Most of us are too close. Not to each other, of course, we have been drifting farther and farther away from each other for decades, haven’t we? Building more and more satisfying interiors so that we spend less and less time outside of them, forming more and more tightly controlled interest groups, staying within our circles, circles that become harder and harder to penetrate sometimes.
No, we’re too close to ourselves, too deeply invested in who we are and in our own worlds these days, hence the interest in groups that are just like us.
I was chatting online with some friends about the Andy Lopez shooting, the Andy Lopez decision by the D.A., the media coverage of the Andy Lopez, shooting, verdict and reaction to the verdict. It was a non-stop Andy-fest on Facebook that day.
But like so many discussions that take place on Facebook it went from a thoughtful question to a fourth-grade playground rumble in about three moves. Radically switching gears for a moment, one of my least favorite B-52’s songs is “Private Idaho” about the conformity of suburban culture and the fear of the other. It’s a fine song but it gets, like some of their songs do, a little hard to follow now and then and in my old age I no longer have the patience for it.
But it, like many songs before it have contributed to my vocabulary, in this case, the phrase “Private Idaho” is shorthand in our house for someone who is locked into their way of thinking.
The internet is a worldwide, highly advanced, speed-of-thought, interconnected web of people living in their own private Idahos and before you step out into it, you ought to understand what you are doing.
If you express any opinion, any opinion, you’d better beware of someone taking it the wrong way, or heck even the right way because of their own private Idaho, their own, too-close-ness to themselves and their own opinions, their own bubble.
A comment about needing to have a better, more thoughtful system for handling unfortunate incidents like that which took place on Moorland ave. was put forth and soon it was a shouting match between the “cops are murderers” folks and the “he was on drugs” screamers and the “what was he doing with a toy gun like that one” people and the “it’s his parents’ fault” group and a couple of others as well.
Sometimes the differences were nothing more than one person reacting to the use of a single word in someone else’s posting and <<BAM!!>> they were off on a tangential tear about something that happened to a second cousin of theirs back in Mississippi or, curiously, Idaho in one case or some other provocation; each of them living in their own private Idaho, reacting as if their own perspective was the one true perspective.
It isn’t just politics. I made the not-terribly controversial comment on someone’s posting that not all Christians were morons, nor can we all be lumped into phrases like “all Christians are . . .” fill in the blank. I thought, you know, I have a master’s degree in this, I am a calm and reasonable person, I should be able to contribute to this discussion. Wrong.
All kinds of invective hurled at me caused me to just stop following the original poster of the original post which was about something else entirely because I do not personally have time to get into debates that take place entirely out of state, in someone else’s Idaho.
The internet is not unique in this characteristic, civility is a word a lot of the people in the debates online would struggle to define let alone embody but the internet is the most egregious example of how, when we are isolated from one another, from the institutions and structures that teach us how to deal with other people especially when they have <<gasp!>> opinions that differ from our own. It is not only not hard to find that kind of tit-for-tat, one ups-man-ship masquerading as debate, it is hard to find a discussion of any kind that isn’t like that in the public forums of the World Wide Web.
Or in any discussion forum out here in the world wide, well, world.
Like Pharaoh, our hearts become hardened to each other when we turn ourselves inwards, venturing out less and less, insulating more and more. Suddenly not changing, the hallmark of the hardened heart becomes a virtue, it becomes steadfastness or principle or some other rallying cry that we use to rationalize the notion that we are now convinced that we are right and that there will never be any new information that might shake that certainty.
Nobody will get in. Ever again. Ever.
Not just in conversation, not just online, anywhere, everywhere.
We are a community gathered around the notion that this is not a good thing. We are a people who dare to declare that the willingness to meet someone else on their terms and not our own is not a vice but instead a cardinal virtue, Christ like in its simplicity, but like the labors of Hercules to out into practice sometimes.
All around us, the world with its enticements and the people of the world with their certainties, their inflexibilities, and worst of all, some of us, fulfilling their opinions of us, acting like following Jesus is something we have the right to make them do, to enforce upon the world, as if that was what Jesus would have us do.
The weeds planted among the wheat, the tares are not, as some might have you believe, the ones outside the church, outside the love of God, out there somewhere and we must cure them, must bring the word to them, must heal them, must bring them to Christ.
The weeds, the tares are not, as some would have you believe, the failure of nations to follow Christ, to incorporate Christ into their laws and their actions. In the history of the world, in the history of the faith Christianity has never been stronger than when it was attacked and reviled, beset on all sides by forces great and small, forced to defend itself and its worthiness, its meaning and its truth and never in the history of the world was there a better prescription for the death of faith than incorporating it into the civic life of a people.
If you need an example, there are likely more people with Norwegian heritage who are Christians in practice living in the Midwest than there are in Norway, and the Lutheran Church is an arm of the government in Norway.
The tares are not the criminals, or the immigrants, or the unions, or the liberals or the conservatives, or the county tax assessors or the creeping secularity of the American culture. We spend so much time looking outward in fear we have failed to notice that the tares among the wheat, the weeds which will choke and inhibit the growing of the faith are as often as not, us.
When we make faith a competition, a competition by the way that we declare ourselves the winner of before the race begins and anyone not standing there in the winner’s circle with us is somehow lacking, because, you know they’re losers in our little race.
We become the tares when we declare that there is only one thing to be, only one thing to do, only one way to worship, only one way to be a church and that everyone else, if they want to be winners in this race, have to get in line, have to join us in our own private Idaho.
We have been given so much. We have been given the keys to the kingdom and all of its glory, the feast that is to come and the peace that passes all understanding and all of that. Why on earth would we take those keys and use them to lock anybody out?
We have been given through the gift of faith a family that spans the world and prays for you even as you pray for them. Why then would we limit our vision to most of the world and focus so tightly down upon our own, say it with me, private Idaho? That’s right. The world needs our prayers and support because it is no longer as large as it once was and an idea can travel all around it in seconds instead of months so What we say and do can mean a lot more. Which one of you, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? Jesus asks but does not add, “but not if that child is halfway around the world.”
We have been given eternity, do you get that? Eternity as in forever and ever, in blessedness and peace as our inheritance. Why is it that we worry so much about how we look or what we wear or what our neighbors drive during the time we have to spend here?
It is because we are still, though faith has set us upon the path, we are still subject to the law of the flesh, it still dogs our heels and whispers it’s sweet lies to us, telling us that we are the center of the universe, that we are right and smart and pretty and that we don’t need anybody or anything beyond what we can see, the things we need are the things that are advertised and the things that are for sale.
But those are also the things that will not last. They will be replaced by a newer, cooler model next year or they will break within ten minutes of the package being opened or they will become treasured possessions that someone will buy for fifty cents on the dollar at the estate sale in our home after we have passed away.
Why on earth would we hope for that, we who have so much already?
What we hope for is more than that. We hope that our kids will grow up in a world that will be as nice for them as it was for us, and maybe a little nicer. We hope that they will be strong and wise and good. We hope that they will be faithful, that they will feel the joy of the Lord’s love in their lives all the days of their lives in their dark days and in their sunny moments.
We cannot just stop hearing the voice of the world, the law of the flesh will always be with us. It is a part of us as surely as the flesh itself. If we tore it out we would destroy ourselves and no longer be the people God created.
But on the last day, when all of the promises are fulfilled and the flesh falls away and is remade unspoiled and unstained then the law of the flesh will also fall.
Until then, maybe a little less arrogant, maybe a little more open to ideas that are not our own. Maybe we could strive to enter into discussions willing to be persuaded and willing to do the work to persuade others, in our speech and in our deeds.
Until then, until all is gathered again in the arms of the Lord we could remember that we are not the authors of grace, not the creators of the world, not the masters of the universe.
But we are the subject of grace, its target, its purpose. We are also the recipients of this world, so suited to us that it may as well have been made just for us. We are the beloved children of the one who is the master of the universe, our creator and our God who gave us all of this and the promise as well not so that we could hoard and control it, but so that it could hoard us, gathering the throng of humanity of all shapes, sizes and colors and means into one, one body, one people.
None of us are right all the time, and being a Christian doesn’t increase your odds of being right. So let’s set that aside and just try and live according to the promise and not the law for a while and see how the world around us is made better by our embrace.