For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding. It has been on a personal sojourn to try an 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 18 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 #3:
Chapter 1 – A World That Is More Often Against
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” - Henry Ford
“In life we make progress by conflict and in mental life by argument and disputation…there must be confrontation and opposition, in order that sparks may be kindled.”
In 1914, in a rural farmland suburb just north of Boston, a would-be poet began to scribble on a tiny writing pad a poem that would totally encapsulate the primary conflict embedded within every human soul. As the spring snow began to melt, and the sun beamed down in color banded rays tipped with beads of melting snow, the poem seemed to flow easily off the end of his pencil. So easily did the poem flow, in the very forefront of a World War that was about to begin, that the author himself wondered if the poem wasn’t about the larger divisions in the world. He wondered, more deeply, whether the words themselves didn’t represent a deep and primal human truth, that were, in fact etched into his own soul, somewhere at the beginning of time. The poet was Robert Frost, and the poem would later be named, “The Mending Wall.”
The poem is, of course, about a New England farmer who wakes up one day and notices, after a long and frozen winter, that the wall between his property and his neighbor’s property has fallen-down. A tipped-over pile of rocks lays on the ground where a wall had once been. And so, the farmer that wants his wall to be rebuilt, contacts his neighbor and asks him to come alongside him, and to help him rebuild the wall. They can rebuild it together. The second farmer agrees. As the two men work through the morning, heaving one stone upon the next, one bit of mortice after the other, the first farmer, the one who finds that the wall has fallen, becomes anxious. Maybe he has made a big mistake. He wonders whether it is such a good idea, after-all, to have a wall between neighbors. Maybe separation is not the key. Maybe a division is a bad thing. And so, he says out loud to his friend words that have found resonance within every college writing class ever since; “something there is that doesn’t like a wall.” He repeats the line several times throughout the work on the wall; “something there is that doesn’t like a wall.” He’s upset. The wall isn’t sitting well with him. For the purposes of this book, the farmer that doesn’t want the wall represents the “Going With” side of the human spectrum. He would rather go with his neighbor than go against him. He would rather have nothing dividing him from his neighbor’s property. He would rather there be no wall!
In response to the first farmer’s desire not to have a wall between them, the second farmer outwardly disagrees with his friend. We aren’t sure when the rancorous response occurs, but when it does happen, it is distinct and clear; “Good fences make good neighbors.” Like his neighbor, he repeats the line throughout the morning, “Good fences make good neighbors”. The second farmer wants this division, he wants a separation, he wants a demarcation between properties. This second farmer might be considered, again for the purposes of this book, the “Going Against” side of the human spectrum. Here are the two sides laid out in a kind of diagram:
“Something there is that doesn’t like a wall” (With) Vs. “Good fences make good neighbors” (Against)
The tendency is to see the second farmer, the one who “Goes Against” as unfriendly, un-neighborly and particularly angry and aggressive. But we should not fall prey to this tendency. He just feels that boundaries are a healthy part of every human relationship. “Good fences make good neighbors.” The internal and external debate continues between the two farmers all morning - the “Going With” side and the “Going Against” side. All the while, though, and throughout the morning the wall is continually going up. In the end, of course, the wall gets built – the “Going Against” side wins. Amidst the ongoing protestations of the “Going With” side – “where it is we do not need a wall” – the “Going Against” side – “Good fences make good neighbors” – wins.
And so it has been down through the ages. There have been two sides in almost every conflict and peace negotiation. There have been two sides in almost every argument or attempt at resolution. There have been two sides in every war, every political debate, every attempt at reconciliation. There have been two sides within every human heart. There has been a “Going With” side, and there has been a “Going Against” side. This book will be about the “Going With” side. It will attempt to show that human development and human progress are, in fact, more helped 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 one, John the Baptist, a man who stood against all the things that ever stood against him…
All For Now,