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On the Contrary: Living in a Divisive World


A PDF version can be viewed and/or printed here.


My beloved life partner and I have a running gag line. Often when I say, “Let’s do it this way,” she’ll respond – with a smile on her face – “But wouldn’t you rather do it that way?” I’ve dubbed her my optimistic contrarian. And, somehow, we make it work.

It’s not that easy, however, when we look at the larger world we’ve all collectively created for ourselves. Divided camps and countries quarrel as never before. Pessimism abounds, it seems, with increasing doubts that any fleeting high ground can ever lead to common by any form of social collective conversion.

We might, however, remember and remind ourselves and each other there remains a hopeful path. It can not only be found in some ancient gospel tales, but in real-life contemporary stories like the Oscar nominated documentary short film “Stranger at the Gate” (more about that below) that might illuminate for us a hopeful path.

Jesus, the Optimistic Contrarian

Of all the different Jesus characters portrayed in Christian scripture, perhaps the one thing they share most in common is a proclamation of the coming – however imminent or eventual — of the “kingdom of God.” A post-theist such as myself can still interpret, extrapolate, and fully embrace both the notion and hope of an eventual “Reign of god-ness / goodness.” How?

Take one of the tales most likely spun by the historical Jesus is the story of what would have been perceived of in his day as a complete contradiction. The idea of a good Samaritan in Jesus’ day would have made no sense. So too, it runs completely contrary to what we all too often recognize about the factious kingdoms of our present world.

A man is robbed, beaten and left in a ditch; only to be ignored or avoided by those who first come upon him; and who, we would like to think by the mandates of their own religious teaching, should have known better. The priest and Levite were of the same “tribe” as the legalist who asks Jesus what it takes to live a full life (Luke 10:25). Love your god with everything you’ve got, and your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Asked to distinguish who is one’s neighbor, and who is not, Jesus replies with the well-known tale of the least likely neighbor his “tribe” could have ever imagined. 

“It’s the one who shows compassion,” the legalist realizes. And Jesus replies, “Do that yourself, and you will truly live.

Muslims in Muncie: A Modern Day Good Samaritan Tale

مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَٰلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَىٰ بَنِىٓ إِسْرَٰٓءِيلَ أَنَّهُۥ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًۢا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍۢ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًۭا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَآ أَحْيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًۭا ۚ وَلَقَدْ جَآءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا بِٱلْبَيِّنَـٰتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًۭا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ ٣٢

“To kill one human being is as if you killed all humanity.
But to save one human being is as if you saved all humanity.”
The Koran, 05.32

To this day there are still real human stories that remind us that the conversion of the human heart can – and does – occur; in the most unexpected places, and with the least likely of people, where strangers become best neighbors.

A person with grey hair Description automatically generated with low confidence

Among the Academy Award nominees this year in the documentary short film category is “Stranger at the Gate.” Directed by Joshua Seftel, the film tells the story of how a Marine vet named Mac McKinney contemplated a hate-based slaughter at an Islamic center in his hometown of Muncie, Indiana; before stepping back from the brink. [Watch it free here.]

Suffering from PTSD after 9/11 and battling Al-Qaaeda two decades earlier, only to be abandoned after his band of brothers is disbanded, Mac has been figuratively left bruised and battered in a ditch. To his utter surprise, and contrary to what he could have ever imagined, a mosque full of Muslims in Muncie, Indiana – of all places – welcomes him; disarming and embracing him with nothing more than simple acceptance and the open-handed hospitality of a good neighbor.

It is as if he’d been lifted up and carried to an inn for caring shelter, and subsequent healing

It is stories like this one that reminds me that a living Jesus — Jesus the optimistic contrarian — still walks among us in many guises; to tell and retell those human tales of how to truly live, with hope for this world.

Visit John’s website here.

© 2023 by John William Bennison, Rel.D.  All rights reserved.
This article should only be used or reproduced with proper credit.

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