Happy New Year to all readers of Faith Matters! Make it terrific!
As for that, 2016 doesn’t have the feel of being off to a very good start. Jitters about China’s economy is only the latest disturbance challenging our sense of well-being, but both the national and global fronts are fraught with dangerous weather ahead. And unfortunately, in my lifetime our American political moment has never seemed more polarized.
Thinking about this, it occurred to me that even during the raucously turbulent 1960’s and 70’s—the days of race riots, Vietnam and assassinations—we never lost the public square of political discourse. Rough and tumble for certain, but underneath there was committed engagement across political divides built on the presumption that positive outcomes ultimately required the participation of divergent advocates working for the common good. It feels different now.
We’re a far more atomized culture today, sharing many fewer environments where people with different perspectives must necessarily rub shoulders—including faith communities as religious identity drains away. Now we simply find like-minded individuals via the web, listen only to congenial newscasters and pundits, never developing a hearty musculature for social engagement. The current rash of speech censors on college campuses underscores the desire to hang out in “safe” environments of like-mindedness. This emergent shift can only produce many insular “bubble cultures” at a time we require more engagement across our divides rather than less.
I invite you to remember that healthy Christian faith trusts a God who was pleased to create an extremely diverse world. Love was the engine of God’s creativity. Jesus sharpens our focus on this as we observe how he crisscrossed the social, religious and cultural divides of his day. We also observe this proved dangerous to him and to his followers since zealots are prone to protect their small-bore worldviews at all costs, others be damned.
Love ultimately wins the day, we say, but in the meantime we need the support of one another to keep our bead on the highest human aspirations. As I’ve written before, fear is our great enemy in this. Worshiping the God of love is the truest antidote. Working on behalf of the common good remains one of our enduring obligations.
By the way, this is a principle reason we’re developing a new project in Washington Heights under the banner of “breaking the back of poverty in a zip code.” (Be watching and listening for news concerning our launch in upcoming weeks.) As a faith community we seek to externalize our mission to love God and neighbor in New York City more substantially. You will have a role to play for certain. One very good reason to be hopeful about the year ahead…
The Reverend Dr. Stephen Bauman