Cultivating Understanding in a Severely Divided Society

Some say that everyone wants to be understood. Whether we all agree or not is secondary, and frankly, not a realistic goal to pursue. Seeking to understand, on the other hand, strengthens relational bonds and breaks down our black-and-white view of the world. At times, however, efforts to bring attention to common ground or highlight shared values often patronize one side and hold up the other, on every issue. An article you may find in a conservative magazine entitled something like “Understanding LGBTQ+ Activism” would no doubt subtly patronize members of that community and assume superiority in this area of disagreement. On the other side, a liberal article about “Understanding the Pro-Life Side” may softly treat members of this community like anti-science, unloving fear-mongers, or perhaps worse, naïve and ignorant children. Before we can seek to understand, we must put aside our differences and our subtle (and not-so-subtle) jabs at what we deem as the wrong side.

“Putting aside our differences” does not mean that we pretend that they are not important. For goodness’ sake, political and personal issues are important. If you’re a believer in global warming, your belief is that we are ruining this planet for the animals today and our great-great-grandchildren tomorrow–that’s not a small issue. If you’re pro-life, you believe that millions of pain-experiencing children, full of potential and innocence, have been killed wrongly in the womb. If you’re a gay rights activist, you believe teens and adults are pointlessly being excluded from their homes and their communities, all for the sake of an archaic value system. If you’re an advocate for religious freedom, you believe that religious adherents are being criticised and often forced to do things they shouldn’t really have to do. If you’re an anti-gun activist, you believe that fewer lives would be lost and this society would be safer if we simply banned (or severely restricted) guns.

Global warming, abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedom, and the 2nd amendment are all important issues that must be discussed in a functioning society, but when we let these issues divide us, we only create more problems. Anger, mistrust, hatred, and disrespect arise. Instead of a passionate, caring discussion about the topics that matter to us most, we divulge into arguments that (if we’re being honest) never change anyone’s mind. In fact, some say these arguments only cement our preconceived notions into our minds, so what does that help?

A common refrain you may hear from politicians or activists is that we must “find common ground.” I don’t even believe in that, because honestly, it can be quite difficult with some people, and we make a mistake if we believe it’s necessary to love and connect. A staunched pro-gay, pro-abortion, stereotypical liberal can love and appreciate a rigid anti-LGBT, pro-life, stereotypical conservative. All it takes is understanding.

How do we cultivate understanding, even with people whose ideas we are adamantly against? It starts with respect, which is why the aforementioned condescension is so unhelpful. When we acknowledge that others have reached their own separate opinion through (usually) valid thought processes, we take the first step of respect. Instead of writing off our opponents as hateful, ignorant, thoughtless, or idiotic, we see a bigger picture and recognize that justifiable thoughts, past experience, firm convictions, and concern for their world brought about these opinions.

Often, it isn’t enjoyable to see the world in the full color that it is. We would rather see it in black and white, neatly packed into boxes of right and wrong, and good and bad. While I must affirm the existence of right and wrong, and good and bad, I will clarify that mere humans cannot be simplified to such terms. We are not characters in a children’s novel; we are complicated, messy, intricate.

Seeking to understand does not mean downplaying, ignoring, or putting away differences. And it certainly doesn’t mean coming to an agreement. Lots of people feel that to change their opinion on certain issues would sacrifice their belief system, and I don’t believe that’s necessary, because it doesn’t stand in the way of kindness. A Christian can love a gay person, while believing their actions are wrong. A pro-choice advocate can love a Catholic friend, while believing that abortion is not murder. And a gun safety activist can love their gun-toting neighbor, while believing that guns are unwise. We don’t need to hold hands and pretend we all agree, or ignore our convictions. We must only seek to understand by respecting and loving others.

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Anchors: an exploration of self-love, toxic people, and Jesus

If the entirety of your life is to give happiness to yourself, then it’s a pretty meaningless life. Isn’t it? Some people seem to have another view. You, it appears, should be placed at the center of the Universe.

Love who you are, embrace who you are. Love yourself. When you love yourself, people can kind of pick up on that: they can see confidence, they can see self-esteem, and naturally, people gravitate towards you. – Lilly Singh, YouTube personality

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. – Lucille Ball, American actress and comedienne

Is there a bit of truth in this? Sure. (Maybe a little.) And I realize that these quotes address millions of people (across many generations) who really just don’t like themselves, and that’s sad. To loathe oneself can be an exhausting and depressing habit. But the cure for self-loathing or self-annoyance has never been (and will never be, no matter how much people preach it) “self-love.” Or, perhaps as a better term, self-obsession. There is a time for introspection, of course. And you’ll notice that much of what I believe on this is pinpointed on a fine line between two extremes. But here, I believe, is where you will find joy.

The natural step to take, in an effort to become less focused on yourself, is to focus on others. Pour into others. Love others. Expend time, energy, and other resources on showing people how much you care for them. But then, more problems arise. What do we do when that person turns less-lovable? What do we do when something flips and that person becomes a source of negativity? If you’re part of this Millennial/Z generation, then your answer is immediate. (1) You label that person as “toxic,” (2) call them out as that to everyone in your friend group, and (3) proceed to ignore them! (For good measure, block them on social media.) Problem solved, right? After all, just like toxic chemicals, there’s really no healthy reason to expose yourself to them.

But isn’t this just running directly back to the dogma that brought us quotes like, “Love yourself and everything else falls into line?”

So where is the middle ground? How does one maintain a healthy level of self-care and confidence, while reaching out to a broken world? Do we sacrifice our happiness and health on an altar of ministry? Or do we forget the world and seek self-love, self-knowledge, and, in the end, selfishness?

No. Neither one is the answer, and you can tell because I set up strawmen representing both sides, simply to prove my argument. (That’s a joke–I don’t want to confuse you, but I want to be honest about how I’m arguing it.) Here’s the answer: Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus, Matthew 11:28

Oh, goodness. Aren’t we all weary? Don’t we all need rest? I think part of the cultural saying, “I’m tired” that we seem to repeat as often as the word “good,” is, at its core, not an expression of physical fatigue, but one of emotional, relational, spiritual fatigue. Sure, we’re tired because we stay up late, get up too early, and run on caffeine. But we’re also tired because our souls are weary.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that the sweetest bit of poetry you’ve ever heard? This God that created the Universe and loves each and every weary soul on this planet, says he will give you rest!

Ugh, I’ve been distracted from the point. This verse gets me every time.

How does Jesus give us rest from the relational difficulties of the world?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

When we take his yoke upon us, and let him pull our burden with us (which is a deeply difficult thing to do, sometimes!) we learn from him. We become gentle and humble. Instead of loving ourselves or hating ourselves, we begin to care less what we think about ourselves in the first place, (a “self-forgetfulness” that C.S. Lewis and other writers talk about,) and learn to develop a healthy way of viewing ourselves that is profoundly informed by how Jesus views us.

As with all truth, though, it doesn’t stop with us. We then carry this to others. We take this rest to those in our lives and become anchors of Jesus’ undying compassion and love. Others can sway with the tide, expelling negative forces from their lives. Well-intentioned loving, caring people can pour into the lives of others until they are pushed away or burn out, exhausted. But when we rest in Jesus, he gives us strength.

We all know we can’t do it on our own. We all know we’re tired in a way that sleep isn’t going to repair. Why don’t we admit it? Why don’t we let Jesus take this burden of life with us? Why don’t we just forget about ourselves now and then? And why don’t we let Jesus love broken people through us?

It’s not easy. As soon as we make an attempt to do this, we catch ourselves going back to our instincts of self-reliance. But you can’t love her. You can’t love him. And you can’t really love yourself. You’ll never know what real love is until you let Jesus supply that love.

To be very clear with you, I’m not writing this as a display of my perfect ability to anchor the love of Jesus in the lives of others. I’m writing this because my thoughts have been spinning around this topic for months, and I believe that these words of Jesus in Matthew 11 resonate with this human struggle.

Think of someone in your life that is hard for you to love. Here’s the thing: it’s hard for you to love them, but Jesus loves them immensely more than you ever could. And on the opposite side, think of how you feel about yourself. You may not think highly of your eccentricities and intricacies. And that’s okay. Because you don’t need to think about yourself. Just be an anchor of Jesus’ love. It’s enough. You can always find rest in him. Always.

 

 

 

Leftovers (a guest post by Christina Book)

Everything had been perfect, from the shiny silverware to the golden-brown turkey. Guests had enjoyed the perfectly cooked potatoes with a square lump of butter on top alongside their bright green beans. Scoops of ice cream ladled with caramel syrup and chocolate shavings had been set by each place for dessert. But now the guests were gone. Read More