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A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Greetings Narrow Gate,

I pray you all are well and that you continue to love the Lord with all your heart. This is an exciting week, we are firing up Narrow Gate again. I want to thanks all of you who have volunteered. It's different, but that's not a bad thing. We'll be fellowshipping and loving God and each other. it's a good place to restart. Let's bathe this in prayer shall we?

I'm going to do something different today. I am going to extensively cite an old sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, entitled A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart. It is from his book of sermons titled Strength to Love. It's one of my favorites of Dr. King's and I have cited it often in the past, usually before and after elections. Hopefully, you'll understand at the end why I feel this is appropriate. I'll allow Dr. King's own words to set his premise. I'll paraphrase a little to cut down on time constraints. Then I'll draw my own conclusions at the end because this was written in 1963. Some things are different, some things are not. 

A French philosopher said, "No person is strong unless they bear within their character antithesis (opposites) strongly marked." The strong individual holds in a living blend of strongly marked opposites. Not ordinarily do people achieve this balance of opposites within. The idealists are not usually realistic, and the realists are not usually idealistic. The militant are not generally known to be passive, nor the passive to be militant. Seldom are the humble self-assertive, or the self-assertive humble. But life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony. The philosopher Hegel said that truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two. 

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance (uncooperative & difficult) of political officials and the intransigence (stubborn and uncompromising way) of the protectors of the old order. So, in Matthew 10:16, Jesus tells them,

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment. The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crusts of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning.

They have a strong austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.

Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of mankind's greatest needs. Rarely do we find people who willingly engage in hard solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. 

This prevalent tendency toward softmindedness is found in the human being's unbelievable gullibility. Take our attitude towards advertisements. We are easily led by advertisers claims. Advertisers have long since learned that most people are softminded, and they capitalize on this susceptibility with skillful and effective words and slogans.

This undue gullibility is also seen in the tendency of many TV viewers, radio listeners and readers of the print media. They accept the word of the press as final truth. Few people realize that even our authentic channels of information, the press on broadcast news, cable news, talk radio, and even the pulpit, in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truth. Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda. 

The softminded person fears change. The softminded feel a sense of security in the status quo, and they have an almost morbid fear of the new. For the softminded, the greatest pain can be the pain of a new idea. Doing things differently.

Softmindedness has invaded religion. People want to be told what to believe, or tell others what to believe. The interest to read the Bible and discover for oneself the truth is too difficult. This means that powers within the bureaucracies of the church fight to control truth and what actual is truth. The church argues over new versus old, new versus tradition, not what is truth. 

This has led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between the softminded and tough-minded in both groups, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which can be power, religion gives man wisdom which can be control. Science deals mainly with facts (when the figures can be believed), religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complimentary. Don't allow Satan to give you the bait of a false choice, choosing one over the other.

We do not need to look far to detect the dangers of softmindedness. Dictators, capitalizing on the softminded tendencies of mankind have led people into acts of barbarity and terror that are unthinkable in civilized society. Adolf Hitler realized that softmindedness was so prevalent among his followers that he said, "I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few." In his book Mein Kampf he asserted,

"By means of shrewd lies, (constantly) repeated, it is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell--and hell, heaven...The greater the lie, the more readily will it be believed."

Softmindedness is one of the basic causes of race prejudice. The tough-minded person always examines the facts before reaching a conclusion; in short, they postjudge. The softminded person reaches a conclusion before they have examined the facts; in short, they prejudge and are prejudiced.

There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice (of any kind), half-truths and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not allow us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation that continues to produce a softminded people purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.

But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heartTough-mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached. What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough-mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness.

The hardhearted person never truly loves. They value others mainly according to their usefulness to themselves. They miss the beauty of friendship because they are too cold to feel affection for another and too self-centered to share another's joy and sorrow. They are isolated islands unto themselves. No outpouring of love links them to the mainland of humanity.

The Hardhearted individual lacks the capacity for genuine compassion and empathy. They are unmoved by the pains and afflictions of their brothers and sisters. They never see people as people, but rather as mere objects or impersonal cogs in an ever-turning wheel. Mankind is for industry or mankind is for cannon fodder, the hardhearted depersonalize life itself.

Jesus frequently illustrated the characteristics of the hardhearted. The rich fool was condemned, not because he was not tough-minded, but because he was not tenderhearted. Life for him was a mirror in which he saw only himself, and not a window through which he saw others. 

In the story about Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man went to hell, not because he was wealthy, but because he was not tenderhearted enough to see Lazarus and because he made no attempt to bridge the gulf between himself and his brother.

Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove. To have serpent like qualities devoid of dove like qualities is to be passionless, mean and selfish. To have dove like qualities without serpent like qualities is to be sentimental, anemic and aimless. Jesus is teaching us that we must combine the two. 

Soft-minded acquiescence is cowardly. We must understand that to passively accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil. There are among us today, hardhearted and bitter individuals, who would combat their opponent with physical violence and a corroding hatred. Violence only brings temporary victories.; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, NEVER BRINGS PERMANENT PEACE.

I (Dr. King) am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation of violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos. A Voice, echoing through the corridors of time, says to every (unbridled and reckless) Peter, "Put down the sword". History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow Christ's command.

Some obvious and not so obvious Conclusions:

* While written during the civil rights movement in the 60s, this sermon has legs, meaning: it is still applicable to our society and everyone in our society at this very moment.

Tough-mindedness is desirable, softmindedness is not. To become tough-minded requires work: investigating and learning, acquiring knowledge and wisdom and discerning the content. It's a responsibility of the believer to know and read their Bible. It's the responsibility of the citizen understand the framework of our law and how and why it works. Only the fool surrenders their responsibility as a believer or as a citizen. We are responsible for our own thoughts and actions. Don't ever allow others to think for you. This is why Jesus died for you. You have direct access to the Father. 

Tenderheartedness is desirable, hardheartedness is not. To become Tenderhearted requires work: Loving and listening, feeling and caring. It's a responsibility of the believer and the citizen to love their neighbor. To do otherwise is to attempt to capitalize on our neighbors failures. We are only as good as the least among us. No matter how good we think we are.

* We all must be careful in how we search out truth. Blind faith to God or to a political party is not desirable. Jesus doesn't care about our political party. Jesus wants our hearts. However, Jesus does not want a hardhearted blind faith. That's a lip service kind of faith. Jesus wants our hearts, our love. Be shrewd as serpents about what you believe. Be shrewd as serpents about who you believe.

* If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you are called to love your neighbor no matter their political party. Hate has nothing to do with this.

* Reread Dr. King's words on violence at the end. Does it not reverberate through the ages. Do we not sense the waste and futility of the current violence in our streets. Dr. King has been proved correct by time. We are entering into a long and desolate night of bitterness and chaos. This must change or we will continue to enter this long night of darkness as a nation.

* To be shrewd as a serpent and tender like a dove, each of us must vote. 

Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. 


Thad Brown

Opportunity House

and Harmony UMC

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