“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Philippians 2:5-7
Right away, the reading reminds me of a part of the movie, “The Last Samurai.” Tom Cruise is playing a turn-of-the-century American cavalry soldier who had witnessed the carnage that Native Americans received from U.S. troops in the west. But he’s signed on to come to imperial Japan to train a new, modern government military who will usher in an industrial age. The wealthy in Japan wanted to emulate the Americans by building railroads and telegraphs, and eradicating ancient cultural practices that might hinder their development, like the samurai. The samurai still saw it as their duty to protect the Emperor, with their very professional dedication to sword, spear, horse, and bow; but industrialists with rifle-bearing soldiers wanted them eliminated. In the mix, Tom Cruise’s character is captured by the samurai and grows to love their culture, so he finds himself learning their ways.
He’s hated by the samurai, because during an initial confrontation he killed one of their own; so the American gets beat up every kind of way as he tries to pick up on their swordsmanship. They use lessons with wooden swords, and even though he’s a cavalryman he just cannot learn to be as quick and natural as they are. Then a friend of his among the samurai comes up to him to give him advice here:
I love the advice. I love it for non-samurai-sword-fight settings, like every day. We, many of us, know what it is to be divided of mind or to over-think or over-do something. In a way, I think it’s all the result of our two-sided human brains. Take a look at the right. We have the left side that focuses on analysis, math and science, language, in other words things with ordered parts and rules; the things you think through. On the right side we have the creative and intuitive stuff; the things you just know or feel.
Think about trying to learn a new skill to play a sport, like baseball. Your left-brain helps in the early days as you’re taught rules and fundamentals, when you’re following the steps to hitting a ball: feet spaced shoulder-width apart, shoulders pointed at the pitcher, bat cocked over your shoulder with elbows up, eye on the ball, step into the swing, use your hips, lead with your hands, and follow-through. But over time, and practice, it’s your right-brain that just feels what’s working, and what feels good. It’s what naturally kicks in to just execute in a fluid motion; and it’s where all of this knowledge is stored in between practices (or even after years without playing) so that you can pick the bat right back up and go to work.
Some of us, we know, lean towards one side of our brains or the other, or get mixed up with both. But we need both, and we really need both in a kind of unison. I think for me, and many of us, it’s hard to put in the left-brain work of learning, and then later it’s hard to let go and let our right-brains do what’s started to come natural. I think some of this is what Tom Cruise was battling to try to become samurai. “No mind” doesn’t mean we’re mindless zombies, but I think it means we focus, let go, live in the moment, be our natural selves, and go to work. Later in the film, we see that the American has mastered what it is to wield his sword with “no mind.” It saves his life from three attackers, like this:
A good mix of analysis and intuition, letting his brain fire at the speed of light so that he can coordinate his defense. Awesome (sorry, if it’s too violent for you). So now you can wonder when we’re getting back to Philippians and what samurai sword-killing has to do with Jesus. Just this: Jesus knew good and well who he truly was. He was laser-focused on it, and it was like he just did it naturally. Even though according to Paul it wasn’t easy; this was God in the flesh, so we can imagine how hard it would be not to just bust out and use that God-power to light things up sometimes. But he didn’t. He humbled himself, and suffered and died. He was slave-like. That’s something only he could do. He did it with great love for all, but without much regard for what others thought of him. He did it intending to create followers, and leave behind a Gospel attractive to as many of us as possible; but not at the sacrifice of his substance or the heart of his message about the kingdom. He did not live with “too many mind.” I see a Jesus who is calculating and wise, but intuitive and natural, and above all humble.
This is the example Paul tells us to follow. It sounds nearly impossible, but it’s what we should run after. If God himself didn’t grapple with showing how God-like he was, then why do we waste so much of ourselves trying to be God-like? We live with divided minds, and it leaves us unable to react with enough speed to survive sometimes; it leaves us unable to handle the multi-faceted task we are called to; it leaves us concerned about what others think, and how well we’re doing, and what might happen, and…and…. The easier way is to follow Jesus’ way. Today, we can empty ourselves. We can lay down our pride. We can define ourselves in God alone. We can be slaves in service to our Lord, and our brothers and sisters. It might just turn out to be the most logical, natural way for us to live. So, go and try it.