A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God's good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.
I think there's a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don't give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that's where we're placing our worth and identity we'll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we've worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”
Augustine reminds us it's not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God's estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.
What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I'm funny or smart or successful or good. I've had to deal with all the ways I've hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I've had to figure out what I'm worth now that I'm not that anymore. More, I've had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it's hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I've discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.
What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.
Rob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com
An attitude that belittles a person by asserting that there is no way this person can process, understand, or empathize with others due to factors of experience and cultural background among others.
Have you ever been in a situation or conversation where you left wondering if you were crazy? You perceived that the person talking to you either saw things in a completely different way than you did, or thought that you couldn’t ever possibly understand what they have experienced and their perspective on a situation. You leave the conversation knowing it didn’t go well, but you are unclear how to make it better…how it might have gone better…or what you have to offer the other person.
And in those moments where someone makes you feel or think like you have nothing to offer them, that is when you have fallen victim to the “capacity problem” because you have ran into someone who truly thinks you indeed have nothing to offer them, no perspective worth considering, and that the way this situation gets solved or this solution works is simply by taking what they have to offer you. You may think that relationships are meant to be a “give and take,” that conversations are a dialogue, and that solutions are best when shared input is solicited…but when you run into this group, that flies out the window!
Avoid being the Faux-Boss by making sure that newer people are welcomed into whatever group you have relational capital in. Ask others to share their opinions with you and listen to them, listen without trying to correct their views or defend something that you are personally invested in knowing that listening is more important than winning. And above all, support decisions and changes made by leaders as an influential member of a group, business, or organization even if you think differently because what I have experienced over my time in leadership is that no decision is “final and everlasting.” If you want to be a person who is respected by decision-makers, then you have to be a person who respects decision-makers.
Avoid being an Xpert by considering different perspectives and choosing to research not just the articles by scholars who agree with you, but read the ones who find faults in your concepts and reasoning. When meeting with others, bring your education and experience to bear but allow others to do likewise, knowing that each person has been invited to the table for a reason. Avoid Intellect type parenting by helping children problem solve instead of telling them what to do. If you want to be a person that other folks rely on for good information and wisdom, then be quicker to listen to multiple sources and slower to respond…I think James provides us with the idea…be quick to listen and slow to speak (1:19).
Who should look out for the Clique-keeper? I think those who try to personally invest in other people or groups where it could be seen as a threat to another person’s relationships and/or a threat to the emotional needs of that person. Often, those who cannot let new folks into a closed system suffer from their own emotional needs that are being met by the group. Therefore, if you work with people, like social services or human services; or if you trying to break into a new group, church, or even blended family…you might run into the clique-keeper.
Avoid being a clique-keeper by trusting that other people, even outside the group, or new to the family, have the ability and desire to feel what you feel and empathize with you. Avoid the skepticism of the “outsider” perspective, and understand that even the outsider can provide thoughtful insights into your group, business, family or friend group. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other as humans is the gift of hospitality, and that is down when we open up our lives to others, let them in, and allow them to fully enter our space with their stuff (emotions, insights, perceptions, etc.) If you want to feel great about the relationships you have, continue to be open to new ones while fostering the lasting ones.
It is interesting to think about our relationship with God at this point because we truly have nothing to offer the creator and sustainer of our lives, yet God does not make us feel less than nor does he treat us as useless. On the contrary, God lavishes love and mercy upon us and accepts our sacrifices and offerings, regardless of how small, as beautiful worship. In Ephesians, Paul claims that God prides Himself in us as his Masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us to do. You see, it is the exact opposite of God’s design and attitude to treat people as if they have nothing to offer, no perspective to give, and to dehumanize others in this way is to oppose God and truly be ungodly in our actions towards others. Let’s make sure that everyone we meet and treat knows that they have the capacity to provide insight, love, and meaning to us and others about whom we care.
Usually in a conflict in which there is disagreement with a person and some of their behaviors, We give ourselves permission to treat a person poorly because it is justified.
Disagreement happens, it is actually a natural thing that occurs in groups of all kinds. Individuals bring their experiences, talents, expertise, and weaknesses to all sorts of meetings, discussions, and gatherings. As a result, there are times when conflicting ideas arise, different directions are thrown out for consideration, or even different personalities are on display. Managing conflict is something that every relationship, community, business, and entity will have to face, but there is an easier route. There is a route that avoids new ideas, or different ones, and totally gives you the upper hand. I call it Permission, and it is an effective way to dehumanize someone with whom you have conflict, quickly gathering a group of supporters and silencing those who think differently than you. Here are four ways to dehumanize someone with Permission:
When we practice these permissions, we are so far away from the words of Jesus in Luke 6. He was teaching those who wanted to become like him through discipleship when he told them this:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, let’s understand that we cannot take this post and this scripture out of context. I would never suggest that persons are to stay in abusive situations, after all this is a series on dehumanization and to bully, abuse, and mistreat people is in essence dehumanizing them. We want to engage folks and talk through disagreements, and using disagreements as permissions to dehumanize is what we are fighting here…nothing more. We want to reconcile relationship and treat people with deep respect. When we fail to do that, which I have, then we want to offer apology and continue to participate. When we can seek to “do good to those who hate us” and when we can “do to others as we would have them do to us” then we will move away from these permissions to be dehumanizing and start re-humanizing each other in authentic (yeah, I used that word) engagement!
An attitude proclaiming that there is no way a person can ever change to be anything more than who they currently are.
I often wonder how it is we can talk about transformation, recovery, and personal growth in a culture perpetuating a “be the best you, you can be” mantra. Meanwhile, the church proclaims that we are to look, be, act, and grow more and more like Jesus…not our natural selves. Recovery programs start with step one, the admission that we are powerless to control ourselves, and our lives have become unmanageable. Perhaps your boss has given you a “personal growth plan,” which is a way to communicate the standards and skills you are to have if wanting to continue working or progressing in your career. Yet, how does all of this play out in a world where a person in the midst of glorious self-discovery and “authentic me” cannot be tainted by the expectations of church, recovery, or work (or family, friends, and education).
I find the word “authentic” to be one of the most overused and abused word in our culture. We talk about having authentic relationships, yet can only relate to each other through what is good; good times, good memories, and good qualities of a person. We talk about having authentic conversations, but cannot not bring up controversial issues, and so we stick to a more comfortable shallow common ground with each other while the real heart issues simmer underneath the surface of our communities and nation. I could give more examples, but a part of this conceptualization of authenticity is being “organic” which by definition means untainted and natural. So, while I like both of these words, and strive to be both authentic and organic; the culturally acceptable definitions of these terms and their rhetorical power often keep us at a distance, seeing each other as broken pieces striving to look more put-together than any of us really are. In the midst of this ongoing plot, is the dehumanization concept of the “give-up.”
One would think that the Christian Community would have a great Gospel message to proclaim to the brokenness of this current culture. The Bible is extremely clear that when a person decides that he or she can differentiate between good and evil unassisted, the consequences are the very things that the Lord God fought against and continues to fight against. The biblical concept for humanity’s efforts in being their own gods and creating their own gods is “sin.” While several biblical writers continue to address the sin problem that has come into the world through Adam, Eve and everyone else, Paul writes to the church in Rome telling them that God has continued to fight against sin through things like the Torah, but even that was tainted through the presence and power of sin. So, God sent Jesus, his son, to be the vessel in which grace could be poured out upon sin-filled humanity. Jesus, as a person who actually lived the righteousness of God, served as an example to be imitated. Paul claims that we are offered new life through Christ, free from sin and now in under a new authority—God! We show our gratefulness by striving to be a righteous and holy people. But as the “authenticity gospel” of American culture has crept into the church, Christian notions of confession, repentance, and accountability are not practiced. In their place, we have substituted dehumanizing practices, and I will try to explain them below:
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 28:13
People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 10:31-32
The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice,
but the tongue that deceives will be cut off.
The lips of the godly speak helpful words,
but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.
A Proverb that Comes to Mind: Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
The church is called together for a reason, so that we can be connected to one another. Society is the same, and we reclaim God’s intention for humanity when we seek to be connected in meaningful ways. As a close this rambling and hopefully provoking post, I am reminded of the song we sing from time to time, an addition to the traditional hymn, “Just As I Am…”
I come broken to be mended, I come wounded to be healed.
I come desperate to be rescued, I come empty to be filled.
I come guilty to be pardoned by the blood of Christ the Lamb.
And I'm welcomed with open arms, Praise God, just as I am.
We are called out of dehumanizing practices and attitudes, and into the re-humanizing grace of Jesus. Please choose to wholeheartedly participate!
You know, I really don’t want to post this. I really don’t want to admit to you that I have a dehumanization problem and I also don’t want to charge you, a reader of this blog, of having the same sinful disposition as I do. However, I can’t get it out of my head. I know that many of us have Christ and live in new life, but I am equally aware that we are still in active recovery from our sin addictions—or we had better be anyway. I can’t read, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and listen again to the words found in Romans 1 about how humanity gave their hearts over to other gods and in so doing, their worship shifted. Once the object of our worship shifts, then our treatment of God’s good creation also shifts…and this includes each other. The result of this monumental lapse in judgement is dehumanization.
Now, I know that we don’t willingly participate in the larger projects of dehumanization. Sure, I’m embarrassed by the very notion of slavery. I detest the global sex slave system that buys and sells children like they are items to purchased. I don’t like reading history books that tell the story of how Africans were thought of as less than human so that they might be treated harshly by their “owners.” I can’t even begin to understand the American pornography machine and its influence in our society. I am tired, as I have already pointed out, of watching people get shot-up by guns in the hands of persons with an attitude of vengeance steeped in dehumanization so rampant in our current American “modus operandi.”
But—we don’t participate it in, right? I mean, I surely don’t join in this sin, do I? Well, let me give you several ways in which we dehumanize others without even thinking it through, like instincts that come naturally to us but are the beginnings of larger and more serious world issues like the ones mentioned above:
While this list is not exhaustive and really has just been compiling in my mind for the last few weeks, it wasn’t all that hard for me to come up with ways in which we, me and you, have bought into systems that dehumanize those who we pass each and every day. As a minister, I have heard these statements above in a church context by those devoted to the teachings of Jesus, readers of God’s Word, and participants in the “new humanity,” along with new creation, promised in the New Testament. And maybe similar to your experience; not only have I stood on the giving end of these, but I have also been on the receiving end of these.
So, for the next few writings, I want to unpack these briefly stated notions listed above. I want to think about what it looks like to be countercultural in a culture that currently continues the ancient practice of dehumanization in innovative ways.
I have heard it said that we should seek to “be the change your want to see in the world,” and so if I want to stop slavery, end shootings, or overcome a porn-saturated culture; then it starts with restoring my heart and opening my eyes to the very things that I do, and that you do too. We must address the attitudes and ideas that start distinguishing us from them and them and them; creating a hierarchy of value. You see, I can’t pass gun laws and I can’t evaluate FBI tips. I can’t tell you exactly how I might react if I was in an active shooter situation. What I can admit is my own contribution to the larger problem, and I can seek revolutionary new ways of loving my neighbors.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.