Lenten Reflection for 29 March 2019
A young university student told me he has dropped out of the church, because Christians are “self-righteous hypocrites.” I told him I understand his concern but also suggested that he do some reading and reflection not about the church but about Jesus of Nazareth. Church can come later….
First of all, Jesus, the man from Nazareth, was a human being who truly lived at a particular time and in a particular place. The man was not a myth. He remains – for me and for all people inside and outside the church — an historic figure from whom enormous energy flows.
The New Testament epistles and gospels point to Jesus’ life that was truly lived in history, but it was not a collection of historic details about his physical life which really mattered to the biblical writers. It was what Jesus meant and what it was that they believed they had experienced in and through him. Paul, writing before the gospels were written, expressed it this way: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5: 17).
Jesus brought a new dimension. The Christian Scriptures were written to invite us into the Jesus experience of new life: a new humanity, one not bound by death and one that reaches toward transcendence, because he revealed authentic humanity and genuine divinity. And it is there that we best think deeply about the mystery of God, the mystery of life, the mystery of love, and the mystery of being.
Jesus was not a tribal chief. The spiritually short-sighted always miss this. Jesus invites us to break out of our religious and political tribalism…..The more people sink into tribal attitudes, the more their lives are consumed with hatred and the less human they become. Trust in Jesus brings the empowerment to step into a new consciousness that calls us to break out of old prejudices and stereotypes…
To the Galatians, Paul wrote that for people inside the Christ experience all tribal barriers melted away. In Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” i.e. neither Jew nor Gentile (3: 28).
In this new dimension, Jesus was taught wholeness. He saw humanity from a new perspective. He believed that the humanity in one person could touch the humanity in another and empower that other to step out of old and narrow tribal security systems, with their fears and defining prejudices, behind which people search for an illusive security.
The call of Jesus is for all times: always contemporary. So real and pressing today, when so many people around the globe are becoming infected by toxic tribalism and its fear-promoting group/mob mentality.
We have the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, rising antisemitism across Europe and the United States, and more than a thousand hate groups now active in the USA, most of which espouse some form of white supremacist ideology and a very distorted Christian religion. Tribes demand loyalty, and in return they confer the security of belonging. Toxic tribalism sets in motion a process of degeneration. People with this mindset become angry, bitter, and resentful towards everything and everyone outside of their tribe. Toxic tribal people try to protect themselves, their culture, and their religion by creating rules to specify who is in and who is out. Extreme polarization. The other becomes not just different but evil.
Toxic tribalism is particularly strong in contemporary politics, which threatens to become a perpetual tribal war, in which the ends justify almost any means. Individual citizens are encouraged to ignore the constraints of normal decency. People who, for example, would never tolerate cruelty or lying or even ordinary impoliteness cheer every expression of it in their tribal political leaders.
And of course I could wrote a book about toxic tribalism in the church. The clerical old boys club that uses and abuses and denigrates women. The toxic tribalism of church authorities who, to protect their tribe, abandon their morals and forfeit the safety of vulnerable children and obedient religious women —sisters — by covering up, ignoring, or denying extensive evidence of sexual abuse by priests and bishops.
Belonging is a crucial human need, but it can descend into dangerous tribalism. We continually need the witness of critical observers and prophetic speakers.
In his ministry Jesus moved from exclusive tribalism to the inclusive Reign of God. This is the whole point of the parable of the Good Samaritan….Who is my neighbor?
The ministry of Jesus was the embodiment of a compassionate love that broke down cultural, ethnic, gender, and religious barriers.
People today have crucial choices to make. Will they live together in harmony, with civility, respect, and empathy? Or choose to live in perpetual animosity and conflict?
May we live in and promote the new dimension in the spirit of Jesus.