“This Lent needs to be not what you will give up, but what you will live for. Not how you might demonstrate your piety, but how you might live in true obedience to God. Not what you will prove, but what reproves you” (Karoline Lewis in Working Preacher (Feb. 26, 2017).
Today’s political climate offers many challenges – particularly to Christians! How do we stay informed without drowning in anger? How do we bless those who are on “the other side.” How do we truly model the love of Jesus in a time of dissent and anxiety? Here’s a helpful practical message from the writings of Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr.
First of all, as a general principle, we need to recognize that the opposition we face is not actually the problem to be overcome. For example, my husband recently visited with a family whose seventeen-year-niece is pregnant by a much older man who also is involved in human trafficking. During the visit, the mother, an aunt, and other family members berated the girl for being stupid and worthless.
As Fred and I discussed ways that we might softly intervene in this seemingly hopeless situation, I thought: The pregnant girl is not the problem. If it were, we could perhaps help. The problem is this dysfunctional family. All of these people are so caught up in their own issues (homelessness, unemployment, feelings of anger and revenge, manipulation, etc.) that the girl and her baby have been lost in the shuffle. They can’t solve the problem of their problem-filled family by pointing fingers at one member.
Second, it is appropriate to resist an idea or philosophy that we cannot agree with. What Cynthia Bourgeault calls “holy denial” is the only way to bring needed change. Someone has to think differently and offer other options. I think this is the example Jesus set for us. He spoke into many issues of his day – especially the rigidity of the religious leadership – and he brought something new to the table: love trumps rules.
Thirdly, when we have reached an impasse, a place where we just cannot agree, we have to make a conscious choice. We can choose to believe that the enemy is never a problem; instead it is an opportunity. Rather than trying to annihilate or silence the enemy, usually with angry words or insults, we can try to live in the tension and work collaboratively together for a creative solution that is totally new. As Bourgeault says, “If we are locked into ‘this’ or ‘that’ thinking, “the pendulum swings back and forth or stays stuck in an impasse.” Forward motion requires stepping outside of binary options and looking for something new.
We have a perfect example in American politics of the problems that arise when we don’t or won’t use the process described above. The American Health Care bill recently imploded because:
- The Republicans and the president decided that Obamacare is the problem. The problem really was “How do we provide the best health care to all Americans?”
- The resistance offered to the healthcare bill was in no way “holy denial;” it was motivated on all sides by “how do we get what we want?”
- The Republicans and the president did not try to “live in the tension” and work collaboratively (within the Republican party and with Democrats) to find a new, creative solution. The Democrats became an opposition party in order to keep Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act). There was no process for stepping out side of the “yes” or “no” options to create a whole new act that would benefit everyone.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If we are going to make progress on any issue, big or small, we need to move into a new space, a new consciousness, a new direction, a new energy. Bourgeault says, “This process gives everyone a valuable role to play in the creation of something genuinely new.”
So far, so good. Now . . . here is the problem. The main ingredient for making this process happen is a Christ-like love which truly wants the best for all concerned. Self-less love is the only way to bring reconciliation into the equation. What would American politics look like if reconciliation were the goal? How would the life of the pregnant teen mentioned above change if all family members put aside their own issues, stopped thinking about this girl as a problem, and worked together to love her and find ways to plan for her and her baby.
Apprentices of Jesus have the opportunity, the responsibility, and the power of the Holy Spirit to solve real problems through selfless love. During Lent (and beyond) let’s look for ways to do just that.
Check out Cynthia Bougeault’s book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three for a detailed discussion on the information in this blog.