“Now Jephthah of Gilead was a great warrior. He was the son of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute.” Judges 11:1
Jephthah was an ancient warrior whose mother was a prostitute. Even though his mother was a woman of the night, Jephthah still grew up with his father and half brothers. His brothers, like so many kids, would jeer and bully Jephthah over his shameful past, eventually chasing him away from home.
Shortly after Jephthah was driven from home by his hateful brothers, he rebelled and hung out with a lot of other low-lifes. Apparently Jephthah was under the mistaken impression that because he had a shameful past, he needed to hang out with other shameful characters. But others saw something in Jephthah that he didn’t even see in himself. The elders of his community approached him about leading their army into battle against their enemies, and in exchange they would make Jephthah their ruler.
Jephthah was likely conflicted and distrusting of the very community that had caused him so many emotional wounds, but he agreed to the offer. And in spite of his shameful past, Jephthah became a national hero by defeating the enemies of Israel.
But if you read the entire story of Jephthah, you find out that there was a reason for his success. It wasn’t simply that Jephthah pulled himself up by his bootstraps, or he became a “self-made” man, or he went to classes on how to overcome low self-esteem. Rather, Jephthah was empowered by the “Spirit of the Lord” and through God’s direct intervention and guidance, Jephthah accomplished great things for God, and others were rescued and blessed. And because Jephthah turned and yielded himself to God, he overcame his shameful past.
You and I may not directly identify with Jephthah’s past, but if we’re honest, we may struggle with our own shameful pasts, some that were thrust upon us, and others that were of our own making.
Like Jephthah, too many choose a life of rebellion. They try to run from their past. They even engage in destructive behaviors, thinking that such activity will soothe or remove the shame they carry. But none of those choices will lead to freedom from the guilt that we chose to carry and embrace. Rather, only through the “Spirit of the Lord” indwelling us, as He did with Jephthah, will we ever truly be free from our guilt and our pasts.
While you and I may never be a national hero, we can chose to embrace the same God that transformed Jephthah’s life, and in so doing, we can be a blessing to others who may be struggling with their own shameful pasts.
“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14
“So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:36
Have you ever found yourself in a deep cavern or in a valley surrounded by mountains? If so, you’ve probably played the echo game, where you shout loudly and hear your returning echo. We’ve all done it. And what we hear back is exactly what we yelled.
Nothing new. Nothing extraordinary. Just the same message we uttered moments earlier.
Imagine for a minute though that listening to your echo was the only form of communication in which you engaged. Not only would your subject matter be limited and grow redundant over time, but you would never learn anything new. The content of your echo would be limited to the extent of your own knowledge and understanding. Soon your mind would begin to atrophy from the lack of new knowledge or truths. I call this the Echo Chamber syndrome.
As I observe our society, and have pondered my own behavior at times, I have seen Echo Chambers dominating our culture, often amplified on social media. They are formed based on one’s ideological, political or religious views. Our nation has become so divided that we have segregated ourselves into subgroups whose values, views and perspectives are seldom at odds with our own.
This Echo Chamber syndrome reveals several truths which are not only alarming, but are contributing to an increasingly divided and hostile culture.
1. Echo Chambers eliminate the potential for any outside ideas or solutions. We already know that yelling in a cavern returns the precise message as the one you uttered. So if you’re looking for new ideas or solutions to the problems you are facing, you will get none. Instead, the solutions within your Echo Chamber will be limited by your own ideological perspectives. Perhaps you’re ok with that, thinking that those outside your little tribe couldn’t possibly offer anything of value. But if you possess that view, then you have just validated the next truth about Echo Chambers.
2. Echo Chambers are elitist in nature and pose the ultimate example of arrogance and superiority. As I’ve engaged with folks on both sides of the ideological fence, including conservatives and liberals. I’ve found that they share very similar attitudes. First, they believe their perspectives are superior to all others. Period. No other view counts. Second, folks on both sides of the ideological fence view anyone outside their belief system with skepticism and disdain. Third, they posit that those who are outside the confines of their little chamber are inferior and not even worth getting to know. It’s as if the other side has a contagious disease and we must not have any contact with them, at least not in the context of an engaging dialogue. But that attitude leads to the next truth about Echo Chambers.
3. Echo Chambers reject the idea that we can “reason together” and find areas of common ground. Individuals who spend their lives in an Echo Chamber indirectly affirm the idea that sharing time with those who have differing views is hazardous to one’s own ideology. They believe that there is no common ground with millions of individuals on the “other side.” Period. So why waste one’s time even attempting to do so? But embracing this flawed thinking leads to another sad truth of Echo Chambers.
4. Echo Chambers discourage the forging of new relationships with those outside our little network. If conversations foster relationships, which in turn grow trust, there is no wonder that our nation is so divided. The mistrust is at an alarming level. And yet, there is a rather simple solution to breaking down those walls of distrust. Conversations. And no I’m not talking about everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Conversations can oftentimes expose areas of absolute disagreement, but, if done in a respectful manner, simply having the dialogues can increase respect for each other. As that occurs, relationships begin to form. But without relationships, this next reality of an Echo Chamber, perhaps the saddest, will prevail.
5. Echo Chambers are completely ineffective for sharing truth to those without the truth. If you believe you have the truth, whether it is the political ideology you embrace, or even the spiritual faith you practice, there is no greater way to hide that truth than to remain in an Echo Chamber. Those in your little chamber already have the truth as you see it. And so to remain in your little tribe results in many others never coming to know the truth. This verse in Scripture reminds me of this reality: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15) If you want your truth to be heard, then get outside your Echo Chamber and share it with those who have yet to hear or understand it.
I can already hear some saying, “yeah but the ideas of the other side are not only wrong, they are dangerous.” For a moment let’s assume that is correct. The “other side” is no doubt comprised of a few leaders and many followers. It’s likely that the leaders are incapable of changing their dogma. But the followers are less assured and may be willing to entertain sound arguments, particularly if they are presented in a safe and engaging dialogue, that is shared within a growing relationship. Those followers will never hear your truth if you regurgitate your message in your little Echo Chamber.
So for the sake of expanding your understanding of truth, and your own mental growth, I encourage you to exit your Echo Chamber. Begin making a difference by developing relationships that are based on mutual respect and honest dialogue. As you do this, I believe it can break down the walls that have served to divide us all. And who knows, you may even find that your perspectives were not so flawless after all.