I currently work in the oilfield and drive a truck. I am sometimes in awe of this statement, because I am not exactly the kind of guy you associate with oil and trucks. I am the kind of guy you associate with books and the indoors.
What I learned quickly about this business is that there are a lot of assumptions made about people who work in the business. If you work in the oil field, it is often assumed you have certain views of the world.
Let me give an example using my truck. For awhile I was driving a tiny Toyota Corolla when I went and made sales calls. But the nature of this job requires that I drive a truck. So one day I made a sales call to a guy in the truck and he says to me: I see you traded in the Corolla for a man’s vehicle.
This assumption leads people to believe if you do not drive a truck you are somehow less of a man. What it also does is either invalidates the experience of men who don’t drive trucks, or tells other men that driving a truck is the ideal they should strive towards.
While this is a silly example, it points to something very real I call “every man syndrome.”
The Western world has made it’s living on dividing things up and breaking them down into their smallest parts. Most of our greatest discoveries come from doing this. However, this is not without effect on how we see the world. Because we are so good at separating and categorizing, we have learned to see the world dualistically:
If one thing is true, the opposite cannot be true. Everything has a category and a place.
The problem is, the world doesn’t actually work like this. But we are so used to thinking in dualistic ways, we try to cram all of existence into a dualistic framework.
Dualistic thinking creates “every man syndrome.”
Every man syndrome is when you assume your experience and worldview are the same experiences and worldviews as everyone else. You are either striving towards an ideal that “every man” shares (and yes I use “man” on purpose), or you invalidate the experiences of others different from your own.
And while I tell the truck story tongue-in-cheek, every man syndrome really becomes dangerous when it is extended out. Especially for those who are not a part of the dominant culture.
I read an article this week about workplaces claiming to be “colorblind.” The idea was to create a work place where color doesn’t create barriers. “Every man” is the same.
But what this really does is give preference to the dominate culture (typically white male), and invalidates the experiences of those in the work place who are not white males.
We do this in church as well. The “Christian” is presented as the person who has their stuff together. “The Christian” is a person who does to church every Sunday, sings the right songs, prays the right prayers, goes through the right rituals, listens dutifully to the sermon, knows all the jargon found in those sermons, and agrees with the worldview presented at church.
But what happens when the way life is presented at church doesn’t fit your own experience? What happens when the rituals fall flat and are disconnected from real life? What happens when words like grace and faith mean absolutely nothing to me at work, home, or play?
Every man syndrome tells us that if this happens, we need to keep our mouth shut and figure out how to return to being right with the Lord.
Every man syndrome is the height of dualistic thinking. It tells us God is found only in certain places by certain people. So join the crowd, be like us, use the language and rituals that don’t make sense…..or get off the bus.
We said last week that the Beatitudes are about where and how God is present. This every man, dualistic mindset wants to look at the Beatitudes to figure out how to get God on our side.
A dualistic mindset says: If the poor in spirit are blessed, then it follows that the “rich in spirit” are not. So we must do everything we can to be poor in spirit rather than rich.
But the Beatitudes are actually an invitation to see the world in a whole new way. And this new way of see transcends our dualistic ways of seeing the world.
Jesus’ point in the Beatitudes is that God is ALWAYS present and real and available.
There are no circumstances in life where God is not present.
Are you a merciful person? God is there.
Are you a spiritual loser? God is there.
Have you messed up your life? God is there.
Are you trying to align yourself with God? God is there.
The Beatitudes are the announcement that God is not present for only a few people, but for everyone. As a matter of fact, most of the Beatitudes are examples of God being present in places we are often told God has nothing to do with.
The spiritual zeroes, the losers, the people who don’t fit the mold, the wimpy people, the left out, the forgotten, the sad, the desperate – these people can find God right where they are. They don’t have to wait until their lot in life is reversed. God is here and ready, now.
And Jesus starts this announcement with “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (the spiritual losers, the outsiders) “for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus begins with a reminder that sometimes the people who are not the religious elite – the people on the outside, the people for whom the whole church thing does not make sense, the people who have a different belief set, or are atheists and have no sense of God – sometimes these people experience God in deeper and more meaningful ways than the “insiders.”
This doesn’t mean the insiders can’t or don’t experience the Kingdom of God in deep and meaningful ways. It simply means there might be more work to do.
Because the moment we begin to think that Jesus is for the insiders or the people just like us – we have missed the point.
Christians are to be the people breaking down dualistic thinking in the world, but all too often they are the ones who drive it.
Jesus wants us to see with new eyes. Jesus wants to open us up to the way the world actually works. Jesus wants to make better sense of our real life.
The Beatitudes are a powerful reminder of the barriers we create for other people, and an invitation to move beyond the thought that God is only found in certain places by certain people.
It is an invitation to see God in all places and in all things, and an invitation to listen and explore the experiences of people who do not experience the world in the same way we do.