We human beings are a contentious lot sometimes. We tend to define ourselves by the sides we keep or the tribes we call our own and those we see as our enemies. It seems so ingrained in us that as children they give us games with two equal and opposing sides to fight it out to contend against one another. We learn that it is important to choose sides. This goes on to adulthood.
When I was in college, I went to Louisiana Tech in North Louisiana. Our arch rivals in football were the University of Northeast Louisiana Indians (then, it is now University of Louisiana, Monroe). The two schools drew from the same demographics for both students and football players. Yet, if you asked either set of students or alumni, they would describe the opposing fans sometimes in the harshest of terms. Just two years ago, at a Los Angles Dodgers baseball game, a fan showed up wearing a jersey of their rivals, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants fan was attacked by an irate fan of the Dodgers he had never met and suffered permanent brain damage. Over what? What does it mean, in the end, to be a Dodgers fan or a Giants fan? Does it give you some inherent quality of good or evil?
Let’s take this up from sports to the political arena. We just went through an election cycle where our nation was probably more divided than in a long time over two candidates. People usually identify themselves with either team “Democrat” or team “Republican.” One of the issues that drove people into one camp or the other was the president’s health care proposal. The driving question was how are we going to pay for our health care (especially for the currently uninsured)? But yesterday, Time magazine put out a fascinating issue that asked the basic question no one has been asking, “Why is health care costing us all this much?”
I know there are times in life where it does matter what side we take. Not everything is as unsubstantial as whether you are fighting with the red robot or blue robot in Rockem Sockem Robots (or rooting for one team or another). But more and more I hope we can step back and ask, “In whose interest is it that we keep fighting?” Or “Is this fight distracting us from something more important?” And especially, “Is someone really my enemy if they disagree with me on this issue?”
The church isn’t immune to the pitched battles problem. The PC(USA), my denomination, has been fighting since I have been ordained (all the while letting a generation of younger adults become less and less engaged with the church while we fight). The fact that Jesus seemed to move between many “sides” in the ancient world seems lost on us today. We’d much rather argue that Jesus is on our side than see Jesus as loving all sides.
Can we, as a country, as a society, as families, as churches, even as individuals not allow pitched battles to distract us from matters of far greater importance? Can we see behind the curtain? Can we not play roles that are set out for us that might be counterproductive to us as individuals and us as a society? Whoever has an interest in marketing the pitched battles might lose out if we step away but we all might win and win big in the process if we do.
We might, as Jesus used to say, “Open our eyes and see” or “Open our ears and hear.”
May we save our fights for what matters and stop seeing our neighbors as our enemies.
What do you think?