What Are You FOR?

No, no, not what are you for, as in, why are you here–what are you for, as opposed to “what are you against?”

In the (sometimes-exhausting) world of social media and blogging–especially in an election season!–it can seem like everyone is always talking about what they are against: what they fear will happen if the other party wins, why the other side is so wrong, why parenting/worshiping/eating/living in a particular way is destructive and bad and so on. Without trying too hard, I can think of a number of bloggers and authors and TV and radio personalities who have made names for themselves largely by asserting what they are against.

This kind of discourse often reminds me of the prayer of the Pharisee–Lord, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector! Except today they sound more like this, and it’s usually more of a subtext than a bold statement:

  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those bleeding-heart social-justice-y Sojourners Christians
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those uptight, theology-obsessed Gospel Coalition Christians
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those sling-wearing, tree-hugging crunchy mamas
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those career-driven, daycare-using mamas
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those complacent, suburban dwelling churchgoers
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those hipster new-urbanism loving churchgoers
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those lefty, wealth-redistributing Democrats
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those right-wing, poor-people-despising Republicans

Sometimes my writing is like this. Truth is, there are plenty of ideas that a person may be justified in being ‘against.’ But I tire of writing like this, and also of reading writing that is relentlessly anti-. What seems to center and ground me, instead, is to focus on what I’m forwhat do I want to lift up as good, as true, as right, as exemplary, as worthy of attention and praise?

Something I read recently invited me to wonder whether there’s something essentially Christian in such a practice.

As you may have heard, the Golden Rule appears in many world religions. But it appears in its negative form:

  • Hillel, one of the great Jewish Rabbis, was asked by a man to teach him the whole law while he stood on one leg. He answered, ‘What is hateful to thee, do not to another. That is the whole law and all else is explanation.’
  • Philo [of Alexandria] said, ‘What you hate to suffer, do not to anyone else.’
  • Isocrates, the Greek orator, said, ‘What things make you angry when you suffer them at the hands of others, do not you do to other people.’
  • The Stoics had as one of their basic rules, ‘What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do no you do to any other.’
  • When Confucius was asked, ‘Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” he answered, ‘Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’

But this is not the ‘Golden Rule’ as Christians have it. Jesus, in fact, said something different: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As the pastor William Barclay wrote, “it is a very different thing to go out of your way to do to others what you would want them to do to you. The very essence of Christian conduct is that it consists, not in refraining from bad things, but in actively doing good things.(pp 94-95 in this book.)

It must be significant that Jesus framed this rule in a new way–not in the anti- but in the pro-. Not in terms of the ‘ought not’ but in terms of the ought.

There might be a kind of discipline implied here, one that might lead us to greater happiness, to say nothing of what it would mean for the public face(s) of Christianity. Rather than focusing on what we are against–on what troubles and bothers us, often with good reason,what would it be like to focus on what we are for–on what we love and on what we value? Rather than trumpeting to the world what we stand against, why not speak boldly of what we we are for?

Loving Christian conduct consists not in the not-doing of what we wouldn’t want done to us, but in the doing unto others.

Might not loving Christian speech consist not (only) in the declaration of what we (sometimes justifiably) stand against, but also in the celebrating, the lifting-up, the praising-in-the-gates of what we are for?

Historically Christians have been for some pretty excellent things: for generosity, for hospitality, for mercy, for charity, for freedom of captives and healing to the sick. For redemptive, astonishing, amazing grace.

So, Christians–what are you FOR?

{Tweet it: #WhatAreYouFOR? and #WhatImFor}

a repost from the archives…following up on yesterday’s post about breaking the habit of Internet outrage.

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7 thoughts on “What Are You FOR?

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