Becoming Less Tolerant

Becoming Less Tolerant

I’m going to challenge you to do something a little scary and maybe even a little controversial. I’m going to challenge you to become less tolerant.

Less tolerant? But don’t we live in a pluralistic society that requires us to be tolerant of other people’s values, religions and even political views?” Yes, we do. And yet I’m still going to ask you to stop being tolerant.

Because maybe we need to replace tolerance with something else.

Tolerance and low expectations

If I simply tolerate you, it implies that I can barely stand to be around you. Tolerance is really just a short step away from loathing and hatred. We encourage tolerance because our expectations are too low. Social scientist Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute think tank, suggests that we “talk about ‘tolerance’ because we have low standards.”

In a recent discussion on the TED Radio Hour, Brooks explains that we don’t need more tolerance in our society. Instead, we have to recognize that we actually need people who are different from ourselves — ideologically, religiously and politically. We need to move beyond tolerance to respect, and the only way to do that is to be in relationship with people who are not like us. Believe it our not, being with people who are different actually helps us move towards the peace and unity we crave.

Tolerance and politics

Brooks’ concern with tolerance and respect is motivated by the current political environment. He refers to “political motive asymmetry” in politics. Essentially, that means both political sides believe their ideologies are based in love, while the opposing party’s’ ideologies are based in hate.

This type of misperception creates serious problems when it comes to tolerance, let alone respect. How can we respect an ideology or a person who we (wrongly) believe is motivated by hate? Unfortunately, we see how this type of thinking has impacted presidential politics. People are villainized and denigrated just for affiliating with the opposing party’s ideology.

Brooks says that the solution to political motive asymmetry is to recognize the value our presumed enemy brings to the table. For example, Democrats need to respect what Republicans bring to the discussion when they champion free markets, and Republicans need to respect the Democratic voices that remind us to care for the poor. Respecting — not tolerating or accepting — each other’s views can lead to cooperative efforts instead of conflicting ones. Common ground can be found, but not when we believe that the other person is motivated by hate.

Tolerance and the church

I suppose we expect politicians to act intolerant because they have a clear agenda. But what if this same type of “asymmetry” is at work in the church?

I live in a very curious place theologically. My faith journey and my profession have caused me to create relationships and friendships with people along the entire theological spectrum. I can honestly say that I have friends and colleagues who represent the best that conservative evangelicalism, liberal mainline Protestantism, Roman Catholic, and unaffiliated Christians have to offer. But walking in these many circles I can also tell you that there’s plenty of “religious motive asymmetry” to go around.

Christians of various doctrines and labels tend to view other Christian groups with suspicion and even judgement. Believing that the other camp’s ideology, theology or doctrine is wrong, the tendency is to create distance. Each group stays within the religious enclaves where people share their beliefs, values and worldviews.

This distance only makes it harder to experience the love and respect that comes from developing real relationships with people who are different from us. And without relationship, love and respect can never grow. We simply tolerate. Or maybe we don’t even do that.

The problem is that we can’t hope to have unity when we are unwilling to acknowledge that an authentic faith journey requires interactions with people who are different from us. Scripture describes our need for other people this way: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another” Proverbs 27:17 (NRSV).

If you’ve ever sharpened a knife, you know that it only gets sharp from friction. Working and being in relationship with people who are different isn’t easy. There are conflicts and friction. But if we avoid those types of conflicts, we shut the door on what could be a transformational experience for everyone involved. It could have the power to transform not only us, but the church.

You’ve heard it said that no person is an island. Humans don’t do well in isolation. And if Proverbs and Arthur Brooks are right, we especially need people who are different from us.


Beverly Cleary: Simplicity and Sabbath Rest

Beverly Cleary: Simplicity and Sabbath Rest

Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary turns 100 on April 12. The award winning author is best remembered for her books about “Ramona Quimby,” “Ralph the Mouse,” and “Henry and Beezus.” But at age 100, Beverly Cleary also has a bit to share about life, simplicity and free time.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post Cleary said,

“I think children today have a tough time, because they don’t have the freedom to run around as I did — and they have so many scheduled activities.”

I can relate. My generation experienced a type of childhood in the 1970’s that was very different from the one my children experienced. My friends and I had fewer scheduled activities, fewer lessons, less sports, less technology, and less stuff. But we had more down time, more freedom and more opportunities just to be creative.

This isn’t a nostalgic rant about how the “good old days” were so much better than today. But it is a reflection on what we lose when we don’t have enough down time. People need simplicity and unstructured time — no matter how old they are. We need free time, and now we have the science to prove it.

The science of simplicity

Researcher and educator Kim John Payne conducted a study in which he simplified the lives of children with attention deficit disorder. In a short period of time, these kids became more clinically functional and exhibited increases in academic aptitude — more so than with prescribed drugs like Ritalin.

He says that “too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time” create anxiety and behavioral issues in children. The solution? He argues for a simpler childhood.

Children need unstructured play time to help them become more creative and self-directed. They need freedom to make decisions in how they play. They need space and time just to daydream and imagine. They even need time to experience boredom.

And guess what? You do, too.

Free time (a.k.a. sabbath rest)

All of creation was designed with a need for sabbath rest. From the beginning of time, God modeled it for himself and ordained it for all creation. But the concept of sabbath rest is something modern society seems to have forgotten.

The feeling of being rushed all the time, anxious about getting things done, and hard-pressed to pay for all the stuff we think we need is not healthy for our bodies, our minds or our souls. Instead of more stuff, what most of us really need is sabbath rest. We need to set aside our “to do list” for a while and learn how to just be. We need to let go of what is not necessary and allow life to become simpler.

Imagine a time in your childhood when you were carefree. Some of my fondest childhood memories include a sunny day, sidewalk chalk and a game of hopscotch or a bottle of bubbles. Pretty simple stuff.

Now imagine what that type of simplicity might look like for you today. For me it probably wouldn’t look too different. Probably just a sunny day, a good book, conversation with family and a bottle of wine instead of the bubbles.

After all these years, who knew that Beverly Cleary would still be teaching me things? She’s teaching me that simplicity is a spiritual discipline. But it’s a discipline that leads to freedom.


Palm Sunday: Jesus, Power and Mob Mentality (Luke 19.28-40)

Palm Sunday: Jesus, Power and Mob Mentality (Luke 19.28-40)

Lectionary this week: Palm Sunday

As we approach Holy Week, the lectionary readings become more and more familiar. We know the story in this week’s gospel passage. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. The people welcome him as a king. And in less than a week, the crowds — drunk on a mob mentality — clamor to see him crucified.

As you read this week’s passage, consider the voices of the Pharisees and the crowd. What do they tell you about Jesus, power and mob mentality?

The passage: Luke 19.28-40 (NRSV)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Power and the mob mentality

Wherever Jesus went, he drew a crowd with a message of change. Lacking political power or wealth, he offered something better to people from every social strata. But his power was different than Rome’s military empire or the Pharisee’s temple system. Jesus operated outside of and against the power systems that oppressed the people.

In Luke’s gospel, we see that the people loved Jesus because he gave them hope for a better life. The mob mentality when Jesus entered Jerusalem was one of support and high praise. Jesus had won their hearts and itt threatened the Pharisees’ power and control.

We don’t see it yet in this passage, but we get a glimpse of how threatened the Pharisees felt. “Order your disciples to stop,” they said. But Jesus’ power wasn’t rooted in political rhetoric and manipulation. People loved him because of who he was and the hope that he offered. Their collective voice sang with all creation, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

So, what happened between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the crucifixion? Within a few days, the mob that praised Jesus called for his crucifixion.

If you read just a few verses beyond this passage you will be reminded that after Jesus entered Jerusalem, he also entered the temple to drive out the vendors and money changers (Luke 19:45-46). This is the Jesus who brings change. And part of that change disrupted the economic and social order of the temple system. The powers — particularly the chief priests, scribes, and leaders — were losing money and control.

Without going into all of the political intrigue, dishonesty, and spies that are revealed in Luke 20, we can safely say that the powers of the day used those mobs to turn on Jesus. And they were successful. Using their money and influence they were able to buy off even one of Jesus’ closest followers, Judas.

As we prepare for Holy Week and reflect on Jesus and the mobs, I am reminded of how mob mentality works. We are so easily influenced by the behavior and rhetoric of the powers of our time. During this political season, it seems especially appropriate to remind ourselves to resist the mob mentality and continue to follow Jesus.


Judgment, Shame and Monica Lewinsky

Judgment, Shame and Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky recently gave a TED Talk that cast her story in a whole new light. Lewinsky revisited the aftermath of her affair with President Bill Clinton and the personal toll that our collective judgment had on her. In her words she was nearly “humiliated to death” — literally — as she considered suicide.

She recounted the cruel jokes, media images, soundbites and labels. She says she was “branded” (think about the violence of that word) as a “tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and of course that woman.” Hearing Lewinsky recall the way she was personally attacked made me think deeply about judgment, shame and human nature.

For the sake of others and for the sake of our own souls, we need to substitute judgment with loving compassion.

Judgment, Shame and The Church

Fear of judgment may be the single biggest reason that people avoid church.

I recently had a conversation with several friends who echoed that sentiment. They stayed away from the church for years because they felt like they weren’t worthy enough to attend. They believed that “churchgoers” would judge their unworthiness, so it was better to just stay away.

I wish I could say they were wrong. But more than 40 years of church attendance has shown me the best and the worst examples of Christian behavior. Although good examples outnumber the bad, the damage done by a few, judgmental hypocrites is astonishing. That kind of judgment reinforces the shame that individuals already feel and pushes them away from the church.

More than 150 years ago Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter to expose the hypocrisy of the church and 17th century “slut shaming.” Hester Prynne is not the only participant in the affair, but as the woman who bears a child out of wedlock, she alone was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for adultery.

Unfortunately, I witnessed 20th century “slut shaming” as a teen when young pregnant women were brought in front of our entire congregation to confess their sin under the guise of preventing gossip. What did that do to prevent judgment and shame? What did that do to show love and compassion? Nothing. People still judged and the women (who already felt shame) were humiliated.

What if Christians abandoned judgmentalism in favor of compassion? What if we truly took the words of this passage to heart? What if we loved more than we judged?


2nd Sunday in Lent: The Fox and the Hen (Luke 13:31-35)

2nd Sunday in Lent: The Fox and the Hen (Luke 13:31-35)

Lectionary this week: February 21

One of my favorite childhood books was a classic collection of fairy tales illustrated in Old World style. Unlike the sanitized Disney versions that we see today, these stories included mice who were scalded and men who fell off ladders and broke their necks. Good wholesome stories to read before bed. (No wonder I was afraid the dark.)

Many of these stories included a clever and conniving fox — the character who could not be trusted. The frequent antagonist was a gentle hen that could be counted on to outsmart the fox in the end.

In this week’s lectionary passage, Jesus uses the imagery of a fox and a hen in a surprising way. But the archetypes remain the same, so we know that in the end the fox won’t succeed and the hen will save the day.

The Passage: Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

The fox and the hen

In the beginning of the passage it appears the Pharisees are trying to help Jesus. But that doesn’t  really make sense, does it? At what point in any of the other gospel stories do we see the Pharisees trying to help Jesus? They’re the ones who are always trying to test him and trip him up. They look for ways to discredit him, not save him.

Their “warning” is just another pharisaical attempt to shut down Jesus’ ministry. They can save face with the people if they use the fear of Herod and death to encourage Jesus to stop his ministry and leave. But Jesus won’t let the threat of Herod — the “fox” — deter him from his ministry. He presses on, continuing the journey towards Jerusalem.

And when he speaks of Jerusalem, we get a rare glimpse of God as mother. He likens himself to a hen who longs to gather her disobedient chicks. This is God as loving and longing to protect even when it isn’t wanted or appreciated. The hen who sacrificially covers her children with her wings to endure whatever attack may come — from a fox or whatever would destroy them.

And we know how the story ends. Jesus continues his ministry all the way to Jerusalem. Like the gentle hen who sacrificially covers her brood, Jesus’ ultimate death and resurrection sacrificially covered our sin. Anna’s prophecy in Luke 2:36-38 was fulfilled. Jerusalem was redeemed.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, what fears or threats of scheming foxes are preventing you from fulfilling God’s call on your life? We need to learn to be like the gentle, but courageous hen, and beat the foxes at their own games.


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