Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to Change the World

Don't try.

Seriously, stop trying to change the world. It doesn't work that way. People are people and they're pretty tired of do-gooders telling them how to live their lives. This isn't a joke; I'm not being sarcastic. It isn't a satire. I'm not trying to prove a point. If you really want the world to be different, stop trying to change it.

If you want to change the world, love people. Love them - treat them fairly, do nice things for people, even when you're not obligated. Care for people, even if they repay you with hate and violence. Yes, yes - by all means throw birthday parties for prostitutes and eat lunch with homeless drunks - but you could also make dinner for the single mom next door so she's got one less thing on her plate. Stop and talk with that annoying neighborhood kid instead of just yelling for him to get out of your way.

You're never going to lecture or harangue bad actions out of people. Either they know what they're doing is wrong and lack the support to stop or they're perfectly happy with whatever it is that bugs you - and telling them its wrong is only going to harden their resolve.

For the most part, people do what they think is best in the world. They'll change if they think something else works out better for them.

If you want to change the world, just live differently. Give people an example of some alternative way of life working out really well - and don't throw it in their faces. If you're living well to spite someone else, you're not living well.

Sadly, as a pastor, the worst people at doing this sort of thing seem to be Christians. We like to lecture, harass, wield guilt trips, and all sort of other nefarious nonsense to get people to "behave." We like to play morality police - which is ultimately just a power trip.

The gospel - this "good news" we're supposed to be all about - it doesn't say anything about doing the right things, thinking the right thing, or even being a generally decent person. The good news that Christians are supposed to be sharing with the world is simply that each and every one of us is loved unconditionally. Everyone is good enough, honorable, dignified, worthy of respect. The whole point of God dying in a gruesome, humiliating way was to prove how deep God's love is for each and every person - not after they clean up their act or in the innocence of youth, but at their worst, lowest, weakest, most hate-filled selves.

What's more, there is no prerequisite for change.

There's no condition (that's sort of what the word "unconditional" means). There is no fine print, no underlying agreement - if I accept this love, then I'm obligated to do ______________________. That's not how it works.

God loves you.

That's it.

You don't have to change a thing.

Now, my experience has been - both personally and in observance of others - when someone really internalizes that reality - not just intellectually understands the concept, but really comes to accept, deep inside them, that this love is indeed real and indeed unconditional - that people do change.

We cannot be loved unconditionally and remain the same.

This is why I believe love can change the world - not because I am persuasive or any more correct in my morality than anyone else, but because I believe this kind of love is world changing and I don't feel any obligation to change anyone else.

I happen to believe in a loving, compassionate, present God - one who works in the world in real, tangible ways. I believe this is the who not only professes, but lives the kind of outrageous, radical, no-strings-attached kind of love I mention here.

I happen to believe that when people experience this love, they're different. Change happens. It may not always happen in the ways I expect or even the ways I think is best - which is, well, probably a very good thing.

I have no problem talking to people about my choices, my morality, and why I do the things I do. I enjoy it greatly. But I don't expect those reasons to apply to anyone, but me. Don't get me wrong, I love it when people agree with me. I really, really, really enjoy being called "right" by other people. I have a strong desire for reassurance and praise - but I certainly don't expect anyone to agree with me.

I do what I think is right because I think it's right. I sure hope everyone else does the same. Man, I would feel really terrible if people did things I told them to do, simply because I told them to do it. I don't need that kind of power. I don't deserve that kind of power. I'm not sure why so many people in this world seem to think they do.

I might ask you why you do something you do - why you think it best. I've been told (and I'll admit) I often do this in ways that sound accusatory or judgmental. I promise, I don't mean it that way and I'm trying to get better. Usually, I am genuinely curious as to why people choose what they choose and what it says about underlying beliefs. I'm very curious about why people come to different conclusions than me and, specifically, if they've found some rationale or argument I missed along the way.

It's a wonderful thing for people to talk about why they do what they do, about how we decided what is the best way to live in the world. That excites me to no end.

I just can't fathom how people move from that genuine inquiry to the notion that they know the right answer.

I guess, even in saying that unconditional love is the right answer, I'm violating this rule. That might be true. I'd be happy to talk to people about why it seems best to me (hint: it's mostly because the other options, even if they're more believable, are sad and boring to me). Ultimately, though, there's one thing I do know (but feel free to disagree):

You don't change the world by telling people what to do. No one likes that. Live out what you believe - give people an example - and see if that is convincing enough to affect change. If it's not, well, maybe you're not living out exactly what you thought you were.

The world is a great mirror. Sometimes the things we most dislike out there are the things we most need to change in us.

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