It’s been a tough few weeks. Actually, it’s been a tough couple of years in America. We haven’t seen such division in our country since the Civil Rights movement from the 1960’s. It would seem that not a week goes by where there isn’t a protest gone bad, unjust violence, or the spewing of hate-filled speech. This year’s election season was brutal. A nation filled with groups of blacks, whites, Evangelicals, Muslims and LGBT, each feeling marginalized and unheard. Each shouting louder through the soft glows of their computer screens and cell phones on social media. Each rallying around political figureheads that will do the shouting for them on national television. Each seeking to wedge their ideological beliefs and agendas into the public sphere. Each seeking to change the mindset of America “for the better”.
However, each of these self-identified groups share something in common: distrust, frustration, misunderstanding, and in some cases anger and judgement of the other. These commonalities are symptoms of a deeper issue and the solution is found in the least desirable place of our mortality.
Nothing confronts the fragility and finite state of our humanity than death. To face the reality of death is a humbling experience. To witness a being that was once full of life become fully drained of it is often a surreal and discomforting sight. In the most raw sense of human emotion we hate the notion of death. We loath it and all of its uncertainties, often reacting to it in anger or denial. After all, we are currently alive and to be absent of our aliveness is the complete opposite of who we are – beings designed to live.
If you think about it, everything in this world is subject to change. Our homes, our jobs, our friends, our family, our clothes and our bodies. Even our thoughts and convictions change. However, our state of aliveness never changes. From the moment of our conception to the moment of our final breath, we live. You are either alive or you are not.
Jesus delivered a radical message to his disciples: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Calls for respect and tolerance of others sound shallow and ineffective compared to the call to die. The problem with tolerance is that it only calls one to accept the beliefs and behaviors of the other. The one who is to “tolerate” doesn’t have to change their position – only “accept” the other. It’s largely ineffective and ironically causes further divide by forcing two individuals into their corners who then fight for more space in the room to feel, say, believe or act in the way they demand the other to “accept”. Eventually, when our arguments of persuasion and metaphorical lines don’t work, we create physical lines and barriers which leads to deeper divides of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
There is, however, a more loving way.
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
The gospel calls us to die – to die to our standard of life with our self-serving behaviors and attitudes. Far more effective than tolerance, death requires relinquishing my position, my attitudes and my state of being by sacrificing everything, including my very “aliveness”, so that the other may live. To die is to empty myself of any rights, words, power and position so that the other may have the entire room to be free. In the words of the famous German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
The gospel is not only a radical but a beautiful paradox. Jesus said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In other words, the moment you embrace your death is the moment you’ll discover what it means to truly live. This is the exact pattern that Christ demonstrated for us. His literal death was one of literal sacrifice for not only those who followed him, but also those who hated him. The gospel gives us hope in that because Christ died for us, we can lay down our lives for others without fear of penalty or loss, only gain.
Lasting peace and unity has never looked so daunting and yet so life-giving.
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.