You may have noticed something of a trend in some of my preaching and teaching of late, and that is the issue of "us versus them." As humans, we have a tendency towards tribalism, wherein we attach ourselves to a "side" or a "team" and cheer for the victory of our team over and above the other team. While being competitive in sporting or other venues is not wrong, our tendency is to take that competitiveness and have it leach into all other aspects of life. This can infect our approach to people with different social, political, or economic backgrounds; it can alter our view of different religions or even denominations within the same religion; it can influence how we see people of other racial, ethnic, or national identities.
The danger especially arises when we see the other side's failure as being just as important as our side's victory. If in competitive sports, for example, only one team can win, then in other circles we start to think the same and begin to root for the demise of the others rather than pursuing mutually beneficial solutions to conflicts. While this type of tribalism is not unique to our contemporary culture it does seem to be increasing and becoming more overt and pronounced in recent years. This can lead to a situation where we become suspicious of those who are different than us, and this suspicion can then be exploited by others so that wedges are driven between people of differing social, economic, religious, or racial identities.
As Christians, we must intentionally protect ourselves from this. In her book, The Illuminated Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians, Frederica Mathewes-Greene reflects upon this aspect of the Christian life within society, particularly as it relates to these differences, using economic differences as an example:
In the smaller circle, the collection of people we encounter in our daily lives, the primary task is to grow in humility. In the larger community there are opportunities to gain other virtues, for example compassion and generosity. For early Christians, prayer and fasting were joined by a third spiritual discipline, that of almsgiving. . .
But the spiritual goal of almsgiving was not merely the redistribution of material goods. Materialism is no better for the poor than for the rich; not money, but the love of money, is the root of evil. A wealthy person hoarding his gold, and a poor person enviously craving gold, run the same spiritual danger. . .
St. Hermes speaks of the rich as being given wealth by the Lord, and the poor as being given the gift of intercession. When they confer those gifts on each other, they are like an elm tree twined about by a fruit-bearing vine. The rich appear to bear no fruit, because the cares of their possessions hinder their ability to pray fully. Yet they can support the poor, whose prayers adorn the strength of the wealthy with fruit.
The point is that we are a tapestry of individuals with different strengths, gifts, abilities, and backgrounds; these gifts and abilities can be used selfishly and become a source of pride, or they can be seen as a tool to be wielded for the furthering of the Good News of reconciliation with God. We were created to be in community with one another, not a competition with one another. We should weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, and celebrate with those who celebrate, for we are an interconnected community of people created in the divine image. Let us use our gifts, talents, abilities, and resources as a means of uplifting, not dividing, each other, for in doing so, we are responding to the prayer of Christ when He declared His desire that we all would be one, even as Christ is one with the Father.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly newsletter, 10/17/18)