For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding. It has been my sojourn to try and unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now. More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today. And so, I have been writing a book.
The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them". Over the next 16 weeks, I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book. I want to invite you into the conversation. I want to get your help in writing this book. If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know. If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together. What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true". And so now, if you are still WITH me...here is installment #6:
This book will be about the “Going With” side of the spectrum. It will attempt to show that human development and human progress are, in fact, helped more by people who “Go With” than those who “Go Against.” It will attempt to show that people do better when people go with them, than when people go against them. It will attempt to show the transformative power of the act of tearing down of walls between people. However, in order to understand the totality of the conflict between both sides in this internal and external debate, this first chapter will attempt to show how strong and salient the “Going Against” side is. It will show how the “Going Against” side is, actually, a fundamental part of our human identity, and a critical part of our human development. Without a “Going Against” side, we would not be able to function as human beings, and our primary identities as people would not be able to form. Some of the best examples of this theological and philosophical perspective actually come from the Bible.
Consider, for a moment, this vignette from the first century in the country of Israel. Here is the story of a man named John the Baptist, who stood against all the things that ever stood against him…
30AD North East of the Dead Sea, Israel
The blistering, noon-day heat was pouring down upon the white-hot clay of the Judean desert. Across the horizon, which was dotted with hundreds of rolling sand-dunes, were the mirror-like mirages that float off the desert floor in arid places like the Middle East. These vaporous wafts of humidity cast an earie drapery over the objects on the distant horizon. Already at noon the temperature was hovering just above 100 degrees. Some people said the temperature on this mid-summer day would crest well over 120 degrees at the high point of heat in the late afternoon. Even the snakes and the desert lizards had scampered away in order to, evade the omnipresent glare of the sun. Everyone sought shelter to try and save themselves from the scorching summer blast.
Regardless of the oppressive heat, the desert on this particular day was anything but vacant. As the small rodents and animals scurried to their respective hiding places, an opposite and corollary movement of collection was happening on the desert floor. People were gathering! One by one, coming from tiny little cities like Sebaste, and larger cities like Caeserea, and Capernaum, and even Jerusalem, crowds were forming. First by handfuls of ten, then by one hundred, and by some shear miracle of human nature, there all-of-a-sudden coalesced over one thousand people at the base of a near dry river bed. Farmers from the hill-country, fishermen from Galilee, tax collectors from Jericho, wine makers from Samaria, priests and religious dignitaries from the bigger cities down south collected. All of these assemblages from various parts of Judean Middle Eastern first century life were gathering. And why were they there? They were there, in this God-forsaken place, to see and hear a prophet. But not just any prophet. It was said that he was greatest prophet since the prophets Elijah and Ezekiel – the two greatest “seers” and “prophets” of the ancient Jewish faith. The prophet they were there to see was a man known to most by an unassuming and non-descript and monosyllabic name – “Yan”. We know him today as – John - “John the Baptizer” or “John the Baptist”!
Where did this prophet – this John the Baptizer come from? Because of his relatively low station in life, many assumed that he hailed from a low, peasant stock and tribe. But this was not true. John’s father had been a high priest in the temple, and his mother had come from a relatively good family line. Though he was far from being royalty, John was raised in the tradition of the priests – the “Cohenim”. He knew the scriptures backwards and forwards. He could recite the Psalms flawlessly. He knew the traditions of the priestly life, the dedications, the consecrations, the holy sacraments. John had been an early child prodigy, who could have taught, at an early age, in any Jewish seminary or school. But none of these reasons were why the multitudes were visiting him now.
What people loved about John was that he stood against the status quo. John was the ultimate contrarian, and iconoclast. He was a man who spoke his own mind, who gave his own opinions, and who offered his own perspectives, on all, and any subject. And people found John’s simple honesty and integrity to be very refreshing. Because in those days, as is the case in our own time, nobody seemed to have the courage of their own convictions. Either people were unsure of what they believed, and therefore said nothing, or they were certain of what they believed but they were too afraid to say it. Not John. John was different. He wasn’t afraid to say what he believed, he wasn’t reticent to say who he thought was right, and who he thought was wrong. Recently, Herod himself had become the brunt of John’s lambasting sermons. Even John’s clothing was “in your face”. Instead of the robes worn by a priest or the simple tunic of the rabbi, John wore a camel’s pelt (the dirtiest and smelliest of the desert animals), and leather belt around his waist. Some said the belt came from a bear that John had killed with his own bare hands.
John’s message was not a comforting story or an easy or enjoyable tale. One word could be used to describe it – AGAINST. John was against everything and everyone who did not agree with him. John was against the religious establishment, against the customs of his time, against many of the traditions, against the upper classes of people who oppressed those who were poor. John said the kinds of things that you remembered: “The time has come! The kingdom of God has come near.” John’s main message was to Repent, which meant, “to turn around”, “to change course”, “to go in the opposite direction from which you have been going.” John preached about the forgiveness of sins, but not before he told people, sometimes from a seemingly miraculous “sense of knowing”, exactly how they had sinned. Such talk should have been off-putting, but people who lived in the fist-century in Galilee could not get enough of it.
John would yell rants and shout obscenities at people – even people he did not know. John cursed total strangers and people who he had never even met before; “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” To those who followed him, it appeared that John was afraid of no-one. Nor was he sparing in his withering critique of them. To rich people, John said, “Give one of your shirts to the poor.” To tax collectors, the gang-bangers and mafia bosses of the day, John said, “Give back the money you have stolen from people.” To rough, tough, angry Roman soldiers, who had the ability to arrest John, or even beat him-up, he said, “Stop extorting people, and lying and accusing people falsely.” Such words would have gotten most people killed, but not John. At least not yet. The more John went against the life and the lifestyles of people, the more people came to him, and the more people were baptized by him, the more influence he had.
All For Now,