The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 121: What We Have in Common
Hi friends. In this time of real division in our country, in our politics, in the church and even in many families, we increasingly see in the discourse an ‘us versus them’ mentality. ‘They’ are the problem and if we could only just fix or change or even eliminate ‘them’, then all would be well. This is obviously a dangerous and un-Christian way of thinking, but it is one that you hear more and more in media, on social media, from so-called ‘religious’ people, and even in casual conversations.
But to Jesus, there was no such thing as ‘them’, no group He spoke of with a broad brush, unless you count the religious leaders whose hypocrisy He called out so often. No, Jesus met people one at a time, where they were, as they were, and it was encounter with the kind, healing Jesus that changed them forever from that point on.
So how is it that we people of faith have found ourselves so divided on so many lines: political, religious, cultural, philosophical, and how can we find common ground once again in our shared humanity, because simply being human is one thing we all have in common, after all. In the seventy-seven or so years of an average life span that we’re given in the United States, why can’t we seem to figure out that the things that unite us are so much larger than the things that divide us?
Still, in this time when one person’s political stand can cause the possibility of real-life danger to someone else, the idea of unity without real resolution of issues can feel sort of pie-in-the-sky, I know. But in today’s episode, I’d like us to focus in on the one thing I believe most if not all humans I meet lately are experiencing in this time, and ironically, it’s the motivator for so many of the behaviors or words or rhetoric that are actually dividing us, and that is a feeling of precarity.
It seems to me that in this time of political, social, and religious upheaval, the two things that most people might agree on is that:
Things are not as they should be, and we have no idea what will happen next.
Together, we’ve experienced a pandemic, years of shut down, violence, a rise of conspiracy theories, shifting norms among political and religious leaders, and so much more. According to polls, the amount of trust that we hold in our institutions has positively cratered, from the Church to Congress to corporations to even the Supreme Court. Real threats to democracy exist both here at home and around the world. And I don’t know, it kind of feels like the world has tilted a bit too far in its orbit, like the grown-ups have left the room, like there are no responsible hands on the wheel. Many of the places we used to put our collective trust have proven themselves untrustworthy and, in some cases, dangerous. So maybe it’s no wonder that some of us want to go back to a time we perceive as ‘safe’ and some others of us want to tear absolutely everything up from the root. These are two different reactions to the same feeling of precarity, because if everything is out of control or if it feels that way, then everything is on the table.
After all, what all humans have in common is that we all want to feel safe.
In the American Church, especially among the clergy, you can see how the collective sense of precarity is motivating many of their words and actions. The incredible loss of the people from the pews, which was well underway pre-pandemic, but which has since exploded – of course for them, this is cause for alarm. But unfortunately, the response to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ the situation or the institution reveals an overarching clericalism, a tighter hold on power, rather than stopping to listen or understand why the people have left. This is a great time for the Synod on Synodality that Pope Francis has given us, it’s a time of listening, but many in the American Church just don’t trust it and really have not facilitated participation in it, which is a shame. Instead, we find judgment, calling out those on the margins or those who have left as ‘unserious’ Christians, making a stark divide between ‘us’ holy church-goers and ‘them’ heathens who have succumbed to the ‘culture’. By the way, that language around ‘culture war’ is so problematic, and it does not actually help anything except to generate profits for those who are successfully stirring up fear and separation. The non-profit group Starts With Us, who are working to end extreme political and cultural division, recently quoted Jonathan Haidt in an Instagram post. He said, “Culture wars are different than real wars: the more you attack the other side, the more you strengthen it.” And if we stop to think about it, we have all seen exactly that in action, haven’t we?
When it comes to the church, the abiding sense of precarity seems to be leading quite a lot of people to want to return to the past, to a time when they believed the church was flourishing and had a stronger hold on society. So, it’s no wonder that we see a rise in so-called ‘traditional’ church practices, like veiling, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue, tolerating but disparaging any instrument but organ, and any language but Latin – even aligning themselves with political figures in order to maintain worldly power – these are all predictable human reactions to precarity and a loss of control.
The feeling of precarity among the laity is only exacerbated by some of these moves from the hierarchy. In many cases, the laity who have left, who are on the sidelines, or who sit in pews wondering whether there is more to an experience of faith – well, in many cases these people really want to grow in relationship with Jesus, they love so much about the practice of their Catholic or Protestant faith, and they miss a sense of community, but many just do not trust that church is a safe place to find those things any longer. So many people out here are sheep without a trusted shepherd, and that sense of precarity leads many to leave a regular practice of the faith behind, many doing their best to nurture their own faith lives without the structures, rhythms, sacraments, or community from the ‘institution’ and they’re doing the best they can, but in the process, they’re missing so much of what is beautiful about living a life of faith.
There have been studies and surveys and more commentary on this topic than I can bring here, and I certainly don’t have the answer to this complex problem, but I’m not sure I know anyone in or out of the pews who thinks that the American church is flourishing in this time. We seem to share a sense that it’s not going the way it should and we don’t know what will happen next, but we are not the first generations of Christians who’ve experienced precarity, and Jesus has a good word for us on what we can do about it. It comes at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter 7. Jesus says,
““Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
When Jesus says, “these words of mine,” He is referring to the entirety of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, teachings that are somehow both challenging and comforting, and which shocked the initial crowds who drew close to hear it. The Sermon includes wisdom that ranges from the Beatitudes to the first teaching of the Our Father, to clarifications on the Ten Commandments, to teachings on worry, prayer, and how to treat each other. It’s way too much for me to read here, but I will link it for you in the show notes so that you can read the Sermon for yourself. Let’s notice that the ‘rock’ that Jesus is calling us to build our spiritual homes on is not an institution. It’s not someone else’s opinion. It’s not one government or political party or issue, but it is these clear directions from a God who knew that humanity would face times just like ours, when the rain will fall, the streams will rise, and the winds will blow and beat against the house. For sure, friend, this is a time in which we are each called to examine, not our neighbor’s foundations, not our country’s foundations even, but our own.
The time spent on ‘culture war’ and ‘us versus them’ language and time spent screaming from the rooftops or our social media feeds about how right we are – this is wasted time. Looking beneath our own feet and shoring up our own house according to the words that Jesus gave us to do that very thing is certainly not wasted time, and I believe it’s a practice that is made for a time such as this. I do wonder what a serious look at the Sermon on the Mount could change in our everyday lives, how it could ripple out into our families and communities, and how we could maybe start to see each other as sisters and brothers once again.
After all, we’re not here forever and when it comes to the precarious economic, political, governmental, or religious systems in our day, there is not one person who knows what will happen next, but we do know where and in whom to put our hope. It’s Jesus, friend and He is worthy. In these uncertain times, Jesus is reaching out His hand, and He is very willing to help, thanks be to God.
Thanks so much for being with me today, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, help us to get back to basics, to listen and take in and really reflect the words that Jesus gave us in the Sermon on the Mount. Help us and our dear ones and our church to build on that firm and secure foundation, not of faith styles or practices, but on who you are and how you taught us. Help us to remember, as Mother Teresa said, that we belong to each other.
In Jesus’s name and wrapped in the mantle of our Mother Mary, we pray, amen.
Thanks so much for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week we explore one thing I believe we all have in common in these divided times: a feeling of precarity. This common feeling ironically promotes division, but Jesus does have a word for us that we can explore together.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or at my website. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Video: Father Greg Boyle on how We Belong to Each Other
2. Scripture: Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7, NIV translation
3. Org: Starts With Us – working to end extreme political and cultural division in America
4. Song: Hold Us Together, by Matt Maher
5. Journal prompts:
After reading the Sermon on the Mount, is there a teaching from Jesus I find there that surprises me?
Is there a group of people that I routinely dismiss or demonize? How can I try to see them as God sees them?
6. Book: Start With Hello, by Shannan Martin