I have found myself watching the news, reading Facebook and other social media outlets these last few weeks and months with a growing sense of anxiety.
Whether you find yourself on the right or the left, with the progressives or the conservatives, there’s certainly enough in our daily feeds to stoke our sense that either we’re not going in the right direction, or “the other guys” are winning, or we aren’t moving quickly enough and there’s still a seemingly insurmountable challenge to getting things to be the way that we would like them to be.
But the news itself isn’t why I’ve been feeling that anxiety. It’s our reactions to the news that has got me worried. In particular, how we are reacting to the culture war surrounding same-sex marriage. The same could be said of the gun issue, scandals surrounding the presidency and a whole host of other issues.
I’ve watched as my Facebook feed has become less and less populated by baby pictures and shots of other people’s food (yay!) and more and more a place to argue over this article or that, this issue or that (sigh).
Here’s what I want to say to my Christian friends (and to myself, as I’m guilty of posting the occasional breathless “Oh no! Look what they are doing now!” piece): If we buy into the political script- that there will be winners or losers in all of this, and we must win, we’ve already lost.
As long as we buy into the binary winners or losers script, the false promise of victory by seeing others vote our way, there will be constant disappointment. Because let’s face it: people in general aren’t as smart (or as biblically-grounded, as compassionate or fair-minded, or common-sense) as you and I. They just don’t see the world (or Scripture, or culture, or the cliff we are rushing towards) as clearly as we do.
And that leaves us with a choice: write or post yet another piece on why (insert pet issue here) is so important, why we can’t let (them) do (that), or…
We could begin to see through a different script altogether: the spiritual formation script. We could stop trying to win for a moment and consider what God is doing and can do in us as a people through all of these issues and the turmoil surrounding them.
When it doesn’t go your way
Let’s consider just one “hot topic” in Christian circles. As it currently stands, I believe both sides are going to lose the same-sex marriage war. Why?
Because those who want to see same-sex marriage will still have to deal with being a part of a Christian church that by and large rejects it. And those who don’t want to see it will have to deal with being a part of a culture that by and large affirms and welcomes it.
With the winners and losers script, the answer is obvious: try to legislate or argue our way towards the majority, both in culture and the Church. The main problem is that an already fractured Church becomes even more so, and for people who follow the Christ who prayed that His disciples might have unity, that should be enough to give us serious pause.
The question here is not necessarily how should we solve this or any other political hot potato, but how should we orient our ourselves so that we are co-operating with what God is doing in our hearts? How can I look full on at a culture and/or a Church that isn’t going my way and become not more and more angry, embittered or outraged, but more and more like Christ?
I understand the disappointment when an issue I feel passionately about gets legislated in ways I would rather it not be. I also understand that it’s in disappointment that God often does His best work in my heart. It’s in those moments of disappointment that my heart is turned again and again towards my true hope.
Anger, bitterness and an Us versus Them mentality over issues, elections and not seeing the world instantly become what we would like it to become are not signs that you are allowing the Spirit to have His way in your heart. They are signs that the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus that breaks down the dividing walls between us is not penetrating our thinking and emotions.
Is it possible to have and to respond with love, joy, peace, patience and kindness in the daily task of being confronted by either a culture or by fellow believers who disagree profoundly with us, who espouse positions with which we disagree and are leading that culture and/or the church to places we would not see them go? I think it is, and in fact, I think St Paul would say it is imperative.
Here’s what I would love to see come out of our current struggles:
1. A renewed desire in each of us to understand where the other is coming from
In all of our current hot button issues there’s something we can affirm on both sides. It’s our task to look for it, and affirm it. To praise it and see it grow. If you can’t look at the other side and describe what they are trying to do, not in caricatures and pejoratives, but in an honest and generous way, in a way that they would actually agree with your description, you are missing an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to show people the Gospel makes us into kind, loving and generous people, not into near-sighted jerks.
2. A chance to really and truly pass the peace
I love the liturgical practice of “passing the peace.” It recognizes that the peace of Christ is something we offer to others regardless. Irrespective of whatever else separates us, Christ Himself is our peace, and that peace is something we have a stewardship over, and the duty to offer to all we meet, not least of all, to those within the Church, even to those with whom we have profound disagreements.
3. A chance to practice what we do when things don’t go our way, and what we do when they do.
As a parent whose kids are entering the team sports stage, I have plenty of opportunities for teachable moments on both winning and losing well. It’s partially that experience that is inspiring my thoughts here as I consider my own attitude on both winning well and losing well, seeing things go my way and not. And I have to be honest- there are times when my kids do it better than I do. Sometimes, I think they have a better understanding that the game isn’t so much about winning and losing but about the formation of their character and the building of friendships. I know that the games we play as adults have much higher stakes- that these are real issues with real consequences. But, how we react in our winning and our losing says much more about us than it does about the issue itself.
We have in all of this, in every issue we face, an opportunity to show the world who Jesus is by showing them what the Gospel does in us, even when we disagree. If you find yourself arguing with friends, or leaving a church because they seem too liberal, or too conservative, or find yourself becoming angry, bitter or sullen because things aren’t going your way, I’m going to take a risk and say you’re doing it wrong.
But if you find you again find your hope in God as opposed to a certain political or ecclesiastical outcome, if your desire to see love flourish between yourself and others especially, people with whom you disagree, that’s a good sign you are letting the Gospel do the work it is meant to do in your heart.
The real question is: will you let it?