By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Every summer the Hird family goes away on a BC Christian Ashram retreat to Sumas Mountain. The United Christian Ashram movement was founded in 1930 by Dr. E. Stanley Jones in India. As a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Jones wrote twenty-eight books that sold millions, including Christ of the Indian Road and Abundant Living. As the most widely read spiritual author during his lifetime, Jones left a remarkable impact that is rapidly increasing in our social media world. Jones’ short aphorisms are very quotable, being often reposted on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
For the last year, I have been rereading Jones’ book The Way to Power and Poise. Jones memorably warns us against the herd: “If we are herd-centered people, then we are insecure, for the herd is fickle and may quickly change.” Teenagers, when facing peer pressure, are often tempted to be herd-centered. When we give up self to the herd, we lose identity, focus and creativity. The desire to be popular and to fit in can be very deadly. It takes courage to be ourselves. Jones taught that if we are dominated by the herd, we are doomed by the herd – doomed to a life of up and downness.
There are four possible attitudes, said Jones, to the herd urge. We can 1) withdraw from the herd 2) defy the herd 3) succumb to the herd or 4) surrender the herd to God and then live within it.
The problem with the first attitude of withdrawal is that we are left in isolation and eccentricity. All forms of separation, segregation or apartheid backfire upon themselves. Emotional cut-off solves nothing. We are called to be in the herd but not of the herd.
The second attitude of defying the herd leaves us on the defensive. As Jones put it, you cannot live constantly objecting without becoming objectionable. Defensiveness is negative and self-defeating. Healthy people do not define themselves by what they are opposed to.
The third attitude of succumbing to the herd, said Jones, robs you of your voice: “you are an echo; you don’t act; you only react; you are not a person but a thing.” Mindless conforming is ultimately deforming. Giving up self to the herd leaves us flat and empty. Mob mentality, as with the 2011 Vancouver Canuck riot, is rooted in the herd mentality. Many young people going to that Canuck game had no idea how destructive they would become.
The fourth attitude, said Jones, is to break the dominance of the herd by surrendering the herd to God. Then we cease to be people-pleasers and become God-pleasers instead. We become people who have the courage to speak, to risk, to be different. Bullies and dictators no longer control us. When God is God instead of the herd, then we receive a peace that passes all understanding. We become non-anxious catalysts that change our families, workplaces and herds.
Only when we let go and let God can the herd become healthy. The herd will drain you of life and energy, if you let it. The herd is never satisfied. You can never do enough to please the herd. Jesus gives you the ability to transform the herd into a thing of beauty. Say no to the herd, and yes to life.
To learn more about the BC Christian Ashram retreat, click on the following link.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
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