Saturday, July 22, 2017

Who Is The Enemy?

Who Is The Enemy?
Jesus tells a parable in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew that speaks of someone sowing good seed in his field; while everybody was asleep, “an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.” [Matt 13:24-30] Later, he identifies the “enemy” with the devil, and the weeds are “all causes of sin and evil doers.”

In a Bible Study of this passage with colleagues, the question was raised, ‘Who is the enemy today?’ Judging from reading my news feed on Facebook every morning there are plenty of answers being tossed around: it’s the media, it’s the alt-right, it’s the progressive left, it’s the Democrats, it’s the Republicans, it’s abortion providers, it’s anti-abortion activists, it’s Muslims, it’s Christians, it’s Russians, it’s liberals, it’s conservatives …. the accusations are all over the socio-political map.

Then, of course, someone proffered the Walt Kelly answer in Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us!” This perfectly sums up Kelly’s attitude towards the foibles of mankind and the nature of the human condition. Kelly begins to point us in the right direction. Then someone said, “It is each of us. It’s me.” There was a long pause. The ethics of personal responsibility. We all get mixed up in various causes of sin – sin defined as that which separates us from the love of God. Not least of which as we hurl hate-filled rhetoric against those we identify as “evil one.” And make no mistake, whatever separates us from one another also separates us from God.

I am guessing it’s this very real human behavior that attracts some folks to become atheists. If you choose not to believe in God, which is a choice, then you need not worry about doing something, anything, that might separate you from God’s love.

After the Bible Study was over I got in the car for a long ride home. I listened to an interview on Fresh Air – Terry Gross was interviewing the British folk singer Billy Bragg. Near the end Bragg was talking about his study of the music of Woody Guthrie and the pervasive cynicism in today’s political climate – according to Wikipedia cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others' motives. This occurs most often about people we do not even really know personally! Bragg brought this up in reflecting on what he has learned from Woody Guthrie about writing songs:
I think Woody — he's said as much in his writing, that he never wanted to write a song that made people feel down. When he wrote his political songs it was always about lifting people up and giving them hope and making them feel a better life was possible. He said he hated songs that made people feel like they were born to lose. So what I learned from that — it's something I've been feeling for a while, but I haven't been able to articulate, and that is the biggest enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism or conservatism. It's actually cynicism. And not the cynicism of right-wing newspapers or news channels — the cynicism that is our greatest enemy is our own cynicism, our own sense that nothing will ever change, that nobody cares about this stuff, that all politicians are the same. If we're gonna make a difference, we have to be able to overcome that. We have to be able to identify our cynicism — we all feel it, of course we all feel it — and we have to be able to curb it and put it to one side and go out every day and think the glass is half-full.

Cynicism is our greatest enemy. And cynicism is about all we get these days from all sides. The enemy, however, is our own cynicism.

I got to thinking: what if we all made the effort to never say things or write things that make other people feel down? What if all that we say and do was aimed to lift people up, give them hope and make them feel better? Stanley Hauerwas has said that Christianity is not primarily about happiness, but about maintaining a true sense of hope in a world that rarely provides much evidence that such hope is justified – admittedly a kind of cynical way of stating it. But this is our job, not just as Christians, but as people, human beings, who want to see the world become a better place. We need to begin with the simple thought every day, suggests Bragg, that the glass is half-full. Then Billy Bragg sang this song – a simple song, but an honest and hope-filled song- Tomorrow’s Going To Be A Better Day:

To the misanthropic misbegotten merchants of gloom
Who look into their crystal balls and prophesy our doom
Let the death knell chime, its the end of time
Let the cynics put their blinkers on and toast our decline
Don't become demoralized by this chorus of complaint
It's a sure sign that the old world is terminally quaint

And tomorrow's gonna be a better day
No matter what the siren voices say
Tomorrow's gonna be a better day
We're gonna to make it that way

To the pessimistic populists to harbor no doubt
That every day we make our way, “to hell in a hand cart”
And the snarky set, who's snapping to get
Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet
Oh, don't become disheartened baby, don't be fooled
Take it from someone who knows the glass is half full

And tomorrow's gonna be a better day
No matter what the siren voices say
Tomorrow's gonna be a better day
We're gonna make it that way

The alternative is to be the weeds that choke out the all the goodness in this world – and there is much more goodness than not. It’s not even just about civility, it is about being willing to give up our cynicism and hate speech, and that is what it is, and be those people who know that the falseness of this world is ultimately bounded by a greater truth; become those people who sow and cultivate hopefulness. As Ringo Starr once put it, “You know it don’t come easy!” It begins with addressing the cynicism in ourselves. The blame game, the clever memes, the “gottcha” attitude is all just a distraction – and a harmful one at that. We can be the whole wheat of hope that lifts people up. No more tearing others down. Tomorrow’s going to be a better day!

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