We live in fractious times. It doesn’t matter where you are on the theological, political or philosophical spectrum, it seems there is an awful lot to worry about. What we need are people who serve as a non-anxious presence — those who offer hope in the midst of anxious times and circumstances.
Why? Because when people lose hope, they are far more likely to resort to desperate measures to force change in the world.
I’ve long wondered if it was hopeless desperation that led Judas to betray Jesus. Was Judas so anxious about the Roman occupation, the failure of the Jews to re-establish the nation state of Israel that he could see no other way than try to force Jesus’ hand, to bring about a military overthrow of Israel’s Roman occupiers? Judas was impatient with Jesus’ slow work of reconciliation and love. He could not imagine any other option but the wholesale destruction of his enemies.
Such actions often lead to “salting the earth” – making the territory completely uninhabitable. The problem is that the territory is then uninhabitable for everyone.
We have done a pretty thorough job of “salting the earth” today. We’ve lost the ability to disagree agreeably. If you disagree with me, you are my enemy and therefore despised and counted as nothing. We have forgotten how important it is to the public good for divergent views to be honestly and vigorously debated.
Several weeks ago, I read an article by Eugene Scalia describing the deep friendship between his father and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The two of them disagreed vigorously about some of the most important aspects of our life together in community. But neither condemned the other. They each believed it was critically important to advance their ideas thoughtfully and with conviction – and that our democracy is diminished when there is not vigorous debate of divergent ideas about life together in community.
From its beginning the Bible models the presence of multiple voices offering contradicting and divergent views. In Genesis, there are voices that ascribe to God’s human-like sentiments, talk about God’s direct relations with persons, and how God reveals himself to them directly. Then there are voices that describe God as distant, revealing himself only in visions and dreams. Still other voices talk about God as so distant from his creatures that the gulf seems unbridgeable.
As a young boy, Jesus found his way to the Temple to engage in vigorous debate that challenged leading thinkers of Israel. As a young man, he was constantly in dialogue with those who thought his ideas were heretical.
We in the church are called to engage in the sometimes seemingly impossible work of tearing down walls that divide us, of building bridges across divides. We are called to model within our own communities of faith what it looks like to celebrate and welcome diversity while building relationships and fostering what Eugene Scalia describes as disputatious friendship. We need more disputatious friendships.