Tag Archives: Mob

Of Mobs and Motives

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another.Most of the people did not even know why they were there.
Acts 19:32 (NIV)

While I was in high school there was a large education bill making its way through the state legislature. The teachers in my school began wearing “Save Our Schools” buttons. Some teachers spoke to us over a series of weeks about how important this bill was and predicted doom, gloom, and the end of education as we knew it were the law not to pass. Extra-curriclar programs would go away, athletics programs wouldn’t have the funding they needed, and students would suffer, we were told.

A short while later it was announced that on a certain afternoon any student who desired could take the afternoon off of school, ride a bus to the state capitol, and participate in a rally of teachers and students to march on the statehouse.

Afternoon off of school? Are you kidding me?! I’d go on a tour of a sewage treatment facility if it meant getting to skip English, Algebra II and American History.

And so it was I found myself in a mob of students and teachers from all over the area chanting “Save our schools!” as we marched up Capitol hill. We filed into the Statehouse and up into the gallery of the legislature where debate was taking place on the floor regarding the school bill. There I listened to the debate between legislators regarding the bill and found out that the bill was put forth by the teachers’ union and was primarily about teacher compensation. Now, I’m all for teachers being paid well and funding public education, but the more I listened to the debate and the particulars of the bill were revealed, the more I realized that the legislation itself wasn’t really about the things I had been told.

I will never forget sitting in that gallery and the sudden realization that I’d allowed myself to be a pawn in a political rally simply to get out of school for an afternoon. I even remembering watching the evening news and how the rally and the issues were described. The truth is, I hadn’t truly known what the issues really were, or why I was there. I vowed that day never to participate in anything like that again without being fully versed in the issues at stake and fully believing in the cause for which I marched.

In today’s chapter a riot breaks out in the city of Ephesus because Paul and the Jesus movement became a threat to the local trade union who made idols. Suddenly the Jews and the Tradesman, who would normally be antagonists (for what good Jew would support idolatry?) had a common political foe in Paul and the Jesus movement. A mob breaks out and  everyone in Ephesus runs to the local amphitheater to find out what’s going on.

Then Luke makes an astute observation: Most of the people did not even know why they were there.

Along my life journey I’ve observed just what lemmings human beings can be. My experience at the school rally and my studies of mass media have made me discerning regarding what I’m told and shown in the news as it relates to political rallies. Even as I worship among my local gathering of believers, I sometimes wonder how many truly come because they believe and how many are there because it’s what they were taught they should do by the family or societal systems that raised them.

Of course, I can’t control or even really know the motives of others, but I know and am responsible for myself. This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about the things I do each day, each week, and the events to which I give my time.

Do I even know why I am there?

 

The Fool Who Speaks Truth

But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die!”
Jeremiah 26:8 (NIV)

There is a device Shakespeare used in his plays in which the fool, the jester, or the lowly are the individuals who see and speak the truth while the high and mighty continue to live in their deceits and delusions. Great story tellers often use this device. There’s the simple, small Shire-folk who bring about the downfall of the Lord of the Rings, or the eccentric Professor Trelawney who spouts foolishness 99.9% of the time but on at least two rare occasions actually speaks a prophetic word (that she doesn’t even know she uttered). I’m sure you can think of others.

Today’s chapter in the anthology of Jeremiah’s prophetic works goes back in time to the early years of his career. Jeremiah goes to the Temple court and proclaims that God will destroy Jerusalem if the people don’t change their ways. His message of warning and doom is not well received. The leaders of the Temple and other prophets seize Jer in an attempt to kill him. A trial ensues. Even the King and the army want Jeremiah dead, just as they’d extradited and executed a similar prophet named Uriah.

Elders of the community defend Jeremiah, stating that there is plenty of precedent of prophets who spoke unpopular words but were not put to death for their message. A couple of high-ranking officials come to Jeremiah’s defense, and his life is spared.

Along my life journey I have learned that great stories echo wisdom of the Great Story. When emotions are high and “the crowd” is in an uproar (especially when stirred by those in institutional authority) I often perk up my ears to listen for a still, small, contrarian voice amidst the din. Throughout the Great Story I find that God’s messengers are typically unpopular with the crowd. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “You’re blessed when people revile and rebuke you – when they speak all manner of slander against you.”

This morning in the quiet I’m reminded that Truth is rarely popular. Jesus said that the road to Life is a narrow, dusty footpath. It isn’t particularly well-marked and the trek is challenging for the relative few who are willing to embark on the journey. By contrast, the super highway the crowd follows is an easy commute (though one typically has to deal with traffic jams). And so, at the beginning of another day I find myself pondering which path I will choose today. Which role will I choose to play in the Great Story? Am I, like Jeremiah, willing to play the role of “the wise fool” who speaks Truth?

I guess my answer will be revealed in the choices I make today.

 

The Bewitchment of “Group Think”

 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”
Numbers 13:31 (NIV)

In today’s chapter Moses sends out twelve men, one from each tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, come back with a report that the Hebrew tribes should press forward and conquer the land. The other ten spies reported exaggerated claims of giants living in the land whom the Hebrews could not defeat. Their report stoked fear in the hearts of the people.

It’s fascinating how susceptible the majority can be to “group think.” It happens to be the morning of All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, as I write this. Perhaps that’s why the ten spies swaying the nation of Hebrews with their exaggerated claims reminds me of a handful of schoolgirls convincing the people of their village that they saw upstanding members of the community in cahoots with the devil. Nineteen people were eventually hanged as a result of the Salem witch trials. It’s amazing how bewitching “group think” can be (pun absolutely intended).

The social psychologist Gustave Le Bon theorized that there were three stages of crowd think. A group of people submerge themselves in the collective whole, losing a sense of individual thought and responsibility. Individuals are then susceptible accept, without question, the contagion of popular thought within the group, opening themselves up to suggestion of different kinds. Even in a nation and culture that celebrates freedom of thought and speech we are prone to follow the crowd in all sorts of ways.

As an enneagram Type 4 I tend to be a fierce individualist. Nevertheless, this morning I’m reflecting back along my journey. It’s funny to think about fads, social trends, and popular thoughts I’ve observed and even found myself a part. The further I get in my journey the more desirous I am to think and act independently, rather than allow myself to be submerged in the bewitching trends of the group think of the moment. It’s hard to do. The unconscious draw of group think is often subtle and subconscious as it was for the ancient Hebrews, the puritans of Salem and still is today.

I’m preparing to deliver a message on Sunday morning and one of the key verses on which I’ve been meditating is this: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

God, grant me open eyes, open ears, perceptive spirit, and a mind increasingly renewed by Divine Truth and Lady Wisdom.

The Crowd

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

I have read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution countless times along my journey. It is packed with so many fascinating and meaningful moments that it’s hard to focus on one thing for a blog post like this. As I read a chapter each day I try simply to have my heart and mind open to what resonates most deeply with me in this moment, and this morning what resonated with me was the crowd.

Perhaps it’s because of the preponderance of media that gets focused on crowd events and all that we’ve witnessed in recent months and years. I’m thinking of all the marches, riots, demonstrations, and protests I’ve seen reported on the news and in social media recently. Whenever a crowd gathers it gets attention. We seem to have a lot of crowds.

There is a entire branch of sociology and psychology dedicated to understanding crowd (or mob) mentality. Interestingly enough, consensus among scholars is as hard to come by. I was intrigued, however, by the theory of Gustave Le Bon who boiled it down to three things:

  • Submergence: In the anonymity of the crowd individuals lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility.
  • Contagion: Having lost their sense of self, individuals unquestioningly follow the predominant ideas and emotions of the crowd.
  • Suggestion: Ideas and emotions of the crowd are primarily drawn from a shared racial unconscious, uncivilized in nature, and limited by the moral and cognitive abilities of its least capable members.

Three things came to mind as I thought about the crowd shouting for Jesus’ execution.

First is the fact that five days earlier the crowd was shouting “Hosanna” as praising Jesus as “king” as He entered Jerusalem. Now the crowd has been persuaded to shout for Jesus’ blood. Wow. That’s a major drop in approval rating in just five days. It’s amazing how fickle crowds can be.

Which leads me to remembering a passage from John’s biography of Jesus. In the second chapter we find that the crowd of people believing in Jesus and following Him was growing rapidly. Jesus was trending in all the major outlets. The crowds were growing and His popularity was skyrocketing, but John records that Jesus “would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people.”

Which is why, perhaps, Jesus continued to remain silent as He stood by Pilate and witnessed the crowd that had turned on Him. Wednesday’s post about silence and spiritual authority comes back to mind. What a contrast we see in this picture. The lone figure of Jesus standing silent, bloodied, yet resolute in His mission against the submergence and contagion of the crowd whipped into a frenzy at the suggestion of Jesus’ enemies.

This morning I’m reminded of my desire to follow Jesus’ wisdom as it relates to crowds. I need to avoid entrusting my self to any crowd. This applies even to seemingly good crowds, for I’ve witnessed and been prey to crowd mentality even in nice neighborhoods, churches, social groups and communities.

I want my life, my beliefs, and my daily decisions to be guided by something more solid than the ever shifting mentality and emotion of a crowd. I want to be wise and discerning as I watch the crowd mentality emerge and “trend” in my social groups and in the media (including Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media outlets). I want my life to be focused on my mission, my role, and my responsibilities. That’s hard to do if I am unwittingly submerging my thoughts, emotions and actions to the crowd around me.

 

Trending

Angry-Crowd

But with loud shouts [the crowd] insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. Luke 23:23 (NIV)

When I read this verse this morning, two other verses instantly popped into my head. The first was from just a few chapters ago, and from just a few days earlier in Jesus’ own life journey:

As [Jesus] went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What a difference a week makes. At the beginning of the week crowds were hailing Jesus as the new king coming to Jerusalem. By the end of the week crowds were shouting for his death so insistently that Pilate was forced to go against his better judgement and have Jesus crucified.

Crowds are fickle. Ask any celebrity or politician (is there a difference?) who surfs the waves of popularity. One day the public adores you, but in a moment they will turn. And, it doesn’t even take being guilty of something. It only takes gossip, rumor, and innuendo to quickly turn the tide of public sentiment against you.

Which brings me to another observation John makes in his biography of Jesus:

During the time [Jesus] was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.

Jesus knew not to trust in His trending popularity. He knew that He was ultimately be rejected. He knew the prophecies. He realized from the beginning that the crowds would ultimately turn against Him. More often than not He was trying to escape the crowds get away by Himself or with His inner circle.

I find it fascinating that in all of His teaching Jesus never made any public plea for followers. There were no membership drives. No information cards in the back of the synagogue to fill out, and no mailing lists. The truth is that there is as much, in not more, evidence of Jesus discouraging those who asked to follow Him than the opposite.

What I’ve come to realize in my own experience is that being a follower of Jesus is not about fame, it’s about faith. It’s not about celebrity, it’s about service. It’s never about recognition, but about repentance. It’s never about being lauded, but about loving sacrificially as we’ve been sacrificially loved.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 14

Matthias Stom's depiction of Jesus before Caia...
Image via Wikipedia

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

 Jesus said, “I Am.” Mark 14:60-62a (NLT)

The more you understand about the scene that unfolds in today’s chapter, the more amazing it is. The religious racketeers led by their own version of the Godfather, Caiaphas the high priest (who wasn’t really in charge – the real “don” was his father-in-law, Ananias), pull together a kangaroo court in the middle of the night. The trial itself broke their several of their own laws and reveals how desperate they were to deal with Jesus secretly and swiftly, before the public got wind of it.

When Jesus answered the high priest’s question with the word “I Am,” he was making far more than a simple admission. The word Jesus used was the Hebrew Yahweh, translated “I am who I am.” It is the name to which God referred to Himself in the burning bush when He spoke to Moses (Exodus 3). The Jewish people considered that name holy, and it was reserved only for God Himself. The name was so holy, in fact, that it was never to be uttered by human lips. When Jesus responded to the high priest’s question with the word “Yahweh” He was literally claiming for Himself the holy name of God, and with that admission He drew a line in the sand.

The response from the high priest was swift and showy. He tore his robe (a traditional act  to show how grievous of a blasphemous wrong he’d just witnessed) and immediately called for a verdict. By uttering that one word and claiming to be God, Jesus sealed his human fate. He was savagely beaten for his admission and led off to the one man in Jerusalem who could legally have Him executed. It was another political move by the high priest. If Caiaphas and the religious racketeers killed Jesus, the public would turn on them. By getting the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to sign the death order, they could point the finger of blame at him.

Today, what stands out for me as I read the chapter is the reality that the line in the sand remains two thousand years later. C.S. Lewis argued that with Jesus’ bold claim of being God, we find ourselves standing in the sandals of the religious leaders. Reason and logic dictate that Jesus was either a liar (He knew he wasn’t God but claimed to be), a lunatic (He thought he was God, but wasn’t), or Lord (He knew He was God, and was exactly who He claimed to be). As we read today’s chapter and consider the enormity of Jesus’ claim,  we each must each answer the high priest’s question: “What’s your verdict?”

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 14

Violence!
Image by Rickydavid via Flickr

But they went anyway; recklessly and arrogantly they climbed to the high hill country. But the Chest of the Covenant and Moses didn’t budge from the camp. The Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came out of the hills and attacked and beat them, a rout all the way down to Hormah. Numbers 14:44-45 (MSG)

This morning I think about the people of Israel acting “recklessly and arrogantly” as they go up to the hill country on their own, even though they were warned against it. As I look back in time, I can see times that I have acted in the same manner. Spurred on by misplaced passion, pride, or selfishness, I have many times acted rashly with little or no thought and prayer about my actions.

The results are generally disastrous.

Following the trail of emotion that is described, which led up to the Israelites rash decision, I see (in order):

Fear
Anger
Pessimism
Discontent
Mob Violence
Guilt
Shame
Sorrow
Fear

Such a range of emotions in such a short period of time. It’s not exactly a recipe for thoughtful, sound decision making.

Today, I’m reminded to be wise in my decisions and actions. Snap decisions and rash actions that emerge out of intense emotion are likely to prove foolish.

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