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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Christmas Thoughts

Merry Christmas, friends. It’s almost difficult for me to believe that we are all here again. Another year has passed by. Freezing, snowing, hibernation… thawing, rebirth, warmth… heat, growth, sunlight… death, cold, migration. And then, back to snow. This earth has come to the end of yet another cycle around the sun, in God’s Solar System. The year has been good, and bad. Joyful, and sad. Sweet, and bitter. Peaceful, and calamitous. It’s had its moments. And we are here, ever-continuing into the next year. (We’ll never stop the System–only God can.)

About two thousand and seventeen cycles around the sun ago, in March or so, Jesus was born. Everything people say about this sounds cliché to me, so let me get this through your head. Jesus was–and is–the incarnation of God. He is not like God, he does not possess attributes of God, he is God, and there was never a moment in all of time, all of history into infinitum, that he was not God. Yes, there are other parts of God, but Jesus is not less or more God than they are. The Holy Spirit, God the Father, and God the Son (Jesus) make up what Christians refer to as the Trinity, the Godhead, the ultimate unity that created the world together. And yes, they are plural (“let us make man in our own image”), but yes, the Trinity is quite hard to understand and we don’t have to get into it now. I’m just making sure you realize this dude is God.

Anyhow–God became a child, to experience life as a man and ultimately die on the cross for our sin. Jesus came and was crushed by his father in the Godhead. It’s not fair! No seriously, think about it, this isn’t fair at all. Jesus was perfect, and loving, and caring, and sweet–not weak–but tender. His ministry to us was constantly focused on healing people, and condemning the judgmental. Somebody like this deserves to live to be 107 and then drift off in their sleep. But he was crucified for us, because he loves us, and he wants to have each and every one of us in Heaven with him someday. If you weren’t raised in the church, or that’s just confusing to you, feel free to reach out to me. But the point is, Christmas is about Jesus, Forever Saviour, loving us in such a way that prompted this humbling act. Don’t ever let yourself forget what that really means.

In addition to the birth of Jesus, Christmas is also a time of year-end reflection. For me, 2017 was mixed. Bitter moments of dark depression, contrasted with seasons of friendship and renewal. Dull, quiet days, and world-traveling days. Summer laziness, Autumn busyness. And I suppose a year is too large a span of time to not be mixed, to some degree.

But overall… it was beautiful. Mostly because of the people in my life that lit the way through the dark times. In an awful valley, a friend came, just to talk, and walk, six or seven times around the block, and be my voice, until the tears subsided, and I knew life would be okay for another few days. A friend listened to me, even though I said all the same things over and over again, because he knew I had to get it out. A friend drove thirty minutes just to sit next to me, and look into my eyes, and ask “what’s wrong?” and cry because I was crying, and hug me until I could brave the rain again. A friend let me run errands with him now and then, playing music and just finding the time to be together, because I needed advice to face issues of the week. A friend asked “how are you doing?” in a way that told me “if you need to talk, or cry, or just hug, that’s okay.” A friend walked with me for two hours at midnight in a small town in the Summer, letting me tell him how I felt and what I thought, listening and caring. A friend had coffee with me, and assured me that God really did want to have a friendship with me, to have my love, and for me to have his love. So, even though this year was one of the hardest years of my life, it was the best year of my life, because of these people. Thank you, all of you that have shown love to me. I thank God for using you in my life.

Merry Christmas, friends. I love you. And I won’t forget, no matter what, the care you have shown me.