By David Beidel
My father got deathly ill when I was in college. To help with my family’s financial challenges, I started a small tree service. I had a chainsaw, a pickup truck, and no fear of heights…and the money was good! My unique set of skills also helped me pay for seminary and supplement my income when my wife and I began a church in an under-resourced neighborhood. I ended up climbing, pruning, and removing hundreds of trees for over 30 years: Balance was life.
If ever there was a year to throw us off balance, it is 2020. I will never forget the day I climbed halfway up a tree, failed to clip into my harness properly, leaned back and took a fall from around thirty feet. As I careened headfirst to certain death, the rope tied to my belt got a bit tangled in a clump of small branches, providing just enough drag to swing me back. I slammed into the tree upside down, bear hugged the trunk and twisted right side up. I was scraped up and bruised, but very thankful to be alive. Falling is a terrible thing.
For many of us, we have felt like Rocky Balboa lately, getting pummeled and pounded from all sides. The pandemic brought terror, death, depression, isolation, financial devastation, loneliness, or quarantine relational overload. The horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Brianna Taylor brutally tore open and exposed the deepest and ugliest wound in our nation’s history. In different ways, we have all lost our footing and often felt ourselves falling. Racism, anarchy, and a sense of social dissolution have surrounded us like a toxic smog. Close families and friends have been ripped apart because of things said or not said, things posted or not posted, positions taken or not taken.
A dangerous propensity in times of fear, anger, and confusion, is to look to political leadership for direction, hope and security. This can easily become idolatry and lead to ugly and unhealthy imbalance. If we are tightly tethered to any political party or leader, we are in grave danger of dishonoring the name of Jesus; regardless of which side of the aisle we set our gaze.
We cannot expect political entities and politicized media to be balanced. Political systems are intrinsically polarizing and binary in nature: Win/lose. Destroy or be destroyed. We must, however, demand balance from the people of God. We have been recreated as Ambassadors for Christ. We are intrinsically ministers of reconciliation! Total destruction was poured out on Jesus so that absolute loving kindness could be lavished on all. We long for oneness and dream of a win/win for everyone!
Sadly, most elections are won by dividing populations through demonizing, deceiving, and demoralizing the opposition. The two-party system has always had its challenges, but rarely have we seen this level of animosity between Democrat and Republican. There has always been mudslinging, but the mud was primarily aimed at the candidates. Lately friendships are destroyed, and mud is thrown, if someone “likes” a post! Many hide their political opinions for fear of being labeled: “baby killer” or “racist.”
When we are more passionate for our political parties than for Jesus, we tear apart the body of Christ and lose the battle for the hearts and souls of our neighbors. How is it possible to share the hope of salvation with a FB/IG friend that has been viciously lambasted? The command to “love our enemies” is too often overridden by the emotionally loaded political divide. Entire families are being torn in two at the altar of left vs. right.
After decades of climbing and removing trees, I still do not have enough balance to walk out on a branch and survive long. Tree climbers harness themselves into a lifeline or climbing line that operates like a pulley looped over the peak of a tree. This enables us to safely walk about the entire length and breadth of the tree we are working on.
In the same way, after 30 years of ministry, I still do not have nearly enough wisdom or balance to confidently navigate one of the most complex political/sociological climates of the century. Rarely have we been more mystified, confused, and dizzied.
In 2020, it is critical that we ascend higher than the political plane.
Many of us are exhausted, disheartened and beaten down. Our passion for Jesus and sense of oneness with Him seems a distant mirage. It is critical that we turn our eyes upward. Slowly, painstakingly, we must ascend the holy mountain, above the clouds, and shadowlands, to the Most Holy Place. Our lifeline, hope, and faith must be tethered only to Jesus, the Lord Most High.
David Beidel is the president of Urban Hope, founder of Saturate NYC, cofounder of Jesus Week. He is also the author of Samaria, The Great Omission and Saturation, A Plan For Gospel Immersion; the producer of Magnificent Obsession and Saturation (ITunes, Spotify); and developer of: SaturateNYC.app, a faith based, social service web/app.
Beidel is currently launching the The Kevlar Collective, a model for community healing which focuses on creating just, safe and holy sanctuaries in the housing projects of NYC by weaving and layering together churches, non-profits, schools, Public Housing gatekeepers, police and marketplace partners until a community is flourishing and bulletproof.