Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Cycle

"By willing endurance we cause suffering to pass. Evil becomes a spent force when we put up no resistance. By refusing to pay back the enemy in his own coin, and by preferring to suffer without resistance, the Christian exhibits the sinfulness of contumely and insult. Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence.

The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and therefore it is the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives?" 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Periodically, I will encounter a book so completely engaging that I won't be able to stop referencing it, or the author, for several weeks (much to my wife's chagrin). The aforementioned quote is one such piece of literature, a Christian classic which, until just recently, I hadn't had the privilege to read.

My reading patterns recently are quite whimsical, and this has prompted me to lug a book bag (literally an entire bag of books, notebooks and highlighters) along with me to my workplace. One day I could be enthralled by the writings of Madison, Hamilton and Jay, and the very next I could be completely unable to focus on that subject matter, but will be drawn, as strangely akin as moth to flame, to a completely different topic whether it be religion, or philosophy or leisurely reading.

I have zero method, and to be quite honest, it's a pain in the ass (as well my back) to haul a book bag with at least four reading projects in progress lying within. Lately it's been Bonhoeffer though, and I think it's because I feel drawn to his charisma and action in a time, much like today, Bonhoeffer displayed character and indomitable will that has rarely been seen, and is quite foreign to those of us in America today.

Bonhoeffer was an outspoken critic of Hitler, one of the few courageous souls who chose to dissent though it cost him everything, even his life. This kind of conviction eludes us in our present era, though the cultural circumstances we find ourselves in the midst of continue to dog mankind. 

In a culture of a depreciating currency, an uninformed voting class, a populace whose adherence to religion is merely a label passed from parent to child, cronyism and an increasingly secular state the space in which demogogues not only find their roots, but flourish, is vast. The tyrant breeds and discovers his strength in the midst of chaos and fear, and our nation is no exception to the rule. 

When tyrants rise, prosperity declines, and hardship is foisted upon the people in the name of civic duty, and this duty continues to be leveraged against them until they have no spirit of their own. They exist for the subsistence of the State and its ends. Period. No exceptions. 

What I want to offer you today, however, is an idea which is challenging. The idea of destroying the Cycle of Hate. By hatred I refer to a legitimate loathing of another human being. Sometimes, a word can be used so often that it loses its potency. In our culture today, the word hate is used so frequently that it has become synonymous to disagreement. 

The common argument runs something like this:"You disagree with me, therefore you hate me, I can't believe that you'd be such a close-minded, intolerant, hateful person for holding such a view."

This is the nature of discourse in our public, as well as virtual, square today. This idea, if it is to be believed, is actually quite dangerous as dissent is not simply an accessory, but a hallmark characteristic of a free People. 

The Utopians dream of a world in which all are accepted and no judgement is passed, provided (of course) that what is accepted doesn't contradict their idea of a fair, just and kind world. This isn't the Utopian's fault, of course, because this is simply man's natural defect at play in the world which, as we know, is riddled with imperfections due to this inherent flaw.

However, the Utopians do carry fault insofar as they perpetuate the Cycle of Hate due to their unwillingness to acknowledge the defect of Man. Optimism does have its faults, and unrelenting optimism faithfully entrusted to a naturally flawed being, who has shown its inadequacies historically, is fatal to what little progress has been made throughout the whole of human history toward the tangible freedom of the individual. 

As Christians, our objective is different than that of the Utopian. A Christian understands that the natural flaw of man isn't within our power to remedy; we must realize that our true purpose is to alleviate the suffering of our fellow man, and that this relief will come at our expense through sacrificial action. Many may struggle with this notion, but the entire premise of Christianity is that the follower of Jesus has been rescued at the highest of cost, this leaves the disciple graciously indebted to his rescuer. Or to put it another way, we are not our own. Our entire self is spoken for. 

We live in a tragic world, and yet despite the darkness we face every single day we can see altruism illustrated more clearly because of that darkness. This isn't an accident. Despite the brokenness of the world there is opportunity for those who wish to share God with others to visibly magnify his cause to those who haven't personally encountered Him. 

No political program, NGO initiative, or method of "higher thought" will remedy the problems that so entwine our being. There is only one who could remedy that. We can't place our faith in a manufactured construct. So often we get lost in a cause and forget our reason for the cause. The cause becomes God. The cause itself is transformed into the world's new savior.

This is why our churches in America are spiritually dead. We have created a science, a business formula, for a successful "church" complete with life-changing programs that address every aspect of human struggle. The more invested one becomes in this entity, this organism, the better their chances of being "fixed". Thus, we have stolen the mantle of the Savior and his sacrifice and placed it upon the altar of self sufficiency.

Evil advances easily under these circumstances, because being a savior was a job never given to us and, quite frankly, we are no good at it. As a final result, evil twists the worldview of Christians who have allowed the coup d'etat of their rightful King and replaced it with human ideology, and uses them as vehicles for perpetuating the Cycle of Hate.

One of Bonhoeffer's most profound points so far, is the concept of the Christian forfeiting all for the sake of Christ. It's true that doctrines may give lipservice to this concept, but the abstract is as far as the sacrifice goes. This is why church attendees aren't different, they don't stand out as someone who follows Jesus. If someone truly followed Jesus it would be quite obvious because his or her actions would so radically differ from what is accepted by society at large.

Take, for instance, the concept of personal rights. If Bonhoeffer is to be believed, and Jesus truly desired followers destitute of all but Himself, then Christians would not be seen clinging to political protections which they are "owed" by society. They would have no need of a gun, because Jesus didn't endorse vengeance or even self defense. They wouldn't need their lawyer, because the way of Jesus doesn't play ball with the world's methods of conflict resolution. An American Christian wouldn't require titles or property rights because these are things that are the property of all men, even the exploitative.

Yet, it seems that the church in this country is determined to have its cake and eat it too. It seems determined to assimilate into the world, all the while claiming piety. It is determined to love Jesus with everything it has, that is...when it's convenient. This is why being a disciple of Jesus, in Bonhoeffer's view, is so difficult. This is why it is so exceptionally rare.

This brings me to my last point. This really was the initial point of the post, but it seems that the late hour and an active mind have taken me on a prolonged detour. At any rate, it seems to me that the nature of Hate is perpetuated through disconnectedness. Hatred, genuine hatred and not simply disagreement, is bred from a self-centered worldview. The hateful person has no interest in another person unless they are of some utility to them, if they have no utility then that person becomes expendable in the hateful individual's eyes. 

It is my experience that empathy is an embedded characteristic in humanity's DNA, but empathy requires interaction to be enabled. Hearing another's story, learning about their situation, their upbringing, their family, all these things cause us to begin sifting through the information, subconsciously of course, and we naturally begin to align ourselves with the ways in which we are similar.

I was reading an article today about a former white supremacist who was interviewed by a black man. Why did the skinhead leave the culture of hatred he was immersed in? He became a father. The love he had for his daughter disrupted his anger. What was this man's connection with a black reporter? Fatherhood. The bond they shared as fathers, carrying the weight, anxiety and joys of parenting, transcended the hatred this man had for his imterviewers race. They saw each other as human beings first.

I own a shirt created by a local printing company. It has a circular design on it  that says: "Hate Creates Fear, Fear Creates Hate".

I find this to be utterly true. Fear causes distance between people. Distance is disconnect. Disconnect allows for broad based assumptions to take precedence over actual fact. It relieves us of our duty to know the truth before issuing condemnation. This is why governments favor a polarized public. A divided, angry electorate is far more likely to acquiesce to political ploys for power gained at the expense of a marginalized segment of society. People who are afraid for their safety will allow their freedom to be taken in the name of safety. History has shown this repeatedly.

Knowing someone different than yourself dispels the prejudice derived from ignorance and fear. When I was a part of the campus ministries at Oshkosh I couldn't understand why no one would attend non-Christian clubs or events. We would meet once a week, then have bible study and talk about how rotten the world was, and how we would stand for our faith but it all took place in a theoretical realm. There was no action. We were living for comfort, not for a Christ.

When I began attending the LGBT club meetings with two other "renegades" immediately I felt that fear, that aversion which is so common in the political arena, begin to dissipate. I didn't say much, I wasn't a "good witness", I simply listened to story after broken story. I heard much about pain experienced by those in attendance, and the feelings of isolation. This experience taught me that there is far more to pursuing Jesus than simply showing off how many Bible verses you can quote, or how frequently you attend your small group. 

It was challenging. It was saddening to hear the hurt. It was convicting to hear the damage done by those who claim Christ. The vast majority of those in campus ministries will never experience that. They will huddle in their safe zones and act persecuted because people dislike their perceived pretentiousness.

The Cycle of Hate will continue to spin if you and I choose to engage in the tactics that are common to the world. We will fail if we hide from those who disagree and challenge us. We will fail if we treat our fellow Man as a combatant rather than a companion on this shared journey. We will fail if we cling to things, and status as defined by society. 

The revolutionary nature of Jesus is that it defies the normative thought, and embraces what seems to be nonsensical to those who don't know Him. If we refuse to repay evil with evil the Cycle of Hate will fail, and we will be victorious.

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