Some schools in the south didn’t integrate until the late 1980s. Ponder that with me for a moment. That’s within my lifetime. How was that even possible in the United States? These days, all but the staunchest of blatant racists will tell you with conviction that all races and ethnicities are created equal. But stating something and living it out are often two very different things. How do I know this? Because I struggle with this daily.
When you interact with someone who is intellectually impaired or psychiatrically unstable, it’s hard not to think of yourself as superior for being in your right mind. When elderly patients display confusion or uncooperativeness in a clinical setting, we impose our will onto them with medications or restraints even when there is no immediate risk of harm to self or others. It makes my life easier as the physician in the situation and the nurses will stop calling me about it. When I see another person of color dressed a certain way, listening to music I find offensive, cussing up a storm, or doing anything that can be classified as “ghetto” or “hood,” I struggle to keep their dignity and worth in the forefront of my mind. It's this inherent sense of superiority that causes me to frown on my non-English speaking patients who take up more of my time with the use of an interpreter. It’s what causes a group of historically oppressed people to brutalize someone who looks like them because they happen to be wearing a police badge. There are so many things infused with the potential to make me think more highly of myself than I ought to...my education, my credentials, my socioeconomic status, my affluent neighborhood, my knowledge of scripture and study of biblical scholarship, my European descendant dominant church.
When Jesus talked about the reversal of power dynamics in His kingdom, I wonder how much of that language was intended as a device to reframe the human mind’s tendency to create power hierarchies. If the Kingdom is already here but not yet realized, then my brain needs to be reprogrammed to not see a homeless panhandler on the street and automatically think I’m better than that person. When I see a black woman of generous proportions wearing skinny jeans and a crop top, I need to wrestle with those unpleasant thoughts. Any person I encounter who is remotely pro-Donald Trump, QAnon spouting, anti-COVID vaccine promoting, or MAGA rhetoric quoting causes me to mentally shut down and discount what they have to say as just plain crazy. As a Christian, this is unacceptable on my part. This goes far beyond merely being kinder and more generous toward my neighbors. It requires me to push beyond my subconscious defense mechanisms and see people I don’t like or agree with as inherently valuable and beautiful—fallen, misguided, and prone to error perhaps---but no less of a treasured human being than I am. It involves reimagining my definition of who "my neighbor" actually is. It can’t just be the other affluent people in my subdivision...its everyone I come into contact with.
In Bible-speak, this is a “powers, principalities, and spiritual wickedness in high places” issue, not merely a fallen human one. Think of the villain in the first Wonder Woman movie and you have the basic premise. This way of thinking is so instinctively ingrained into us that it’s not a stretch for me to sometimes think I’m superior to atheists, agnostics, Muslims, or other Christians who are led astray by idolatry. My hunch is that Jesus knows all of this and is telling His followers that they better start wrapping their heads around this concept now otherwise spending an eternity expecting to be seated in a VIP section that no longer exists may be unpleasant for everyone.
This explains why the Bible uses language like “casting down imaginations,” “renewing of the mind,” and “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” If Christians are being influenced by powerful forces that we can’t see, embedded into the fabric of our societies, governments, and relationships then the worst thing we can do is pretend that these dynamics don’t exist at all. The language Jesus gives us is an auditory reminder of our natural tendency to assign more importance to titles and positions than we should. Those who are made low, need to be built up in order to see themselves as valuable and those of us with privilege (whether bestowed on us or earned) constantly need to be humbled. Stay thoughtful. scriptures to ponder: -Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…(Rom 12: 1-3) -The weapons of our warfare are not carnal… (2 Cor 10: 1-6) -The sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7)