Lines in the sand.

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

Who hasn't been at their wits end this year? With all the toxicity and misinformation sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand. I may have defriended a friend or two myself.


Politicians like this kind of talk.



Fundraisers and activists, like me, sound like this too. Its time for action! The enemy is threatening to take it all.


Everyone wants to talk about the boggie man that is threatening to force us to take extreme measures.


It occurs to me that this language, artfully puts the enemy out there, close enough to be scary, but far enough away so we can't see them very clearly. It is easier to think of the big moral or cultural conflicts of our days this way. We want to move the front lines to Washington, or to cable television or perhaps to some far off "evil" country. In this context the enemy can be purely "other," and I can keep myself wrapped in the warm blanket of the like-minded, while fearing and demonizing the other side.


But what if the conflict was also within?


It would cause no small amount of cognitive dissonance. What if there is a bit of prejudice in me, even while I march for justice? What if there is a bit of a global colonizer in me, even while my bumper sticker says, "Shop Local?" What if there is a bit of lust in me, while I advocate for traditional morality? What if the love I have for my children is superficial compared to the tears my neighbor sheds every night for her aborted child?


The great New Testament writer Paul knew it well. "I have discovered this principle of life . . . I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!" (Romans 7:21-24a, NLT) In the next chapter, Paul continues, ". . . we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:23b)


Poor guy, he sounds pretty upset, and so am I initially when I think this way, but the longer I have been thinking about it, the more it rings true. I like the way the Russian writer Aleksander Solzhenitsyn put it,

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”

The enemy is not just out there. It is right here, first within my own heart. As one of my Social Work Instructors used to say, "How am I part of the problem, and how am I part of the solution?" It's so much easier to only think about being on the "right" side.


This perspective fosters peacemaking. Here's how it works. As I reach out, I am not reaching out to enemies, but I am reaching out to similarly conflicted people. I recognize the humanity in all of us as fundamentally objects of cognitive dissonance at war with ourselves as much as enemies of each other.


I can hear the responses now, "But Lowell, where's your moral clarity? There are bad people and good people. Are you putting everyone in the middle? Are you saying there is moral equivalency between the one being lynched and the one lynching?"


Good point. No, I do believe in moral clarity. What I am saying is that there is a bit of both in each of us. Existentially, I am under the white hood, and I am in the noose. I do hate, I can be hated. The path to healing involves the unspeakable, existential acknowledgement of both extreme parts of us. This is "walking in the light," that leads to growth and change (I John 1:7).


When we forget our capacity for both good and evil, we draw funky battle lines and create moral clarity in places it doesn't exist. When moral clarity is made up, it is lethal. That kind of moral clarity is what the guy in the hood claimed. Its also what another mob asked for when bringing a woman caught in adulatory. They asked for Jesus to make a moral judgment about the guilty party. (John 8:1-11).


Jesus had a different sense of moral clarity that seemed to confuse everyone. He wrote a different sort of line in the sand, and everyone ambled away. Then when the crowd was silent, he offered gentle moral clarity to the accused.


We need Jesus to draw a line in the sand again. We are no better at drawing lines than people in his day were. Listen to what Jesus said about a couple of good little religious towns:


“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:21-24)


Don't even get Jesus started talking about the religious elite of his day. If you hold both religious and economic power, forget it, that's when Jesus brings out a whip and starts chaos.


Jesus said that he came for the "poor, brokenhearted, captives, and prisoners" (Luke 4:18). He also said, "Blessed are the poor in Spirit, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers." (Matthew 5: 3-9) Not many who hold the megaphone or stand in big pulpits sound like that these days, and frankly, neither do I. Jesus draws a line through my heart. The writer of Hebrews uses a different analogy, a sword separating the joints and marrow. (Hebrews 4:12). All I can say is "Ouch!"


I find this perspective freeing. One of my dearest colleagues said something at his good-bye party that I will never forget. The guests gave long tearful speeches and profuse accolades, then he said something incredibly simple, "I am a broken man, and I live in a broken community, and in our shared brokenness some good things have happened."



Ironically, this brokenness, this cognitive dissonance is the path to connection, peace, and justice that we all are looking for. When we acknowledge the battles within, we see the humanity out there, then maybe we can actually "be the change that we want to see in the world."


My favorite band, "Tenth Avenue North" says it well.


I used to count the days 'til I was gonna fly away All I wanted was a promise that You'd take away my pain Oh, won't You take away my pain? I didn't wanna be used to engage I just wanted to use You to be my escape Then You taught me how to pray Oh yeah, You taught me how to pray

Let Your kingdom come here in my heart Let me be the place where heaven starts Open up the gates that blind my eyes You're makin' me paradise


I don't wanna wait until I see those pearly gates Let me bring Your grace into this world and recreate Not gonna wash my hands and say "Let it burn" I wanna burn with your love instead

Let Your kingdom come here in my heart Let me be the place where heaven starts Open up the gates that blind my eyes You're makin' me paradise


I wanna bring heaven everywhere I go Walk my city streets like they are paved with gold See my savior's face in every stranger's eyes You brought Heaven here so I'm not waitin' 'til I die It's here when we learn to love And we're forgiving one another We're getting glimpses every day

Heaven, heaven, heaven is now Let Your spirit bring it down I got eternal life livin' inside me


Here's the whole song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed8jaXscQVA&list=RD91MiV1lYFJk&index=6


Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done. Let it start with me.


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About Me

This is me and my wife, Linda. I'm from Canada, but its been 40 years since as a little boy, I had a dream to live in a big city,  Now I am livin' the dream in the biggest city around, NYC.

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