I’ve been thinking. Forced to think, really. Because some things touch our lives that can’t be ignored. As much as we may want to simply dismiss them, they aren’t going anywhere and must be faced head on. So I’ve been thinking and soul searching and trying to find clarity in the midst of so much accusation and innuendo, and in the process, I remembered this 2012 clip from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Before you watch it, let me assure you, this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with human nature. And this video is a brilliant case study in human nature, well worth a few minutes of your time. Please watch it. Then come back, and let’s talk.
We love to draw dividing lines, don’t we? It makes everything so simple. We are good. They are evil.
This is by no means a political problem. It’s a human problem. And the church is not exempt. From our cradle days, we who claim to follow Jesus formed our camps. “I am of Paul” and “I am of Apollos.” So it began, and it has only compounded with the passage of time.
Oh, how we love our labels! They make us feel smug and superior, and they make judging others such a tidy process. The problem, after all, is the Evangelicals. The Fundamentalists. The Literalists. Or it’s the Progressives. The Emergents. The Revisionists.
It’s the Calvinists. The Arminians.
The Conservatives. The Liberals.
The problem is Patriarchy. The problem is Feminism.
The problem is Proof-texters (and we have the verses to prove it).
We are the inclusive ones. We love everybody. We are the remnant, the enlightened ones, the true believers.
They are “destroying everything.” They are the blind leading the blind. They are clueless, unteachable, deceiving and deceived. They are “always this” and “never that” and their condemnation is just.
We’re the party of tolerance and acceptance. Yes, we are. And from the security of our encampment, surrounded by walls we’ve constructed from our scars and fears and pride, we hurl prayers toward heaven for judgment on our evil, intolerant enemies (often the exact same prayers they are hurling about us), convinced God is on our side. He has to be. Because we’re right.
Like I said, I’ve been thinking. And praying. And you want to know the conclusion I’ve come to?
I am the problem.
You see, God has taken me from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D. And now that I’m here at Point D, I see everything clearly. The things that I suffered at Point A taught me who I could trust and not trust, and the things I learned at Point B gave me a theological and spiritual edge, and the community I embraced at Point C confirmed all my opinions and applauded all my insights, and I think it’s safe to say that I have arrived. Never mind that I’m still a long way from Point Z. What could there possibly be left to learn? My intuition is flawless. (I can feel it.) And my discernment is a finely tuned instrument. I’ve got the big picture now. Which means when I perceive that you’re in a place very similar to my Point A, I’m not only in a position to judge your words and deeds, I can also judge your motives. I know why you do what you do.
After all, no one can believe what you believe, say what you say, and do what you do, and not be evil. So I’m pulling out my broad brush and applying your label, and there you go. Case closed and court adjourned. Now, please do us all a favor and go burn in hell, and the world will be a better place.
Exaggeration? Maybe a little. But not much.
True confession: There’s a popular blogger with a wide following. She’s intelligent and articulate. And I strongly disagree with her on some pretty serious issues. From where I sit, here at Point D, I believe she is damaging the body of Christ in these particulars, and it grieves me deeply. But here’s the deal. Sometimes she also writes beautiful things I agree with. And you know what? Instead of celebrating those things, I’m annoyed. I don’t want to agree with her. I want to categorize her.
A while back I felt like the Lord was convicting me to pray for this woman, so I obeyed. My prayers for her went along this line: “Lord, please reveal to _____ that she is leading a lot of people astray with these stands she is taking. Please draw her into Your Word and show her the ways of Your upside down kingdom. Rescue her from her deception, and convict her of her sin.”
I felt pretty good about that — praying for “my enemy” and all — until the Lord showed me that my prayer wasn’t actually for this woman. It was against her. And she’s not my enemy. She’s my sister.
So yesterday I prayed differently. It went more like this: “Lord, you created _______ in your image and for your glory. You knitted her in her mother’s womb and numbered her days. You know her heart, and I don’t. You know her whole story — everything that has shaped her and informed her world view — and that story is not over. You are the Good Shepherd. You know your sheep, and your sheep hear your voice and follow You. You are able to make your voice heard in her life as clearly as I believe You are in mine. Pour out your joy, your peace, and your presence on her today. Accomplish your purposes in and through her, to the glory of your Name.”
A remarkable thing happened when I prayed that way. Probably for the first time ever, I felt love for this woman.
It’s a step in the right direction. But only a step. Because I’m still human, and I always will be. Until I stand in the presence of Jesus, I will only know in part, and yet the temptation will be to think my way is the right way and to take it upon myself to expose the wrong.
It feels good to be right, and we can always find a tribe to cheer us on — an “increasingly isolated echo chamber of agreement” where we can sound off and hear a chorus of Amens. But I’m pretty sure, if Jesus came back today, He wouldn’t point to any one of our factions and say, “Nailed it!” Nor would He turn to the rest and say, “You losers should have listened to them. You ruined everything.”
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He washed the feet of Peter, who would deny Him, and Thomas, who would doubt Him, and all the others He knew would soon abandon Him in the garden. And He washed the feet of Judas. The man whose heart was already filled with the devil’s purpose. The man who would betray Him.
Afterward He said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Even the feet of those who would crucify you if they could.
Can we all agree, that’s just plain hard?
It’s easier to form camps. It’s easier to venture into our neighbor’s territory only long enough to gather ammunition against him. It’s hard to listen. To try to understand. To see people as people and not as labels. To see them as the image bearers of our God. To serve the ones who hurt us.
It’s easier to assign evil motives to people who don’t see things the way I do. To grab on to every shred of evidence that proves I’m right while ignoring any indication I might be at least partly wrong. To take my spark of indignation and stoke it into a blaze, fueled by the kindling of my equally enraged friends, while we all fume ourselves into a fury and boldly curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
And so our tongues boast of great things, and how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! Add the internet to the mix, and the whole world goes up in flames in a matter of hours. And the damage is irreversible. Once it’s out there, we can’t get it back. No wonder James says the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
It’s easy to react. To lash out. To defend our position. But it’s hard to be quiet. To be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. To let God be the judge. To forgive as we’ve been forgiven. To strive, as much as it lies with us, to be at peace with all men.
It’s hard to really love — the 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love that is patient and kind, that does not envy or boast, that is not arrogant or rude. The love that does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. The love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I haven’t loved this way. Far too often, I’ve taken the easy path, and left a smoldering swath of charred remains in my wake.
I am the problem.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his glorious sonnet, As the Ruin Falls: “All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you. I never had a selfless thought since I was born.” Guilty as charged. And how can I judge your motives when my own heart is deceitful above all things? Selfishness mars everything I do. To quote another favorite poet, Rich Mullins:
We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens, so few inches apart
We must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.
It’s true. I’m awfully small. Much too small to see the big picture. And I’m tired of choking on the fumes — of spewing my selfish and self-righteous rage on people whose hearts I can’t see and whose stories I don’t know. Life is too short for this.
So I’m asking you to hold me accountable. I know perfection isn’t possible this side of heaven, but I want to let Jesus break down the walls in my heart. I want to erase dividing lines instead of drawing more. And I invite you to call me out when I fail.
If we are members of His body, we are members of one another, and I want to see you (whoever you are) as made in the image of my God. And even though we may not agree on everything, I will trust God’s plan for you and His power to bring it to pass.
I don’t want to be the problem any more.
Jesus is coming back for a spotless bride, and when He does, I want to be found bowed low, washing her feet.