Have you ever seen a large ship – like a cruise ship – use its propulsion jets to turn around in the relatively shallow waters of a port? The force of water blasting through the jets stirs up everything…
And what was once beautiful, crystal-clear, blue ocean water now becomes murky-brown, as if someone had turned water into a fishy-smelling pumpkin spice latte.
That’s what the comment section of YouTube does too. Blasting. Stirring up. Leaving behind murky-brown, fishy-smelling nastiness. People will say things online that they would never say to someone’s face – certainly not to someone they have a relationship with and actually care about.
Christians do this too. Facebook and other streams of social media have become virtual public address systems where our opinions are not only aired, but amplified for all to hear. We complain, criticize, take stands on issues, mock, defend, argue, posture, and get outraged about whatever the latest crisis du jour happens to be.
I think it’s cheap and easy to have a disembodied theology – to be an “expert” on something we haven’t actually experienced ourselves, to shout opinions to the masses from our ivory towers, to have strong theories but no real skin in the game.
But you know what’s NOT cheap and easy? Having skin in the game.
That’s what God did with us. He put on flesh, joined us, moved into the neighborhood. We call it the incarnation. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes. The one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out—true from start to finish.” —John 1.14
Moving into the neighborhood and experiencing everything we go through in this life gave Him an empathy, understanding, and compassion for us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” —Hebrews 4.15
I find it interesting that Jesus did not begin teaching or engage in any form of public ministry until after he had been tempted. The Bible says He was about 30 years of age when He started ministering to people (Luke 3.23). That means Jesus had 30 years of skin in the game, 30 years of experience in the neighborhood. He had been tested, tempted, and tried – just like the everyone else in His neighborhood.
The point I’m making is that God-the-Son wasn’t somehow lacking information, but experience. After 30 years with skin in the game, 30 years of actual experience in the neighborhood, He had something to say.
We generally feel equipped to speak because we have information. Dan White Jr. calls this the “Expert-Delusion.” He says…
“Expert-Delusion is a sweeping phenomenon that believes ‘being informed’ carries more weight than lived practice.”
“Expert-Delusion is addicted to the euphoria of stimulating information and finds boredom in ordinary practice.”
“Expert-Delusion creates smoke-and-mirrors between our speech and our practice.”
“Expert-Delusion confuses knowledge with action.”
I think we should remain quiet on those issues we haven’t experienced – in relationship with people we actually care about – in our own neighborhoods.
I think we probably shouldn’t speak to social issues when we don’t actually have any skin in the game.
I’m talking about homosexuality, poverty, race… you know, social issues. But these aren’t simply issues, they are people. They are people with names and faces and stories. Perhaps our first task is to move into the neighborhood – where we listen, understand, develop empathy, and actually care.
Father Thomas Hopko, a retired Orthodox priest and theologian, wrote a list: “55 Maxims of the Christian Life.” Here are a few of those sayings…
• Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
• Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
• Listen when people talk to you.
• Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
• Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
• Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
• Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
It’s cheap and easy to opine and theorize about issues. What’s costly and difficult is to get some skin in the game – to listen, to give of ourselves, to be a friend with no other agenda than friendship.
And who knows, maybe in 30 years of having some skin in the game and presence in the neighborhood, we’ll have something to say…
Listening to another’s hurt may be the greatest service that a human being can offer another. —Dan White Jr.