“The revolution that’s required isn’t a revolution of radical ideas, but the implementation of ideas we already have.”
-Russell Brand, Comedian and Actor
I am deeply concerned about the divisiveness that exists in the United States of America today. Certainly, we have had our fair share of conflicts, enemies, and wars with other nations and cultures in the nearly 250-year history of our nation, but never have we been in such radical conflict with each other than we are today. I was not alive during the World Wars, and I am too young to remember Vietnam, but I cannot imagine any enemy in our history who has been more vilified than people who stand in conflict of cultures and ideas in our country today. What founded, established, and endured to make this country the admiration of the world now threatens—and indeed in many ways already has—to split it into predetermined segments of society who are completely intolerant of opposing points of view. Rather than seeking to understand each other’s viewpoints, we are now more concerned with voicing our own vitriol and sharing it within the groups we associate with.
While it is hard to imagine, the world just before the birth of Christ was in just as much turmoil as it is today. Corruption, slavery, bigotry, and sociological upheaval were only a few of the prevalent problems. While difficult to place ourselves in that type of agrarian economy, and to realize the struggles that many people faced in those times, it is, however, congruent with the oppression and struggles many share around the world today. With seemingly little hope for change, and against insurmountable odds, there came a Jewish carpenter whose radical ideas not only put him in direct conflict with the established ideals of the day, but also started a revolution that changed the world and continues to make an impact today.
I do not intend to write a book that attempts to push Christianity on anyone. I do intend, however, to present facts that I believe are instrumental in changing the way all people, and especially Christians, think and act. Jesus did no less during his time on earth. If we as a nation are ever going to become the United States again, then I believe we need to examine ways in which we can come up with new and radical ideas and mindsets to bring us together instead of driving us apart. There are no revelatory or new thoughts here, only a reminder of long- and well-established ideals that need to be remembered, and implemented, starting today.
Do not judge, lest you be judged.
We live in a country that is badly in need of reversing the way we view other people. Rather than casting a suspicious and scrutinous look upon others, we need to first look inward. Not only did Jesus say that we would be judged if we judged others, but he also said that we would be judged with the same measure. Yikes! Think about how the last couple of days, weeks, and months have gone for you. What kind of thoughts have you had about your family, your friends, and your co-workers? How about the person who cut you off in traffic, or the rude clerk at the coffee shop who didn’t listen to you? And that is before I have begun to mention the person or people who have different views on politics, religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
I ask you: If you were judged by others with the same thoughts and words that you had used toward them, how would you feel? Going one step further, what if you had to live with the same consequences you had seemingly justified in your own mind that the people you judged should have to live with? Would that challenge you to reconsider how you look at other people, now and in the future?
How much better would your small corner of the world be if instead of adopting a mindset and mantra of judgment, you instead developed one of forgiveness? Do you think you would surprise a few people—especially the ones who know you best? You might not start a revolution, but you sure might find that your world, and the people in it, are a little brighter, a little happier, and a whole lot less stressful. Forgiveness is not an easy concept. As my father used to say, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true today: almost nobody does it.
Forgiveness requires humility and a mindset that must be adopted by us all if we are ever going to change our culture. Specifically, my challenge to you is to adopt a mindset whereby you never expect to get and never cease to give. You can insert any positive character trait that you want into that equation. In addition to forgiveness, you could also use righteousness, humility, grace, hope, and love. You may not always—or ever—receive them, but you should never cease to give them.
Look at the speck in your own eye.
We are all experts at defining problems, pointing out shortcomings, and giving corrections. Especially to anyone and everyone other than ourselves. We expend a great deal of energy every day worrying and working around the flaws we see in other people. Think about your conversations at the end of the day when you finish working—either with your spouse or with friends. Do you spend a great deal of time talking with them about what other people did that irritated you? We all do it, and it is a habit that needs to be broken.
Again, Jesus, in his teachings, reversed the societal norms and pointed out a new way of thinking. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus saying, “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?” Not only does Jesus point out that we must reverse the way we think about others, but he clearly offers a bit of rebuke for micro-analyzing flaws in others while ignoring significant flaws in ourselves.
The next radical idea suggested in the above statement is that we need to work on ourselves, and if we become better people, we will become the kind of person that others enjoy being around. In other words, if we fix ourselves and are working toward becoming the best version of ourselves every day, we spend a lot less time being hypercritical of others. We are likely to find that the more we work on ourselves, the more those around us will fall in line and do likewise. People who are self-confident and achievement-minded naturally inspire others to follow suit. I believe that if you work on yourself twice as hard every day, you will likely find that the problems you have with others will be cut in half, if not more.
The other benefit of being a better version of ourselves is that as we become better at being, we will become much better at acting and doing. We can all put ourselves in a negative reinforcing loop where everything we think and do pulls us down further and further. Ultimately, this can make us into more negative people. However, we can reverse the direction of our thoughts and actions, and make everything multiply in a positive way. Our world would be a much happier place if we all lived by the principles of multiplication rather than the negativity of division.
With all the division in our society today, there are a whole lot of people on both sides of any issue living with stress, clenched teeth and fists, and looking for a fight. It is virtually impossible to look at any form of media and not be affected by the venom pervading it. What if instead of clenched fists, we all started extending a helping hand? It could be something as simple as smiling and sharing a kind word with a stranger. But real change can come if we follow the advice of Stephen Covey, author of the iconic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and “seek first to understand, then be understood.” What amazing changes could eventuate if we simply relax and open ourselves up to listening and learning rather than yelling and lecturing?
I think the other message Jesus is telling us in this passage is that it is a mistake to project our reality onto others. We all have specks of sawdust in our eyes. We are all flawed human beings. We assume that when we see the speck in other people’s eyes, we know why it’s there, how it got there, and how to fix it. The truth, in most cases, is that we don’t know the real reason why it is there. Especially when the people we are judging are outside of our circle of social, religious, political, or cultural circles—we have no idea what trials, tribulations, and tragedies these people have been faced with. We certainly do not live in a perfect world, and, as the saying goes, we all have our crosses to bear. The way we were raised, the circumstances we have dealt with in our lives, and the challenges that keep us up at night, are uniquely ours. Other people may have similar situations, but they are certainly not the same.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
As alluded to in the last section, I have some news for you: we are all flawed. While our society attempts to sell us on the idea that if we just work hard enough, own certain things, be identified with particular groups of people, and have enough followers on social media, that we will be set for life. The truth is that this is all a fallacy, as we are all imperfect and prone to mistakes in our judgments and actions. Perfection is a fleeting idea that we would all be wise to stop pursuing for ourselves and demanding from other people.
The story of Jesus challenging the teachers of the Law with the woman caught in adultery is a familiar one, even to those not closely linked to Christianity. The leaders were convinced that, according to the rules of the Jewish Law, the woman deserved to be judged and killed for her adulterous behavior. However, Jesus completely turned the tables on them when he challenged the first sinless person to throw the first stone, and as no one could claim they were sinless, they all slowly walked away—I imagine with them shaking their heads and muttering to themselves. Thereafter, Jesus is known to have asked the woman, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” To which she then replied, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Then neither do I condemn you.”
The point of the story is this: we are all sinners in need of grace. Yes, grace from God, but certainly also grace from other people. Recall earlier in the chapter where I encouraged you to always be willing to give, whether you receive or not. Grace certainly falls into this category.
I need to address something that I believe is very important for everyone in our society to understand. This is not just relevant to Christians, but people of all faiths, no faith, and people from all groups of societal, sexual, and political backgrounds. In the eyes of God, sin is sin. My sins as a Christian are no different than the sins of someone with no affinity or affiliation with the church. As a Christian, I do not see the sins of others as any more vile or worse than my own. Because my God does not. He did not come to divide us, but to unite us, and I believe that anyone who behaves or speaks differently is doing a disservice to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus did not come to divide us but to unite us.
Finally, I want to encourage my fellow Christians as well as those who are critical of the Gospel of Jesus that it is high time to ‘step across the aisle,’ and get to know one another better. We are much more alike than we are different; we are driven by the same desire for health, wellness, love, and joy; and we want to create the best versions of ourselves and make the world a better place to live in. I truly believe that most people have an inherent desire within them to be and do better. Let’s put aside the differences that divide us and focus on the words, actions, and behaviors that will multiply the goodness we all seek.
It’s a radical idea—but just the right kind of radical idea needed for troubled times.
For Reflection – Three Mountain-Moving ideas
> Keep a daily journal, and each day record how much time you focused on working to better yourself instead of focusing on other people’s faults. You should be spending twice as much time on yourself.
> In the same journal, and with the same goal ratio in mind, estimate and record how much time you spent that day on giving instead of getting.
> Identify two to three random acts of kindness that you can do every day. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or life-changing. Most Random Acts of Kindness can be quite simple but still have a profound impact on the receiver.