Monday, November 01, 2010

Listening for the Greater Good

2010 has been granted the dubious honor as the year of the angry voter. Unfortunately, far too much of that anger has been bolstered by means of a religious appeal. Tea Party members, for example, have been quick to justify what they believe by using pseudo-intellectual, reductionist conceptions of Christianity. A quick survey of signs held aloft at rallies will find many who display pure hatred, then cite a verse of Scripture at the bottom. One sees this also at anti-abortion rallies or those challenging same-sex marriage rights. A God which always agrees with us no matter what the issue or the circumstance is not God at all. Christianity may find more of an audience among conservatives, but the gross distortions of many continue to damage its reputation.

A while back, I was struggling with how it was possible that ordinarily sane, reasonable individuals could willingly and eagerly persecute others for having different beliefs than their own. One person who I asked held a typically sober, diplomatic viewpoint.

"Perhaps," he said, "they just don't know how to listen to God."

To listen to God, one must first know how to listen to oneself. Knowing where me ends and God begins requires much self-awareness. Those who bring guns to town hall forums, question the citizenship of the President, and make all sorts of ridiculous Nazi and/or socialist comparisons are arguably not really listening to anyone's guidance but their own. Prayer and contemplation, themselves forms of helpful introspection, usually help me separate my own inherent biases from divine direction. We all know people who are totally clueless about how they really appear to others, blinded by their own fantasies. Some run for office, some spin for pay, some entertain, and some seek to shock and enrage.

It would seem that a reach back to the Scriptures would be in order. To establish fact from fiction, the subtle ironies require a thorough retelling. Jesus was, as we know, a heavily divisive figure during his time here on Earth. Contributing to the controversy was confusion and debate as to who he really was. Know also that I am not attempting to draw an exact parallel to a current leader in power. Even those who are not Christians can concede that human behavior in similar circumstances tends to follow predictable patterns.

"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." When the crowds heard him say this, some of them declared, "Surely this man is the Prophet we've been expecting." Others said, "He is the Messiah." Still others said, "But he can't be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born."

Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, "Why didn't you bring him in?" "We have never heard anyone speak like this!" the guards responded. "You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted.

In the end, the strife and turmoil built to a ghastly conclusion. While struggling for breath and life that terrible day in Jerusalem, Jesus famously said, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." I doubt seriously most of us could overlook the immediacy of our hurt with the greater good. If we are not listening closely enough, we can be easily twisted and turned in directions based on hysteria and sloppy logic. Though this may be no witch-hunt, or no mob with pitchforks and torches, voters are being driven to lash out by rage and frustration. Spite alone rarely makes for well-reasoned decision-making at the polls. The fact that so many extremist candidates have even made it onto the ballot, win or lose, is troublesome enough.

Among the many screaming "Crucify, Crucify!" that day were those disappointed that the supposed Messiah had not come wielding a sword to end years of Roman occupation. They wanted a war and glorious battle. Instead, some recognized that the Kingdom of God was a spiritual state of being. Some only knew that what they had assumed was not going to be put into place. Others got caught up in the moment, listening instead to the Jewish leadership that had been trying to put an end to the ministry of a powerful and charismatic rival. Mob logic is entrancing, but it is no logic at all. Yet, I also know that there were those who still welcomed the arrival of the Messiah and supported him, no matter how unpopular he might have grown or what he proposed to do. Many of them were so afraid to be seen as a supporter of Jesus that they went underground. And after his death, they unselfishly arranged for a proper burial with all due honors.

No matter what happens tomorrow, and in the months going forward, we must keep our voices both loud and clear. The strident noise of rabble-rousers, malcontents, and those who confuse their personal mission with that of the greater good will be amplified. It's easy to chant the slogan of the moment, but our mettle is tested when we speak truth to power. To move beyond a cliche statement, our Truth should not be canned, tested in a focus group, or spread far and wide by e-mail blasts. Still, we must be careful to cautiously measure that our own rallying cries not succumb to the same hyperbole or end up just as sterile.

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