By Scott Taylor
I’ve been slowly reading through the book of Exodus for the past month. Exodus tells the dramatic story of the deliverance of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians and their subsequent wandering through the wilderness with an archetypal hero (Moses) towards God’s Promised Land. This story, or myth, is foundational to Jewish identity. For the Christian, it provides structure for our faith narrative: we, who were once slaves to sin, have been delivered and are journeying through life’s wilderness with Christ (also archetypal) towards God’s “Promised Land.” This story has been told for thousands of years, passed down from generation to generation, acted out each year at Passover, and reechoed in each Eucharist. The religious and cultural influence of this story is truly mind-boggling.
There are many little stories contained in the larger story of the Exodus of the Israelites. The story of Moses as a baby, the burning bush, the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and so on. In chapter 32, a truly horrifying plot unfolds. As the Israelites were leaving Egypt, God allowed them to plunder the silver and gold from the Egyptians. You might call it the eleventh plague – the plague of economic recession! So as the story goes, the Israelites went wondering through the desert with all this gold and silver. They came to Mt. Sinai. Moses climbed the mountain to receive the law of God – the charter of a holy people. The people, rather quickly, came to believe that their hero had abandoned them – that God had abandoned them. They took their silver and gold, melted it, created an idol, and sank once again into slavery. But this time, their slavery was not one imposed on them by a dominant tribe or nation. No, this was a self-made slavery. No less than a slavery of the mind. And that kind of slavery is far worse. Moreover, it is very easy to stumble into this pit of bondage. Consider the following scenario.
I have opinions. Most people do. Nothing wrong with that. I, like most people, tend to think I’m right about most of my opinions. I, like most people, seek out others who share my opinions. When I find people who share my opinions, that makes me feel good. So good, in fact, that I begin to look for them everywhere. I look for them at school, at university, at church, and all over the TV. Before too long, I’m no longer interested in formulating my own opinions because what I really care about is the feeling of affirmation and acceptance that my tribe gives me. I no longer need to go to the trouble of thinking for myself because I’ve found a whole world wide web that will do that for me. Finally, if you (the individual, the university, the church, the TV station) don’t agree with me, if you don’t give me that addicting feeling of affirmation, if you make me have to think for myself, then you’re simply ignorant, potentially dangerous, and measures must be taken to stop you from gaining power. This is how I take my precious gold and silver, the spoils of my God given freedom, my own critical thinking, and melt into an enslaving idolatry.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! We can stop the bleeding. First, turn off the TV. I know that sounds crazy, but, seriously, it’s not doing any good. Second, make an earnest attempt to listen to someone you disagree with as though they know something you don’t know. Try it once every day. If you really listen, you might just learn something that you really need to know. I can’t over-emphasize how hard this is, but also, how rewarding it is. Finally, when you do speak, be as honest as possible. Tell the truth! Tell your truth! Doing so requires a great deal of thinking. You will have to ask yourself why you think what you think. But stick with it. Be courageous and always tell the truth!
Church, we are living in a time ideological polarization. I feel sometimes that I am enslaved to it and I can’t imagine that this whole impeachment thing will help. I pray that our church, FUMC Waynesville, can be a place that stands opposed to ideology and its lies. I pray that our church, FUMC Waynesville, can be a place that earnestly listens to others and, after careful thought, speaks a bold truth. I pray that this church, FUMC Waynesville, will provide holy ground for this city where our thoughts and opinions are as diverse and rich as the individuals who make up this unique body. I pray that our church, FUMC Waynesville, will walk with God through life’s wilderness and point the way towards that Promised Land.