Several years ago, a bumper sticker popped up here and there that said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” We need to print up some more of those for times like these.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit Donald Trump turned up the outrage quotient to hyperdrive during the 2016 presidential campaign. He both tapped the outrage of angry white males and underemployed Rust Belt workers while at the same time eliciting outrage among those who opposed him and his proposed policies. And now we find ourselves living out one of the most anxiety-filled changes of presidential administrations in American history. Each day brings new surprises.
For many Christians, there’s so much to be outraged about that it’s hard to narrow the list: Fears for women, fears for immigrants, threats against religious liberty, threats against dissenters, fear about this, fear about that. All while a large swath of the evangelical Christian population acts as though God’s will is finally being done to address their years of outrage.
Feeling overwhelmed by all these emotions and fears, I was reminded of a classic scene from the movie City Slickers with Billy Crystal, who plays the city slicker named Mitch, and Jack Palance, who plays the crusty old trail hand named Curly. Sitting around the campfire, Curly asks Mitch: “Do you know what the secret of life is?” And then he holds up one finger, explaining that there’s only one thing that’s the secret to life. Which causes the city slicker to inquire, “But what is the one thing?” And in classic form, Curly smiles and declares, “That’s what you have to find out.”
What is the one thing people of Christian faith might focus on right now — even unite around — that would serve as a benchmark or centering pole to address the outrage all around us?
Here’s an idea from the world of strategic planning: Begin with the end in mind. This is such a common mantra of strategic planners that it is almost cliché. But it’s still true. To figure out how to get where you’re going — whether in a business or a church or in life — you’ve first got to know the desired destination. Once you know that one thing, it’s easier to work backward and chart a path to success.
What is the desired destination for people of Christian faith? What is it we should be striving for? Here’s a clue: Jesus began his public ministry by quoting Isaiah 61: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
Sitting around the campfire, Curly might have said that was Jesus’ “one thing.” Problem is, Christians differ in our interpretation of what those words mean. Was Jesus declaring release and liberty only to the faithful who believe or to everyone? Is this about me or about someone else? Is this about separating the faithful from the unfaithful or about acting in faith toward the faithful and unfaithful alike? Is this about judgment or grace?
Here’s a second clue: Remember that Jesus reserved his greatest outrage for those who sought to protect their own self-interests above enacting the coming kingdom of God. He said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and the second commandment is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Maybe that’s the “one thing” that could — or should — unite Christians in this season of outrage, as we struggle to know which battles are worth fighting. As we seek discernment about what policies or appointments or legislation to speak for or against, we will demonstrate that we love the Lord our God with heart, soul and mind when we demonstrate that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
To do anything less should be an outrage.