From the halls of congress to city hall we witness acrimony and asperity spread across the airwaves and the internet from various sides of the walls that exist.  Whether the topic is taxes or pipelines, abortion or drugs, marriage or sexual identity, people are most comfortable speaking with those within their walls while taking shots at those on the other side. In so doing they hope to bring change by inflicting injury, a proposition that seems destined to ultimate failure.  Meanwhile our communities pay the price.  Systemic relationships at the community level are being held together by used chewing gum and cheap masking tape.  Political correctness and pretense take the place of genuine human emotion and protests take the place of real efforts to bring people together.

Having been a member of the clergy for many years now I am no stranger to navigating these walls.    Recently, members of the church where I minister  had what has become a very high profile tragedy occur in their family.  The tragedy triggered a visceral response from many around the world on issues of sexual and gender identity.  As the rhetoric swirled, a giant spotlight landed on the ugly wall between conservative Christianity and the LGBTQ community.  Commentary from both sides of the wall was harsh, filled with blame and bashing. One side chanted, "Your beliefs kill children!" While the other side responded, "Your glorification of suicide as martyrdom kills children!" Both sides have their say, score their points, and celebrate with the like minded while the wall grows larger and larger. 

I wonder if anybody on either side (besides me obviously) has ever stopped to ask, "What if the greatest problem is not in the beliefs, rhetoric or behavior of others but rather might actually be the wall itself.  I can't help but wonder what would happen if people on both sides of the wall would stop thinking up ways to vent their anger toward the other side but instead just reach over the wall and grab a hand on the other side.  Just holding it, not grabbing a hand with the hopes of pulling someone over but taking time to feel the warm flesh of the other, to get to know them and their story, to try to understand where their hearts are, to accept them even if they don't agree with them. I believe that kind of behavior would begin to melt walls in our communities.  We could see walls of racial differences, religious differences, cultural differences and others begin to crumble and fall. In our time we could see real healing begin in our communities. Political correctness would be replaced with real human compassion and caring.  It would make a real difference in how people relate to each other.  We could see each other not as a Christian people or Jewish people, gay people or straight people, black people or white people but just as people.

I don't expect those on the extremes to care much about what I am saying here.  They're too busy lighting up social media, planning their rallies and devising schemes to destroy the other side.  But I hope those of us in the middle of the extremes, those of us who are tired of the walls, those of us who want to love people despite our differences will see it differently.  I am hoping those are the people who will approach the wall and reach over, grab a hand and start the process. 

Lets tear down these walls!