We have been talking about the Kingdom of God, trying to give you some handles on it. We have looked at several aspects of the kingdom, and I want to leave this conversation with two thoughts about how we live differently because of the kingdom. Today we will talk about how to get out of our own headspace and focus on the people around us. Next week we will look at the paradoxes of the Kingdom of God. The action that we think is the best course may actually be the opposite. The heart of living in the Kingdom is what Jesus left us with, when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Love is the verb, God and our neighbour are the objects. How do we love our neighbour?
A few days ago, while driving, I came up to a four-way stop. A taxi driver was rushing to the stop and hit his brakes hard, so that we pretty much came to a stop at the same time, even though I was at the intersection CLEARLY before he was. I am thinking, “He is rushing the stop, he is not really being fair, nor driving defensively, as I so clearly am.” Off he goes, ignoring what I am doing, not even glancing my way. I do let him go through the intersection first, and then I drive through myself, but I got thinking about what might have been going through his mind? Was he thinking:
- I am the most important person on the road, I get to go first?
- My fare is waiting, I have to hurry and get there before someone else does.
- What a sunny day, I think Spring will eventually come, la la la not paying attention.
- That guy over there, I can beat him to the stop sign so I can go first – I win.
- I have to start thinking about taxes. Why am I still driving this taxi, I hate it. The people are nice enough, but I just get tired of dealing with traffic all the time…
Most people go through life, we go though life, with our own life in mind, as the focus, and we often see other people as objects, not much different than a tree, or house, or a car moving down the road. And the people we pass in cars are just obstacles to avoid or get around, the people in malls are just strangers, and strangers are dangerous. It is very much an “I/them” perspective. It isn’t until we meet a friend, or come together with family, or attend a familiar place like church, that our perspective broadens up to become a “we”. We let go of the “I/them” paradigm, at least part of it, and socially embrace the people we have let into our lives, our personal space. The question begs to be answered, “How do we break that “I/them” barrier?” or “How do I start living life as a “we”?” Living in the Kingdom of God, with the command of loving your neighbour as yourself, challenges us to make that move to life becoming a “we” paradigm – not just as an event, or something we do once a week, not just as a duty, but an ongoing experience that is part of our character, of who we are. When you read the Gospels you actually see Jesus often breaking that barrier. He is looking at the attitudes of the religious leaders, not just reacting to a question. He sees the brokenness of those He heals, He touches the lepers. He didn’t walk around thinking what’s in it for Him; He didn’t speak so that people would follow Him but so they would hear truth; and He didn’t have a long game plan of amassing stuff or riches, or ensuring a good retirement. He threw Himself into the world in which He lived with abandon, concerned about the people He met, while emptying Himself of all He could claim as His own. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8) That is the example of Christ moving from “I/them” to “we”. How far would you go for your world to become a “we”? What can you do, what will you do to go from “I/them” to a “we” attitude?
I think often we are so full, maybe even overwhelmed, with the concerns of our own life – maybe we are sick, or have aches and pains, maybe our kid or friend did something that really bothered us and we are stewing on it, we saw the speed camera flash and now we don’t know if we are getting a speeding ticket in the mail in 4-6 business days… not that I know how that process works… but our life is so full, so busy, so chaotic. We haven’t got room for what else is around us, let alone begin to borrow someone else’s chaos. We haven’t got space to add anything else in our life, to our attention, to our mind, to our schedule. So let’s talk about decluttering our thinking, our approach to life, to people, so that we do have room for the “other”.
I have watched a few episodes of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on Netflix. Her two books on cleaning and organization have held the top two spots on the best sellers list recently. As part of her KonMari method of decluttering, she starts by thanking the house, and then getting people to be thankful of their stuff asking them to keep only what “sparks joy” in their life. The next step is a bit jarring. She gets every family member to pile every piece of their clothing onto their own place – usually on a bed. I can’t believe the mounds of clothes that suddenly appear. Most of the people pause, and a light bulb goes on as they realize they have way too many clothes. If you can’t find the bed after you put your clothes on it, you have too many clothes. If you have lost a small dog and a child in this process, hearing muffled complaints and quiet barking, you have too many clothes. If the bed frame crashes to the floor, yes, you have too many clothes.
As a follower of Christ, we thank God for the blessings of stuff that we have available, and maybe need repent at getting caught up in the consumerism of today – don’t love the things of the world. It is a great way to approach tidying, and one way to approach tidying our lives. We are too busy. We pursue so many things, stretched to the end of the rope, and we are told to tie a knot and hang on. Maybe we need to take stock of what we have in our schedules, and tidy that up. Lighten up your schedule to make room for the “we”. A few thoughts on engaging with people, to help us accept them as a “we”.
Really LOOK at people: I sometimes sit in the left turn lane waiting for the light to change. As people cross in front of me and turn the corner to go down the road behind me, I sometimes try to catch a glimpse of the person driving. I try to look at their face, at their eyes, and try to guess what their day is like, what it has been to this point. You want one thing you can do to start an attitude shift from “I” to “we”? Make eye contact. Look people in the eyes when you talk with them. When you walk down the street or down the hall in a mall, don’t just watch your feet, or the store fronts or buildings off to the side, practice looking at the people coming your way and give them a nod or word of greeting if you catch their eye. Standing at the till, look at the cashier. The simple act of looking someone in the eye validates their existence. Charlotte Bronte said, “The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter – often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.” Really look at people.
Really LISTEN to people: Ernest Hemmingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” The “I” in me wants to be known, wants to flood the world with all my knowledge and importance – what I have to say is worth something. We all to an extent, believe that. And so when we are engaged with someone else in conversation we are filled with our experiences, our knowledge, our wisdom, our opinion. Stephen Covey said that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. To move from “I” to “we”, you have to listen to the other. This doesn’t mean you are invalid or don’t have anything to share, but it does mean you recognize that the other has a viewpoint just as valid, even if they may be wrong… But don’t go from here and ask, “How you doing?” only to have them ask, “No, how you doing?” only to keep going back and forth because all you want to do is listen. Listening is actually a two-way street – a message delivered, and an acknowledgement that the message was received. When you really listen to a person and allow them to tell their story, they become a “we”, they become known. And for most of us, being known is what we really want.
Really LOVE people. When you see them, when you know them, then you can love them. Loving a person is looking at their needs and helping those needs get met. I would also suggest that the greatest need a person has is to know and be known by their Creator. They need to know there is a purpose, not just for life, but for them in life. They need to know that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus the Lord.