At all times we can be both student and teacher. We become a student when we open ourselves to learn from everyone we meet and every situation that springs up in our lives. Always, however, we are a teacher. Occasionally we teach through our words, but we are continuously teaching through the actions of our daily lives whether we are aware of it or not.
For a great many years I worked with a small local group in Thailand called Burma Issues. Our group was diverse with both Christian and Buddhist friends working together. We put in long hours and the work was often stressful and complicated. One day a Buddhist colleague approached me. I could see she was in a pensive mood and wondered what was on her mind. After some talk relating to our busy schedule, she suddenly asked me, “Max, you have been doing this kind of work for many many years now. What keeps you going? Why don’t you just get tired and quit?” The questions were not necessarily strange or difficult, but I had not thought about this for a long time so was not ready to give a quick response. I fumbled around in my thoughts for a while, but before I could think of a good reply, she answered for me. “It’s your Christian faith, isn’t it?”
I was aware then that all of the years we had been working together, she had been watching me. How did I respond to conflicts in the group? How did I cope when stress levels got very high? How did I respond to the tremendous suffering we heard about every day from other colleagues living and working in Burma’s conflict zones? Without my being aware of it, my life, as a Christian, was teaching others around me. Those lessons could be either negative or positive depending on how I conducted each minute of my activities.
The same responsibility rests on us as a nation. We Americans refer to our country as a “Christian Nation.” We proudly hold that banner high for the entire world to see. Consequently, every action we do is teaching the world something about our understanding of what being a Christian means. That should encourage us to be more deeply reflective about how we relate to each other within the country and also how we related to global issues which we are so much a part of.
The events that recently unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri made the news here in Asia in a big way. The shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by a police officer and the response by the police force against protesters calling for justice reflected so much about a “Christian” response to human rights in America today. In the past, the United States has strongly condemned militaries and governments in Asia for using such violent tactics against their own people. At one time, those words of condemnation had value and power. Now they can no longer be said with much integrity. The Prime Minister of Cambodia recently justified his heavy-handed treatment of villagers protesting loss of their lands to big corporations by referring to Ferguson, Missouri as validation of such violent tactics. Why not? If a Christian nation can do this, why not other countries as well?
And as we sink deeper and deeper into a war culture, we must be aware of what our actions are telling the world about how we interpret and use our faith at the global level. It is no surprise now that some people are rejecting Christianity as a religion no different from all the others that speak fine words but are ready for violent revenge at a moments noticed. If Christianity is different and truly holds core values such as love, compassion and inclusiveness should we not be able to find more Christ-like responses to the violence the world is immersed in now? What are we teaching the world?
“My children, our love should not be only words and talk. No, our love must be real. We must show our love by the things we do”. (1 John 3: 18)