Is it Time to Rethink?

Our beliefs have fragmented us.

“A whole new world of friendships was revealed to us. Our view of our world, spirituality, politics, relationships, and so much more expanded beyond what we once thought possible.”

Jess and I recently took some time apart from our daily, largely stamped schedules to intentionally slow down. We wanted to give ourselves a few days to breathe, to sit and contemplate, to listen to our own and each other’s thoughts.

We rented a little place right on a lake where we could open our window and hear the water lapping the shore. We spent time sitting in the chairs by the big living room window watching ducks dive under the water, geese coming and going, and the sun setting perfectly in the valley between two meeting mountains. And wine...we enjoyed wine with each sunset.

Times like this have been critical for us. We have a tendency to run and run and run in pursuit of our current objectives. Days begin to run together one after another if we don’t make time to intentionally stop and simply listen. Listen to each other, but also to listen to ourselves. The latter is usually the more difficult for the two for us.

There is another voice that we chose to listen to this time as well. It’s a voice that is not quiet. In fact, it often screams so loud it makes it quite difficult for us to hear each other, much less ourselves. This time we made space to intentionally listen to the voice of us.

The greater us.

The us that is so deeply afraid.

The us that is so deeply confused about many things.

The us that is running from things in our pasts.

The us that is grasping for meaning in our futures.

The us that is finding raw, sometimes dangerous community, in our shared enemies.

The us that is so deeply fragmented.

So, we listened.

What we began to hear

…is how some believe that what they believe makes them superior to those who do not hold the same beliefs.

What we began to hear

…is how some believe that what they believe makes it so that others with differing beliefs cannot, should not, experience the same freedoms they themselves have.

What we began to hear

…is how some believe that what they believe is of more consequence and of higher value than what others believe.

What we began to hear

…is how some believe that those with different beliefs should be quieted, locked away, harmed, or even killed.

What we began to hear

…is how deeply our beliefs have fragmented us.

And WE are not exempt from this.

My faith beliefs have changed somewhat drastically over the last decade and a half. Throughout that change, I have retained a fondness for the recorded life and teachings of Jesus. As I have come to understand the cultural context into which he entered this world thousands of years ago, I have been struck by how times may change, but beliefs have always fragmented us as co-humans.

In a very broad, and not at all nuanced, view of the day, Jesus was born in the nation of Israel. Israel had been conquered by Caesar Augustus and was currently occupied by his Roman forces. This was problematic for the People of Israel because they believed they were God’s chosen children. They believed that a messiah (a deliverer) would one day come to rescue them from their oppressors (Rome). They had stories of other deliverers during other oppressions, but they believed THIS messiah would be different. This messiah would be final. They would be free forever.

But...they were becoming impatient. Oppressive occupation from an enemy (however benevolent they may claim to be) can have that effect.

From this, several factions were born from the differing beliefs as to how this messiah would come.

The Zealots believed that a coordinated show of force would be necessary. If the people of Israel would band together to take back their nation from their oppressors, the messiah would be revealed and lead the charge.

The Essenes believed that the enemy occupation was a result of God’s displeasure with the nation as they had become corrupt and sinful. Only in removing themselves from the corrupted epicenters could they become clean enough to appeal to God to send the messiah. So, they established new communities in the wilderness far from the evils of civilization.

The Pharisees were the keepers of the holy scriptures, the law. They believed that the people had fallen away from God’s commands, and so, if the entire nation could perfectly hold to the law (for even one day) keeping all the commands perfectly, God would send the messiah.

The Sadducees were the Levites, the keepers of the temple. Their position was quite different because Caesar Augustus had allowed them to largely maintain their role unimpeded. This allowed for them to stay in their positions of power and wealth so long as they cooperated with the Roman government.

Like I said, the times may be different, but the familiarity is strikingly similar today.

At least three of the four factions were eagerly awaiting the messiah. Eagerly waiting for the one who would deliver them and re-establish their nation as God’s hand-selected ones. Eagerly waiting…waiting…waiting for God to do something.

In Jesus’ first recorded public message he leads with these words,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

I’m going to take some liberties here with a rough paraphrase that helped me to understand this statement better in light of the cultural context it was spoken into. While I admit it is a rough paraphrase, I have full confidence in it.

Paraphrase: It’s time to rethink how you’ve been thinking about all of this, God’s kingdom is already within your reach.

Jesus’ first message to his brothers and sisters was that for them to engage in what they were truly seeking; they must first be willing to explore the possibility that there may, in fact, be a better way to think about it. A better way to think about everything.

In order to see what is already available to us, we must first be willing to rethink how we’ve been thinking about it.

Out of this, for Jess and me, a question was born, “What if…?”

What if there is a better way to think about the problem of X?

What if X isn’t exactly how we’ve perceived it to be?

What if X is actually better than we thought?

What if what we’ve come to believe about X isn’t the way things truly are?

What we discovered when we began to ask, “What if…?”, is that a whole new world of possibilities opened up for us. A whole new world of friendships was revealed to us. Our view of our world, spirituality, politics, relationships, and so much more expanded beyond what we once thought possible.

Yes, our beliefs have fragmented us, but our beliefs do not need to control us. Our beliefs should not be our masters, they should be our guides. And if we begin to question where they are taking us, then maybe we should begin with, “What if...there were a different guide?”


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