How much might you bid for a $20 bill? $1? $5? $10 maybe? Well, several years ago a business school professor says that she began her class by asking this very question. She tells the story of opening one class with the $20 auction. Many people participated early on, as the bidding approached $20 most dropped out of the bidding but two remained until the winning bidder settled for $54.
Amazingly the professor pulled out another $20 bill and immediately began a second auction. Same group, same rules, same auction. Having experienced the first auction and seen the results the bidding was even more frenetic. A large number of people began bidding and the amount rose rapidly beyond $20. Several people remained in the bidding as it passed 50, 60, $70. At $100 only two remained. The bidding accelerated. At $400 others in the class were shouting, swept up in the frenzy a few tried to be the voice of reason to no avail. $700, $1000 and then kept going until… going once, going twice… SOLD for $2000!
Now, we take a step back. Shake our heads, smirk, roll our eyes in surprise and … wonder WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!
And yet, this is a reflection of the culture, the values the world in which we live where hyper competition, scarcity and irrational fears goad us into perpetuating and participating in $20 auctions of all kinds.
Now – this is not new… in some ways it is the eternal struggle accentuated in the time we are currently moving through. For 4800 years the Judeo-Christian History is one in which people have struggled to make sense of this God of Love who calls us to love and be a blessing in blessing others. Over and Over again story after story we get it, we celebrate it, we live it… only to get swept up because in our hearts we are afraid we are we are not valued, loved, worthy, important, powerful, accepted, seen or heard.
It is why our lives are so fragmented, meaning for many elusive and efforts to raise the status and stature of others are met with visceral, knee jerk sound bites that conveniently simplify every question and issue into simplistic for and against choices.
It is why calls for justice and equality are received and perceived as being special rights and extraordinary requests. And it is why we so easily get swept up, swept into and swept away by Instagram MEME’s, fear-based rhetoric, partisan politics and the desire to defeat and beat another and others.
And it is why I have witnessed the aftermath of community after community in which well-meaning followers of Jesus got sucked into the toxic emotional vortex of fear, anxiety and worry.
Here is an example, of what I am talking about… at a live seminar, author and leadership guru Stephen Covey says he would like two volunteers who hold strong and opposing beliefs about the environment to join him on stage. A passionate environmentalist and an executive from an oil company which relies heavily on non-renewal resources make their way to the front of the room. As they ascend the five or so stairs to the stage they do not greet one another, do not shake hands, and do not even look each other in the eye.
The environmentalist compares the execs slick hair to a recent oil spill. Not to be out done, the executive comments on the hypocrisy of the environmentalist’s choice of footwear. They have never met, know very little about each other and are already stuck in this ongoing, never ending $20 auction.
All the negative energy that passes between these strangers does not bring either of them any closer to finding meaning, pursuing their ultimate purpose, experiencing joy, hope or love.
Let’s take a step back. God is love and in the beginning, God makes space for life to thrive; holds back forces that threaten; allows for difference; blesses every one of us with the power to be the authors of our own stories; and calls us into communion and community where we can collectively combine our gifts, hopes, and passion to be more together.
This is the hopeful, loving, just and power filled Word to which the prophet Micah invites and Christ calls us to return. And here is the thing, to truly to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God means – we simply must be willing to see, and to listen, and be open to learning from others whose world views and self views may be strange and stranger than anything we might ever think.
And Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s love made real. Stories, parables, conversations and humble questions he challenges conventions, upsets traditions, and invites an increasingly diverse people to open eyes to see and ears to hear once more who and whose they are as a people called to be.
Every Command we receive from Jesus is centered in this call to re-root ourselves in this principle of Love. To love God with all our hearts, minds and souls, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a people called to live differently. To risk our best and deepest selves to be God’s love made real, to create the conditions where love can thrive.
Only he doesn‘t leave there, does he. Forget convention “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
As challenging as it may be to love ourselves and our neighbors imagine how much more challenging this call might be. First who are our enemies? Simply anyone or group who we are hostile toward, the ones for whom you hold a grudge, or quietly celebrate when things for them go wrong; the people and groups you and others so quickly want to scape goat, the butt of the jokes, those on the other side of partisan rants and everyone and anyone who your words, actions assumptions intentionally and unintentionally cause hurt and harm, shame and blame.
Why love our enemies? Because to express love means we need to listen to the other, we need to use your presence and power to create the conditions for love and the life of another to thrive. And in doing so we will see the other as another person, come to know their circumstance, and move beyond our false assumption and $20 auctions. To love our enemy is to create the conditions which interrupt fear-based reactions and invite our one-time enemy to join with us on this journey.
And so Covey sits them down to face each other. For the first few minutes tired arguments and the occasional barb is used to assert their positions, defend their cause and attempt to “win” by validating their assumptions and perpetuating convenient caricatures of the presumed “OTHER.”
Covey keeps the conversation flowing for forty minutes, occasionally shifting the focus by asking questions that invite each to share their stories, open up their assumptions, and even engage the other with a question they’ve always wanted to ask… By the end of the session the two shake hands, hug, exchange business cards and commit to work together for sustainable corporate and government policies.
Trapped in the downward spiral we are a hair breadth away from squandering our spiritual inheritance and our prophetic legacy. We have been created, formed, gathered and prepared for such a time as this. People called to simultaneously love our God, creation, others, ourselves, neighbors, and strangers and – yes – our enemies as well. To love in ways that are simultaneously compassionate, just and humble. To love in ways that create the conditions of love and life to thrive by simultaneously opposing everything that opposes love.
Our work now is to be the voice of hope, give courage to the disheartened, and heal the rifts and work vigorously to prevent rhetoric from becoming reality.
It is the kind of revolution of the heart and mind and spirit that flows through the prophetic words of Micah; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and our calling to be a people who choose to live differently.