I know I promised that in my next post we would start going through what's called "the Sermon" in the Sayings Gospel Q. However, a friend sent me a video that is so applicable to our larger discussion here that I couldn't pass up doing a post about it. Furthermore, it features a principle that is virtually the central theme of the Sermon.
The video is a wonderful piece produced by NPR. It's just eight minutes long. It tells the story of a celebratory dinner that was terrifyingly interrupted by a robber with a gun. You can read the story here and watch the video below. In fact, before going on, please go ahead and watch the video now. And make sure you watch to the very end, so that you hear the comments of the psychologist Christopher Hopwood.
The story is almost too good to be true, yet it clearly is true. We hear from some of the actual participants, and even though it ends on a note that is almost out of this world, it is full of entirely realistic elements (like trying to shame the man with the question of what his mother would think).
The central feature of the story is what NPR calls "flipping the script," and what psychologist Chris Hopwood calls "noncomplementarity." Noncomplementarity is a word coined by psychologists to describe behavior that does not mirror or complement the behavior the person has just received. Generally, we behave in kind: if someone is warm to us, we respond warmly in return. Another form is that if someone is submissive, we behave dominantly, and vice versa. Noncomplementarity, however, involves not behaving in kind. The focus in this story is on warm and generous behavior in response to aggressive and threatening behavior.
One thing I find especially interesting about this principle is the examples they cite: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. What I find so interesting about that is that, as we saw back in Week 7 of the Mustard Seed Foundations series, both of them traced their noncomplementarity back to Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount (which is basically an expansion of the Sermon in Q).
I believe that Jesus is this world's greatest teacher and exemplar of noncomplementarity. In fact, a number of years ago, based on the teachings of Jesus, I coined my own term for this same basic principle: non-reciprocity. Back in 2005 I taught a class in Sedona for the Circle of Atonement on non-reciprocity, citing both teachings in A Course in Miracles and the following teachings from the gospels:
Don’t react violently against the one who is evil: when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. (Mt 5:39-41)
If you have money, don’t lend it at interest. Rather, give it to someone from whom you won’t get it back. (Thomas 95:1-2)
Love your enemies. (Lk 6:27, Mt 5:44)
If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? After all, even sinners love those who love them. Tell me, if you love those who love you, why should you be commended for that? Even the toll collectors do as much, don’t they? (Lk 6:32, Mt 5:46)
Interestingly, all of these teachings are found in the Sermon in Q. The saying from Thomas 95 is not explicitly from Q, but it is closely mirrored by Q 6:30: "To the one who asks of you, give; and from the one who borrows, do not ask back what is yours."
To be a follower of Jesus, then, means to be devoted to demonstrating noncomplementarity. Obviously, this principle transcends Jesus and transcends religious teaching of any kind. Yet there is something unmistakably otherworldly about it. It feels like the intrusion of a loftier, more sublime order into this dog-eat-dog world. That is why, at the end of the story told in the video, one of the participants says "This was like a miracle. It was like a miracle." The NPR host questions that and suggests that there is a better word: noncomplementarity. Yet I would say that noncomplementarity is a miracle. It is the miracle we need to heal this world.
I would love to hear your own stories of noncomplementarity. Actually, what I would especially love is this: a story of noncomplementarity that comes after you read this post. I would like to challenge all of us to consciously choose noncomplementarity in at least one difficult situation. It may help to read this article that links from the NPR story. It opens with a nice little example of noncomplementarity. Once you have your own example, please share it with the rest of us here.