It seems to me that, in the 30+ years since I moved from the United States to Norway, there are two aspects of American culture which have become more extreme. At the least, I can't recall these things being so pronounced as I was growing up...
- American society has become more fear-based. As an example, I can recall walking or bicycling (without a helmet) to school as a first grader. I can also recall, when I was 7-8 years old, frequently crossing a busy road (alone) to get to the playground at the community center, and playing in the creek that flowed past the playground. I have the impression that children in America don't have that kind of freedom any more. The focus seems to be more about what could go wrong, and who might get sued for it. The fear of liability seems to permeate the society much more than I can remember, even as a young adult.
- American society has become more polarized. The past few years have seen what seems to be an explosion of intolerance. It is more than just the political divide. And yet it is intriguing how a person's position on the political spectrum has become a fairly accurate predictor of so many other attitudes or behaviors that are (or at least were) outside of the political realm. And the level of distaste, disrespect or hatred towards members of "the other tribe" is something I rarely experienced back when I lived in the States.
Especially the polarization, but also the fear, is a lot about being right. It works something like this:
My view is right. So your view has to be wrong. And since your view is wrong, you are wrong. And since you are wrong, your value is less than mine. And since you lack value, I don't want to have anything to do with you, or with anything you may represent.
It's not that we consciously think through that whole line of reasoning. But that is the underlying pattern which seems to be expressing itself to a great degree.
We see it in politics, as well as in issues such as racism or health care or perceived rights or even theological positions. It often starts as a difference of understanding, or of opinion or perspective, about an issue. Before long people stop listening, and instead things degenerate into distortions, accusations, name-calling, and finally an existential battle for for "what is right."
A child of Father God should not behave like that. Not ever. Paul put it like this:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
(2 Cor 10:3 NIV)
The Christian is not called to fight for what is right. In this context, "what is right" really doesn't matter. What matters is Truth. And Truth is a Person. And that Person is Love incarnate.
This is what Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 12: Even though we may have differences of understanding or emphasis or expression, there is no place for devaluing another person. We cannot say to the person on "the other side," that we don't need them.
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
(1 Cor 12:22-23a NIV)
And then Paul went on to describe a most excellent way to relate with one another—in chapter 13, the Love Chapter. In essence, Paul says that it doesn't matter if you speak or do what is right. If you do not have love, then it is totally worthless. No amount of being right can possibly cover over the damage done by being without love.
And what does a person look like who has love?
- They are patient: not in a hurry, not needing to be first.
- They are kind: speaking kindly and acting generously.
- They do not envy: happy to see others (including perceived enemies) be blessed.
- They do not boast: having no need to be acknowledged for their accomplishments.
- They are not proud: having no need to inflate their value or importance.
- They do not dishonor others: always speaking honorably to and about other people, regardless of their words or actions.
- They are not self-seeking: preferring the needs and desires of others.
- They are not easily angered: not feeling threatened and consequently rarely agitated by injustice or abuse directed at them.
- They keep no record of wrongs: viewing nobody as "a bad person" since there is no reference to any previous wrong behavior.
- They rejoice in truth: having their joy in Jesus, that Person who is Truth.
- They always protect, trust, hope and persevere: being very concerned for the safety and well being of the person with whom they may disagree; trusting that their "enemies" will respond to love, even though it may take a very long time to see it happen.
That's a pretty challenging list. And none of us can achieve that in our own strength. That's where we come back to having love. It is only by the love of Father God pouring through our hearts, that the things which hinder love can be washed away. As we walk in his love, it will change us. This is the Corinthian surprise. It has nothing to do with being right, and everything to do with being enveloped in love.
I look forward to the day when we (again) see the Church living in this calling. Tertullian wrote of how late 2nd century secular Romans said of the Christians, "See how they love one another." The time is at hand for the world to once again be surprised by Corinth.