A Transformation of the Mind

Service on August 23, 2020
by Stacey Simpson Duke

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Once upon a time there was a small boy who learned to walk on his hands, and he did it all the time. He could smell the flowers without bending over, he could see butterflies eye to eye, he as well acquainted with the ground that other people stood on or passed by. His parents were distressed, of course, and took him to a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, a social worker, and even a church. Together they made him learn to walk like everybody else. Now he saw the world as they didfaces, of course, which was good, but also ugly buildings, billboards, traffic jams, all the screens on all the devices, and the masses of people who lived by doing what was expected of them. It was a great success. The boy became like everyone else.

One of the happiest parts of our faith is the news that being like everyone else need not and ought not ever to happen. Our faith teaches that by Gods great creative love each person is singularly valued, and so each person is distinctive, each one invited and empowered to be distinctively who they are in the world.

God loves variousness. Look around you at all the spectacular diversities in natureendless dazzling variations in colors and shapes and sizes and fragrances and textures and types. Clearly, the Creator delights in fantastic differences. For more evidence, take a look at human faces, all with the same parts, yet every one remarkably distinctive. So also with every human life, its personality, experience, and potential contribution to the world—each one unique. To grow as a person isnt about learning to fit in better, its about becoming more and more authentically and completely who you are. I heard of a nun who said in her later years, If youre not eccentric by the time youre 60, your yeast didnt rise.

Society at large opposes this. Most cultures, clans, tribes, societies have built-in pressures to conform. It manifests in fashion, style, music, art, politics, religion—and in all the stuff we think we need because everybody else seems to have it, or all the stuff we think we should feel and say and do because everybody else seems to feel and say and do the same. Some of us work at this, trying to keep up and fit in. Most of us dont think about it; its just natural and easy to move along with the herd and breathe in the aerosoled herd opinions and behaviors, at least of those in the subsection of the herd were in. And lets face it, the herd is divided; but a divided herd is still a herd.

Some of it is harmless, some of it is positive; but much of it is catastrophic. When the mass mind is permeated with deep and long-held biases and all manner of unexamined assumptions, when the herd feeds on a diet of lies and illusions, and carries contagious anxieties and hostilities, and as a matter of course accepts what is manifestly unjust, then our conformity is monstrous. Most of us dont go there on purpose; its just in the nature of the species that we assimilate to the group.

 But the gospel tells us to resist. Do not be conformed to this age, says Paul. Most English translations have him saying, Do not be conformed to this world, but what he actually says is, Dont be conformed to this age. Which is better, because our problem isnt the world, our problem is our time and placethe spirit of this age, the corruption and excesses and idolatries in the culture that surrounds us, permeates us, and forms us. Paul says, Dont you let it!

If we ask, Well, hows that supposed to happen? his answer is by the renewing of your minds”—or better, by the making new of your mindset. Any real and lasting positive change includes the working of the mind, a reorienting of our mindset.

What would this new state of mind look like? For us, whatever else it is, its a mindset that sees the world through the lens of the grace of God for all. Leading up to his words about renewing our minds, Paul writes eleven chapters about Gods lavish gift of grace—how everyone is flawed, everyone damaged, everyone entangled in sinfulness that we cant struggle ourselves out of; and how the One who created us all has a mercy for us all, known to u in the self-giving love of Christ for us all. This grace is not just on my life and yours, its on the lives of our neighbors, on the lives of strangers, on those who differ from us, and those we dont much for care for. For all people a cherishing, for all a mercy, for all a prospect of redemption. 

The spirit of this age doesnt see it. The herd is filled with judging, plagued with guilt-bearing and guilt-assigning, diseased with false ego, cynicism, and indifference. But a mindset founded on grace is a mindset of gratefulness and openness and kinship and commitments toward redemption. Wouldnt that be a making-new of our minds?

And of our character. A life of integrity cannot earn us grace, but the gift of grace compels us to a life of integrityto be people who say no to what is wrong, to be faithful and truthful, to keep our promises, to live in a moral commitment toward holiness. Paul calls it presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, by which he means offering our whole embodied lives each day as an act of worship. Wouldnt that be a new mindset? 

It is a mindset fiercely alive with hope—believing that the Spirit is powerfully at work in the world, that the world can and will become more just, that tyrannies will not stand, that the power of love will prevail and redemption will win out. For these reasons, we are resilient, we resist despair; we act boldly, persistently, defiantly, and joyously to bear witness to God’s desire for the world. As Cornell West said, Its not enough to have hope, we have to be hope. And the new mindset of Christ makes us exactly that.

We can only do this together. We are a fellowship of transformation. How do I get a new mindset without a community on that soul-journey with me? This is why, when Paul says, Be transformed by the making new of your mind, the very next thing he says is Dont think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, which means, among other things: Dont think for a minute that this is all about you. You are one member in the great sisterhood/brotherhood of the non-conforming, the being-transformed: a community of mutual learning, supporting, and embodying this new mindset together. What a breaking away this would be from the spirit of this age and its bizarre cult of individualism (My liberties! My good times!”), which has no sense of membership in a society of mutual responsibility and concern. But there is no transformation without relationshipwith others, with neighbors, with strangers, with adversaries, with God. 

How desperately the world needs itneeds growing communities of people not conforming but being transformed, with minds that see the world through the lens of grace, minds directed by gratefulness and openness, growing in character and holiness, each day an act of worship; minds fierce with hope, and no longer orbiting themselves, but given and joined to the great community of transformation.

This is the revolution the world awaits. We have the unspeakable privilege of being part of it. May the grace of God make it so.