Maybe you have noticed that in a lot of my writing, I mention “we” a bit. There is a reason for this. In my continually evolving beliefs, I think it is a good habit to get into to remind myself of a few things. At times, I admit that I fail, but like I said, it is a habit I am trying to adopt.
In Christ’s Kingdom, he says that even if I think of a brother in a condemning or hateful way, I am guilty just as if I had killed him (Matthew 5:22). We are told that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15) and does not deserve to inherit the Kingdom or enjoy eternal life. In my mind, that is a pretty good reason to avoid thinking of people like that. As a member of an extremely individualistic culture, it is hard to avoid creating a psychological barrier between me or us (which our egos want to tell us are infallible) and them (those we perceive to be ‘less’ or ‘worse’).
The greatest schism that I see in my reality is between the left and the right, the seemingly secular and the certainly self-righteous, the liberal and conservative, the democrat and republican, the pacifist and the warrior. I’m sure you are familiar with the general gist of the precarious socio-political see-saw. It seems like everything is black and white, or maybe a bit of grey.
In my fledgling beliefs toward religion and spirituality, I think to place myself or others into “one or the other” categories detracts from the true essence of following Christ. For example, as soon as I say ‘they’ or them,’ I, of course, have now measured myself against a poor yardstick. If they are conservative, well harrumph, I am certainly more ‘liberal,’ and by God better, than they think they are. If they are red, well then, I am supposed to be blue. They’re wealthy? I should be poor. Republican? That means I must be a Democrat.
No matter what it is that they are, “we” try our damndest not to be. We forget that there is something that makes a much better yardstick to measure ourselves against. What should it really matter what they are/do/believe? As disciples, I think we have a task that can pretty much take a few consecutive lifetimes trying to figure out if we only remember who it is we are to focus our attention on. Matthew 7:1-2 and Luke 6:37 both tell us that we are treated justly in response to how we treat others; not merely in action but in thought as well.
If we consume ourselves trying to figure out how we’re right and they are wrong, then guess Who will take supreme pleasure in reminding us how wrong we are? I think this is what Dorothy Day meant when she said “I only truly love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” If we are incapable of loving the IRS agent that audits us, the used car salesman who sells us a lemon, or the bum we refuse to grant even a look in the eyes, then we are in trouble.
We are incapable of loving God.
How can we love God, the seeker of the lost, the freer of the oppressed, when we have more material wealth and temporal freedom than we know what to do with? It is because God hears our very hearts that we are not able to love Him unless we love others indiscriminately. When we dismiss our fellow human beings, desecrating the divine image within them (instilled in them whether we want to believe it or not), we dismiss and desecrate God. It won’t matter if we saved a million souls or earned a lifetime achievement award, He will turn us away. When we go before Him, we will hear these words, lets see if they ring a bell or two:
“I do not know you.”
Pretty scary. There will be those who have prophesied in His name and performed miracles who will be told they did it in vain (Matthew 7:21-23). The only important thing we must remember is to do God’s will, which is summed up, thankfully, in one simple word. LOVE. We are not here to figure out who is right and who is wrong, that is Someone else’s job. Let God figure it out, I am pretty sure He has a decent grasp on how the whole judgment thing works.
So back to why I use we as much as possible. When I am tempted to think someone has everything wrong, who totally goes against what I think the Bible teaches, I remember that the first thing it taught me was that I am fallible, I do not have all of the answers! Heck, I am beginning to think I don’t have any of the answers. What ground does the Bible grant me to think I am supposed to tell others what to do and think?
I have been in some very interesting conversations lately as I discuss what I think about the military. Many who have listened to me ask what I hoped to ‘accomplish’ by trying to go to Iraq weaponless. They ask me what I was trying to ‘say’ by deciding to stay within the Army even after coming to the understanding that love does not kill it’s neighbors. Usually I shrug and tell them I was just trying to follow a Dude who seemed to have things much more sorted out than I do. I was never out to change anyone but myself, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to be shy about why I felt change was necessary in my life.
As much as I still want to decry and criticize others in America, sometimes even America herself, I cannot. No matter how hard I try, I am a part of a system that is broken. I am irrevocably American, for better or worse, like it or not. No matter what I want to believe, no human institution is perfect, even the institution that we call the church. But do I withdraw and condemn from a distance, seduced by the false gods of self-righteousness and piety? Or do I acknowledge my part and change what little I can (myself) and hope for the best? With acknowledgment comes an enormous power to change. The power to change oneself is tantamount to global transformation.
Like Gandhi said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world, not be the critics we wish to see and hear less of. Shut up and do, that is my model. If I have an issue with the oppressive nature of my materialistic culture, I will not run from it, for it is then that I forfeit the power I once had to change it. When I realize that our nation’s foreign policy is creating more terrorists than it can kill, I do not attempt to sever myself from ‘the system,’ but I offer to lay down my weapon in an experiment in trying to love a people that I am told is my enemy.
It is that very “us versus them” theory that I reject. The spiritual battle of righteous vs. wicked has been horrifically ‘physicalized.’ Our battle is not against other people, it is against “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil. (Ephesians 6:12)” When we accuse and criticize and condemn, we allow ourselves to be used not as God’s tools, but as pawns of Satan, which actually means “the accuser.”
So as I prepare to step up to my soapbox, I must remind myself that “we” (even my perceived political, social, or national enemies) are in this ‘good fight (1 Timothy 6:12)’ together. It is not us versus them, but we versus it; all of us broken human beings versus the desire and temptation to think that we are against each other. Our fiercest battle is against sin itself, not the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters. By using “we” as opposed to “them,” I am attempting to remind myself that I am no less guilty of sin than “they” are, that we all deserve and desire dignity and humanity equally. If people throw slander and accusations, I remember that we are both embattled with the urge to reduce one another in order to justify our hateful actions or words, and that adopting matching hateful tactics will only perpetuate evil.