Pastoral Series

Reconciliation: Whom are you defending?

Reconciliation: Whom are you defending?

When I hear people getting riled up about social, moral or political issues, I often want to intervene and ask “Whom are you defending?”

Dr. Christena Cleveland will be with us next Monday.  I love the way she characterizes the way we get divided from other Christians, assuming we’ve got God figured out, while those others are just so very Wrong: “There I was, convinced I was defending Jesus by condemning Wrong Christians, when I saw that Jesus was beckoning both Right and Wrong Christians and inviting all of us to know more of his heart.”  It feels noble, standing up in defense of God!  But God is all right.  Jesus didn’t even defend himself or let his disciples defend him when the Romans came after him.  Feel the impulse to defend Jesus?  Ask if God is inviting you and the other guy into something better for both of you.

Sometimes with intense, understandable emotion, we defend our own personal background.  “People want handouts?  Nobody gave me anything; I worked and scraped for everything I have.”  It is honorable to have labored hard, and to be proud of what you’ve achieved.  But can you be duly proud of your past while still open to hearing about the struggles or wounds of someone else – who may have tried just as hard, or faced you don’t know what.  If you defensively fixate on your own experience, it’s hard to hear a different, and valid experience – and you can’t connect in healthy ways with others.

And sometimes we leap in to defend a way of life that is slipping away, or is regretfully gone – or maybe never was.  Happy memory, a wistful dream of a simpler, less maddening time, is something to be grateful for.  We might wish to return to the traditional Ozzie and Harriet kind of family life.  But even Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s family was dysfunctional and deeply troubled off camera; and the fifties weren’t a happy decade in the slums of America.  Nostalgia oversimplifies – and even if yesteryear really were fantastic, time travel is flat out unavailable.  Can’t we remember what was good, notice what was troubling, and move forward creatively into a fresh future?

When we defend God, ourselves, a bygone era or anything else, we inevitably become “defensive,” which feels touchy, and then it defensiveness’s zeal, fences get erected that keep out others who could well be bringing us life.  The assumption, of course, is that Me-and-my-limited-experience, Me-and-my-narrow-knowledge is just too small, not expansive enough to allow growth and deeper truth.

Jesus was maligned, insulted, and physically attacked; and his whole mission was to people who thought wrong about God, were narrow-minded, and forgetful of God’s blessings.  But he never got bitter; he never defended himself; he was always at peace and full of compassion.  He knew how to reconcile.

Of course, he was Jesus, and we aren’t.  We have so much to learn; and our world needs so much healing.  A fair place to begin is to check for defensiveness, and squash it down when it rears its head.  God’s cause can’t be undone; you’re okay because you’re God’s precious child; and yesterday had its blessings – but so will tomorrow.

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