It Begins at Home

– Andy Wade –

slipperyRecently I posted as somewhat cynical comment on Facebook regarding an event in the news, expressing some frustration. In response, a friend asked the question, “How do we effect change among…? Heck, how do I effect MORE change in myself?” Those questions stirred within me as I wrote a more cool-headed, thoughtful reply. They continue to stir in me precisely because they are essential questions for those of us who follow Christ and take his call to discipleship seriously.

Here’s how I responded [clarifications and further reflections are bracketed and highlighted in green]:

I think you touch on two of the most important aspects of change: education and attitude. [My friend’s remarks were more detailed than this] I’m in a love-hate relationship with Facebook; it’s great for getting in touch, and staying in touch, with friends, new and old, but it also is filled with bumper sticker-type proclamations that tend to feed extreme views and fuel anger and cynicism. I admit, I’m part of the problem and have quit reading many of the inflammatory articles and memes that appear (although I was rather cynical in my remarks [to the article posted on FB] above).

I’m attempting a change in myself for the coming year: If a post gets me angry, I’m trying to force myself to peer underneath my emotions and ask, “Why?” Am I falling into an intentional trap laid out to tick me off? Or is this a legitimate issue to be upset about? If it’s legit, how can I better respond in a way that educates, rather than alienates?

My role, as a follower of Jesus, is to be an “ambassador of reconciliation”. Too often I’m an ambassador of discord as I allow myself to be manipulated by media and provocation.

In other words, to effect change requires change first in me. I’m convinced this is the beginning step in personal, spiritual, and social change – and it’s not a one-off event, but an ongoing awareness of my internal attitudes, emotions, motivations, and underlying assumptions.

Once I acknowledge this, and begin to put it into practice, I’m (more) ready to begin engaging in healthy spiritual practices which can further shape my inner character. [One might argue that our first spiritual practice should be to come before God with this kind of open, confessional-repentant attitude.]

I’ve come to realize how various “spiritual practices” can easily become just an extension of our broken and often cynical nature if we do not begin with the foundational (and ongoing) process of personal examination. Without this ongoing examination, I put up roadblocks to the work of the Spirit in my life and cripple not only my own spiritual growth, but also my ability to walk effectively alongside others.

With the right attitude engaged, I’m ready to begin to look again at how best to be an agent of change that does not also intentionally or unintentionally alienate many of the people I’m trying to reach. It now becomes more possible for me to become an agent of education and change because I’ve begun to allow God to shape my heart and mind around not only God’s purposes, but God’s methods of healing and reconciliation in the world.

What I used to call “education” may well now be revealed to be rather “instigation” and be easily discarded as unhelpful.

Well, those are nice words and thoughts… now to live into them! This is my personal challenge as I enter the new year. Believe it or not, I have been trying to change, but the combination of passion about various extremely important issues and the accessibility (especially through Facebook) of radicalized “news” articles and memes, make it a real challenge to maintain a clear and open attitude. Enter community – good and trustworthy friends who can help hold me (us) accountable to our deeper calling.

As I now read back over these words, I’m stunned by both the simplicity and the complexity of my undertaking. The actions themselves are quite simple, the complexity is where emotions and habit enter in. To move forward I must be intentional about all my interactions, especially those that take place online.

Why “especially online”? A few years ago, while talking with a friend, I made the analogy of Facebook posts being like driving on the freeway. Because of the imagined anonymity or distance, people become more aggressive, acting in ways they never would in a face-to-face encounter. What I failed to realize at the time was how much I was also referring to my own online presence!

It Begins at Home

As I enter this new year I am challenged by Jesus’ very simple, yet complex, invitation: “Come, follow me.” This is an invitation to discipleship, and discipleship requires a desire to change. My friend’s question, “How do we effect change in [others]?” cannot really be answered until we honestly begin to answer his second question, “How do I effect MORE change in myself?” It begins at home, in our hearts and minds as we truly open our lives – our motivations, assumptions, pre-conceived notions, prejudices, and attitudes.

Or as Jesus once put it:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:3-5)

Sure, Jesus is talking about passing judgment here, but isn’t that precisely where our attitudes often go astray? What, after all, causes me to respond to those I might disagree with by posting a meme that belittles their view (whether it’s “right” or “wrong”)? Is the root of that motivation not so much in helping the other but rather in my judgment of them?

So returning to my friend’s question, paraphrasing it to fit into the real issue I’m facing as a follower of Jesus: “Why do you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me disciple you,’ when all along you refuse to be fully discipled by the one who is the true teacher? You hypocrite, first become a true disciple, and then you will have a portion of the humility necessary to help disciple your brother or sister.”

Now the difficult work begins.