Our Agendas are Killing Us
I was creeping on a thread on a friend’s Facebook page the other day where one commenter was arguing the old trope that the most loving thing they can do for someone is to point out their “sin” and thus lead them to repentance and salvation.
There are two major problems with that point of view, in my opinion.
First, it’s so easy to believe. Evangelicalism has consistently taught that the whole point of Christianity is to say the right words and think the right thoughts so that when you die you can go to heaven and avoid the punishment of hell (and frankly, let’s be honest, most folks are way more motivated by the latter than the former).
If that’s the baseline, it’s easy to see where that kind of “tough love” might be not only helpful, but necessary. It doesn’t feel harmful and hateful to say that you can love the sinner and hate the sin. After all, you just want what’s best for them.
But that leads to the second problem: despite how helpful it might feel to say that to someone, it doesn’t account for how they receive it.
If you tell your child that you love them just the way they are but you love them too much to leave them that way, what are they going to hear?
That they’re not good enough. That your love is conditional. That there’s something inherently wrong with them that needs to be “fixed.”
And I think all of this points to a bigger existential issue.
Our agendas are killing us.
What’s good for the goose…
I think it’s safe to say that all of us, in our own way, want to live in a better world.
We want to be free of worry, anxiety, suffering…hardships of any kind.
We want to experience happiness. We want to feel safe and secure and comfortable.
I’d even be willing to say that that’s ostensibly what the terrorists who stormed the US Capital a few weeks ago would say they were after. It’s a universal desire.
But the problem—and the reason I use that specific example—is that we also almost universally start from the assumption that what we think is good for us is what’s good for everyone.
Even that assumption though, can be a bit problematic. Because I’m not sure the good of anyone else actually even occurs to many of us.
As long as we feel safe and happy and secure, and as long as that extends to whatever tribe with which we identify, that’s really all we care about.
Conflicted by conflict
The imposition of our personal/tribal agendas on others may be one of the most damaging societal trends we face. Because those things are always going to be in conflict, aren’t they?
Even those of us who seek to uphold the most noble of causes hold some level of belief that if everyone else would just get on our bandwagon, the world would be a better place.
But we’re missing a central point.
The only way any of us can really, truly thrive is if all of us do.
In recent years the Zulu word Ubuntu has become popular within progressive culture. Loosely translated, it means “I am because we are.” A 2006 article in The Guardian notes that it originates from a folk saying that means a person really only experiences personhood through other people.
The term is mostly used to help people recognize the need to sacrifice personal interests for the greater common good. To recognize that getting what we want may not necessarily be what’s best for whatever people group we belong to.
That together we can achieve more than we can alone.
It’s fairly easy to get our heads around the concept in the relatively small contexts of family or community.
But what if we embraced it not just for our behavior within our immediate social orbits, but as how we view ourselves within the whole of humanity?
What if we started to recognize that intentional sacrifice of our perceived personal desires is the key not just to our own happiness, but universal wellbeing?
The right to be right (even when it’s wrong)
Christianity, especially in the Evangelical streams, has for too long operated under the presumption that it has the exclusive claim to objective truth.
And so Christians have justified all kinds of horrific treatment of non-Christians in the name of loving them into heaven.
Of course, that also happens within the various denominations of Christianity itself. We become so convinced that our particular belief systems are correct that we see them not only as normative, but necessary.
The problem, though, is that those assumptions directly conflict with Jesus as he’s presented in the Gospels.
I’d like to change the world (but I don’t know what it wears)
Over and over, we hear Jesus saying things about taking up our cross, about dying in order to live, about the last becoming first and the first becoming last.
About not judging others. About taking the logs out of our own eyes before picking the speck out of our neighbor’s. About becoming humble. Meek. About making peace.
About loving even our enemies.
The call of Christianity has never been to Christianize the world.
It’s been to Christianize ourselves.
Stick with me here.
We don’t make the world a better place by making everyone else like us.
We make the world a better place by making ourselves like Jesus.
Falling so we can rise
When I try to imagine the future of humanity, I can’t imagine the status quo taking us much further.
Our commitment to our personal and tribal agendas and to imposing them on others will never lead to anything other than continued conflict, violence, and destruction.
Domination systems never work because nobody will ever settle for being dominated.
The only way we can possibly make it is to sacrifice for the common good.
The only way any of us can achieve happiness is to give up our pursuit of it.
If that seems counterintuitive, that’s because it is.
But we can never get there by getting our way at the expense of someone else.
Only by lifting each other up can all of us rise together.
It’s the only future we have.
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