Listen To Article
Have you ever noticed the sheer stubborn tenacity with which people hang on to their beliefs and opinions – even in the face of overwhelming counter evidence?
Examples both trivial and monumental litter human history.
People used to think that the earth is flat – some still do! – even when observing the curvature of the earth by watching a ship sail off to sea or considering a photograph of our shining blue planet taken from a space station. Nevertheless, not-withstanding, in spite of all that – people hang on.
Two examples with momentous consequences come to mind. First, the looming crisis in Great Britain over Brexit is a case study of the sheer stubborn tenacity of a large slice of the voting population in the UK. In the face of solid facts, some Brits are hanging on to the delusion of a post-EU future of prosperity and autonomy. Check out a few YouTube clips of James O’Brien, a British radio host who tries (and fails) to apply cold sober facts and logic to the Brexit mess. You will be amused but also chagrined.
The second example of wrong-headed tenacity with serious results is the immigration crisis in the United States. This crisis, too, often resists careful analysis and debate. Rather, angry citizens with few facts toss verbal grenades at vulnerable displaced people. A month ago, I sat in a crowded airport gate area and had no choice but to listen to a man who tried to convince me that the “caravan” of immigrants moving north from Central America were violent gang members and criminals. I pointed out that, actually, the “caravan” was mostly families with children. This ignited an angry attack that included accusations against President Obama, feminists, and all Latinx people. It was a disheartening encounter.
Christians formed in the Reformed theological tradition know a thing or two about the tenacity of principalities and powers. The deep awareness of systemic sin characteristic of Reformed theology is one tool to engage the stuck and stubborn places in our culture today. People are irrational and stubborn partly because they themselves are stuck in systems that have embittered them and narrowed their vision.
None of us is immune from these systemic sins – even a blogger who points out the myopia of others is perhaps not so aware of her own.
Spiritual disciplines are needed for the long road ahead.
The seminary that I serve hosted an international conference on migration and border crossings a few weeks ago. The final keynote address, by Dr. Emilie Townes of Vanderbilt Divinity School, mapped the territory of virtues and practices needed for the long road of service ahead.
Leaning into the prophecies of Amos and Ezekiel, Dr. Townes recommended a discipline of lament, action, and hope. These are familiar words, of course. But the lament must not be generic; it must be particular and exact, naming the reality of frightened, hungry, desperate people. And the action that is needed is not episodic; it must be patient and persistent, knowing that it will also, inevitably, be partial and imperfect. And the hope is never solitary but must be grown and nurtured in community.
Lament, action, and hope – these are virtues for the journey ahead.