What We All Can Do Now

Photo by Trev Adams on Pexels.com

This is an article I published in an online journal called The Common Politic on January 11, 2021, in response to the attack on the US Capitol.

As I watched the violence at the Capitol on January 6, I thought about missed opportunities. We’ve all been talking for years about the divisions among us, and we’ve looked to our leaders to find ways to unite us. They’re not going to. It’s up to us. It always has been, but we’ve failed to realize how important our individual contributions are to the larger scheme of things. The remedy cannot be handed to us by politicians. “We, the People” are divided, and “We, the People” must find ways to overcome these divisions.

Here are three things we can all do:

First, we can take responsibility. We tweeted (or retweeted) comments, “liked” or “shared” memes that escalated the anger and frustration we witnessed on January 6. Nor was it all on one side. On social media, any remark draws reactions both pro and con, and it’s customary for these conversations to become heated, personal, and insulting. We’ve been attacking each other online for years; how strange that we never expected it to spill out onto the steps of the Capitol.

If we want to begin repairing the damage, we must take responsibility for the part we’ve played in this ongoing war of words. We must pray, as the Publican did in one of Christ’s parables: “God, have mercy on me, the sinner” (Luke 18:9-14). Although most translations say, “a sinner,” the original Greek text includes the definite article: “the sinner.” And that’s precisely the attitude we need now. I can’t point at anyone else and say, “They’re more guilty than I am.” The Pharisee in this parable tried that; it’s the wrong approach. If I want to come before God and ask for help in healing this nation’s wounds, I must take responsibility both for the role I played in getting to this moment and for the steps necessary to move us forward. When Jesus called Simon Peter to repentance on one occasion, Simon glanced over at John and said, “Okay, but what about him?” (John 21:15-19). Jesus said, in effect, “Don’t worry about him. You follow me.” The Greek text emphasizes that word “you.”

There’s no escaping the fact that we did and said things that contributed to the mess we’re in. Or at least we failed to do or say things that might have helped prevent all this. We’re all responsible. And it’s time for us to come before God and admit it openly.

Second, we can launch a Crusade of Compassion. “Pursue Love,” the Apostle Paul says (I Corinthians 14:1). This isn’t an afterthought. He just finished saying in the previous verse that Love was of even greater importance than Faith and Hope (I Corinthians 13:13). Love is to be our “great quest,” the Modern Language Bible says. This invitation becomes all the more enticing if we pair it with Paul’s prayer elsewhere (Ephesians 3:16-21 NIV) that we be able to experience just how “wide and long and high and deep” the love of God really is, until we ourselves are “filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.”

I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with any of the English words we have for this amazing gift. The term “love,” as used in common language, leaves out so many important aspects of it, while conveying an emotionality that I find unhelpful in these tough times. Words like “altruism” and “brotherhood” seem lifeless, however, and “kindness,” while we certainly need more of it, is only a part of what Paul has in mind. I wish we had a word that could capture our imaginations with the adventure to which God is calling us! Like a multi-faceted jewel, that word would need to have lots of concepts packed into it. There would have to be something about “passion” in it: a passionate interest in the welfare of others. (The word “compassion” has “passion” in it, but we’ve become so used to the word itself that we miss that nuance.) This word would also have to include something about “respect.” It should excite us to treat all people with respect bordering on reverence. But even though we lack a suitable word for it, this is what we can do now, for everyone’s sake: we can pursue that Great Mystery which, with faltering speech, we can only describe as the Love of God, and we can share it indiscriminately.

Third, we can commit ourselves to a future that includes everyone. So many people seem to look forward to a future in which “the other side” is gone. This either means that the opposing party has become so politically weakend that they are no longer a threat, or that they have been cowed into silence. Some view their own party as so beneficent that, once they are in power, all will be well. We have lived through enough political reversals, however, to know better. None of these fantasies will come to pass. What we think of as “the other side” is a complex web of beliefs and practices held by half of the people in our country. It’s not going to go away.

As followers of Jesus, and as “patriots” too, if one dares use that loaded word anymore, our only option is to work towards a society that has room for everyone – even those who disagree with us. But when I say “work towards a society,” I’m not talking about political activism. Our political leaders do not know how to unite us. Perhaps their position precludes that possibility. “We, the People” have become divided in a number of ways, socially. “We, the People” must work hard to get back together again.

In our communities, our workplaces, our schools, our churches, and anywhere else we encounter one another, we must build trust. We must create opportunities to work and play and laugh together. We must surprise each other with tokens of respect and mutual appreciation. We must be careful, however, not to pursue this course as a kind of posturing or claiming of the moral high ground, for that will ruin everything (Matthew 6:1-4). If we have truly come before God first as “the sinner,” then sought the Love of God as our great quest, then we will have the right attitude. Together, we must crisscross this land with “this love that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians again) until it has knitted us together as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And let me hasten to add that it will be “under God,” not because we have legislated it but because we have embodied it in our passionate concern for one another, regardless of political affiliation.

These are three things we can do now. We don’t have to be anyone special. All of us can do them. The politicians will continue to hammer away at each other for a long time to come. But the real divisions in our society are not playing out on Capitol Hill; they’re playing out right where we live. Every one of us can do something to turn the tide. Even you and me.

Visit me at www.ronaldrjohnson.com

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