If there’s one thing that binds us together as human beings traveling through this particular year, it’s that no one of us has a complete picture of what’s really going on. Neither do our political leaders. Neither do the experts. While certainly not a new feature of human finitude, the forcible tearing away of our modern-day grasp for omniscience and control can be more than a little disorienting.
On Breaking Ground this week, both Brad Littlejohn and Jennifer Frey reflect in different ways on the implications of realizing how partial our sight actually is. Some of the limits come from the sheer uncertainty of this historical juncture. But much of it is also predetermined by our pre-pandemic starting points—politically, culturally, and in terms of life experience itself.
“If there’s one thing I’ve become convinced of in recent months,” Littlejohn writes humbly, “it’s that there are no easy answers, no easy way to live together in the absence of some common vision of reality. . . . Perhaps I realized then for the first time just how deeply human beings need one another to make sense of themselves and their worlds.”
Frey, for her part, teases out the limits of expertise and the need for moral reasoning. “The problem of how to reason well in a crisis is not only political, but deeply personal,” Frey writes. “We . . . need to recognize that our fates are tied.”
I’ve been thinking a lot this year about Jesus’s words, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” I’ve wondered if he intended to order those three remarkable claims in the order they appear in John’s Gospel. I’ve wondered, too, if the preeminence of “way” has implications for how Christians ought to think about their lives as resident aliens. So much “strategic” Christian witness tends to be about getting the ideas right, getting truth right. And truth is vital—after all, God’s the author of it, indeed, became incarnate to embody it. But what if the first task we have as disciples is a foundational matter of adverbs, of virtue and habit? Especially in this time of pandemic and moral awakening, it seems the repentance teed up for the Western church is less a cognitive process of acknowledging certain truths we should already know—truths about each individual being created in the image of God, truths about the nature of God’s justice and mercy—and more a rewiring of our habits and relationships to live out such truths with integrity.
“God is an agent of tenacious solidarity who is willing to suffer with us and suffer for us,” Walter Brueggemann says in the third Bittersweet Contemplation we published today. “What does it mean for me to be made in the image of that God?”
In a year when there is so much we cannot see, and when we find ourselves brushing up against many whose vision of reality we do not share, what does it mean to humble and bend ourselves toward the ecology of the neighbor first?