In November 2018, D.C.-based pastor Duke Kwon wrote a post that analyzed the spiritual and moral dynamics at play in the breakdown of civil dialogue in the public square. Using the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), he illustrated the ways that Americans across the political spectrum, Christians included, have fallen into the trap of political self-righteousness. In this essay, I will share how and why I’ve personally struggled with political self-righteousness and discuss two major ideas: 1) how our human needs interact with modern cultural and technological factors in ways that enable political self-righteousness to grow deep roots and thrive, and 2) how we can counteract these trends by being faithful in and to the places God has planted us.
It Started with a Garden
When my family and I moved into our house in Atlanta eight years ago, I got the urge to grow my own food. But a couple of things about my property struck me as less than ideal. First, the ground consisted of red Georgia clay. Second, tall trees limited the amount of direct sunlight that was available. So, I decided to go with container gardening. I drove to a local nursery and bought three tomato seedlings, three containers, and a large bag of organic soil. Then I spent the entire summer moving the containers around to keep the plants in full sun as much as possible. Fortunately, the following year, a neighbor who was an experienced grower took me under her wing and showed me how to use compost to amend the ground soil. She told me not to be afraid to plant things in the earth. From that point on, the earth began to work on me.
Gardening is a mirror for our souls. My inaugural effort, which involved chasing the shifting light but not giving to or receiving from the land itself, reflected something unsettled in me. I had grown up with a parent who suffered from psychosis. The stigma around that, coupled with the difficult-to-describe dynamics under my roof, effectively isolated me from the larger world. When I left home, I began what would become a perpetual search for communal connection, safety, and belonging. In 2015, that search led me into the world of online common-interest groups, which seemed to provide all those things I longed for but also made me more judgmental, more self-righteous, and more closed off toward people who didn’t happen to share the same interests and beliefs.
But from the day I started working on my little plot of land, God began communicating through it the wisdom of being anchored to a particular place, of faithfully nurturing it through both health and pestilence, fair weather and poor, joyful bounty and disappointing scarcity. I just wasn’t able to receive it. Once I was, however, it led me out of the world of online communities and enabled me to plunge deeply into the nooks and crannies of my neighborhood, the simple joys of family life, and the complexities of congregational life. These things, in turn, helped me see the world less as a collection of competing interests and more as an ecosystem – and myself as an integral part that brings to it both health and sickness.
Continue reading at The Crux (&) The Call.