Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.
I’ve been thinking, at 57, about how disappointing the world, other people, the church, society, politicians, even myself, are. And yet, I hope. I still think things can be better. This is mysterious.
I went to Mount Think-About-It to consider it and came down with two tablets carved in sand, so they can be easily revised if needed. But these are some things I have thought about in my experiences thus far.
No. 1 – First things first. The ministry of healing requires clear priorities. The First Commandment is always the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
“Let God be God” is redundant. God is God. The only question is, “Will we rail against God and the universe and the way it really is or not?” All of our spiritual traditions say God doesn’t care for human deities running around lording themselves over the rest of us. This keeps motives clear, priorities arranged and a healthy dose of humility in all of our efforts.
No. 2 – Caring is change. We are changed the moment we care. The poor are my neighbors, friends or estranged kin – not problems to be eliminated or solved.
Theologian Helmut Thielicke once said that sin entered the world when God was first spoken of in the third person by Satan: “Did God really say?”
Maybe the same is true of our neighbors. When we talk about them in place of “I-Thou,” as Martin Buber called it, we get, well, what we have.
Listening, being present and loving our neighbors have already changed the conversation. Until you care, nothing changes. Not caring is a tempting way of protecting from the hurt, but it is ultimately impossible for being really alive.
No. 3 – Politics alone cannot heal. It can facilitate genuine healing or get in its way. The same can be said of all the “principalities and powers” – economy, power, business, civic life and even religion.
They are instruments to occasionally use but never of eternal value for themselves.
Sometimes it is the obstacle to go around, sometimes the opposition to ignore, but never a god in whom we trust wholly. Politics is pretty important, which is why it is always overestimating itself.
No. 4 – Epiphanies are doorways. Real change begins with ideas, relationships and genuine connection.
Money, power and importance can only follow them if the change is genuine and the commitment unwavering.
Money, fame and power are not usually agents of change so much as instruments of resistance. They get on board when it suits them, and left to themselves tend to prefer comfort, control and micromanaging (i.e., spiritual anesthesia).
Because change will always bring the Unholy Trio into question, they become anxious because they will decrease if things do change.
They do not like this, but sometimes the numbers just aren’t with them anymore. Epiphanies are fast-track connections.
No. 5 – The power of the question. Before transformation came a question – one that must be asked by the right person at the right time.
“Questioning” can be a somewhat self-righteous exercise, even a delusional self-perception (this was franchised in the United States in the 1970s, causing the number of people who were at Woodstock to quadruple).
Real questions, like real change, have the element of self-involved investment/caring/suffering.
Gary Furr is pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.