Fortress is our Mentality
Testament Reading: Psalm 122:1-9
Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
The world is wide and
deep. Deeper than any line can sound. More expansive than any telescope
can reach. More curious than any philosopher can account for. Yet it seems
you and I must have some sort of map of reality inside our heads to be
able to get through life. Of course it need not be very accurate.
It may be like one of
those crude-looking maps of the medieval geographers: they showed the
known world in some reasonable detail, more accurately closer to the
cartographer's home territory, and more fanciful the further toward the
margins you went. Finally, at the extremes, these maps showed monsters and
freaks inhabiting unknown continents, cataracts off the edges of the flat
In the same way, we
probably have as much of the territory of life as we traverse each day
covered pretty well, but when it comes to the marginal experiences of
life, like tragedy or ecstasy, we don't quite know where we are, much less
how to get there from here!
I guess the real danger
is the insecurity that bids us imagine there is nothing beyond the
everyday world of our experience: no moral ambiguities, no spiritual
realities, no people with radically different values.
If this is so, if we have
painted ourselves into a corner so that our world-view is as small and
distorted as the world was on those medieval maps, there is a name for it:
There is another name for
it: the fortress mentality. Psychologists contribute yet a third
handy name for it: premature closure.
The idea is that you have
decided too soon that there is a place for everything and have
sought too soon to force everything into one of the few places you know.
To be realistic, you ought to hold certain questions open a bit longer.
You ought to hold your options open for a while. But you just can't live
with the ambiguity.
"Does he love me or not?
Rather than give him time to decide, I will force the issue, because I
have to know!" "Does God exist or not? I can't take the time to give the
issue an exhaustive consideration, so I will just make a leap of faith.
And then call it a greater virtue than rational consideration!"
You have met people with
a fortress mentality, dogmatists, bull-headed types, ideologues of one or
another stripe. And there may be as many reasons for their building their
barricades as there are people huddled defensively behind them.
Often people in so-called
cults first joined up because an evangelistic recruiter approached them at
a stressful time in their lives and offered a quick fix solution in
the form of a dogma or a mantra that works like a potent tranquilizer. The
new zealot can never be persuaded to let go as long as he fears the
monster of insecurity still crouches at the door waiting for him. He can
never be rationally persuaded to leave the cult because rationality
had nothing to do with his reasons for joining.
Say, this isn't why you
became a Christian, is it?
Then again, some people
may simply be tired of the search for truth, and they've just decided to
settle on the latest candidate they interviewed. (A student in one of my
classes at Montclair State told me this very thing just the other night,
only hours after I'd written this sermon!) To challenge their belief would
raise the spectre of intellectual effort that they've gladly put aside for
good. Remember last week? I suggested that some will stick to a belief, no
matter how wildly and obviously erroneous, because they cannot stand the
pain of admitting they were so wrong. How much apologetics is just
face-saving? I suspect I a great deal.
I have, as I usually do,
been slanting my remarks toward the intellectual side of existence
(stubborn adherence to unlikely opinions), but don't you realize that
there are emotional fortress mentalities, too?
Like when you decide
because you were once (or many times) unlucky in love, you will never
succeed in it. That if you were disappointed professionally, you will
never succeed there either.
If you are so convinced
that the future is predestined to be like the past, you have an
attitudinal fortress mentality. No ray of hope can penetrate the dark
battlements of your castle!
But do you know the
problem with a fortress mentality? For one thing, of course, it is not
true to reality, any more than those distorted medieval maps were. But
beyond this, there are practical dangers. First, your fortress may become
a prison, trapping you inside. You may need to grow and expand beyond
what you once thought were roomy accommodations. I think of the Great Wall
of China, or the wall the Romans built in Britain to keep out the Picts.
The Imperial authorities bought themselves some safety by building those
walls, true, but they also foreclosed their options for future expansion.
A person who loves you
may appear, seeking entry, but you are convinced you are unlovely and will
drive her away. New facts or ideas may show you how your religious
dogmatism simply cannot handle the data, but you are trapped. "So much for
the facts!" you say, as you retreat to blind faith or some other lame
excuse. And your faith cannot grow, as it must if it is to remain alive!
Second, suppose your
erstwhile enemies become your friends? You will never even know, because
you are ready to shoot when you see the whites of their eyes! You will
never let them get close enough to the barricades to pow-wow. If the war
is over, you will never know it.
I think there is such a
danger in the current world situation, if we do not move rapidly to junk
the nuclear stockpiles of the United States and the Soviet Union. We are
not enemies anymore! We should be allies, as the new Soviet foreign
minister said last Sunday. But if we continue in outmoded patterns and
speak only of "gradual reductions of levels of nuclear weapons," our
negotiations will presuppose a suspicion and a hostility that no longer
exist -- but which will again exist because of our keeping to the old
Are we and the Soviets
merely enemies who do not distrust each other quite so much as we did, or
aren't we new friends? If we are the latter, then let's start acting like
it, lest we forget and assume the old roles out of habit.
Third, your fortress may
become a Maginot Line pointed at you! I'm sure you remember your
history: after the Great War France built a mighty wall along its border
with Germany. The wall, the brainchild of General Maginot, bristled with
cannons aimed at the Germans. But it was immediately out of date, thanks
to old thinking that would not change with the times. When the next war
began, the Germans easily overran the Maginot Line and turned the guns on
It could happen to you!
The fortress you build to keep out emotional risks or dangerous ideas is
brittle! It will fall before the assault of life's challenges! And what
was meant to protect you will fall on you, crushing you in its ruins!
I have known many
Christians in my time who used Jesus Christ as the cornerstone for their
fortress mentality, their Maginot Line. The One who is the Truth became a
bulwark against any unwelcome truth.
The evangelistic crusade
just past seems to me to promote just this sort of Christianity, one that
blesses emotional abdication and retreat behind walls of pious
irresponsibility. One which seeks to escape modernity behind a barrier of
medievalism. I do not relish the sight of seeing the tearful masses coming
forward to accept the Grand Inquisitor as their personal savior.
But I can relish the
crusade in which the Apostle Paul was engaged, with keen-edged truth
glittering like a sword in right fist and left!
Look at the imagery Paul
uses. For him is Christ the foundation of a fortress mentality? No! Just
the opposite! Christ for Paul is a battering ram to shake down the walls
of mental fortresses!
You are comfortably
ensconced, you think, behind the walls of your castle, like the doomed
Belshazzar within the fortifications of Babylon. You smile indulgently at
the seeming impotence of the forces without as you reach for another
goblet of smug self-assurance. But as you lift it to your lips, you hear
the far-off sounds, as of Cyrus the Persian, knocking, knocking on the
fortress gates. Only this time it is Christ -- and he is coming for
He comes to smash the
complacency of your tidy but inadequate belief system. He batters down the
wall of emotional insecurities and personal fears that shields you only
from new hopes, new chances, new love and liberty. Christ means to smash
your bastions to rubble and leave you standing alone, exposed to the four
winds of change, of renewal, of encounter, of truth.
Because he knows that
otherwise, your fortress will imperceptibly become your mausoleum!
And maybe it already has!
Perhaps what Christ must do, and can do, is to call you forth, like
Lazarus, from your chosen tomb.
vulnerability. We become liable to have our precious theologies overturned
if we are open to new truth. Liable to new disappointments if we allow
ourselves to be open to love and hope. And these are precisely the shocks
we built our fortresses to escape! What can Christ erect in their place?
Only his cross! It is,
to be sure, a slim barricade. But it is enough. There can be no security
in this world. The secret is to seek one's ultimate security beyond it,
in what grounds it, in the grace of God, the love of Christ, that abides
any storm, that remains when the arm of flesh sooner or later fails us.
Nothing can separate us from that love and that grace! Not persecution,
peril, famine, sword! Not doubt, despair, nor disbelief! And least of all
can our own carefully built fortresses separate us from him! They cannot
keep him out! Christ assaults our walls! Like Jericho, they will collapse.
But precisely in this defeat we are more than conquerors because it is
Christ who conquers us!
Copyright©2009 by Robert
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