I read Chaim Potok’s Chosen recently. If you are not familiar with Potok and his work, he is one of the most prominent Jewish author of many books and also a rabbi. In his novel, The Chosen, he writes about the unlikely friendship between Danny Saunders, the son of an ultra-orthodox Hasidic rabbi, whose position he is destined to inherit, and Reuven Malter, who represents modern Judaism in the novel. The two play an ill-fated baseball game against each other, which quickly becomes a war between the two, representing the tension between the two ideologies. Danny hits the ball with unnecessary force, injuring Reuven's eye, who is rushed to the hospital in fear of losing his sight. Danny visits Reuven in the hospital to apologise and reveal very honestly the hatred he felt toward Reuven, and after that a strange sympathy starts to spring up between the boys that blossoms into a close friendship.
The Chosen is much more than a tale of a friendship, however I came away from the novel wondering, can we be friends with those we disagree with?
It is needless for me to say that cancel culture is still alive and well today. You probably experienced it in the workplace, on social media, in your family, and in church. Unpopular opinions are quickly shut down, and most of us are either afraid of honest questions or afraid to ask them. A few decades ago, our worldview did not differ significantly from our neighbours and most families, especially in the same church denomination, tended to have roughly the same values. Life was easy.
Fast forward to the 2000’s. Polarisation and fragmented opinions plague not only the wider culture, but our churches as well. Our common ground seems to shrink further and further away from under our feet, until we are lost at the sea of our own individualism. In a polarised culture, people are increasingly drawn to extreme beliefs that are polar opposites. This can lead to all kinds of social segregation, to a point where the opposing parties can’t or won’t interact with each other, creating an “us-versus-them” environment, resulting in a fragmented culture, where the little pockets of fragmented opinions rarely mix or correspond to a whole. If this sounds a lot like your church community, you are not alone.
In an environment of such sharply conflicted opinions and the consequent ostracization of differing from the “party line” it is understandable that many of us give in to the natural urge to avoid conflict and seek comfort among those we agree with. A friendship like Reuven’s and Danny’s are increasingly harder to imagine.
Yet for me the fascination of a bond defying hostility remains. Romeo loved Juliet despite the war going on between their two families, so Reuven and Danny chose friendship despite being positioned at the two opposing sides of Judaism. Can we also choose love and sympathy in a raging war of opinions?
Jesus of Nazareth chose 12 Jews of widely differing backgrounds to be his friends. The resurrected Saviour pursued a relationship with Saul, who persecuted his followers, already putting many of them to death( Acts 9:1-9). While Paul is vocal in his letter about his opinion of the Apostle Peter’s treatment of the newly converted Gentiles (Galatians 12:11-19), he was not always feeling kindly about Jesus’ followers. We read about few as bloodthirsty as Paul, before he met the Saviour on the road to Damascus. Although not a particularly sympathetic character, yet Jesus thought him worthy to pursue a relationship with him despite his apparent unloveliness.
We can only wonder what the rest of the disciples might have taught about Matthew, the tax collector, a famously hated profession by Jews, receiving positive attention from Jesus (Matt.9:9). Arguments about who is the greatest broke out fairly often. Apart from arguing between themselves, the disciples disagreed with Jesus himself on several occasions( Luke 22:24-30;Matthew 16:13-17;John 12:4-8) The scenes we encounter on its pages are far from idyllic or peaceful. The only thing the disciples seemed to have in common was an enduring fascination with the person of Jesus Christ. Although the relationship dynamics changed sharply after Pentecost among the 12, diverging opinions on theological issues were a reality.
I attend a small rural church amidst the rolling, verdant hills of Ireland. I serve in my church’s Womens Ministry, which is particularly close to my heart. I value friendship and comradery among women, and the “genius for friendships” like Anne of Green Gables I consider this, one the greatest blessings from God. Yet I can’t get away from the fallenness of my own humanity and the fragmentedness of my own beloved church community either. The only thing I know, even on the bad days, is that community and wholeness is worth striving for.
When I look at my church community I am comforted by the thought that as the disciples we are here too, because of our enduring fascination with the person of Jesus Christ. Our goal and path is the same, to follow him. Yet sometimes, even that is not enough and we need more. Like Jesus we need to look behind a person's beliefs, tradition, and conviction to look at who he really is. While the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are perfectly happy together in an eternal unity, needing nothing and no one, yet the Almighty God thought it is worth spending time with Abraham, David, Rahab, Moses, Paul and Mary Magdalene. Not because He lacked anything in the comfort of his perfect unity, but because the inherent, createdness of each person is such a treasure He chose to go through agony to spend time with each and every one of us. As I sit here today in my cosy Irish living room, I think I cannot do better than to spend time with the ones Jesus went out of his way to spend time with. The prostitutes, the murderers, the enemies of my worldview, the foreigners, are just some of the people I imagine I would disagree with. There are some closer to home, too.
Yet we need more. We need to see the one thing that we all share as humans, and that is brokenness. We are all broken, shattered pieces of the whole beautiful image of our Creator, trying to make our own Eden, on our way to find out it was just Hell all along. We owe each other our compassion for that. We were all created into God’s image and while this image is shattered by sin, we still bear the shards of it. I can’t help feeling we cannot spend our time better than to take the time to look for the shattered pieces of God’s beautiful image in our brothers and sisters in church, in our neighbours, in the people we work with, or sitting beside the bus, the mothers who wait for their kids before the school with us. And build bridges and build friendships and grow and tend love. Even with those we disagree with.
Written by Agnes Biro