Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

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On a hill above the lake of Galilee there is a chapel that sits on the site from which Jesus delivered the Beatitudes. As a boy, I had to memorize the whole passage from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, so I can still recite most of them. As I sat there going over each one again, I thought how idealistic they are compared to much of the common-sense exhortation we hear today about leadership and how to be a winner.

Frederick Buechner put it best for me:

Jesus saved for last the ones who side with heaven even when any fool can see it’s the losing side and all you get for your pains is pain. Looking into the faces of his listeners, he speaks to them directly for the first time. ‘Blessed are you,’ he says. You can see them looking back at him. They’re not what you’d call a high-class crowd. Peasants and fisher folk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn’t look as if there’s a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration. They are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on his account he tells them. It is not his hard times to come but theirs he is concerned with, speaking out of his own meekness and mercy, the purity of his own heart.”

Even as a kid I thought these were the words of someone asking us to bring a knife to a gunfight. It’s high-minded stuff but not likely to get you anything but pushed around and thought of as foolish and naive. There was nothing in me even then that wanted to be on the losing side. I liked the practical and the heroic far more than the utopian.

I’ve thought about that this week as I have been preparing to moderate a conference call with Os Guinness and 15 people discussing his book: The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity.

Os is perhaps the most civil, literate, gracious, understated, encouraging and courageous genius I have ever known. He speaks the truth in love and in turn is loved by those he calls to account. He measures wisdom out with a ladle and criticism with a spoon. He can warm a room, cool a dispute, fire the imagination and heap hot coals with the turn of a phrase and a line of thought. He is pride’s sworn enemy and humility’s faithful ally. Somehow he has learned the art of rebuking, reproving and exhorting without becoming angry or losing his love for the very church he holds to a higher standard than it sometimes chooses for itself. He is pure in heart.

While the title would lead you to believe the book is about religious freedom, it is far more than that. It is a vision of a universal forum of individuals, nations and governments committed to recognizing the only way we will survive is learning to reason together. It is about our God-given human rights and “soul freedom” that make religious freedom possible.¬†We are creatures made in the image of God and are all responsible to treat each other with dignity, respect and value the freedoms of conscience, belief and thought.

Os is calling for a global public square that in a time of increasing polarization, terror, totalitarian regimes, religious and secular discrimination and political rancor will lead us toward peace and genuine freedom. How do we find a way for us to live with our deepest differences before we destroy each other?

As I read it I kept thinking about the seeming idealism and signing up for the losing side I saw in the Beatitudes. Given the nature of the world in which we live how could either Jesus or Os propose such a thing? It’s not only unlikely. It is impossible and completely out of touch with the way things are and always will be. But, on the other hand, maybe both Jesus and Os see something I have missed entirely. Maybe it can only be seen by the pure in heart. While it seems quixotic and even foolish to me it may be the only kind of wisdom that will save us.

Practical? Probably not. Easy to implement? Definitely not. Still, perhaps Arthur Schopenhauer is right: Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident. It may be that making the world safe for diversity is the most dangerous, foolhardy and yet heroic task in the world.

I am happy to say that Os will be with us at the September Gathering this year.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Michael Howell

    What is it Jesus is proposing along with Os?

    • Fred Smith

      Peace that passes understanding.

  • David Spence

    Your paragraph describing Os is such a lovely tribute. Thank you for putting in beautiful prose what so many of us feel.

  • Paul Park

    Thank you, Fred, for this timely, humble, and humbling reflection.

    • Fred Smith

      It’s easy to say good things about Os – and Jesus.

  • Todd Deatherage

    So very good, Fred.

    The maxims we create for how the world really works– things like “might makes right”, “he who dies with the most toys wins” and ” the ends justify the means” to name a few– and our belief in the efficacy of revenge, that truth must be defended through violence, etc stay with us because they do in fact reveal something honest about the way the world works in it’s brokenness. But the Sermon on the Mount is a window into the way the world was meant to be, into what CS Lewis called “the deeper magic”, the world that is being renewed and restored as a part of God’s kingdom project. It’s all ‘now but not yet’ kind of stuff, and deeply countercultural in every time and place, but it’s not utopian when we remember to hold it in tension. The Beatitudes offer a glimpse not just of the moral universe, but into the heart of God. Hatred and revenge are powerful things and can bring about dramatic change, but love and forgiveness are more powerful still because they not only change circumstances but transform hearts and minds because they themselves spring from the very heart of God himself.

    • Fred Smith

      You are a troublemaker! Yes, it is not utopian. It is the new creation.

  • John Thomas

    Incredible piece of literature that you have written here Fred. Thanks for the great thought provoking blog.

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