Faith’s Insistence on Counter-Intuition
9-3-17 Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
Theme: Sometimes, our faith has us working against the flow of our world, living in such a manner that the world finds strange. But it is only such counter-cultural faith that can show us the God of creation who is not just a part of what is, but stands beyond and above its domain and limitations. We should expect that a God who loves us would reveal unexpected things that carry us further in life.
You must admit – I’ve been pretty good recently. I’ve taken notice of my behavior, my speech, the topics I wrestle with and the manner in which I have been communicating what I believe are essential truths; I hope you think they’re essential, too. But the point is I have been behaving better, more balanced and more level-headed; would you agree? If so, then, I’m going to risk your tolerance and patience this morning, because it came to my attention that our scripture lesson might just be served as to the furtherance of our understanding by the application of a timely if not overused analogy that at least for me bears an uncanny representation of what God is saying to us in our holy text.
This is a long winded way to say – I’m going to talk about motorcycles yet again! (I haven’t mentioned motorcycles for weeks if not months….right?)
Years ago, when I had been riding motorcycles for about ten years, and considered myself an expert, I remember reading one of the six motorcycle magazines I subscribed to (I read each and every issue, front to back, articles, advertisements, and classifieds included – I believe the term is “obsession”?); in that magazine, I read an article that caught my interest. It was on the topic of countersteering, something I had never heard of before. If you look it up in the dictionary, Countersteering is defined as the action employed by single-track vehicle operators, such as cyclists and motorcyclists, to initiate a turn toward a given direction by momentarily steering counter to the desired direction. In other words in order to turn right you steer left; in order to turn left, you steer right. Got it? Simple. Clear. Specific. And dead wrong. (“steer left to turn right”).
At least that’s what I thought at first. This doesn’t make sense, does it? In order to go left, you need to steer left, don’t you? In order to go right, you need to steer right, right? I couldn’t believe what I was reading, thinking it nonsense – until I tried it out for myself. It’s a subconscious thing that I had been doing for ten years without realizing it. When riding a motorcycle, what actually initiates the turn (so said the article) is not so much the turning of the handlebars but the leaning of the bike; there is an initial impulse of steering in the direction of the desired turn, but after that, the centripetal forces on the center of mass of the bike and rider need to be counteracted and controlled by applying steering force in the opposite direction of the turn. Thus, while driving through a right turn, one finds oneself applying force towards the left through the handlebars. If one does not countersteer through a curve, one crashes badly. Now, do you know more than you ever wanted to know about countersteering?
The reason countersteering was a difficult concept for me was that it was counter-intuitional. It didn’t make sense, to steer right to go left. But I had been leaving out other considerations that made all the difference – centripetal force resistance, essential balance retention, and center of mass distribution. These were hidden to me until brought to light by other experienced riders and physicists who knew more than I did, and were willing to explain.
There is this kind of thing woven throughout our faith, the elements that seem counter-intuitional or downright crazy in the eyes of the world. Several are mentioned in our passage from Romans chapter 12. Paul says,
- be patient in suffering,
- extend hospitality to strangers.
- Bless those who persecute you;
- associate with the lowly;
- live peaceably with all,
- never avenge yourselves,
- if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
- if your enemies are thirsty, give them something to drink;
I would submit to you that, for many in the world, this list of Paul’s does not represent a formula for success. And there are examples of these practices being seen as nonsensical in the eyes of the world:
Paul says, “Be patient in suffering.” The other day, I saw a sign in a medical facility which stated “we believe every person has the right to lead a pain-free life.”
Paul says, “extend hospitality to strangers.” In contrast, we hear much talk about border walls and deportation in the air these days.
Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you.” But our news headlines are filled with examples of payback – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life — according to Knoema, which is the Google equivalent for global statistics, out of 195 countries included in their survey, the United States has the highest rates of assault, rape, auto-theft, and burglaries in the world – it’s not good news, but we are seventh in homicide rates.
Paul says, “Associate with the lowly.” Yet our global society continues to see the gap increase between the few who are obscenely rich and the growing numbers who are desperately poor.
Paul says, “Live peaceably with all,” but our world adds “so long as they are of our nation, or of our belief system, or of our culture, or of our understanding of history.”
Paul says, “never avenge yourself.” I refer you back to the crime rate statistics from before……revenge probably figures prominently as a motivator.
Paul says, “if you enemy is hungry, feed him,” whereas often it seems that our world would rather see the adversary starve.
In these and many other ways, our faith speaks counter to our culture; it often doesn’t make sense on the surface. It flies in the face of logic and common sense – UNTIL IT IS PRACTICED; UNTIL IT IS PUT INTO PLAY; UNTIL IT IS RISKED IN LIFE. Just like counter steering doesn’t make sense to a motorcyclist until it is experienced, we have a counter-cultural faith that doesn’t make sense until it is used. And I think we are here because we have been touched by this counter-cultural reality, and have come to realize it somehow, someway, connects us more with God.
I’ve known many people who were patient in their suffering – they had all the reason in the world to complain and be bitter, but instead they made the best of their pain, sought to help others struggling with similar tension, and were seen as inspirations to those around them.
I’ve seen in this church a stranger come into this place, and several of you automatically go over, shake their hands, engage in polite conversation, and ask them what committee they would like to serve on……..NO, they don’t ask that, but they ask about who they are, if they’d like a cup of coffee……. You help make the stranger feel welcome; and I daresay many of you are here today because someone in this church treated you kindly.
I’ve talked with individuals who were terribly hurt by someone in the past, who now tell me they forgive that someone, and wish them well. They have found peace without forgetting what has been.
I’ve seen our volunteers with Family Promise and the Poverello Center and SERRV and the daily interactions with people off the street, people in need, people struggling financially, emotionally, spiritually – and see the same volunteers rise to the needs again and again and again, without pay, often without recognition, and they often tell me “I love doing this!”
I’ve been in meetings where opinions were opposite and tensions were high, but there was a subliminal agreement to disagree, a priority placed upon being loving rather than being right—and good progress was made.
I have seen such things; have you? They are happening; they are counter-cultural; they look more to what cannot be known in the world alone; such things happen when we look beyond the scope of our understanding, beyond what the world considers common sense. These are revealed attitudes and actions that are discovered to be powerfully true only as they are employed. These are embodied in the statement from Paul, which is the most counter-cultural of all:
21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Is there evil in your life? Is there brokenness, or injustice, or pain, or fear? Are there people behaving badly around you or toward you? Are there situations that are not right, that seem beyond your ability to change or influence? Faith has us ask a very challenging question when facing such people and situations – what is the good I can insert into those lives, into those circumstances? Is it forgiveness, is it patience, is it mercy, is it compassion, is it provision, is it listening, is it turning the other cheek, is it taking their burden onto ourselves, is it taking a stand that’s unpopular, is it risking ourselves for the sake of love? All of these things are counter-intuitive; all of these things, when embraced through the motivation of our faith, move us into the presence of God. And there’s no better place to be.