What I’m Thinking Today

Posted: June 20, 2010 in Lessons

Back when it was cool to teach a class at church about postmodernism, I taught a class at church about postmodernism. Because you know me: Mr. Cool. Part of what we talked about was the shift that’s been occurring in our culture whereby we just don’t trust authority anymore. It used to be that doctors (medicine) and lawyers (law) and preachers (religion) and politicians (government), for example, were seen as the experts in their particular fields of expertise. Now, we are all the experts in everything. We prefer telling doctors/lawyers/preacher/politicians how to do their jobs because we’re pretty sure we know better than they do what is best. At the very least, we’re highly skeptical that they know.

In the class, I argued that the root of all this was the growing realization that “modernism”—science and reason and whatnot—had failed us by not really saving us after all. If doctors are so smart, then how come we keep dying? If lawyers are so smart, how come justice never seems to emerge? If preachers are so smart, how come churches are so screwy? And if politicians are so smart, how come government is so ridiculous?

So we just can’t trust anyone in authority anymore. They have all failed us.

Generally, count me in, all this not putting hope in authoritative structures. That’s the postmodern in me. I don’t think the “powers of this world” that I read about in the Bible involve little men in red suits brandishing pitchforks; instead, I believe they are things like Power and Greed and Insecurity found in systems and structures like Government and Business and Religion. So distrust of authority is right up my alley.


A friend sent me a link to a really good (and really long) article about politics and such (“The Tea Party Jacobins” by Mark Lilla), that prompted this little essay of mine, and it concluded: “We [are] all individualists now.” Autonomy is the highest American cultural value anymore. “Leave me the hell alone” is our new national slogan.

But here’s the problem: we are left as our own personal saviors. (Sidebar: I know that many would trumpet individualism and autonomy while claiming God/Jesus as savior, but I’d counter that it is awfully easy to make God into whatever we’d like God to be—see, e.g. fanatical terrorists; see also most of us, too).

I have really tried to look at Jesus objectively. I really have tried. I have tried to place everything I’ve ever believed about him on the table, willing to sacrifice any to all of it if need be, and in the end, I’m convinced that setting humanity free from the “powers of this world” is right at the center of his message. Now a message of “freedom” plays well in our country today, but it’s the “how” of this freedom Jesus offered that’s the kicker. Jesus’s “way” to live free had nothing to do with tinkering with—or overthrowing—or fighting for—a political system (or any other type of system for that matter). His path to freedom, best I can tell, is to love indiscriminately. To risk sounding cliché, Jesus taught that love really does conquer all.

So on one hand, I remain comfortable believing that placing hope in systemic solutions to our world’s problems—through law, medicine, government, and even religion—are misplaced hopes. If you’re waiting on better days because any of these promises to provide them, prepare for a long wait. But on the other hand, equally misguided, is the belief that the solutions to the problems of our world lie in being “anti-system.” If you think better days depend on fewer laws, alternative medicine, smaller government, or a simpler church, you’re still depending on a solution that is systemic in nature. (I’ve been “anti-system” for quite some time now, but the libertarian in me just happens to be more religious than political. So my critique is aimed mostly at me.) Thinking that less is somehow more is conceptually the same “type” of hope.

I believe there’s a third choice worth considering (neither “system” nor “anti-system”), and it is this: Live differently within the systems.

Let’s face it: There will always be systems and structures, and if all of us with libertarian leanings (and postmodern tendencies) will admit it, we don’t want to live without them (case in point: the BP mess). And because there are systems and structures, there will be power to be had, which will produce some ugly things. It is an inescapable mess.

So what do we do?

Doctors? Keep trying to heal those diseases. Lawyers? Keep trying to bring about justice? Preachers? Keep trying to get a group of people to take Jesus seriously. Politicians? Keep trying to build a great society. But everyone? Don’t expect any of the above to accomplish these goals. At least not a large scale. They just aren’t equipped to pull it off.

And quit being so angry at them. What do you expect? Expend that energy learning how to love.

The third choice—to live differently from within—is to be salt in the earth. This is hard to wrap our brain around, learning how to “be” something instead of learning how to “do” or “organize” or “accomplish.” But I am convinced that Jesus taught us to “be” something within the systems of this world, and what he called us to be was someone who loves everyone around you.

Because our only real hope is love.

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