8.08.2012

Beyond Litmus Tests

I really despise how shallow public discourse has become.  In a society soaked by fast food, instant gratification, and social media, we no longer have meaningful dialogue in which we listen to one another, explore nuances with open minds, and hold our positions humbly and thoughtfully.

Instead, everything has become a litmus test.  We are sorted into categories on the basis of our snap positions on things like abortion or gay marriage, on what we think of Chick-fil-A or what cable news show we watch.  Never mind that the important things in life are too complex for such simplifications.

Sorting people into categories is not new, of course.  There were litmus tests in Jesus' day, and no shortage of arrogant riddlers trying to trip up the popular Nazarene.  Whether He was asked whether taxes should be paid to Caesar or if resurrection was true, all waited for an answer so that half could gloat and half could condemn. 

I take two lessons from Jesus' approach.  First, He had a ready answer that blew through the shallowness of the question and the underlying issue to get at more meaningful things.  Taxes, for example, were a touchstone issue back in the day, paying them symbolizing adherence to an oppressive government and yet shirking them representing a dangerous act of dissent.  Jesus said we should render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and yet to God what is God's.  Taxes, in other words, were less important an offering than the whole of our lives.

Second, His real ministry was in the form of almost constant contact with His followers, even to the point of forsaking opportunities to touch more people.  He blew through towns full of needy people.  He told cryptic stories that left those only cursorily interested in Him confused.  At the peak of His popularity, He set impossibly high ground rules for following Him for the express purpose of reducing the number of people who were following Him.

Sure, He had his sound bite moments, of healing and compassion and storytelling.  But these were always with His closest followers watching Him, and eventually participating with Him.  In other words, Jesus' influence came largely through a "come and be with Me" approach, rather than wooing adherents through catchy sayings and intense one-off experiences. 

We needn't shrink back from litmus tests, nor should we pout when we're not given sufficient time to explain ourselves or when we're put in a box because of where we stand on a particular issue.  Instead, we should follow the example of our Savior, who had a ready answer and who invested in deep, meaningful relationships through which Truth and Love could be lived out.  At a time when it seems it is more important to be seen supporting something meaningful rather than actually supporting something meaningful,




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