|Dan White, Jr./@danwhitejr|
A few paragraphs down the same page from this call for a new way, White clarifies the challenge that Jesus gave to his followers to ‘be perfect.’ I would guess that most Christians would define ‘perfect’ as being without blemish, or untarnished. But White makes an interesting observation.
“…the Hebrew word (Tamim) does not carry the same meaning of ‘without error’ in an absolute sense as does the term ‘perfect’ in English. Tamim means complete or whole. White offers a few examples of this more accurate meaning: “whole love casts out fear,” or “be whole as your Father God is whole.”
After offering a more holistic view of Biblical love, White makes the point about God’s image. “Since humanity is created in the image of God, a human being is a microcosm of the divine. Sadly, we often reverse things, and instead of understanding that we are made in the image of God, we imagine God in our image… we look for a God who fears what we fear, who hates what we hate, who likes what we like, who affirms what we affirm.”
Of course, such a narrow view of God naturally would result in a gathering of like-minded folk, who would tend to be polarized against anyone who did not happen to hold their view of God. I love White’s definition of polarization: “Polarization takes people that have something in common, emphasizes their differences, hardens their differences into disgust, and slowly turns disgust into blatant hatred for each other.”
Unfortunately, organized religion isn’t exempt from this awful dynamic.
White points out that sometimes polarization is based upon a two-choice view of the world.
“Certainly, seeing the world through only two choices is convenient and makes our life easier. But life is more of a spectrum of possible alternatives rather than an option between two extremes. Human nature, and subsequently Christianity and our cultural politics, consistently presents false choices. Like saying, ‘You are either with God or against God.’ Is this true? This type of speech offers no room for the spectrum of journeying, exploring, and discerning. It certainly offers us security to think like this, but it is fundamentally not true to human experience nor does it echo the primary way Jesus related with humans… The very nature of Christ Himself is beyond either/or.”
There’s also the element of knowledge itself that can lead to pride, which can, in turn, lead to polarization and hatred.
White reminds us, “you don’t see all there is to see from the spot you are standing in. Paradoxically, the more you see, the more you know, but also the more humbled you become. The wiser we become, the less wise we feel. This is the wellspring of intellectual humility – the more you know, the less you realize you know.”
To further drive home the point that Jesus was the epitome of someone who lived an unpolarized life, White offers the example of how Jesus chose his disciples. “Jesus gathered three Zealots who were militant nationalists, a tax collector who favored the Sadducee party, six fishermen who lived hand-to-mouth and were exploited by Roman taxation, one member of the Sicarii party, and a wealthy nobleman who was linked to the Pharisees. This is scandalous!... It’s an understatement to say that these men would have loathed being in the same room with each other. If it were not for Jesus holding this space, they’d all naturally slide into the cultural ditch of mutual hatred for one another… As the disciples faced each other day after day, ideological and relational differences emerged. Jesus lives and moves and breathes beyond fear – He invites us to do the same.”
Another ingredient in the mix that results in fear and polarization is the social media information (or misinformation) glut we live in. “Expert Delusion is the misguided belief that you can be an expert because you have access to information… The direct impact of this information-binging is that it erodes our ability to enter into the experience of another. It tricks our egos into believing that we already know because are informed – it gives us bloated brains.”
White goes on to observe that "[W]e think we can know things about people without dwelling with people. Being right, without loving well, is not right.”
And this can lead to a lack of empathy, further fueling the political, religious and racial gulfs among us. “Without empathy,” White writes, “we are forced to cluster and huddle with people who are just like us. The moment we interact with someone we are sniffing out, like bloodhounds, what our differences might be.”
Then White describes the differences between a culture based on law and one based on relationships. For the most part, White culture, derived from Western European nations, is one that places a high value on contracts and laws. Native American culture, by contrast, existed on oral tradition, storytelling and the value of relationships.
At this point in Love Over Fear, White begins to suggest some alternative ways of relating to those individuals who don’t look, think or worship like us. He calls up the example of Jesus who always made room at the table for people of all stripes.
“We need renewed faith that God still wants to heal the world this way [bringing strangers together at the same table] not because of our ultra-competence, but through our humble presence.”
He makes the point that “Christians do not need to seek control in order to make things come out right. Instead, we are invited to identify the kingdom of God in the midst of our cracked earthen encounters.”
“Bearing witness to the kingdom is not about controlling outcomes but awakening imaginations. This is perhaps the exceptional brilliance of Jesus’ political strategy. He doesn’t grab you by the shirt and shout in your face; He doesn’t pay for a commercial that slanders the opposition. He stays at the table and begins to fashion a world where we no longer see each other as foes. The table stands for a place of divine availability in the wilderness of isolating, fragmenting, polarizing American life.”
Finally, White writes about the ‘aikido of forgiveness.’ Which he describes thusly: “Aikido embodies this idea that when we stop meeting something with like-force, we can stop giving it power. We neutralize it, we disrupt it. In aikido, an uke (the person who receives an attack) absorbs and transforms the incoming aggressive energy… The goal in aikido is to frustrate the violence of your attacker, eventually exhausting them, neutralizing them. Forgiveness is not giving yourself over to the attacker; it’s giving yourself over to another way of being. A way that disempowers the threat.”
White recognizes that, viewed from a Western European culture, this could seem like an imminent disaster. But White’s view is that “to forgive could feel like surrender, a retreat in the context of a battle. But Jesus offers us forgiveness not as a white flag but as a weapon… It is not God’s judgment but kindness that leads to repentance, a change of heart (Rom. 2:4).”
In the conclusion of Love Over Fear, White states, “The future of the church needs a revolution of love, a love so scandalous it relaxes in the face of fear to move towards enemies with affection.”
Of course, this is no small order, but the stakes are too high to keep on giving in to fear.