Who Are Your People?

Who Are Your People?

Who Are Your People?: October 15, 2017

One of my favorite Southern expressions is, “Who are your people?”

The Old Testament reading today was Exodus 32:1-14. Moses is on the Mount Sinai talking with God. Aaron is stuck down with the understandably crabby and impatient Israelites who are wanting guidance.  Aaron melts their gold jewelry and makes an idol. God is not pleased. He complains to Moses: “Your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.”

Moses listens and then challenges God: “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”

Hear it this way: They’re not my people; they are your people. And you made a covenant with them.

We Christians believe that the covenant, through Jesus, extends to us. We are all God’s people.

But some people are more God’s people than others, right? That’s how Christianity often comes across.  My group, our way of thinking, our way of worshipping, our interpretation of history, our values, the way it’s always been—we’re right and you’re wrong.  The edges of these groups define who’s in and who’s out.

In yoga poses we are sometimes instructed to go to our edge—the place that’s challenging but not hurting.  If you are patient and gentle with yourself, you can move deeper into the pose—you can move your edge.

After reminding God that those people were God’s people, Moses did go to them. He went down to the people—his people—and chastised them. He loved them, and he corrected them, and he mediated with God on their behalf.

We are living through a time of tribalism as I’ve never known it. We are siloed into social media and news media bubbles and we are shocked when we come across someone we know—a normal person, a good person, one of us—who thinks differently.  We are maybe even a little embarrassed for them. Being so naïve and all.

So what if God told you to go engage with them?  To get off your mountaintop and go love those people—your people—who might be acting perversely?

I’m thinking we all need to be taking a stand—or taking a knee—with one another. We all need spaces to hang out with our like-minded tribe, to vent and let off some steam, to feel safe expressing our fears and vulnerabilities.  But we can’t stay there.

We must engage people who disagree with us.  A lot of these are our people. We may be at the edge of that group, but we still belong.

So after the venting, gather some courage, sit in meditation and prayer awhile, and go engage with someone ‘on the other side’ of your issue.

One of the main lessons from the 2016 election cycle was a remarkable similarity in Americans bemoaning the fact that ‘they’ are not listening to ‘us’.  We don’t feel heard, we don’t feel respected, we don’t feel valued.  We don’t want to risk listening to them because they aren’t listening to us.

Who will start? 

I recently came across a beautiful website called The Bitter Southerner that promotes well written stories about the South. I felt my soul open when I read the essay about why the editors created it.

A lot of people in the world believe that most folks in the South are just dumb. Or backward. Just not worth their attention…But there is another South, the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.

Sometimes we challenge the edges by telling our own stories. Sometimes we challenge ourselves by seeking to emulate the brave people on the edges whom we admire.  Being the guide, or being willing to be guided. Both are brave.

We need bravery and gentleness.  Seasoned bravery.  Aristotle’s golden mean is the ethical sweet spot between deficiency and excess.  The virtue that we’re going for is courage—the right balance between cowardice and rash fearlessness.  That is our edge.  A little savvy here, if you please.  Take a moment to assess your audience.

Be the brave one to offer first. Sit and listen respectfully. Ask good questions. Try to learn something.  Be willing to change your mind.  (You probably won’t, but it’s pretty exciting when it happens.)

And you know what? The other person is much more interested in hearing your opinion about anything now that you’ve shown some basic courtesy and respect. Heck, they might even be brave enough to change their mind. Or maybe we come out of the discussion realizing that the issue is much bigger and more complicated than our tribe has been defining it.

This is bravery.  It is not cowardice or selling out or being weak.  It is answering God’s call to love.  Not to love because someone deserves it but because God loved us first and calls all believers to do likewise to all of God’s people.

Prophets, by their very nature, cannot be at the center of any social structure. Rather, they are ‘on the edge of the inside.’ They cannot be fully insiders, but they cannot throw rocks from outside either. They must be educated inside the system, knowing and living the rules, before they can critique what is non-essential or not so important. Jesus did this masterfully (see Matthew 5:17-48). This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught the United States, what Gandhi taught British-occupied India, and what Nelson Mandela taught South Africa. Only with great respect for and understanding of the rules can a prophet know how to properly break those very same rules—for the sake of a greater purpose and value. A prophet critiques a system by quoting its own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside.
— Richard Rohr

I think it is only by starting with the people within our own groups that we can hope to effect lasting change—to proclaim the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths, to become God’s beloved community.  Get your own house in order.

Who are your people?



Asking Good Questions

Asking Good Questions