Girard

Shifting the Marginalized

Recently I was in a conversation with a church member who shared their concern about shifting who we marginalize. This member said that they have been marginalized in their life and it was a terrible place to be. This member said that they have a concern that the conversations in the UMC around LGBTQI+ inclusion has been dominated by voices that are willing to shift who we marginalize rather than attempting to eradicate the very idea of having marginalized groups! 

Photo by  Ryan Searle  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Searle on Unsplash

I heard this member express concerns that it will be the traditionalists who will be marginalized in the conversation. This was unsettling to this member even as they disagree with the traditionalist position. They could not imagine being a part of a church that would be willing to shift who we marginalize.

It is conversations like this that I have time and time again with members of the local church I am a part of that I offer as evidence to why I support the efforts of the Uniting Methodists. 

If we believe that the faithful way to eradicate angry racism toward people of color is to fight with angry racism toward whites then we truly are lost. Replacing one evil/Sin with the very same evil/Sin with different pronouns then the cycle of violence and scapegoating is alive and well. It is this cycle that Rene Girard identifies at Satan.

Satan, like Christ, is a title not a proper name. While Christ means "Anointed", Satan mean "Accuser." The more we accuse, blame, marginalize and scapegoat others the tighter grip the Satan has on us all. And so you may begin to see that to use tactics that divide people is the very first step to acting as the Satan (Accuser). 

If it is true that you just cannot abide with a community that you believe is doing things that are outside the Grace of God, then perhaps the most faithful response is to move closer to them rather than divide. For division is the second act of the Satan. The final act of the Satan is to move toward eradication of another. And when the other is eradicated, guess what, the Satan will desire another victim. 

Shifting who we marginalize is not the work of the Anointed. It is the work of the Satan. May we not shift the marginalized but rather remove the act of marginalizing. 

I love the church! But I love my little tribe more.

Nancy Gibbs gave a wonderful speech which was adapted for TIME magazine titled How we Deserted Common Ground. The piece is directed to journalists but is worth reading because she is a very good writer and her insights are always helpful.

In Gibbs' article she cites Yale Law professor Dan Kahan who said, "What people 'believe' about global warming doesn't' reflect what they know, it expresses who they are." Clearly this is not limited to global warming. To make the case, Gibbs also cites a southern Democratic Senator who said the debate over gun control is "about who you are and who you aren't." 

When we are more concerned about our personal brand, our ratings, number of likes, and retweets, every issue is not about the issue but a proxy discussion for how we desire to be seen. It stands to reason that the debates in the United Methodist Church are also about "who you are and who you aren't." 

And therein lies the difficulty of the situation we are in. We are so insecure of who we are in Christ that we have to constantly define ourselves as something else. "We are orthodox Wesleyan." "We are the prophetic voices of God." We are arguing with others in order to show them who we are, all the while unaware that who we really feel we need to convince is is our own tribe.

A large reason we continue to be entrenched is because if we give the impression that we are not 100% with our tribe then we risk our tribe abandoning us. And hell hath no fury as a tribe who eats their own for not being pure enough for the tribe. So in order to avoid being cannibalized by our own tribe, we take steps to prove our tribal devotion which moves us farther away other non-tribe members. 

This is why we all have words and ideas that we don't like to use. Conservatives do not like to identify themselves as social justice advocates (even though they they are) because even as they believe in social justice they don't want to give the impression they are liberal. And Liberals don't want to talk about how they are orthodox (even thought they are) because to do so means they could give the impression they are conservative. 

Much of the arguing in the church that divides us farther apart is rooted in efforts to convince our own tribe of who we are. And there is no greater devotion to the little tribe than being willing to break the larger Church for the sake of the little tribe.

quote-i-am-learning-that-the-best-cure-for-hypocrisy-is-community-hypocrisy-is-not-so-much-henri-nouwen-84-50-99.jpg

Loving The Enemy is the Problem

Peter Rollins recently gave a wonderful reflection on the Liturgists podcast episode entitled Enemies. I will paraphrase one of his ideas - loving the enemy is the problem. 

Here is what I think he is getting at. 

Photo by  Nina Strehl  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Jesus said that we are to love our enemies. This is noble and the call, however, rather than loving our enemies we have a love for the enemy. Put another way, rather than showing compassion and loving kindness to those we call our enemies, we love having an enemy. We love having someone/something in our lives that we love to hate. We love the enemy, and that is the problem.

By having an enemy we are able to rally our tribe. We are able to motivate people with fear of the other. We are able to define who we are by who we are against. In this way, we love the enemy. 

So it is not too far off the mark to say that President Trump loves President Obama, the media and Hillary Clinton. Trump loves the enemy. Likewise, progressives love President Trump, the NRA and Steve Bannon. 

Notice that in Luke, Jesus calls us to love your enemies not to love the enemy:

‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6)

Until we repent of our need to love the enemy, or put another way, until we hate the idea of having an enemy, we will continue to be pulled apart. 

The Spiritual Movement From Mimicking to Imitating Jesus

In a few places in Paul's letters, he speaks about imitating him or imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 4 and 11 also in Philippians 3). In my translations the invitation is to imitate not to mimic. I raise this for consideration because at least one distinction between imitating and mimicking is the direction of trust. Here is what I mean.

My sons are four and nine years old and they will, as children are prone to do, mimic my behavior. They parrot my words and mirror my actions. They trust that by mimicking me they are learning the things needed to survive and do well. Likewise, Christians trust Jesus and mimic him. Jesus shows us how to live and in mimicking him we grow and learn.

The direction of trust when we mimic flows from the student to the teacher. This is flow is inverted when we imitate. 

As my sons grow older, it is my hope that they would slow their mimicking and increase their imitating. This movement requires that I as their father trust them to act in ways that I would hope they would act. I will not be able to control their actions or be present in every situation for them to know how to mimic. I have to trust my sons in order for them to imitate me. I have to give them freedom of choice and the possibility of failing or, even experience pain. 

Likewise, Jesus is no longer physically present walking with each of us. We are not able to mimic him when it comes to contemporary problems and issues. How do we mimic Jesus in the face of the climate crisis? How would we mimic Jesus in knowing the ethicacy in the science of genetics?

Those who trust Jesus, over time begin to see that Jesus trusts us. Jesus does not desire us to stay at the mimic stage (all be it an important stage). Jesus desires us to mimic him so that we can move to imitating him. We will mess up. We will feel pain and suffering. We will miss the mark and participate in sin. The Good News is in part the reality that as imitators of Christ we are forgiven and trusted. 

It is safe to mimic Christ. It is faithful to imitate Christ. Asking "what would Jesus do?" is a question for mimicking. Asking "what is Jesus trusting me to do/be?" is a question for imitators.