‘You can safely assume you‘ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.’
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little change. When I look at our church, our country, the world, the way we treat one another… I’d just like to see some change.
There are lots of things we can do to try to affect some kind of change in the world. Most of us are doing one or more. We call powerful people and write them letters. We give talks, wear our tee-shirts, and sometimes we march around and yell. Mostly, I think, we talk. People like to talk.
Here is something I have noticed, though:
A lot of times our actions and our talking have an edge, an undercurrent of hostility, to borrow a phrase. That’s another thing I’d like to change.
For me — I live in China — most of my conversations with United Staters happen via Facebook Messenger. I do a lot of Skyping too, but the day-in and day-out conversations happen on Messenger. I really am grateful for technology, grateful for everybody’s pets and grandchildren, their new homes, and even their opinions. Once in a while, somebody says something clever. So, I still go over to my Facebook Timeline to see all that, but I see a lot more hostility and outright anger than I used to and I wonder if that the kind of change people want? A more hostile and angry world is not really what I have in mind when I think of the things I’d like to change.
Sometimes people think they’re being subtle, you know, when they’re on Facebook they’ll refuse to say “Donald Trump.” Sometimes this is dressed up as a way to keep his popularity down on the internet, some say that it’s just too painful to use his name. They call him Rump, thinking that it’s clever and not just rude. Or, they call him 45 or Dolt45, and they call him worse things too. But, he does have a name like the rest of us. Refusing to use someone’s name is a way of dehumanizing them, or denying that they carry the image of God — somewhere — in their being. Here’s the thing about that: if you can’t find it, you can’t ever draw it out, nurture it, help it find expression in the world. You have basically decided that there’s no hope for that person, there’s no potential, you just write them off. That’s wrong. Deep down, you know it.
Regarding the most recent revelation of sexual predation, one Facebook friend wrote: Who the hell is Harvey Weinstein except for a sexual pervert? And I want to agree. “Yeah… right,” I want to say. I want the comforting security of feeling self-righteous and, well, right. But I know who Harvey Weinstein is, and Bill Cosby, and Bill Clinton, and Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump who doesn’t even have enough sense to deny his sexual predation. Oh, and that’s just the short list. There’s not a woman alive who doesn’t have a mental list of men never to be alone with. I’ve got a list like that in my own mind. Men are real and the danger is real. But another danger is to become so angry that we forget the real answer to that question my friend posed. Who do they think they are? I know who they are. They are beloved children of God; complicated, and reviled, but also loved. I don’t like it, but there’s no getting around it. It is neither just nor wise to judge a person’s life based on the worst things they’ve ever done. I want to be judged on the best, kindest, noblest things I’ve ever done, after all, how about you?
Another Facebook friend posted so many news articles about President Trump that I had to stop following him. I guess he thinks he is in the news business now. I have my own sources for news. Facebook is not one of them. But, what I see, when I see a timeline like that, is someone who is a little too invested in reporting on things he’d like to change and not very invested in actually being the change.
Yet another Facebook friend has such creative names for people he disagrees with that I have periodically unfollowed him too. If you know me, you know that I sometimes use bad words too, it’s not my proudest feature, but it’s there, so when you can make me think you’re too coarse… well, let’s just say that it’s not pure, or pleasing, or commendable.
So, what does any of this have to do with the Gospel? Well, nothing. It’s more the epistle I want to talk about today.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul asks the readers to support the ministry of the women who have been working along with him and Clement and other unnamed co-workers. He says that they are yoke-fellows, in other words, they have worked side-by-side and he wants them all to be of the same mind. In chapter two he also said that they should be of the same mind. Again he said that it would make his joy complete if they were like-minded. He wrote about being like-minded or of the same mind three times in only four chapters, and once he mentions being of the same love. Those of us who value independence might chafe under the notion that we should be of the same mind as anybody else. We are independent Americans after all. We have our own minds. But, he goes on to tell us what he’s talking about, and it’s not that we should all agree about everything. One look around Christendom will tell you that’s never going to happen anyway. Here is what kind of mind he means: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
It is instructive to remember that Paul is writing this letter from prison. It would have been easy to denounce his jailers as the barbarians they no-doubt were. We would most certainly understand if he had. I would even understand if he had called them names. But, Paul didn’t follow the easy, logical, and understandable path. He followed the path of Jesus. It does not always seem logical, or even very smart, to love our enemies — and, be sure, President Trump and his minions in the White House and beyond are our enemies. They embody the anti-Christ spirit. They are against Christ. But, look, If we give them the power to push us off the path of love then they have become our new god.
Paul said that God’s nature was peace, not being right, not being reasonable, or even smart… peace. When he says that the God of peace will be with you, he is not talking about you and who is with you. He is making a statement about God. God is about peace. Peace will be with you. He is being guarded by jailers, yet in this passage, Paul is concerned with who will guard his (and our) heart. Peace will guard our hearts, even if our bodies should wind up being guarded by others.
Someday this unhappy episode in our public life will be over. What kinds of people will we be at the end? I have had the privilege of living in three countries which have each experienced terrible periods in their public life: Cambodia, China, and Burma. Because I lived there, I got to know the people who had lived through those terrible periods, or at least their parents had. Some have become like their oppressors: heartless in who they abuse. I heard of one man who turned so mean that he fed poisonous frogs to his grand-children on purpose. He did it just to watch them die. Others have written songs and painted pictures. I was once having tea with a woman who had been a political prisoner when another woman who had been a political prisoner at the same time came in. What a joyous reunion they had! They told me stories of prison life and the things they did to distract the guards, and they thought it was all pretty funny. Then one mentioned yet a third woman who had been in the same prison. “She not right,” one of them said. “Yes, oh my…” said the other, “they beat the love out of her. Her life is gone.”
Dear friends, we can’t let these little trials beat the love out of us. When you feel the hostility rise, and the blanket of being right enfolds you, ask yourself this? What kind of person am I becoming? Who will I be when this is all over? Then go out and actually be the kind of change you want to see in the world: Do a kindness for someone who needs it, or for yourself! You probably need it! Let some joy enter the world by letting it enter your own life. Laugh, and dance, and sing as if the kingdom of God had already come, because it has! And think. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Image: Change management
Some Notes of Possible Interest
The quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” has often, and falsely, been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. You can read about this misattribution, and others, here.
I am not saying that I can see the image of God in President Trump. I can’t. I don’t see it clearly, I don’t see it dimly, I don’t see any vague shadows. I can’t see it at all. What I am saying is that I refuse to stop looking. And I will keep looking for it in you, in my students, in my boss in whom it is also fairly dim… You get the idea. Our sacred pledge in baptism is to seek and serve Christ in every person. If you don’t even seek Christ, you can’t serve Christ. So, keep looking. Even if you never find any image of God in another person, don’t let it be because you weren’t looking. You can read the whole baptismal covenant here. It’s on page 292 of The Book of Common Prayer which should be in your pew rack.
Undercurrent Of Hostility is the name of a blog. If you just have lots and lots of free time you can check it out here.
I would be remiss not to mention that the statement that Euodia and Syntyche should “…be of the same mind” has sometimes been misread to mean that Euodia and Syntyche had been quarreling. Men who want to paint a picture of women as quarrelsome have been especially invested in this misreading. There’s really no basis for that, and to call it a mere misreading is to be kind. More likely it was just used to keep women down because it was convenient and easy. Everybody knows that it was common enough in the Greco-Roman world to commend things that were already happening. Don’t take my word for it, see also Philippians 2:12-13 and Philippians 4:9.