We are in the midst of a battle. Anger and violence are played out in the media daily. It’s deafening, and activists are on both sides of the conflict. Both have dug in their heels and refuse to budge. How many times have we seen in-your-face confrontations?
So, the question then becomes: How many of those times have we seen adversaries turn into allies who decided to work together with the determination to change things for the greater good of our country? How many?
We’re seeing a win-lose struggle, and when there is a winner, that necessarily means there is a loser. So, what’s the answer? How do we get beyond this impasse that is adding so much suffering to an already disintegrating situation? How about this novel idea? How about if we just go home and work on our own issues first (and if you don’t think you have any…well…that’s an issue)? Crazy huh?
No matter what I believe, no matter how passionate I am about changing the world,
I am really the only person I have the power to change.
I would like to share with you my course correction after years of being a selfish, stubborn, know-it-all believer in the power of God to send all heathens to hell if they didn’t straighten up! I was sure that was my assigned duty here on earth, and I was really good at it! My buddy Paul and I both got knocked on our butts – in a loving way, of course. God knew I was used to getting knocked on my butt and would come out fighting! So, after he got my attention, he gently went after my heart instead. Sneaky.
I want to touch on three areas in the past fourteen years that have profoundly impacted my life. What’s impressive is that I have no bruises to prove it, but that’s because hatred, not Love, bruises.
The changes I am referring to are my faith, politics, and my self-centeredness vs. other-centeredness:
MY FAITH: – back in the day, I could quote many scripture verses proving that anyone I disagreed with was destined for hell. Have a nice trip! I could justify my superior attitude and what was clearly my god-given responsibility to save lost souls. That is until I got to graduate school in 2006.
It did not take long to see the error of my ways and the folly of my “beliefs”. But, and here’s the point I want to make in all of this, the professors I was so blessed to know in that three years were powerful influences in my life. And yet, not one of them shook an angry fist at me to announce that I was an idiot, which they could have. I saw something in them that helped me to see, really see, the error in my thinking. They were loving, compassionate, grace-filled teachers of God’s unconditional love for all of his creation. They taught me, not just through studies like reading the works of Thomas Aquinas (geeeezzzz, that was painful!), but more importantly, through their own example and lives. It wasn’t because of a need to be right or to make demands, but because they simply loved. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to grow in a faith like theirs that imitated Christ. They helped change my attitude about so many things. But, at the end of the day, all they had the power to do was encourage my willingness to change from the inside out. It was really up to me.
MY POLITICS: What I learned about myself at Aquinas carried over to a more nuanced understanding of the part I play just in voting. Before this, I was a one-party voter. Admittedly, it was much easier back then. Walk into the polling place, pull the lever for my party of choice, get my “I Voted” sticker, and go home. Never mind that I usually didn’t know who or what I was pulling that lever for. It didn’t matter, though. I was confident in the knowledge that I did my duty. I think today, many people like me now know how critical it is to be informed and choose for everyone in this country, especially those who have been kicked to the curb and feel they have no voice. And, again, my movement away from “don’t really care” did not come about by brute force. What woke me up to my responsibility and privilege to do my part for the sake of others came from an enlarged heart space, not someone yelling in my face.
SELF-CENTEREDNESS THAT MORPHS INTO OTHER-CENTEREDNESS: Giving instead of taking. Seeing, really seeing, the worth, dignity, and humanity of those the world rejects. And not only seeing them but loving what we see because if you look close enough, you will see Christ. And I just can’t get enough of that.
I would challenge you to just sit for a moment and think of recent stories you have seen on TV or the Internet that either enraged you or spoke into the depth of your heart so powerfully that you cried. Then ask yourself, which of those scenarios comes from God and which is motivated by an ego-driven, self-serving purpose?
I was recently involved in a conversation with someone who is very passionate about their beliefs concerning what we are experiencing. This person wanted to battle until the other person caved and cried uncle. But, hey, both stood their ground. In the aftermath of that train wreck, I commented that everyone who disagrees with you is not your adversary. When you view every discussion with someone who feels differently as an opportunity to bully them into your way of thinking, the conversation shuts down, and you both lose. Then I get the equivalent of a Bible-lashing in Matthew 21:12-13 to remind me that Jesus got angry and threw s*#t.
Okay, first of all, many “stories” in scripture are meant to offer a teaching. Does that scripture verse mean that Jesus was this angry bird who couldn’t control his temper? We could take this to a discussion of “righteous” anger, but that’s not the point. Do you think that table-tossing anger changed ANYONE? We don’t know, of course, but I’m guessing not.
How many of Jesus’ acts and teachings call us to love? How many people followed him despite the danger, especially women, because he offered what their hearts longed for. He came and eventually died for it, and so many others after him were martyred for. So it must be a big deal!
What was one of the last things Jesus said to his disciples? Come on, you know: “Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy! I’m outta here now, so it’s up to you to carry on. Go on out there and beat everyone who refuses to follow me into compliance. Got it?”
Hmmm. Yep, sign me up!
We know, of course, that Jesus was very passionate. However, he showed us that passion is not the end of the story. When that passion is turned into service to others, everyone wins, and God does his happy dance!