Audio Version read by Cheryl dialogue-or-diatribe.mp3
Words to a queen, a call to the church: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise … from another place … And who knows whether you … (were born) for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) God has also marked out our appointed time in history. Persuaded that God has destined us to live in this tumultuous generation, how should we then live as believers? We reside here, but our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and we are awaiting the coming of a Savior. Upon His (possibly imminent) arrival, what will He find us doing? He has much to say about that! If we’re following His footsteps, shouldn’t our influence cultivate healing and hope? Otherness is not only difficult but essential in a time when even the slightest misstep can bring condemnation and even censorship. Like Esther, we need courage and wisdom!
Uncertainty, division, and outrage flood the atmosphere we navigate seeking a pathway to cooperation. The image of George Floyd that evoked an outcry for reform is replaced with images of destructive mob rage, which evoke different responses. The cry for justice is muddied with an opportunistic hijacking of the spotlight that shifts the optics from protest to violence, making it easier for people to retreat back to their corners. Bullies win, dialogue disappears, reconciliation retreats.
Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, to make room for others – especially those out of our comfort zone. The solutions we seek cannot be achieved by violence. Jesus Himself overcame evil with good, and although the world saw Him as defeated, His suffering humility opened God’s heart to every single sinner. MLK put it so eloquently when he said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that; Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” To our peril we excuse the darkness of dismissive discrimination. To our peril we excuse the darkness of destructive retaliation. History clearly teaches us that anarchy precedes tyranny, which will benefit no one and will enslave those who come after us. We must stand against injustice. We must stand against violence.
Zeal can blind us to objectivity. Justice warriors are not merely projecting ideals, they are protecting friends. Patriots perceive contempt for the country as disregard for the blood sacrifice of their relatives. For both it’s compelling, not philosophical. Peter’s outburst in defense of his Jesus in Gethsemane probably felt noble, but obviously was not helpful. Jesus had to heal the collateral damage of misdirected fervor. Devotion to a cause, whether it be racial justice or country or whatever else, can unintentionally deter solutions. And there is another formidable enemy to contend with. The media exploits conflict, inflames emotion, and pawns us with their narrative. That’s how they make money, that’s how they promote their agenda, that’s how they abuse their power. Building barriers is so much easier than building bridges – and for some it is even lucrative!
As believers we must honestly ask ourselves if we are serving God or our convictions, God or an ideal, the God or my god. Evaluation requires unflinching integrity. Jesus labels peacemakers as blessed. Observation tells me that this blessing is acquired at great personal expense. Self-control, humility and vulnerability are developed virtues. Anger, blame, and isolation come natural. Understanding and compassion are painfully learned attributes, easily avoided by passionate opinionating. True listening requires ripping and tearing up preconceptions held dearer than we knew – hearing things that we don’t understand but must accept, then embrace, as another’s reality. Valuing others as more important than ourselves may be seldom preached, but is definitely required of us who name Jesus as our Lord. Self-justification is tempting, especially if seems spiritual – easy to re-label anger as righteous indignation, withdrawn indifference as wisdom. Only God-directed scrutiny can discern the difference. Inviting interaction, listening actively, apologizing easily, developing trust through straightforward grace-filled conversation, lovingly challenging sin,unoffendable – these are characteristics of dialogue. There is give and take, ebb and flow, hurt and forgiveness in dialogue. Diatribe is so much easier on the ego!
Discovering and turning away from personal sin is critical, the prerequisite for kingdom service. We must also repent for our cultural sin, following the lofty tradition of the prophets. We must be willing to confront and counter societal sin. Let’s put feet to our faith, move out of our cultural or ideological isolation and become part of a larger community, figuring out how to build bridges and de-brick walls. “Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit.This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy.” Galatians 5:25-26 Voice “Carry each other’s burdens and so live out the law of Christ. …” Galatians 6:3 jbp There are the blueprints.
Our children and grandchildren are watching to see what a Christ-follower looks like, and it has been a pretty ugly picture, especially in the area of racial reconciliation. Eventually each of us will look straight into the eyes of the crucified Savior and explain to Him why our opinions were more important than His ways and His people. Or we could hear “Well done good and faithful servant.” It all depends on what we choose today.
Addendum: Words of hope from long ago:
‘When bordering on despair at the sight of so much going wrong, so much ignorance, sorrow, and vice, so many darkened understandings and broken hearts, such wide tracts of savagery and godlessness, I can look up to Jesus, and can see far, far away – the furthest thing on the horizon – like some nebula – faint, it is true, and low down, but flickering with true starry light – the wondrous vision of many souls brought into glory, even a world redeemed.”
Alexander Maclaren (1800’s)