As I sit to write this post there is a new meme online where the President of the United States goes on a shooting rampage in a church killing all those who oppose him. It is in every way vile. There are many things that could be said about it, but mostly I wonder what drove the person who made it to make such a video. There is a lot of commentary right now about how the world is fractured that seeks to find a blame for it. More often than not social media is blamed for the current state of division in our world. From where I stand social media is a symptom of a larger problem and far from the cause. The root is humanity’s need to reduce everyone down to the binary choices of with me or against me and of value or not of value.
In his book The Silk Roads: A New History of the World Peter Frankopan spends nearly 500 pages describing the things that humanity has found value in over time. From spices to oil to data (which he did not cover, but is undoubtedly the silk road of our present day), humans have constantly sought out the things that would make them the most profitable. Frankopan is a historian based at Oxford University who is known for his ambitious popular histories that try to bring light to the importance of the “east” to a western audience. While this book begins with a similar ambition it in the end becomes a story of how the desire to rule the means of gaining things has caused an immeasurable amount of pain in the world.
I think there is a connection between what Frankopan describes and the fractured world we currently live. The desire to own the source of truth – be that the official trade route with the east or our understanding of the world – has caused us to devalue other humans. Whether it is the desire to profit off of oil at the expense of the climate – and as such humanity in general – or the desire for a greater profit off of cotton at the expense of the humanity of humans differently colored or the desire to win that argument on Facebook that relies on us seeing the other as evil or less than human, it all depends on us devaluing our fellow humans.
Hospitality is an unnatural act. As humans we want to protect ourselves and see the other as, well, other. Hospitality forces us to see the other as a person of value, not because of what they can provide us, but simply because they are inherently valuable. Of all the silk roads described and lost in Frankopan’s book, I think he missed the most important one – the silk road of hospitality. The act of knowing and loving people different than us holds more value than all of the other silk roads combined. Turning the other cheek, giving your cloak to a stranger, and walking the extra mile with someone are all revolutionary acts that force us to see our enemy – or anyone for that matter – as someone whose value is innate. The desire to harm or devalue the other is natural and Jesus asks us to act unnaturally by welcoming them as fellow humans of immeasurable value.
Unfortunately, I think the reason the video spoken of earlier was made is because its maker has fallen into the all too human trap of seeing those who oppose him as lacking value. The cause of this can be debated, but there is one way out – learning to see the value of each other regardless of if we agree.