On Which Hill Should We Die?
This week two events converged in my life.
First, I am a public-school teacher. There are a great many things public schools stand for that I endorse, heartily. However, there are other areas and political ideologies that agitate me because they violate my sense of right and true and helpful to children. This week was the first time I’ve been put in a situation where that agitation became raw, up close in a way that was inescapable.
What am I to do?
The second was a text from a friend, sending along some political information about a Biden appointee, followed by the declaration that now it is time for me to “stand up like a man.”
What am I to do?
Among teachers there are a load of things about which we can justly complain, especially right now, and one of the phrases that gets tossed around a lot is the question – “is this the hill you wanna die on?” The answer is usually ‘no’.
This begs important questions. First, which ‘hills’ are worthy of our sacrifice?
Also, is there a right or wrong (a worse, better, best) way to stand up for what you believe?
I once had a pastor who said that unless you have wept over the sins of your neighbor, unless you have a broken heart for how their sin is destroying them, you needn’t bother speaking to them about their issue. While I think nuance should applied even when you are broken hearted, I also believe there is wisdom here-
Unless you act in love, do not act.
Jesus did, in fact, die on a hill. His sacrifice was for the salvation of the whole world, and I think we can all agree it was a worthy death. Indeed, we rejoice in his Passion!
I also think that whatever aggressive methods illustrated in the story of Jesus – there are very few really (speaking stark truth to legalists and turning over the tables of the moneychangers) – are sanctified by the fact that he was first of all, and only, LOVE.
If we go around dying on hills, and have not first died with Christ on Golgotha, if we have not died to our own selfish and vain imaginations and if we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves, perhaps we die in vain, or worse, harming others.
What of those who stoned Stephen for teaching against their ‘righteous’ principles? What of the fools who tried to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, only to be beaten and rebuffed by the demons who said “Jesus we know, but who are you?” What about that time Peter refused to sit with the gentiles because they did not keep the whole law?
In each of these cases, and there are many more (in the bible – the history of the Christian Church has endless examples – Crusades, Inquisition, etc.), the culprit was acting according to their principles. They were standing up “like a man.” And, they were wrong, not necessarily because of their principles, but because they didn’t have love.
There are many issues facing Christians today in a world where ideology changes every time the wind blows. We are afraid, perhaps rightly, that our norms and traditions will soon die.
Let us not forget that the Roman Empire into which Christ was born was one of the most wretched and immoral times in all of history. Most of the wretchedness was either ignored or endorsed by the political powers. For some reason the gospel writers chose to mention almost zero times Jesus addressed these concerns. Indeed, if anything, he was shown rubbing shoulders with prostitutes and tax collectors and other villains.
He was love.
I assert that if you do not die first on the hill of Christ - Calvary - you risk great and perhaps damaging error dying on any other hills, because you act out of vanity and fear, not love.
This is an uncomfortable place, I know.
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"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle