Happy Toddler Thanksgiving: Tips From a Montessori Parent

Thanksgiving can be a toddler parenting nightmare: distant relatives who want hugs and kisses; bowls of nuts and candy within your toddler’s reach; expectations for dinner table etiquette; and of course, all with no nap! What’s a family in search of a happy Thanksgiving to do? That’s just what I discussed with my daughter Emily as she prepares for turkey day with her toddler. Grace is two and a half and attending a Montessori toddler program and Emily is doing a wonderful job implementing Montessori at home. Interestingly for our work at Raven, Dr. Montessori’s theory is founded on the role of imitation in early childhood development – a perfect fit with mimetic theory. I hope this video conversation helps your family to have a Happy Toddler Thanksgiving! And please share your tips for an enjoyable toddler Thanksgiving on The Montessori Project Facebook page.

Image: From Pixabay.

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The Anti-Christ Immigration Response of US Governors and the Kingdom of God

Christians are called to be a light to the nations. The world can’t wait any longer for us to live into that mission.

And make no mistake about it – that mission is political. After all, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God.

Kingdom. Of. God.

This is not simply a personal ethic. I often hear evangelicals and conservatives say, “God wants everything from us” and “God demands our all.” But somehow many also claim that “everything” and “all” doesn’t include our politics because Jesus only gave us a personal ethic.

The fact is that the Kingdom of God is more than personal. It is political, but it is a radically different kind of politics because it subverts the political status quo. From the beginning of human history, the political status quo has been run by the same dynamic – violence.

But the Kingdom of God subverts the politics of violence. Make no mistake: When Jesus used the term “Kingdom of God,” he was being politically subversive. He was charged with high treason, because in using that phrase he was directly confronting the Kingdom of Rome.

These two political realms function in entirely different ways. The Kingdom of Rome functioned with violence, terror, and exclusion. But this point is crucial: Rome wanted peace. In fact, Rome named its project the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, and wanted to spread it throughout the known world. Unfortunately, the only method Rome knew to achieve “peace” was through violence. As Rome conquered new lands in the contradictory name of the Pax Romana, it carried the sword and the crucifix along with it. And if anyone resisted, they would likely be killed.

As all Christians know, that’s exactly what happened to Jesus. Why was Jesus killed? It wasn’t because he said, “Hey guys. I’ve got a personal ethic here, let’s all just love each other! Look, bunnies. Yay! Aren’t they cute!”


Jesus resisted the Kingdom of Rome with the Kingdom of God. But let’s be clear: Jesus subverted Rome in the most subversive way possible – he stood up for justice with nonviolent love. Jesus knew that Rome wasn’t the real enemy. As one of his earliest followers stated, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The real enemy wasn’t Rome. The real enemy was the anti-Christ – the forces of evil, hatred, and violence. So here’s the crucial contrast:

Where Rome sought to terrorize, exclude, and kill their enemies, Jesus taught us to love our enemies in the way that Jesus loved his enemies, with self-offering love and nonviolence. Yes, Jesus, along with the prophets before him, stood up to political, economic, and religious injustice. He named it. He confronted it. He resisted it.

But why didn’t Jesus ever kill in the name of peace and justice, like Rome did? Because he knew that violence and exclusion would make him just like his enemies. He would become the enemy twin of those he opposed. On a personal and political level, mimicking the violence, hatred, and exclusion of our enemies makes us exactly like our enemies. And so Jesus offers the only alternative – renounce violence by loving your neighbor, who includes even your enemies.

René Girard makes this point while quoting Jesus on love in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World:

Since violence is mimetic, and no one ever feels responsible for triggering it initially, only by an unconditional renunciation can we arrive at the desired result (of peace):

And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:33-35).

In the face of terrorism in France and throughout the world, those who follow Christ can have only one response – resist violence with nonviolent love.

In the face of refugees fleeing countries torn to shreds by terrorism, those who follow Christ can have only one response – resist the urge to exclude refugees by showing them gracious hospitality that lends without hope of receiving anything in return.

If we choose any other personal or political ethic, we aren’t living by the Kingdom of God. We deny God and worship at the feet of the anti-Christ. And Jesus had harsh words for those who claim to follow him but refuse to live by the love, nonviolence, and radical hospitality of the Kingdom of God:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father. On that day, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

For those of us living in the 21st century, that prophetic warning is as important as ever. If Christians are serious about following Jesus and being a light to the nations, then we must follow Jesus by living into his personal and political ethic. Otherwise we become just like those we call our enemies.

If the governors of the United States exclude refugees who are fleeing from the violence of ISIS, then that act of exclusion by the United States makes us just like ISIS. But it’s actually worse than that. If we are honest with ourselves, we in the United States will admit that ISIS is just like us. We are the violent models that ISIS is imitating. We are the ones who, like ancient Rome, have been spreading “peace” and “justice” through violence. ISIS is simply mimicking our methods. If the United States really wants to lead the world into a more just and peaceful future, then we need to change our methods in fighting for justice from violence to nonviolent love.

Because if we continue down this path, we will ensure ourselves a future of apocalyptic violence. And Jesus will say to us, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.”

But fortunately there is a clear alternative. Jesus calls us to love. That love is risky and can be scary. That’s because love doesn’t guarantee security, but neither does violence. The point for Christians is to not be run by fear, but by love. To follow him means to trust that as we live into the Kingdom of God we can show hospitality and lend to everyone in need, without expecting anything in return, because we know that there will be enough for everyone.


Image Copyright: adrenalinapura / 123RF Stock Photo

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 4 – The Politics of Terrorism and the Politics of Jesus

The Discussion:



Show Notes*

How should we respond to terrorist attacks in Paris?

Nearly 90% of people killed in American drone attacks were not targeted. American violence is terrorizing the Middle East, labeling all “unknown people it kills as ‘Enemies Killed in Action,’” but they are often civilians. (The Intercept: The Drone Papers: The Assassination Complex.)

Last Thursday, the United States killed “Jihadi John” in a drone strike, killing the man responsible for beheading Western journalists. (In the discussion, Adam mistakenly said he beheaded monks. That was a different ISIS group.) The Huffington Post wrote, “Britain said the death of the militant would strike at the heart of the Islamic State group.” Tragically, killing Jihadi John didn’t stop ISIS from striking back. The mimetic nature of violence reveals that violence is imitative and it escalates. Jesus gave the prophetic message that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We are experiencing the horrific pattern of escalating violence at work.

The logic of terrorism hopes to get a violent response in return for violence. That way terrorists can continue a narrative that they are actually the victims of Western aggression. In striking back, we give terrorists exactly what they want.

The Politics of Violence and the Politics of Jesus

Our violent political message isn’t working. Francois Hollande, President of France, said, “We are going to lead a war that will be pitiless.” He vowed to show “no mercy.” For Christians, this is in stark contrast to the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to living into. In the Beatitudes, Jesus claimed, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Just as violence is mimetic and will lead to a future of more violence, mercy is also mimetic. In other words, violence only ensures a future of violence. Mercy is our only possibility for a future of mercy and peace.

Negotiations alone won’t work. We also need reparations. So, what is a better solution to terrorism than responding with violence? Girardian Jean Michel-Oughourlian provides the answer in his book Psychopolitics,

Instead of spending astronomical sums on arms, let us spend instead on roads, hospitals, schools, houses, businesses, to create jobs and so on. Instead of financing war, let us purchase peace. (page 23)

*You may hear sounds in the background. That’s Lindsey’s toddler, which is also the reason for Lindsey’s side-glances.

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Helping Children Help Themselves: Insights from Attachment Theory, Mimetic Theory and Dr. Montessori

In the video below, Kathy Frost and I make connections between Attachment Theory in psychology (her thing), the Montessori method (my thing), and mimetic theory (our shared thing!). We talk about the openness of children to the influences of their environment, an awareness that all three paradigms share. “Environment” includes everything, but material things first of all. Sights, smells, tastes, sounds and textures all shape the child through their physical interaction with them.

Of course, adults are part of the environment, too, and how we engage with children has a profound effect on their development. Mirror neurons are active as children learn by observing how adults are acting in the environment. Children observe us and then they try it themselves, practicing until they become perfect. We offer two concrete examples of this: riding bikes and blowing noses!

We discuss how important it is to realize that the help we offer our children can actually hinder their pursuit of new skills and stifle independence. Kathy explains the Circle of Security, a great video that explains the need children have for both security and freedom. This synchs well with Montessori’s insight that the aim of any help we offer “should be to help the child help himself.” She cautions that “the adult becomes an obstacle when he tries to do himself what should be done by the child, to do what in fact can only be done by the child.”

Kathy and I hope our discussion helps you relax more as a parent. As Kathy wrote to me in an email, “We’ll have millions of interactions with our kids, and with many of these interactions we’ll not be at our best (and even far from it).  But as respected psychoanalyst Donald Winnecott said, we just need to be ‘good enough.’” What a relief! We’d love to hear your stories of life with your children. Join the conversation here or on The Montessori Project Facebook page.

Kathy Frost is a social psychologist teaching at St. Joseph’s College, New York. Kathy and Suzanne currently serve on the board of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, dedicated to the exploration of René Girard’s mimetic theory.


In Memory of René Girard: The Truth about Life and Death

Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. But those of us who have been highly influenced by René know better. For us, it is not an overstatement to state that René’s explanation of mimetic theory is the most important discovery of human nature in the last 2,000 years. That is, since the Gospels.

This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

Many progressive Christians who do not know René’s work will bristle at that statement. Indeed, without reading René’s books, it could sound like a form of penal subsitutionary atonement theory that claims Jesus allows humanity to live by saving us from the violent wrath of God.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth that René revealed throughout his career is that wrath doesn’t belong to God. It belongs solely to humans. In anthropological terms, what was revealed by the death of Jesus was the human scapegoat mechanism. Once you read René’s works, you realize how obvious it is that the violence at the cross had nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the human propensity to scapegoat.

Still, at this point, we should warn ourselves not to scapegoat penal substitutionary atonement theory. After all, if René taught us anything it’s that human have been projecting our own violence onto God since the foundation of the world. We justify our violence and hatred against our scapegoats in the name of God or peace or justice or whatever we deem to be a important to our well-being.

René taught us that to truly live is to stop scapegoating our enemies, and to stop justifying it in the name of God. Once at a conference, René was asked what would happen if mimetic theory became wildly successful. He answered, “There would be no more scapegoating.”

To end scapegoating and to truly live we need to follow Jesus by turning away from violence and turning toward our neighbors, including those we call our enemies, in the spirit of love and nonviolence.

René not only taught us that truth, he lived into it. I met him once at a conference for young Girardian scholars. I was struck by the fact that René wasn’t interested in teaching us, or making sure we had his theory “right.” What he wanted more than anything was to talk with us. He wanted to learn about our lives and what interested us. He had a special humility about him – instead of taking glory for himself, he gave glory to others. For example, I remember sitting across the table from him. He smiled as he looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve watched your Mimetic Theory 101 videos. They’re good.” That’s the way he was. He affirmed all of us and encouraged us to follow the truth, no matter where it led.

René always gave the last word to the Gospels. It’s where he found the truth about life and death. It’s only fitting that I end with this quote that sums up René’s theory about God, violence, and love,

The following is the basic text, in my opinion, that shows us a God who is alien to all violence and who wishes in consequence to see humanity abandon violence:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45, Things Hidden, 183)

May our brother René Girard rest in peace and rise in the glorious love of God.

Image: Screenshot from YouTube.

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 2 with Suzanne Ross on Mimetic Theory and Maria Montessori

Show Notes

In this episode, Suzanne Ross discusses her latest project on Maria Montessori. You can keep up with Suzanne by liking her Facebook page The Maria Montessori Project.

We talk about the intersections of mimetic theory and Montessori.

Mimetic theory and Montessori’s teaching methods provide ways of transforming cultures of violence into cultures of peace.

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 1 – Mimetic Theory, Cancer, and Jesus

Show Notes

Welcome to Talk To Me Tuesdays: The RavenCast. Each Tuesday we plan to post a video and mp3 discussing mimetic theory. Sometimes these videos will be an individual discussing mimetic theory and sometimes we will have interviews with people engaging mimetic theory.

In this video, Adam Ericksen introduces the RavenCast and mimetic theory by telling the story of his mother as a model of faith. Through her experience with cancer, she taught Adam how to live. When death is so close, we begin to discover what really matters in life. Our cultural models often tell us the things that matter are success, wealth, buying bigger house or more expensive car. Those are the ways we become good enough and lovable. But confronting death can teach us that what really matters is not our wealth, or even being good enough. What matters is receiving the love of God and sharing it with others. Adam’s mom ultimately learned that from Jesus, her model. And she passed that lesson to Adam.

Jeb Bush and Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. (Screen shot from YouTube)

The Political Wisdom of Jeb Bush, Stephen Colbert, and Jesus

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about Bernie Sanders. My point was to highlight how Bernie refuses to play the game of political scapegoating. He was baited by an interviewer to attack Hillary Clinton and he refused to do it. Instead, he spoke about the issues. I argued that we need political leaders like Bernie Sanders.

Well, I was accused of endorsing Bernie. The accusation might be fair because I am feeling the Bern.

But I’m also feeling the Jeb.

Jeb Bush was recently on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Before taking a few late night obligatory jabs at the “Big orange elephant in the room … Donald Trump,” Stephen asked Jeb about the political hostility that divides Washington.

Stephen: Do you think that you could bring people together? Because everybody says they want to bring people together, but when you get down to the campaigning or get down to what passes for governing now, it often ends up being just a game of blood sport where you attack the other person and the other side can’t possibly do, say, or have planned for anything good.

Jeb: So I’m going to say something that’s heretic[al] I guess. I don’t think that Barack Obama has bad motives. I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues … If you start with the premise that people have good motives you can find common ground … Look, in state capitals all across the country this doesn’t happen to the same extent that it does in Washington. In the mayor’s offices there are people who disagree with one another and they are allowed to talk to one another. You can be friends with people that you don’t agree with on everything. I mean, we have to restore a degree of civility.

Assume the Good

Jeb has provided some important political wisdom. Politics has become infected with what René Girard calls “mimetic rivalry.” We often think that rivalry is based on our differences. For example, we might think that Republicans and Democrats are in a bitter rivalry because they have differences of opinion about how to govern. Political rhetoric emphasizes the differences, of course, because each side completely believes in their own propoganda! If only they were really arguing about their different objectives, then we would be having substantive discussions on solutions to the problems that we face as a nation. But political rivalry isn’t based on differences; it’s based on similarities.  For example, Republicans and Democrats are in a bitter rivalry because each side wants the same thing – they each want to win and each views the other as a threat to their desire. In order to win, Democrats and Republicans forget their political mission to promote the common good and instead spend much of their time demonizing one another and telling us why electing the other side would be disastrous for America.

In human relationships, mimetic rivalry quickly escalates to the point where the object is completely lost and the only thing left is defeating our opponents. In other words, winning becomes the all-consuming objective rather than finding solutions to our nation’s problems. It’s a dangerous scenario that leads to verbal, emotional, and physical violence.

We need political leaders like Jeb Bush to guide us beyond the trap of mimetic rivalry. Jeb’s advice to “start with the premise that people have good motives” is an excellent place to start healing the political divide.

But as Jeb points out, to assume the good in the other is often viewed as heretical. There may be a price to pay when we stop demonizing our opponents and acknowledge that they are motivated by something good. We may be seen as traitors if we reach across the political or religious or racial or economic divide. We may even become our own group’s scapegoat.

Jesus and Jeb: On Being Heretics

This is the danger of fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies. When we love our enemies, which includes the ability to assume that they have good motives, our friends can quickly turn against us. Jesus knew the tragic outcome that his message of love would bring to a violent world. His message of love for even our enemies wouldn’t bring peace, rather it would bring division. It would split families and social groups apart because our group identity is so often based on uniting in hatred against a common enemy. But Jesus doesn’t allow for that kind of unity. He commands that we love our enemies as we love ourselves. Yet, he’s also very clear about the cost,

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Jesus’s call to love all people evokes the paradoxical truth that all-inclusive love brings division within group dynamics. He was accused of being a heretic because he challenged the status quo of hatred and hostility that divides groups from one another. When we love with the radical inclusiveness of Jesus we will be labeled as heretics by our own group. And that’s okay, because when our friends become enemies, we are still called by Jesus to love them. We are called, to paraphrase Jeb’s comment on the Late Show, to “start with the premise that our enemies, even our friends who have turned against us, have good motives.” Once we find and acknowledge those good motives, we have a better chance of working together toward the common good.

We need political leaders who will reach across the political divide and assume the good motives of the other. We need political leaders like Jeb Bush.

Photo: Jeb Bush and Stephen Colbert on the Late Show. (Screen shot from YouTube)

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More Than Gun Control – What We Must Do To Stop Mass Shootings

The scariest thing about mass murderers is just how normal they are.

In the wake of Umpqua Community College shooting last week, the New York Times published an article titled, “Mass Murderers Fit Profile, as Do Many Others Who Don’t Kill.” Here’s a very disturbing line:

What seems telling about the killers, however, is not how much they have in common but how much they look and seem like so many others who do not inflict harm.

What’s so scary about these killers is that we’d really like to have an explanation that makes them “other” than the rest of us. So we say they are mentally ill – unlike the rest of us who are quite mentally healthy – and our society needs to do a better job of caring for them.

While it’s true that we need to do a better job caring for the mentally ill, the vast majority of people with mental illness will never harm anyone. Mass murderers don’t tend to be mentally ill. As Dr. James Alan Fox stated in the Times article, “They’re not out of touch with reality. They don’t hear voices. They don’t think the people they’re shooting are gophers.” In other words, the problem with these shooters have very little to do with mental illness.

What are the signs that someone may turn into a shooter? The Times makes another disturbing claim, “With many of the killers, the signs are of anger and disappointment and solitude.”

Anger, disappointment, and solitude. Those emotions are universal. We all feel them. How do we make sense of that? There’s a darkness that creeps up within all of us – and if we are honest with ourselves, we might just admit the horrifying truth that there’s not a lot that separates us from them.

Desire and Resentment

We are all united with a common desire for fame, notoriety, and love. We fear solitude. Everyone wants to be known. We gain a sense of value and worth in our lives through obtaining more likes and tweets on social media. As mimetic theory teaches us, we inevitably compare ourselves with others who become our models for success.

But what happens when we don’t gain the success, fame, or the love that we all desire? When others don’t validate us, when we don’t achieve the success we desire, we become resentful of our models. As Stefan Tomelleri states in his book Resentment: Reflections on Mimetic Desire and Society, “We live in a world where many people, rightly or wrongly, feel blocked, or paralyzed, in all their aspirations, obstructed from achieving their most legitimate goals” (ix).The more we fall behind our models, the more resentful we become. Our model then becomes our rival and we seek some form of revenge against them for enflaming our desire for something we cannot have. Whenever we feel as if the path to fulfillment of our aspirations is being blocked by the ones who make those desires seem desirable, we risk becoming verbally, emotionally, or physically violent.

Typically, no one ever teaches us how to manage our feelings of resentment in nonviolent and healthy ways. In fact, we are taught the opposite. 9/11 taught us that if someone hits you, you hit them back. Only, you don’t just hit them back, you up the ante. You hit them with “Shock and Awe” to destroy the enemy’s will to fight back.

But Shock and Awe has only “worked” to embed violence deeper within our culture. Violence isn’t just “their” problem; it’s our problem. It infects all of us. Almost every day we hear about another violent attack. For example, just two days after the horrific shooting in Oregon last week, the United States bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 12 medical staff personnel and 10 patients, including three children. The U.S. has defended the bombing, while Doctors Without Borders calls it a war crime.

What’s the truth? The truth is that as long as our nation responds to violence with violence, we will continue to sow the seeds of violence and resentment within our nation and around the world.

What’s the Answer?

We need stricter gun control laws, no doubt. But we need so much more than gun control. We need models who will lead us toward a massive shift in our culture. Resentment and violence infects us all and we need to learn better ways to take responsibility to manage our anger, disappointment, and hatred.

God tells Cain that, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). God speaks those words to all of us. The truth is that there’s a little bit of Cain within everyone. The darkness is within us all. Unfortunately, many of us are too afraid to look at it. We’d much rather ignore our pain than examine it. But the way to master the “sin that is lurking at the door” is to acknowledge it, but like Cain, we typically suppress it. We bury our resentment and anger deep within ourselves, only for it to manifest through violence.

That’s why the ancient spiritual practice of confession is so important. It’s much healthier to talk out our emotions than it is to bottle them up. Without the ability to talk about our frustrations, we externalize our emotions by blaming others. Our shared desire for fame and admiration can then lead us to commit acts of violence when they become frustrated.

Much more than gun control, we must shift our culture of violence to a culture of peace. We need models who will lead us to move beyond resentment and towards an ethic of love, a love that embraces even our enemies.

The answer is to work through our resentment and come out the other side into love. More than anything, we need to be challenged with a daring and challenging mission. In the face of a culture that responds to violence with more violence, we need more people who will step up and model how to return love for hatred, forgiveness for anger, kindness for hostility, peace for violence.

Photo Copyright: flybird163 / 123RF Stock Photo


Mimetic Theory and Eschatological Empathy

Mimetic theory teaches us that we learn by imitation—whether you have studied the work of René Girard or not, you have probably noticed this. For example, when we teach, we not only use words to explain how to ride a bicycle, throw a ball, or do a push-up. More importantly, we model. We actually get on our bicycle, pick up a baseball, and drop to the ground and “give ‘em twenty.” Because of our mimetic nature, we also tend to embrace the belief systems of our parents and/or dominant culture.

My personal background is no different.

My parents had an Arminian theology and as such, told me that I had the “free choice” to accept Jesus Christ as my “Lord and Savior” or not. Of course, given the eternal consequences of an incorrect choice, I “freely” chose to be a Christian. However, even as a kid, in the back of my mind was this sickening feeling that others’ choice did not seem as free as mine did. Why was I so fortunate to be born into a Christian family? What if I had been born into a Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu family? What would have been my eternal fate then? I would often think something similar to the following:

“Why am I afforded more detailed information about this eternal ultimatum than a Hindu or Muslim? How is this fair and how can people be held accountable for such a decision?”

Of course, all of this presupposes this “choice” actually being the correct one. Should those in the other faith traditions who believe in a similar “hell” be correct, why are they afforded more insight into the “choice” than I?

What seems even more unfair is that there are those who have been molested by those who claim to profess the love of God—whether Christian or otherwise. There are those who have put their faith in clergy, only to be violated in the most painful of ways. There are countless of individuals who have had to experience a version of Jesus that is actually anti-Christ. And this is the only Jesus they may ever meet! And yet, they are supposed to “freely choose” Jesus or face eternal condemnation?

When I meditate on these questions and those similar, I cannot help but have empathy. What if I were molested by a “follower” of Jesus? What if one of “God’s elect” raped me when I was younger? Would my eternal choice not, in some very large and distinct way, be affected by such a terrifying event?

Let’s see what Scripture can teach us.

Take a look at Genesis 4:9. After God asks Cain about his slain brother’s whereabouts, Cain sarcastically snaps back at God and rhetorically asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Of course, Cain did not believe himself to be the keeper of Abel, but the implied answer from God, should the Lord have answered, would have been “yes.” There is an implied oneness in this passage between Cain and Abel.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes such oneness when he writes: “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9: 2 – 3)” For Paul, it makes no difference if another or himself is cut off from Christ. Both options would cause “unceasing grief” for him.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus explains our interconnectedness when he says what we do to the least of our kind, we do to Jesus himself. Because all things come into being through Jesus (John 1:3) and he thus, “enlightens every person” (1:9), Jesus is truly saying that what we do to our brothers and sisters—even the least of our fellow human—we are doing to the one we claim to worship.

We are all responsible for each other, because all humans came to being through him!

All people. Not some. All.

When we look at our eschatology, we need to have some empathy. Jesus sure did! That is one reason he brought peace. That is a part of why he said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)” He recognized that we have no idea what are doing to each other. We had no idea what we were doing to Jesus.

This ignorance runs through each and every one of us. Because of this, God shows all of us mercy (Romans 11:32). I must take the stance that I am responsible for my brothers and sisters, which, according to how I interpret things, includes everyone. Should one lost sheep perish (apollumi), to follow Christ is to desire to save even one. To follow Christ is to rejoice over finding the last lost sheep—those sinners who repent of their ways and choose the path of the non-violent Christ. I believe once every lost sheep is found, then and only then can “every tear be wiped from our faces.” (Revelation 21:4) As interconnected interdividuals, I simply cannot foresee any other way.

Image: Photo by monsternest via Available via Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.