Hanging on by a strand
Seth Godin recently posted the following…
There are three strands, present for most everyone:
Power (sometimes seen as status, or the appearance of status)
Safety (survival and peace of mind)
Meaning (hope and the path forward)
The changes in our media structure, public health and economy have pushed some people to overdo one or the other and perhaps ignore a third. When a social network finds your button and presses it over and over, it’s hard to resist.
New cultural forces catch on because they hit on one or more of these. And politics is understood through this lens as well.
See the braid and it’s a lot easier to figure out why we might be stressed.“The Braid Out of Balance”, Seth Godin
This brought to mind a passage in Ecclesiastes
Then I turned to re-examine something else that is pointless on earth: Consider someone who is alone, having neither son nor brother. There is no end to all of his work, and he is never satisfied with wealth. “So for whom do I work,” he asks, “and deprive myself of pleasure?” This, too, is pointless and a terrible tragedy.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If they stumble, the first will lift up his friend—but woe to anyone who is alone when he falls and there is no one to help him get up. Again, if two lie close together, they will keep warm, but how can only one stay warm? If someone attacks one of them, the two of them together will resist. Furthermore, the tri-braided cord is not soon broken.Ecclesiastes 4:7–12 (ISV)
The long-standing “go it alone” mentality of US cultural history is still very much present, despite much of the US culture going through upheavals. The braid (Godin) or cord (Ecclesiastes) is a good image to use when we think of our lives, and the inputs we have, whether power, safety, and meaning (Godin) or friends and companions (Ecclesiastes).
One of the things one learns about ropes (or cords or braids), is that it is possible to use them where one strand breaks as it bears the brunt of the load. The other two strands then have to bear an additional 50% that were not planned or expected.
We may all understand giving 100%. Yet, most of us understand that we are just not capable of doing that all the time (we do have to rest). When that 1 strand is broken, the load is now 150%. Again, do-able for a short amount of time.
It is when the last strand is broken that we experience a brutal reality of 300%.
No one can sustain that.
As I look around me, I see people within and without the faith in Jesus Christ1 who are leaning on something other than Jesus. Within the faith, in particular, the concern is those whose faith appears (for I cannot see their heart) to be more on a particular iteration of the Christian faith (not-so-essential theology), rather than Jesus. Even more concerning is when their iteration goes hand-in-hand with a particular political perspective (and this is not only those on the so-called right—or extreme right—of the political spectrum).
As much as I am trying to elevate Jesus, much of our knowledge about Jesus is written in the Scriptures (i.e., The Holy Bible). That, too, may result in another extreme, though, and that is only looking at the Scriptures in isolation. If we (as an individual) are the only reader, contemplators, and interpreters of the Scriptures, we will likely (as history repeatedly shows) get ourselves in trouble.
Not that reading it together often seems much better, for the record.
If you are looking for a faith community to join in, or have one, always keep hold loosely. I don’t mean waver. I mean don’t hold so tightly onto your tradition that you are unable to hear the other branches of Christianity honestly (rather than listening to debate), and even other faith traditions all together (including secularism and atheism).
I know someone will read the above and try to say that the other Christian traditions or other faiths will lead people astray. It might be true. However, if we are unable to engage them, then if person gets one strand of their faith (Christian or not) broken, just as the opening quote, everything may well unravel.
“I have decided to follow Jesus,” is a refrain from an old hymn, and it is my truth. Following Jesus means that I regularly have to wrestle with my faith, my faith tradition (Wesleyan-Holiness-Arminian), my political leanings and tendencies, my experiences. It also means I have to welcome the uncomfortableness of wrestling with the faith, (faith and cultural) traditions, political leanings and tendencies, and experiences of others.
Growth and Strength
I have one caveat to the strand/cord/rope illustration. Instead of a rope that breaks and frays over time, I would say that what makes up the rope is more like a muscle. If you work it (in harmony with the other strands), it gets stronger. If you don’t work it, it rots in place.
1For clarity, faith in Jesus Christ as defined via the Apostles’ Creed, Creed of Nicaea, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, Athanasian Creed.