This quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald always makes me think:
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
How would you say your nation is currently passing Fitzgerald’s test? How about our world?
Across the globe, humanity is collectively holding the tension of warring ideologies: beliefs, philosophies, systems of thought, politics, economics, controversies, etc. Our families, societies, communities, the Church, and our nations bear this strain bodily. I’d suggest that we are not functioning well. I’ll admit, there are days, I don’t function either. How about you?
If you’re like me, you long for relief from the stress, the unknowns, and the subtle adrenaline created by disturbing news, daily death tolls, and social media arguments. But, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
So, what if we viewed the deep disagreements of the world as a counterintuitive opportunity?
It’s at this fragile point of connection, where one opposing idea meets the other, that the deepest invitation to love is offered… because that oppositional thought always comes with bones and skin on it, in the form of another person.
There is an ancient account of when Alexander the Great, emperor of the known world and divine in his own right, came across the philosopher Diogenes. He was staring at a great pile of bones. Alexander asked: “What are you looking for?” Diogenes answered: “I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave.”
Diogenes was calling this legendary, warring conqueror back to humanity’s greatest common denominator: We are all human. But, I will call you to an even greater connection: We all bear the image of God. We were all designed through God’s love and for God’s love. (Ephesians 1:4-6; John 3:16, 17) This is why Paul reminds us: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers…” (Eph 6:12)
So, how do we engage the powers and principalities that walk hand in hand with ideologies without harming flesh and blood?
To answer this, we have to look to the True Human… the God/man who came not only to save our souls but to teach us how to walk this human life. As a Jew living under a violent Roman occupation, Jesus knew a thing or two about political conflict. As a Jewish man actively showing love to Samaritans, he knew about privilege and prejudice. As a poor Nazarite and childhood political refugee, he was intimately acquainted with being on the margins of society and power. Challenging the religious establishment of the day, Jesus lived in a storm of controversy. Living in a time before the advent of medical discovery, the fear of diseases, like leprosy, was rampant. What I am saying is: Jesus’ life is incredibly relevant to yours and mine. As all scripture points to Him, we can take his life as the supreme example of how to respond to the minefield of clashing ideologies that is today’s modern world.
At this point, you may be wondering which of today’s ideologies have powers and principalities behind them. I will only say this: You and I could hold the same ideologies, but the manner in which I hold mine may turn it into an idol for me. A good thing became the ultimate thing and now holds power over me. It’s not the point of this article to sort out ideologies as good or bad, but to sort out how you’re holding yours and how you’re responding to others.
So how did Jesus command us to navigate a contentious world? I can sum it up with: Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. Wait… is this too simple!? If we think that, we’ve forgotten the conditions under which Jesus was making these commandments. He even took this as far as: “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Forgive 7×77 times.”
Jesus said: Love your neighbor as yourself.
The man asked: Who is my neighbor?
Jesus said: The Samaritan (ancient Israelites were taught Samaritans were an unclean and heretical cultural group who should be avoided at all costs; they were destined for the wrath of God. Luke: 10:25-37)
So, according to Jesus, my neighbor is the one I’ve been trained to oppose.
Who is that neighbor for you? Is it a different race or tribe? Is it the rich? Is it those living in the blue states or red states? Maybe they won’t wear a mask? Or those who are trying to make you wear one? Perhaps they are protesting? Perhaps they are protesting the protests? Who are the ones you think are a bit blind (or totally blind) and can’t really see what is going on? They are your neighbors too. They are the people Jesus is telling you to not only love but to actively pick them up, make sure they’re okay, and have a place to sleep. Like the good Samaritan, he wants you to pay for their medical bills, their meals, and submit yourself to an ongoing life-long relationship with them. (Because if you save the life of an ancient Jew, he owes you a debt of hospitality until he dies!)
This is the kind of love that makes neighbors out of enemies. It’s active. It’s messy. It holds two points of tension together and reminds us who we all really are: bearers of God’s image designed to be included in the same eternal family.
“It is my belief that we should not be too sure of having found Christ in ourselves until we have found him also in that part of humanity that is most remote from our own.” Thomas Merton
This is not an easy love. This is a love that costs you. It requires you to wrestle with ideas you don’t like because someone you love has them. It requires you to listen more than you speak. It requires you to frame your responses differently. It requires you to spend time with those very unlike you, so you can see beyond their ideology to their humanity… and the image of God within. It requires you to consider if your ideology has become your idol. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. It takes a torrential amount of self-restraint and humility. It has the power to heal families and nations. And it most certainly will heal you. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)
I’m not saying don’t engage with the issues of the world; quite the contrary. I am saying Christian engagement should look different from the world. Mother Theresa captured the spirit of Christian action when she said:
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
This is not a lovely sentiment. It is a demanding one. It demands that we refuse to place the evils of the world on the shoulders of people who disagree with us. It does not scapegoat. It precludes any language of “us” versus “them.” It calls out wrongdoing while simultaneously pointing to a greater image of what could be. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of The Beloved Community is a wonderful example of this:
He taught that anger must be directed at the conditions/issues of injustice and love at the people. Holding this tension will point us all in the right direction, like a bow strung on an arrow aiming toward The Beloved Community. His inspiration was, unsurprisingly, deeply rooted in the Sermon on the Mount.
“We cannot work for peace and reconciliation until we recognize the areas in ourselves which are still itching for a fight.” Margaret Blackie
How can I keep my ideologies from becoming an idol?
There’s a Cherokee parable which goes like this:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
If you took an honest look at your typical day, which wolf are you feeding more? Think of the time spent on social media, listening to talk radio, digesting the news. None of these things are bad. It’s important to be informed. But, at this particular junction in history, prioritizing time for silence, solitude, stillness, and rest in the Creator is essential for our souls… and our world. It is only from this space, where we are in conscious connection to the love of God for ourselves and our neighbors, that we can engage the world in a manner that adds life, rather than just furthers the noise.
“How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Take time to sit before God with three questions:
- How is this historic season shaping me?
- Who do I want to be at the end of this season?
- What does it look like for me to submit to a process which requires both waiting and hope?
Daily reading on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) through the lens on ideologies and idols.
Practices of Love:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World by Kyle David Bennett