by Michael Bos
Long ago there were ten people with no plan who changed the world. They began a new religious order without a strategic plan, timeline, SWAT analysis, or brand position. Their vision was simply to “help souls,” and their motto was “more,” to strive for something greater. Within forty years of their founding they grew from ten members to five thousand and had established one hundred Christian colleges. This is the story of Ignatius Loyola and the group who founded the Society of Jesus. Chris Lowney describes their history in Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World.
More surprising than their inauspicious beginning is that one of the foundations to their spiritual approach is the virtue of indifference—not something we often think of as a Christian virtue. In fact, if you Google “indifference” and “Bible,” you will find many entries railing against the sin of indifference. Yet in the mind of Ignatius, it was the secret sauce to their spirituality. He believed that it is only in being indifferent to all created things that we can be open to God…and open to change. Indifference is what allows us to be balanced like a scale in equilibrium, ready to weigh all options and alternatives before us.
This has me wondering. Amidst a Christianity that values commitment, conviction, resoluteness, and single-mindedness, where is the virtue that keeps us open to change? Where is the virtue that keeps us balanced? Can we become so attached to our viewpoints, which are part of the world of created things, that we no longer are open to others? Can we become so passionate about our positions that we no longer have the balance and equilibrium to hear others?
In an increasingly polarized society, including within our churches and denominations, we seem to be missing the secret sauce of spirituality: indifference. If we could strive to become indifferent to all but our devotion to Christ, it may provide the freedom to listen and learn from one another. It may provide the freedom to live, love and serve God.
The goal of indifference is not apathy toward the world or a renunciation of material goods. It is simply what frees us from created things so that we are able to explore and pursue that which draws us all closer to God.
P.S. I hope you are indifferent about this post.
You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shimmering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.
But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.
You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Michael Bos is a pastor, author and interfaith proponent. He is senior minister of West End Collegiate Church and president of The Collegiate Churches of New York. He and his coauthor, Dr. William Sachs, have recently published A Church Beyond Belief: The Search for Belonging and the Religious Future, and Fragmented Lives: Finding Faith in an Age of Uncertainty.