9. But in the arrogance of Christian piety and Western intellectualism we seek isolation.
Jesus wants us to be with one another. So why are we so divided?
You know the problem. Or at least part of the problem. Our friends on Facebook have all lost their minds. And depending on where we sit, they’ve lost it for a different reason.
We unfriended those who piss us off and then people are getting pissed off that we unfriended people. We’re so holier-than-thou we demonstrate how awesome we are for keeping friends we disagree with. And then there are those who holier-than-thou any conversation on Facebook that isn’t for the LOLs.
But what should we do about it?
First, we need to recognize what the real problem is.
Diagnose the disease.
The problem for us in this moment isn’t division. That’s the symptom. The problem isn’t that we’re divided into two camps. It’s that we’re divided into much smaller camps than that. We’re divided into camps of one.
The reason our present climate is so charged is not that there are liberals and conservatives. That ship hasn’t only just set sail in the last year. But as we atomize truth into the individual’s experience of the world without the balance of common identity, we are left, not only with a more polarized electorate, but with more isolated individuals.
The disease is isolation. And it is deadly.
How we got here.
The grand history of humanity’s relationship with God is the rediscovery of our relationship. But the grand history of the church has, for most of its life, been a sequence of intellectual fights about the nature of Jesus.
Not about who Jesus is or what Jesus cares about. Literally, the physical and metaphysical makeup of Jesus. And the very substance of that fight has been the articulation of that metaphysic.
In other words, we care more about who we think Jesus is than what we think Jesus wants. And because of that, we war over the words we use to describe Jesus.
This is what Christians really care about.
That’s why the Nicene Creed has zilch to say about Jesus’s ministry in the world or mission for the world. And why adhering to a metaphysical creed is the litmus test for Christianity. It’s the manifestation of our true values! We place a system of right order for God and the world over our experience of transforming the world.
We didn’t always do this, however. The first followers of Jesus gathered and shared in the ministry of Jesus. They shared the sayings of Jesus like Scripture and made eating together and feeding the hungry the centerpiece of their tradition.
It wasn’t until the 2nd Century that followers of Jesus really started fighting over what other followers were saying. And it wasn’t until the 4th Century that Christians aligned with empire and began to seek true, international uniformity.
In the earliest time, we should remember the stark difference between unity and uniformity. And between two ideas we mistake for synonyms: the absence of war and the presence of peace.
We seek isolation
In the same way we think that killing war will bring peace, we trade the violent annhilation of the bad for the welcome presence of the good. Like murdering the murderer for justice, we seek the end of division by destroying it and enforcing our will.
And when that doesn’t work, we just leave.
There’s always a time when quitting is the thing to do. Quitting a violent relationship or a horrible job are good examples. Though digging to the root of either could lead to some lengthy conversation. But this isn’t just about the quitting.
Where do we go when we go?
The church’s mutant forms of withness distort Jesus’s love for presence. They masquerade abuse for love and codependence for intimacy. And we see a common value for isolation in both the church and the culture. The selfish, individualistic faith of a solitary pilgrim seeking permanent enlightenment is indecipherable from the modern-day Pharisee in the church or the cultural Christian outside it.
At least when it comes to caring for other people.
But this has been the area of the church’s total failure. It has always overemphasized the individual; even more so since the Reformation. And it has inadvertantly encouraged the faithful to seek isolation rather than save humanity from it.
A Practitioner of hope
Brené Brown is our most important prophet of the 21st Century. Her work on shame and courage is essential for us to wrestle with.
Here’s Brown, from an interview for Forbes:
We’re in a spiritual crisis, the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection. That connection — the spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world – is not something that can be broken; however, our belief in the connection is constantly tested and repeatedly severed. When our belief that there’s something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks, we are more likely to retreat to our bunkers, to hate from afar, to tolerate bullshit and to dehumanize others.
Addressing this crisis will require a tremendous amount of courage. For the moment most of us are either making the choice to protect ourselves from conflict, discomfort, and vulnerability by staying quiet, or picking sides and in the process adopting the behavior of the people with whom we passionately disagree. Either way, the choices we are making to protect our beliefs are leaving us disconnected, afraid and lonely. The data that emerged from the research on true belonging can start to connect some of the dots around why we’re sorted but lonely and perhaps contribute new insight into how we can reclaim authenticity and connection.
This is pursuing withness.
[This is Thesis #9 of my 31 Theses. To read them all, visit the 31 Theses introduction page.]