Failure to Adapt

It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. (Revelation 13:16)

Some time ago, a colleague was reminiscing about his military service overseas when he was a young man. Due to various circumstances, he was discharged for “failure to adapt to the system.” That brought to mind the stories I’ve been reading about Ibram Kendi’s youthful years. Quite intentionally, the young Kendi failed to adapt to the system of racism in our country, and ended up writing his book about it.

It also makes me think about Jesus, who also failed to adapt to the system. In those days, there were two systems that people had to consider: the Jewish laws and traditions, and the Roman laws and traditions. Some said Jesus failed to adapt to the Jewish system because he ate with sinners and tax collectors, touched lepers when he wasn’t supposed to, and threw the money changers out of the temple. Others said Jesus failed to adapt to the Roman system because he couldn’t be trapped into acknowledging the divinity of Caesar.

I also think about the apostle Paul who established churches throughout the Mediterranean and wrote some of the letters we have in the New Testament. Although he was a student of the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel, he failed to adapt to the Jewish tradition of requiring his church members to be observant and to be circumcised.

Throughout history and civilization, there have always been social systems maintained by relatively small groups of powerful individuals who mandate certain ideas, traditions, and behaviors in the name of “social order.” And throughout history and civilization, there have always been individuals who have failed to adapt to the system, recognizing the system as oppressive, unjust, and unequal. Some have paid with their lives for refusing to adapt to the system.

Personally, I wish for a peaceful and orderly world. I wish to live happy and free. But if I would also wish these things for everyone in our country, then I would have to recognize that there is a reason that some courageous individuals fail to adapt to the system. There is always a price that has to be paid for adapting to the system, but if it costs my integrity, dignity, faith, and humanity, then perhaps the price is too great; perhaps I also need to fail to adapt to the system. But I have already adapted to the system. Now all I can do is listen, learn, and ask God to open my eyes and heart.

Rev. Dr. David Kaiser-Cross
Executive Minister

For our country:
Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Abraham Lincoln, Washington D.C., March 4, 1801