Posts Tagged ‘peace and justice’
It’s hard for me to compose a blog post on Good Friday and not write about Jesus. He is, after all, the central figure of the Christian faith, and his execution on a Roman cross is a key part of the central event. In Christian theology, the Crucifixion speaks volumes—innumerable volumes—about the love of God.
Does it have anything to do with dialogue? I think it does speak to dialogue, and the message is strikingly nuanced.
On the one hand, the Jesus of the Gospels waxes eloquent about the ideals behind dialogue. He blesses the peacemakers, commands us to love our enemies, calls for unity among believers, and identifies all these imperatives as a reflection of God’s very heart. We cannot love people most effectively without knowing them, and we cannot know them without listening: deeply, extensively, in the spirit of dialogue.
Then there is the example of Jesus himself. His mission, of course, involved delivering a message, so in the Gospels he does a great deal of talking. But he also listens and, I would submit, is changed by the listening. He listens in amazement to a Roman centurion and says, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:1-9). He listens to a Gentile woman who deftly argues that she too is worthy of his attention (Mark 7:23b-30). He asks his disciples who they think he is (Mark 8:27-30)—and I don’t believe it’s a rhetorical question.
That is the one hand.
The other hand brings us much closer to Good Friday itself. It is the end of a life lived not in dialogue with the religious authorities, but in conflict with them. His penetrating and sometimes caustic remarks offend them deeply. They see him as a troublemaker in a time and place where troublemaking could lead to Roman crackdown. And then, one Passover season—with thousands of pilgrims turning Jerusalem into a security tinderbox—this Jesus goes into the temple and creates havoc, overthrowing tables and chasing out moneylenders.
Here is what I take from all this. Dialogue is a good, to be sure. More specifically, it is a good to be used when it makes sense—and in service to something else. In Jesus’ case, that “something else” involved two higher goods that he practiced throughout his ministry: truth regardless of consequences and love that crosses taboos.
You would think that “speaking the truth in love,” as St. Paul puts it (Ephesians 4:15), would be uncontroversial. Not everyone, however, wants the truth to be proclaimed. At times, none of us want the truth to be proclaimed. Similarly, not everyone wants the unlovable to be loved (and we all have our own “unlovables”). The simple action of upholding truth and compassion, then, can get you in trouble.
Perhaps that is one good message among many to take from Good Friday. Pursue truth relentlessly. Spread compassion extravagantly. Use dialogue where appropriate to pursue these higher goods and others. Together with the other gifts that the Jesus of the Gospels has given us, this legacy deserves our commitment and our praise.
Do you have “channel markers” in your life? I’m referring to those people whose deep insights and good example command your attention. Wherever you are in life, you keep half an eye on them (as you would a channel marker when you’re sailing) to see what they’re thinking, writing, or doing. A glance at their words and actions helps you chart a straight course.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners is one of my channel markers. He’s a born-again Christian with a deep concern for peace and justice issues—so he confounds the conventional wisdom that religious always means conservative (and that liberal always means godless). His prolific writing has found expression in three books, a popular daily blog, and the magazine where he serves as editor-in-chief.
Yesterday, he asked me to sign a civility pledge.
Not just me, of course, but anyone and everyone. Like me (and probably you, since you’re reading this), Wallis is deeply concerned about the climate of polarization that pervades U.S. culture. Like me, he believes people of faith have a unique role to play in nudging us toward dialogue. So he’s asking said people of faith to sign his Covenant of Civility as a critical step.
I’m skeptical of pledge signing in general: it’s too easy to pledge and too hard to deliver. (Think New Year’s resolutions.) But this may be different. According to the site, “church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs” have already signed on. Just as important, Jim Wallis is a “channel marker” for a wide swath of the faith community—including, I believe, people in very high places—so anything he produces has more clout than the average effort.
Civility, as I’ve mentioned before, is only the first step, a precondition for the dialogue that draws us close to one another across all manner of divides. But it is an absolutely necessary first step, because you can’t talk—or, more important, listen—until you’ve stopped shouting. I encourage you to visit the site and sign the pledge.