Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stirred Up Crowds

"But the chief priests stirred up the crowd..." and thus ended Pilate's weak attempt to free Jesus. Mark's gospel says nothing about how the priests managed to stir up the crowd, but it's a plausible enough story. We're well aware of how crowds can get stirred up.

Most of us probably have memories of going along with something we never would have done on our own. Perhaps we joined in tormenting some unpopular kid in our class along with "everyone else." Perhaps we tolerated or even laughed at racist jokes in our workplace to go along with the crowd. We often have great disdain for politicians who seem to have no real principles but have to check the prevailing political wind before deciding where they stand on an issue. But crowds are easily stirred and, once stirred, they are difficult to resist.

Of course most of us seem to need a crowd, a group we can belong to. And so we have to find a group, a crowd that we feel comfortable around most of the time. If we can't resist a stirred up crowd, the least we can do is associate with one that shares our morals, convictions, biases, and preferences. Then we can laugh at the foolishness of those others crowds, often without much awareness of our own. Republicans, Democrats, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, atheists, agnostics, Millennials, Gen X-ers, and Baby Boomers, all have things that stir our group up, and we have prejudices about what stirs up those in other crowds.

Right now I'm thinking about the difference between crowds and true community. Community seems to me a much bigger thing than a crowd or group, and so presumably it needs something that binds it together which is larger than the sorts of things that tend to stir up crowds. We Christians speak of a unity "in Christ." In practice, however, we tend to have a different Christ for each crowd, and we  snicker at the other crowds' mistaken image of Jesus.

When Jesus says that those who would follow him must "deny themselves," I wonder if a big piece of that denial isn't letting go of those things that make me part of a crowd rather than member of the human race, a brother or sister to all the other children of God.

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