Thursday, September 6, 2018

Christian Come-Backs and the Cross



Christian Come-Backs and the Cross
by Troy Cady

The latest craziness to emerge in the culture wars of America could be dubbed Kaepernick, Part Deux. The regular season of the NFL has just begun and, with it, everyone is wondering what will become of last year’s brouhaha as to whether players should be allowed to kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem at the start of each game. The (now-former) quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick was the first to get it going and he was willing to give up his job (read: fame and riches) for it.

Capitalizing on this narrative, Nike has made Kaepernick (and his cause) the face (and message) of their latest ad campaign:  “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

While it is true Nike likely compensated him handsomely for the ad, it is also true that through it all Kaepernick has traded fame for infamy in the eyes of many. While some regard him as a hero, others consider him an object of scorn. The court of public opinion can mete out merciless judgments on individuals who dare stick out their necks and, here in America, a not-insignificant segment of the population appears eager to drop the blade.

Whenever publicity like this hits the news cycle, it becomes prime time for America’s polemicizing populace to claim a bigger piece of meat in the raw debate of cultural supremacy: time to sharpen the knives of rhetoric, people. As the sun sets, we lick our chops for another round of what we love best: feasting on the flesh of our enemies.

…………………………………………………….…….

I consider myself a classic evangelical even though that word in today’s world spells anything but good news to most people. As a classic evangelical, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the latest brand of evangelicalism.

I call it the
Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck Syndrome.

See, it was hunting season and Bugs decided to play a little trick on Daffy by convincing the hunter that, instead of it being rabbit hunting season, it was duck hunting season. Bugs pulled this prank on Daffy on more than one occasion, but each time Daffy would get indignant and scream: “It’s rabbit season!”—to which Bugs would reply: “No, it’s duck season!” Of course, Daffy would instantly retort: “Rabbit season!” And Bugs would say: “Duck season!”

Back and forth like this, they’d go several times until Bugs would switch up and say “Rabbit season” instead. Daffy, intent on disagreeing with whatever Bugs said at all costs, would instantly blurt, “Duck season!”

And Bugs would smirk as the hunter shot off Daffy’s oversized yellow yap.

……………………………………..…..

I hadn’t seen the Nike ad until just a few hours ago, but on Tuesday (?) I saw a piece in the news about people burning Nike products. I had no idea what it was about and didn’t have time to look into it, but over the past couple days I’ve noticed more and more references to what was going on and figured it out. (I can be a little slow on the uptake, don't ya know!)

Actually, I knew something was up not by seeing the original ad, but rather by seeing various spoofs, each touting its own (humorous or in-your-face) retort to the Nike-Kaepernick message.

As soon as I saw what the original ad said, I thought: “I wonder how long it will take 'til I see one of these spoof ads from one of my fellow Christians?” Sure enough: it wasn’t long at all—as in, within the hour.

……………….…………………………………..

Evangelicals today have become the Daffy Ducks of a Bugs Bunny world. It doesn’t matter what the world says or how valid it may be, we seem intent on trying to one-up and disagree with whatever others say without so much as pausing to listen to what “they” are really saying.

The upshot of it is: we make people feel like blowing our big yellow yaps clean off of our face.

Even if modern evangelicals are right…even if “we” are being “hunted” by “them”…for all our cleverness, I maintain that we will not convince anyone our retorts are worth hearing--especially if we will not take the time to really listen to what is being said. Because of love, we must make every effort to humanize those whom we feel compelled to correct.

…………………………………………………………..

It’s hard to just listen.
It takes trust to

 just listen

and resist the temptation
to add what you think
someone else should think.

Last year, I took a class in which we spent part of the time practicing a form of conversation called “listening circles.”

The rhythm of a listening circle conversation goes something like this:

1. The facilitator offers a prompt to focus the conversation.

2. The participants observe silence to think about their response to that prompt.

3. The facilitator then invites the group to share, one person at a time.

4. One person shares for 3-5 minutes. During this, the rest of the group just listens carefully…observing both verbal and body language, emotion, tempo, pitch, volume, verbiage, and phrasing. In others words, each person looks for what is being said with words and…what is being said without words.

5. After the person shares, there is another moment of silence for listeners to consider what struck them about what was shared. 

6. After the moment of silence, the listeners (one at a time) express to the sharer what they saw, heard, or felt…with the singular goal of helping the sharer feel they have been “heard.” The goal is not really to ask for more information or to add to what was shared. Listeners are instructed NOT to say something like: “That reminds me of when I…..” The intent is to keep the focus on the sharer. It is just to give the other person the gift of feeling that someone has listened to them without judgment, in an attempt to understand. That is all.

7. After each listener speaks, the sharer has an opportunity to respond or clarify.

8. The process repeats until each person in the circle has had an opportunity to be a sharer—and, more importantly, everyone has had plenty of practice…just listening carefully.

How hard it was for me to practice this. But how good it was for my soul!

…………………………………………………

Many years ago, a gay friend of mine shared with me his story, filled with so much pain and discovery. He did so because he trusted me as his friend. When he finished his story, he looked to me for a response.

I am sorry to say I did not listen to him very well. Instead, I offered him platitudes. To be sure, I did so (I thought) in "love" but his reaction to my feedback should have given me pause. It was clear that what I said was not very loving. So, today I look back on the encounter with regret.

I realize I was not very loving 
because I did not really listen. 

Take two: sometime later, when another gay friend of mine finished sharing with me some painful experiences in his past, he looked to me to see what I would say. He looked to me because, for some reason, he saw me as his friend. (Grace tends to give stupid people like me second chances; how wonderful!)

In those moments, it would have been easy to offer words of advice or platitudes.

Thankfully, I trusted the practice of listening and simply said: “Thank you for sharing honestly. You have offered a great gift…I noticed when you shared about God that you have hope God loves you. It seemed to me there was the hope of being loved in what you shared. Is that right?”

Rather than trying to detract from what he shared, I wanted to offer my friend the gift of reflecting more on his story—and returning to him the gift of his own story. After all, the story was his, not mine. Were I to try to make my friend’s story conform to the way I want it to turn out, I would, in fact, be subjecting the holiest place in his inner temple to an unjust act of desecration.

Holy places,
those places that come
from deep inside,
are fit for silent reverence and respect,
for therein lies the very mystery of God.

As it turns out, later in the conversation, my friend did hear my story of pain, too. I like to think it is because we practiced paying attention to and honoring the mystery of God in each other’s stories.  

Oh, that we would simply become…
better listeners!

In fact, I’m convinced if we could become expert listeners, we wouldn’t need our clever retorts shouting down the important things others are trying to tell us.

……………………

So that I can be more clear about this pattern (which I also call “The Christian Come-Back Compulsion”) let me identify some instances I see in which Christians commonly play the role of Daffy Duck in a Bugs Bunny world.

Happy Holidays//MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Black Lives Matter//ALL LIVES MATTER!
Guns Kill//PEOPLE KILL!

Our retorts garner many “likes” on Facebook among those predisposed to like our retorts. And so we add to history’s great sound and fury, while God’s Spirit prays in a still small voice--which we can hardly hear anymore. We are retorting ourselves into oblivion:

Lord, save us 
from our own 
quick-witted cleverness!

………………………………….

In a world of quick come-backs,
the cross of Jesus
should stop Christians in their tracks;

in the rush to prove our points,
the cross slows us down,
keeps us fixed in place,
looking long and hard
(towards those who hate us)
in love.


Historically, the cross is an incredibly powerful and subtle symbol of quiet resistance. I assert, in fact, that it is history’s most prophetic symbol.

Often, prophets are those who draw attention to injustice in the world. They do this sometimes by words, but the best prophets are those who use few words: they rely on demonstration.

Prophetic work is a work of action more than rhetoric. It is a work of presence. And what the cross says is: God came close. God came so close he identified with us in our suffering. He came so close (he identified so closely with our humanity) that he died.

He didn’t deserve to die, especially the way he did. He was crucified—a punishment reserved for the worst possible criminal—a punishment designed to humiliate and make an example--to strike the fear of God in whoever has the misfortune of seeing such slow suffocation.

Jesus, hanging on the cross, showed us our own injustice. In his life and teachings, I wonder how many really heard what he said? Did he not tell us we wouldn’t listen? Did he not quote the prophet who predicted we would be “ever hearing but never understanding”, ever seeing but never really perceiving…blind and deaf with eyes and ears wide open?

Is it any wonder he said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear"?

He was a prophet and he was more than a prophet. That's why his demonstration still speaks loudly today, without words.

My appeal to those who call themselves Christians: our words are not what will convince others to see things our way. If you really want to get someone’s attention, get close to them. Make friends with them. Listen to them…as in face-to-face. (Hint: you can’t really do it on Facebook). Then,

…lay down your life for them. Yes, the ones who would kill you. It’s what Jesus did. It’s your symbol. It’s your quiet little come-back...slow, loving, patient, sacrificial, eternally and extravagantly generous.

The ancient Christians understood this, so they adopted it as their symbol. (What a come-back!)

Aha! The cross! Oh, how that cruel instrument…an instrument of the empire’s torture…has been subverted by God who knows how to play a good joke in the resurrection on a world filled with take-yourself-serious folk!

We don’t even need to change the symbol. We can leave it just as it is. No need for a clever retort. The twisted thing itself is its own retort! In fact…look closely…ah, yes! There it is: the Gospel.

Hold on, now. Hold on. Just be silent.

Yes, silence is fitting.

Let it speak for itself.

Listen to it.

Honor its mystery.

Just let the cross get into your body. Live it.

Get so close to love it kills you.
You can trust the love of it. 
It’ll give you new life.

Believe in it. 
"Even if it means 
sacrificing everything. 
Just do it."





2 comments:

Chris McKenzie said...

Troy, this is so good mate. So much of it resonates with me and what I often post about on FB. I'll scroll through my posts and see if I can find some similar (albeit more concise) sentiments.
I went back to Uni several years ago to get certified in Counseling Psychology (not a full degree), and I bumped into one of my old profs not too long ago, and we got to talking about the course and how it's impacted me. He asked me what the primary takeaway of the course was for me. I didn't really even have to think about it. I told him, "In that course I discovered that was a very bad listener, and through that course I've become a better listener."
Peace & the Good.
chris

Troy said...

Thanks, Chris. I've no doubt the experience you had in the counseling program was life-changing. I am happy to hear how it impacted you by helping you become a better listener. I feel the same way about the "listening circle" experience I had. Thanks also for tagging me in your posts on this theme. The one that read like a "commercial" was brilliant!

Appreciate your heart, friend.

Grace to you,
Troy