Why do I get angry at the things that people slap on their bumpers? It’s embarrassing to have an emotional reaction to a plastic magnet with an even cheaper throwaway line on this or that issue. And yet, as I’m pulling up to this stoplight next to a copper minivan the other day, that’s precisely what happened.
One issue slogans plastered nearly every inch of this car, espousing what I'm tempted to call the ravings of a lunatic.
Now, I could have made this blog about all the fairly legitimate reasons why this made me think some less than generous thoughts about the driver of said minivan. I'm sure I could make a pretty solid case against the particular stance to which this person is so committed. But if I’m honest with myself, these fairly legitimate reasons are not why such a strong anti-copper-minivan bile started bubbling up inside me this day.
The truth is that I was angry for a much less impressive reason: I needed to be right. And part of needing to be right is getting others to acknowledge that you’re right. How could this copper-y, minivan-y person be so wrong!? How can't they see that I’m right!?
This is the challenge of living into the daily life-flow of Jesus. In my more honest and prayerful moments, I’m forced to admit that Jesus cares very little whether I’m right about this belief or that one. But he seems to care very much how I use my rightness over against others. Am I right with a spirit of gentleness and generosity, or do I glory in my own rightness to the degradation of others? Am I right with a spirit of warmth and softness, or do I stockpile my rightness as ammo? Does my rightness acknowledge the full humanity of others or does it reduce them to their stance on a single issue? Does it make me a walking caricature of that line from the Wendell Berry poem: “Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?”
The thing is: I’m not wrong, at least not about this issue (which I won't name, because it's not what this blog is about). Nothing has changed on that account. If we can all agree that not dying is still kind of a big deal, then this particular minivan-ers beliefs on the subject actually are quite dangerous.
But we’re no longer talking about whether I’m right, at this point. We’re talking about the way in which I am being right—not a very helpful way, at the moment, as my face reddens idly here at this stoplight.
As far as I know, for as much as we talk about beliefs, Jesus never once tells anyone that they need to get their beliefs right. But he repeatedly says indicting things like, “Every tree is known by it’s fruit.” This is kind of a bummer, if you’re like me, and you spend a lot of time consuming books, articles, and all kinds of other media in order to get your beliefs right. This means that, assuming I even believed all the right things, if I ever went up to Jesus and tried to impress him by saying, “Yo, J, look at me—I believe in x, y, and z,” I suspect he would respond, “We’ll see about that. Go live a little bit, and we’ll see if that is the particular fruit produced by your tree.”
Infuriating, right? I did the homework. I watched all the right documentaries. I bought the right books. But instead of a big hearty pat on the back, Jesus responds with “Oh, you say you believe in making the world around you better? Go interact with people for a bit, we'll see what actions fall from your tree, and then I’ll let you know what you really believe.”
This is why people who pay attention to group dynamics will say that one of the most important things a group has to figure out for itself is whether it will be a believe, behave, belong or a belong, behave, believe community. This is true, regardless of whether the community in question is formed around religion, politics, a hobby, you name it. The group dynamics will still hinge on the same question: are we a group of like minded people, where beliefs serve as a kind of shibboleth (a meaningless code word) to determine whether you’re one of us? Or are we a group that honors your presence among us first and foremost and then finds creative ways to handle and even be enhanced by differences of belief.
The community that we are pulling together at Castle Church is decidedly belong, behave, believe. We don’t tolerate disagreement. We thrive on it. Everything else must grow out of that prior acceptance. Otherwise, we're just massaging each other's like mindedness. I already know what I believe. I don’t need you to just be a mirror for my own narcissistic ego. I want to be enhanced by how you’re different. This doesn’t mean that neither of us will ever be wrong. That’s naïve. But as a person, I am much more than the particular issue or stance on which I’m wrong. And you are too. Only together, as a community, can some of your rights fill in some of my wrongs and vice-versa.
Now that we have officially launched our #castlechurchselfie bumper magnet promotion, as a way to raise money for the startup, my hope is that these magnets will become known around central Florida as a gentle counter to the often rude and contemptuous ways that our society has come to use car bumpers, of all things, to write-off and dehumanize the people who disagree with us.
I'm not persuaded by the assertions on the copper minivan, and I'm not about to swap camps on this issue anytime soon. But I also know that there is probably far more to the woman driving this vehicle, her hopes and desires, the people she cares about, the people that care about her, than what is proclaimed on her bumper. It’s my own failing if I assume anything less.
Maybe, one day, I can buy her a beer and talk it out.
Grace and peace,
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.