repdemI was recently reading an article in the Christian Century about Paul’s preaching methods and visit to Athens when he encountered an idol dedicated to an unknown god.  Paul was invited to go to the Areopagus and speak and had his hackles up about all of the idols he had seen when he decided to change his approach.  Instead of criticizing the Athenians for their idolatry, he commended them on being “religious people” and looked for the common thread that connected him and them.

The author of the article, Anna Carter Florence, had these astute words to say about this event and about ourselves when we are in a situation where we have assumptions and preconceived notions about those around us:

If Paul hadn’t been paying close attention, he would have sailed right past it; if he hadn’t been examining the idols with interest, he would have missed its significance. He would have gotten all caught up in the flashiness of machinery and technology, which are not, in the end, what display our humanity. If you want to know the pulse of a place, look at how it marks its own borders. Look for what it is yearning and searching for beyond those borders. Find its idols, and then find the one that is missing.

Don’t just take a second look; take a second look at the very things that make you want to look away. Take a second look at the idols: the ones that repulse you most, the ones you love to hate, the ones that go against everything you stand for. Examine them closely, because in them you will find the opening. In them you will find the entry point to dialogue and conversation about our common human ache. And just so you know: those idols, the ones you scrutinize so carefully, will actually put your own into sharp relief. Another culture’s statue to the unknown god will probably show you that you had one, too, all along.

In today’s America with a contentious political fog that is so thick that you could cut it with Trump’s barber’s scissors, it is easy to get caught up in what divides us.  We have mental “frames” that shape how we see and think of others.  Our language itself helps create the image that we have of them.  This advice by Florence is timely as it reminds us to look at our brothers and sisters whom we may not agree with in a new light.
As human beings, we all have common needs.  Although those on the other side of the aisle may present them in a way that seems repulsive, it is critical to consider the why of their reasoning.  One example is the belief that we are created in God’s image and every life has value.  For conservatives, this may manifest itself in policy against abortion and euthanasia.  For progressives, it may be apparent in positions that stand against the death penalty or those that provide teaching and training to reduce gang violence.  At the roots of our being, there lies a common thread.  However, depending on how and where we were raised (Athens, Topeka, Chicago), our stances may be in stark contrast even though the premise is the same.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s not just them who invoke moral reason to justify policies that seem utterly senseless to us.  We do it, too.  Even with everyone looking at the same object, it can appear vastly different depending upon the vantage point.  So, perhaps we can find some common ground with those we are ideologically opposed to by looking at our own idols to find the common ache.  Because “those idols, the ones you scrutinize so carefully, will actually put your own into sharp relief.  Another culture’s statue to the unknown god will probably show you that you had one, too, all along.”  Well said, Anna.
Peace on the Journey,
Brandyn
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2 Responses to “”

  1. This makes a great point. Thank you!

  2. John Lovestrand Says:

    Well said Anna, and well written (as always) Brandyn!

    Our friend Claudia recently wrote a couple of email replies to me wherein she emphasized how we might see through a “wider lens” and find “beauty in our differences”, both of which remind of Anna and Brandyn above.

    I replied to her asking if we could talk over lunch over coffee so that I could listen and learn, as I know her heart to be full and for her to be a light in this world, so I also hope that political (electoral votes) decisions alone mustn’t be permitted to divide us.

    Thank you. JL

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