The signs of the times cry out to us … hear and respond to what cries for redemption!
Few things cry out as loudly today as does the brokenness of a world and a church that are torn and divided by hatred, anger, polarization, and conflicting ideologies. We are in a situation where the sincere are divided from the sincere, the good from the good, the truth from the truth. Good people can no longer work together, worship together, or even talk charitably with each other. There is an emotional schism developing within the church and within society as a whole.
We see this, for example, in the way the abortion issue has polarized. There is much sincerity and goodness on both sides, but we have reached a point where meaningful (not to mention, charitable) dialogue between the sides is impossible. Neither can any longer empathically connect with the other. Any potential understanding is subverted by anger, abrasive rhetoric, accusatory judgement, and by a moral indignation that works itself into such a fever that it can accept no criticism or corrective challenge whatever. The same thing holds true in numerous other areas of church life, politics, and civil discourse. Feminism, the concept of hierarchy, social justice, diverse approaches in theology and spirituality, and even our use of language, divide and polarize us, creating a new dualism with each side having its prescribed ideology, rhetoric, and moral indignations. The net effect of all of this is an emotional apartheid that painfully and tragically divides community, setting the sincere against the sincere.
Some might suggest that much of this divisiveness is good, that the gospel is meant to divide and that tension is a sign of life. That is simplistic. There is too much in the anger and polarization around us today that may not justify itself on such high prophetic ground. The gospel is meant to divide the good from the bad, not the good from the good. Good tension likewise does not divide healthy energy from healthy energy. Much of the anger and polarization that is present in the world and in the church today is not the product of the truth that Christ said would bring fire to the earth, but the product of a fundamentalism of both the right and the left, a product of hearts and minds that are too ideologically-driven to be truly charitable and understanding.
Given this fact, it is true to say that one of the important vocations we are called to today is that of being a reconciler, a builder of unity. If Jesus were walking our earth today – stalking our pulpits, teaching in our schools and universities, writing in our newspapers and magazines, leading parish groups, or directing social justice programs – he would, I submit, call us to begin to work more deliberately at living, working, and ministering beyond the kind of anger and concern for ideological and political correctness that spawn so many of our present divisions. He would call us beyond the highly selective tears, indignations, anger, moral fever, and simple lack of charity of both the right and the left. He would call us beyond political correctness.
Put more positively, he would call us to an ever-widening loyalty of mind and heart so that we could enter vulnerability of his crucified state wherein, by not protecting himself against the pain of anyone, he was able to absorb the pain of everyone.
There is a story told about a past Mayor of New York City. One afternoon, together with several of his councillors, he was in a helicopter surveying various areas of the city that were severely devastated by poverty, racism, crime, over-crowding, and lack of financial resources. Discouraged to the point of despair by the sheer magnitude of the issues he was facing, he commented to a colleague: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a plunger and we could just pull it and flush this whole thing into the ocean!” He was joking, of course.
Sadly, among circles both right and left today, his comment typifies the prevalent feeling. More common than empathy for those who think and feel differently from those in our own circles is the attitude that those others are the great unwashed – a cesspool of ignorance, consumerism, moral decadence, and insensitivity – which we would love to flush away! Our empathy and tears are not for them, but for our own kind only.
How different the image of Christ, weeping indiscrimate, non-selective tears, beyond the tears of the right and of the left! To cry these tears is read the signs of the times.