“It’s no what I did, It’s what I didn’t do” George Jones
(I realize that I just took “No Show Jones” out of context, but hopefully it sticks in your mind, like it did for me.)
So far, most of the things I have discussed were the things that happened leading up to and during our visit to the Tea Shop. It was truly an adventure that wasn’t planned or orchestrated and has been life-changing for me. It not only taught me lessons, but also spurred other thought processes that have developed into new idea and attitudes that will shape my future. But, recently, I have been contemplating a new thought about that mysterious night. Almost as important as what happened is what didn’t happen. And, it has to do with me being American and it involves my history of religious thought.
Every one of us enters situations with certain bias. There was a time when I would have had at least some amount of racial misunderstanding. I call it misunderstanding because I wasn’t taught to hate anyone, but through ignorance I inherited some less than optimal beliefs. Over time, as I have experienced life and learned, my patterns and beliefs have changed. It would be irresponsible to say I don’t have any limiting beliefs in this area, but I think I am maturing.
Another limiting belief I once held is the belief of exceptionalism. According to Wikipedia, Exceptionalism is “the perception or belief that a species, country, society, institution, movement, individual, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary). The term carries the implication that the referent is superior in some way, whether specified or not.” Another similar term is triumphalism, which Widipedia defines as “the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others. Triumphalism is not an articulated doctrine but rather a term that is used to characterize certain attitudes or belief systems by parties such as political commentators and historians.” When I added to that the thoughts many recent politicians have had about a “city on a hill,” I often found myself being able to justify my disdain for other people, cultures and nations because they were not “us,” or they were currently classified as the “enemy,” or their beliefs were is some way inferior to my belief system and my nation. This pattern of belief is not Christ-like in any way, but it is common and acceptable in American Evangelicalism and in the broader society.
In my recent book, which still doesn’t have a name, I talked about how my views on nationalism and violence have changed recently. But I believe that below these higher-level beliefs has to be something more core and basic. How do I feel about people? How did Jesus feel about people? Before I form my thoughts about war and race and violence and nationality, I have to go deeper and ask myself, how I do I feel about human beings that inhabit this planet? If some of us bear the image of God, don’t all of us bear that image and doesn’t that change the game dramatically? If I deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, don’t all people deserve that? If all men(people) are created equal, doesn’t that apply to whoever I consider to be my enemy right now? And, if I am a follower of Christ, what did He say to do with my enemies anyway?
Like I said, especially in recent years, I wouldn’t consider myself someone who has negative feelings towards any nation or race or gender, and even my religious disdain for other beliefs has been waning recently (now that’s a miracle). But, I do consider myself to still have some residue of an attitude of American triumphalism and exceptionalism. I even admit to taking the “city on a hill” (which was originated by Jesus) a little too far and imagining that the United States is some kind of New Jerusalem, instead of more likely a more recent empire like Babylon. I admit that as recently as my first trip to Taiwan, I still had thoughts about “convincing” those people of my beliefs that were obviously at least superior to theirs. I’m so glad that these prideful beliefs, that are all wrapped up in my ego and my fears, are beginning to fade away.
For whatever reason, when I entered the Tea Shop, I was exactly humble enough to be present and experience all the other good things that happened that night. Maybe it was my embarrassing wreck on the scooter or the jet lag or the interesting train ride through the mountains. All I know is that I was ready to experience this once-in-lifetime experience, not because me or my country was exceptional and not because they marveled at my “city on a hill,” but because all of us were able to sit at the same table, break bread together and experience each other. For whatever reason all the barriers were taken down.
To be honest, this is my hope for the church of Jesus Christ. It is my hope for my family and the other communities that I am involved with. It is what I hope for my new workplace and the places I visit every day. I long to see a world of people that doesn’t first consider how exceptional they are before they imagine how they will treat each other. I long to see the Kingdom that Jesus talked about as He traveled the ancient countryside. Maybe, if we listen close enough, we can hear the faint whisper of the words He spoke. Maybe we can put aside our nationalism, pride and religiosity and really hear his desire for us:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
As I listen to others, I am inclined to believe that Jesus words in his day are gaining traction in ours. Call me an optimist, but I believe, if He said it, then it is possible. It is of course not without opposition, but if I can wander into a Tea Shop and put Jesus’ words into action, then take my word for it, anyone can! Let us have hope for the future!
I wish you well on your journey,
(To dig deeper into some of these topics, I would highly recommend Brian Zahnd’s new book “Postcard From Babylon: The Church in American Exile.” It is absolutely timely in addressing our relationship to empire and our history, as believers, of being in exile. I encourage you to read it with an open mind.)
 Luke 6:27-31