House United is not just a good idea. It’s transformational. It’s culture change. It’s a movement.
In a recent interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources”, Glenn Beck described important pieces of our national problem: we’re two separate Americas, we have an oppositional media culture, and “we think the other side doesn’t have anything to teach me, so I’m not even going to listen to them.” The former FOX News Firestarter even quoted MLK to advocate reconciliation. You know that I shouted my loud “AMEN!” to all of this.
No AMEN arose from my soul, though, when Mr. Beck named our polarization’s cause and cure. The problem, says he, is our competitive nature. “Both left and right are trying to win,” and so we “stop listening to each other,” then all kinds of other bad things happen. His solution? We just need to tell our politicians to stop being competitive.
Tell politicians to stop competing. Hmmm. I want you to predict the success rate for that campaign. And yet I’ve heard it from other commentators, too. So…
It’s time for a brief review of human nature. We compete. We are both homo sapiens and homo aemulus – both rational beings and competitive ones. The theory of evolution is premised on competition. Our legal system doesn’t imagine it can simply post wise and benevolent judges at the city gate to adjudicate our disputes. Instead, we array mutually opposed advocates in a pitched battle to defeat one another. We don’t love the plan, but we keep using it because it fits human nature. Grades motivate students, wins motivate even mighty mite soccer players (you think they don’t know who wins when we “don’t keep score”?), financial incentives drive workers, comparative congregation size or level of righteousness motivates pastors – all because we are competitive.
A competition-ectomy will not work. Utopian attempts to ignore or deny our competitive instincts fill history’s dustbin of failed projects. Here’s my favorite: the Quakers decided in the 17th century that they would all wear plain, simple clothes of gray and brown, to eliminate distinctions among them. The legend goes that it wasn’t long before the wealthier members showed up in gray and brown satin and silk. I went to a Quaker college and that tradition produces deeply devout and holy people. Believe me, if they can’t resist the competition urge, no one can.
This may all sound dreary and pessimistic, but it ends in a good place…and I have Jesus on my side. Consider James and John’s infamous power grab. A few days after all the disciples had fought over who among them was “the greatest,” and just one week before Jesus’ crucifixion, these two brothers made a crass request: “Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and the other on your left, in your kingdom!” What a perfect time it would have been for Jesus to make Glenn Beck’s point: “Boys, winners and losers are the problem! Stop trying to win! Stop trying to be the greatest!” But Jesus says nothing of the sort. Instead, he asks, “Do you want to be great in God’s kingdom?” Then Jesus tells them how: “Serve everyone. And whoever wants to be the absolute greatest will become a slave to all.” (Mark 10.35-44) Astonishingly, Jesus does not oppose or amputate their competitive spirit. He acknowledges and redirects it. “You’re competitive. So win the right game!”
The Apostle Paul is also with me. When he described the “after” photo of God’s magnificent transforming work in us (Romans 12.1), he didn’t imagine competition-free living, but rather holy competition. He told the Christians in Rome to “outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12.10) When his Corinthian church hoped to be more faithful, he told them, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. (1 Corinthians 9.24)
Jesus and Paul knew how we’re built. So for their disciples and churches, the trick was to find the right game. “Beat them at serving and showing honor!” In fact, that’s every Christian’s game to win.
We need a better American game than our gridlocking, polarizing Left v Right wars. In fact, I think coming up with a game that puts us all on the same team is our most pressing national project. Warren Buffet has famously offered a million dollars per year for life to any of his employees who picks a perfect bracket for all 63 games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket. Who will offer the prize for our “Best New American Game” contest? This is both my challenge and my teaser. Next month, I’ll throw out some thoughts about what the right American Game might be. For now, this issue is crucial, and one thing is certain: people will want in. Because we humans are competitive.
Rev. Allen R. Hilton, Ph.D.
Founder and Leader
House United Movement
Duke Divinity School’s Summer Institute for Reconciliation is a brilliant combination of learning and worldwide Christian community. Speakers and participants come together from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and all parts of the US to learn reconciliation skills and be Christian community in one place together for a week. You should attend!
Allen Hilton is thrilled to be joining the Institute faculty this year. June 4-8, he will lead a seminar entitled “Different Together: Bridging Political Difference in the Church and Beyond”.
Princeton Theological Seminary has hosted theological and political perspective diversity for a couple centuries now (founded in 1812). So it made an appropriate home for Allen Hilton’s Continuing Education class, “Different Together: How the Church Could Save the World”. Allen taught 30 alums or friends of PTS in the Center for Continuing Education Nov 1-3. He will return in the fall of 2018 to teach another class. We’ll include info here, so you can sign on once registration opens.
“Successful movements are about meaning-making. They challenge our acceptance of the world as immutable and provide both critique and optimism. As a result of the way they structure our understanding of the world, we feel engaged to reform and contest the status quo…” These words from Susan Nall Bales tell why House United brings hope. Things don’t need to be this way. Polarization is a bad habit, and robust community-building is a better one.
To help build new habits in churches, schools, and cities, Allen Hilton will speak or lead in 10 venues across 7 states in the next 9 weeks.
The “50 States of Joy” preaching campaign that HU co-launched with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture got some press in the “Yalie Daily.” Check it out! “In a nation that does not have a whole lot of common ground right now, joy is a common-ground kind of issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a part of what we all hope for, so it makes a good subject on which people who disagree elsewhere can agree, and that’s why we think this can be very powerful.”
The Yale Center for Faith and Culture and House United have teamed up to launch the “50 States of Joy” preaching campaign. This April through August, preachers from around the nation and the world will proclaim joy from their wide variety of perspectives to their wide variety of congregations.
Joy explodes off the pages of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in spite of the circumstances that face the author (imprisoned by the Roman magistrates) and audience (“suffering” and “struggling” in the face of “opposition” from their non-Christian neighbors). Allen Hilton has prepared a Bible Study to support the “50 States of Joy” campaign, called “Joy – A Study of Paul’s Philippians.” It guides the learner, the small-group leader, or the class teacher through the letter in six sessions, tracking the central theme of joy. Enjoy!
It’s time to listen to our soldiers. A nation whose differences stymy us and keep us from collaborating needs to hear from people who do it for a living in the most pressurized circumstances imaginable. On March 25 at 2 PM at the Alhambra High School Auditorium (3839 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85019), members of an Arizona-based Army Reserve unit will tell us how they built a team and got things done across and through racial, religious, and political differences.
It’s the morning after in America.
The African-American desk clerk checks me out of my room, so I hand my bag to the hotel’s Arab shuttle driver. The 20-something with piercings and tats looks most tired of all. I navigate security beside a white man in his trucker’s hat and a Latino family trying to collapse a stroller. I buy water from a hijab-clad Indonesian woman. Behind me on the jet way, an urbane forty- something ponders Mexican real estate aloud, while a middle-aged Wall Street Journal reader looks on amused. My Row 25 runs the gamut – a retired woman looking scared, a young professional man reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” A union man’s jacket celebrates “5,000 Days FRA Injury Free.” The woman two rows back has young daughters. read more…
The biblical prophet Isaiah has a splendid little line that makes it into an old spiritual, “I ain’t a gonna study war no more.” Isaiah famously says, “[Many peoples] will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2.4)
In American culture, we’ve trained for our culture wars for so long that the ways of that war are instinctive to us — emphasizing our differences rather than our commonalities, oversimplifying the nation into two sides rather than a wide multiplicity, waxing certain about things that are far from sure, dismissing someone and stomping away from conversation after seven words if we disagree with what we hear, and characterizing our opponents by their most extreme voices.
It’s time to stop training for war. In this piece Ron Blankenhorn helps us train for unity instead. Do you have the 7 Habits of Highly Depolarizing People?