We all inherit a sense of identity, initially shaped by family and environment. This is always a mixed inheritance. Our family and our environment will be right about some things, wrong about others.
As we grow in experience, we begin to choose portions of our identity for ourselves. We choose to connect with like-minded friends who share our values and common interests. We choose our tribes. These affiliations shape us and shape our identity.
I grew up as a straight, white male in Mississippi in the days of the Civil Rights struggle. My father was an attorney and former FBI agent, a man of law. He supported integration because he believed in equal justice under the law, but he did not support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because of King's strategy of peaceful civil disobedience. King intentionally broke the law. My father objected to that. As a child, I accepted my father's world view. I was not a fan of King either. But as I grew in experience, so grew my respect for King. My world view and my tribal identities changed.
Growing up in a Southern culture that was so wrong about something as important as racial inequality was a great gift. It gave me the gift of doubt. Years later when I met gay people of integrity and character, I realized my tribe was wrong about something else. I changed my world view again, and my tribal identities broadened.
It can be profoundly difficult to doubt your tribe. It can be like doubting your own fundamental identity. Your foundations can shake. Your network of friendships can be threatened. If we begin to doubt the ideas, values or world-view of our tribe, we risk not only our most treasured relationships but also our sense of place and groundedness in the universe. Ask anyone who has changed faiths what that is like.
Yet, there is something about time that reveals truth. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," King said, recalling wisdom from Unitarian minister Theodore Parker. The challenge for each particular time is to anticipate the direction justice is traveling and to try to cooperate with that movement. How can we be on the side of justice in our time? What do we do when we find our tribe is wrong about something important?
There really is something about time that reveals truth. Track records matter. History tells us that it was right to oppose slavery; it was right to support women's suffrage; it was right to oppose racial discrimination. It took vision and courage to be on the side of justice in those times. I think it is not too early to say that those who warned us of climate change were right. How well did your tribe cooperate with the arc of the moral universe on these important matters? Where is justice taking us now?
I wish researchers would consistently study the track records of today's "prophets." Back in 2011 a team at Hamilton College studied the predictions of 25 pundits randomly selected from a list of 58 print columnists and TV commentators. Who guessed right? Who guessed wrong? Overall the professional prognosticators weren't much better than flipping a coin, but liberals were generally more accurate than conservatives. The best predictors were Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Cal Thomas and Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., were at the bottom. How do we evaluate the conflicting messages we hear? Whose tribe tends to interpret justice and to see reality more accurately?
As a member of the "Jesus tribe," I would say Christians inherit some filters for interpretation. Our fundamental lens should be the lens of love: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus tended to view things from the bottom up, from the perspective of the poor, the weak and the marginalized. He crossed social, political and religious boundaries, giving his gifts of compassion and healing to everyone, regardless of tribe. He said that God sends sun and rain to the just and unjust alike. And, Jesus was earthy, in touch with the environment. So many of his stories came from the wisdom of nature.
I think Jesus offers us clues for discerning a place to stand and for an alignment with justice. What policies favor the weak? What policies overcome boundaries and tribalism? What policies honor the Earth? What fosters love and compassion? I believe that aligning with these values can help us foster a more healthy and healing future.
Commentary on 02/25/2020
Print Headline: A healthy alignment