Peace is the Way: On not becoming what you resist

by Tricia Gates Brown

Mark 11:20-25. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

 

According to the revelations of quantum physics, the universe is much stranger than we realized. Since I am a humanities geek who struggles to wrap my head around things like quantum theory, I’m grateful for scientists translating their findings into the lingua franca of non-specialists. Such translators teach us, for example, that human interaction with quantum particles effects the form they take1 – a phenomenon known for several years as the “observer effect.” Moreover, particles interact with each other in ways that challenge former assumptions about cause and effect. For example, when two particles interact, they can become “entangled”. When entangled particles are then separated by vast distances, what is done to one particle immediately changes the formation of the second entangled particle far, far away.2 Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance,” while today’s physicists call it “nonlocality.” Nonlocality reveals, in other words that, “an object can be moved, changed, or otherwise affected without being physically touched (as in mechanical contact) by another object {Wikipedia}. Quantum objects can apparently be in two places at once, and our mental states can change the shape of subatomic particles.

It is not wholly woo-woo, then, to recognize that we humans have abilities, or energies, that play out upon the world around us. Science has only scratched the surface of understanding how.

I was thinking about these insights of quantum mechanics as I reflected on the lectionary reading in Mark 11:20-25. Admittedly, I have often read the passage and others like it as quaint, assuming this story of Jesus reveals a pre-scientific notion of the universe that is today irrelevant. Either that, or I read it as hyperbole. But now I am given pause. There is something to this idea: that we harness power over things; we direct energies toward certain outcomes and away from others; we have vastly more strength than we realize—strength we can use for good or ill. I believe these powers and influences must be explained from a variety of perspectives that are by no means mutually exclusive. Science has its way of testing and explaining—and all to the good. A theological perspective asks different questions.

One question I like to ask of scriptural texts is “why”—why was the author including this story; and “who” is the author telling his readers to be. Jesus knew the great power humans have. His healing stories, for example, do not even set him apart in the context of first-century Palestine, because healers and wonder-workers were so plentiful. Jesus’ ability to heal is not what we point to as Jesus-followers to say, “this is why we choose to follow him,” neither was it the key characteristic of Jesus for writers of the Gospels. Yet Jesus did know this energy. He attributed it to God working through and in him. Moreover, he said his followers would do “even greater things,” because of God at work through and in them.

It seems the author told this story as an inculcation to faith, an inculcation to his readers to abide in trust that God would care for them. We have come to expect this theme, as it is peppered throughout the gospels. Moreover, we know the circumstances under which the first Jesus followers lived were threatening to a degree we can’t imagine—the Roman Empire tightening its strangle hold on Palestine, and Christians facing the same unfathomable oppressions faced by Jews and other outsiders throughout the Roman world. The author wanted his community to trust and take heart—because just as Jesus was empowered by God to do amazing things in faith, so were they.

 

But the last sentence of the story, the one about forgiveness, is the most revealing to me. While the author of Mark reassures the community, he emphasizes the state of their hearts. I wonder if this is the pivot point of the why, the crux of why the reader is telling this story about Jesus’ power to wither a fig tree at its roots, and their power to do outlandishly more consequential things—symbolized by the task of toppling a mountain into the sea. He is saying, be careful of the state of your heart. It makes all the difference. If you try to “make change” in the energy and power of anger and resentment, resentment and anger will redound to you. But if you make change in the energy and power of forgiveness and love, love and forgiveness will redound to you.

This week I was pondering an astute observation by writer/speaker Peter Rollins about the popular bumper sticker “Love trumps hate,” a slogan I particularly like. He was musing about the Freudian angle. What if for some, the meaning that resonates is actually: “Love Trump’s hate” (note the apostrophe). In other words, how many people working in resistance to Trump’s disturbing agenda have in an unconscious way come to love it—because it gives them purpose and energizes them, and supports and deepens their prejudices.

It is not uncommon to see expressions of opposition to our current administration that pulse with hate, anger, and stereotyping. What the passage in Mark is saying is: If you want to effect positive transformation in the world, if you want to be the hands and feet of God, you cannot do it by perpetuating unforgiveness and hate. The quality of energy and power by which you act will determine the outcome. And if you think you can counteract the energy of bigotry, insecurity, fear, and power-lust on one side with the energy of bigotry, insecurity, fear, and power-lust on the other side, you are mistaken.

If you find that the news sources you listen to, the thoughts that run through your head, the conversations you engage in on social media or elsewhere are fueled by resentment, anger, and even hatred of the opponent, step back. We have an unfathomable power to shape reality. We put out energy into the world that apparently has the power to alter matter, one particle at a time. We determine the future in many ways outside the familiar notions of cause and effect, by forces we are not aware of and that we do not yet understand. Imagine the effect a torrent of anti-Trump hatred could be having on our lives in various ways, and the collective effect on our common life.

Resisting and opposing domination is an imperative. It is a levy. It is actually a core part of the Christian identity, as I understand it, a core part of the tradition of counter-narrative-making that is Christianity. But to resist hatred with hatred is not to pose a counter narrative. Resisting hatred with hatred simply perpetuates the same sad, feckless story of domination.

Imagine this instead: Imagine if all who want to stand as a levy against a tide of bigotry, insecurity, fear, and power-lust focus our energies toward the dawning transformation of consciousness of a man named Donald Trump. If it feels too much for you, try not to dismiss it out of hand. Put it away, if need be, but take it out on occasion to ponder. See how the idea resonates over time.

Such a transformation would be worthy of the metaphorical casting of a mountain into the sea.

 


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