Archive for the ‘Let’s Reason Together’ Category

Much has been written in social media and news outlets on the subject of George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis Police.  What I want to discuss here are the broader related topics that permeate our culture in the United States of America and how we Christians living as the “fragrance of Christ” to the world might offer hope.

While I appreciate reading the varied perspectives currently peppered throughout social media, what seems to be missing is mutual respect for people regardless of their ethnicity or position on the topic being discussed.  I suppose that could be said for social media at large; but if reconciliation is truly the goal, every perspective represented must initially be treated as valid, even if it is incorrect, because it is based on that individual’s experience, learning, psychology, suffering, nurturing, etc.  Disagreement, even vehement opposition, is not legitimate grounds for mocking or silencing those perspectives.  Growth in someone’s perspective and understanding has never been accomplished by wielding inflammatory labels or a dismissive or insulting posture against them.  Engagement, active listening, respect, and dignity must be exhibited by all parties if growth is to be realized; and growth almost always occurs simultaneously to varying degrees in all parties who are willing.

While it is certainly true there remains inequity in the social systems of the USA, and that this inequity, combined with violent dispositions of human beings, frequently results in harm or death, I honestly don’t see how we emerge from this present agony closer to a healed, reconciled society while engagement and listening are minimized and provocative labels and terminology continue to be used.  Despite the persuasive and energetic arguments from those passionate about these topics that have recently produced pithy terms like “white privilege” to describe the inequity, this does injustice to the spiritual and psychological reality of human existence.  As a Christian, I believe from reading God’s word in the Bible that each human being, no matter how repulsive their actions, bears God’s image, no matter how obscured. Modern science and psychology have revealed that every single person is a complex being, not just those we agree with or like or find tolerable. Every person has intrinsic value, not only those we endorse or are in relationship with.  Every person is capable – indeed, desperately needy – of giving and receiving love, even and especially those it is so easy to categorize into binary terms or a meme because of a few words uttered in frustration, or foolish mistakes made or even acts of ignorance, violence or atrocity.

I must honestly ask myself: What is my interest here? What am I seeking?  If the answer is justice, my vision is very short-sighted and inadequate.  Pure justice is not enough, because pure justice can only be applied equally to all, and I must evaluate whether I truly want that for myself before answering too quickly.  Pure justice is mathematical; it does away with mercy.  I find it much too easy to cry for justice for others who offend and then plead for mercy and grace for myself.

I believe we must not put our hope for a healthier society merely in disruption, assuming we’ll somehow be at least a little better on the other side. This is fantasy. We also must resist joining the world’s urgent efforts to find some blamable symbol or person or group of people or political leader, all from a desire to discover a simple, rational explanation and solution.  This denies all we have learned of the complexity of human spirituality, psychology, emotion and reason.  There is certainly legitimate anger, confusion and scrutiny that arises when a person is flagrantly mistreated, even to death (especially by those in the role of protector) and the visual capture of that event is available to watch over and over.  Imagery is so powerful because it instantly shapes perception.  Visually observing one shocking, horrifying action gives birth to interpretation and then forms a knowledge, the imagery cemented in our minds as the truth of the event.  It’s not easy but it is simple, manageable.  Unfortunately, I have to admit, I’ve seen many things in my life and formed many opinions and passed many judgements on actions I wasn’t present for, words I didn’t hear and, worst of all, people I don’t know. And I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right. Each of us is susceptible to my error, especially when we are immersed in the kind of outrage erupting right now.  To deny that susceptibility is to choose arrogance and illusion.

Our grieving process as a society has been re-ignited, and that process is an essential prerequisite for true healing and reconciliation, but it does not constitute those.  Rage, additional violence, hatred, vengeance – though all are understandable, none of these bring healing but rather guarantee more suffering, agony, loss and division, pushing us all further from what we claim is our goal. Without dialogue filled with the humility to accept that we may not actually know enough about another human being to categorize their value and true nature, I fear we will circle in the grief, oddly savoring the pain, and curdling it until it is hardened and our society’s mindset is trapped, growth stunted once more until the next horrible act of violence to be visually captured goes viral.  This is an opportunity to breathe love and grace into pain and sadness.  We must keep the eyes of our hearts on the prize we seek:  reconciliation and healing.  The restoration of all human beings to each other and God, in the name of Jesus Christ and his love for the world.  That is where abundant hope waits to sooth our grief.

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Being correct or in error does not affect a person’s value; choices and events in their present and future, most definitely, but not their value. That’s a reminder I sorely need right now.

It’s springtime.  A time for planting, new life, new songs, warmer air, replenishment and restoration.  Those beautiful reminders of independent reality are readily available just a few seconds out my door, and I’m grateful.  Because I also find myself in the middle of this giant 2020 hairball of disruption, fear and anxiety from which are sprouting plenty of opinions and perspectives on COVID-19, appropriate responses, economy, governmental authority and epidemiology, and they are based on a foundational spectrum ranging from gut-feel-at-this-moment to qualified extensive research and investigation.  Social media is a prominent platform with this on display, but print and television news programs are as well.  

What recently darkened the tone significantly for me and nudged me to express my thoughts was the news of some individuals “reporting” people who don’t wear masks, either on social media or even calling 911, and naming individuals, publicly accusing them of hating, desiring people to die, not caring if people suffer, etc.  Do you sense the shift that occured there?  Instead of aiming at the virus that threatens many, now the target is our fellow human beings.  We are certainly free in the USA to speak and express our opinions, a precious privilege.  But as Paul cautions in 1 Corinthians 10:23, speaking of the effect Christians can have on those around them, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful.” Regardless of circumstance, these accusations are unhelpful actions that only serve to inflame emotions and defensiveness, and they are contrary to love and the characteristics most of us applaud.  A divided house cannot stand, and the speed of the collapse is directly proportional to the magnitude of acrimony among those who live in it.

And I’m not even talking about the approaching Presidential election and other current political events.

It’s so easy to join in with all the flaring negative emotions! But there are also many bright examples of intellectually honest investigation and respectful discussion taking place, as well as collaboration with common objectives defused of vitriol or manipulation.  I’ve read wonderfully encouraging stories here and there of people doing what they can to infuse hope in others or provide gifts to meet their urgent needs.  Here is where hope is kindled.  Some of these stories are “small”, others are larger in scope, but they are all examples of the best path forward through this present trial.  These are the attitudes and actions that will remind all of us of the purity of God’s light and propel us into healing and restoration.

The struggle with fear and confusion around COVID-19 many of us are in the midst of will end.  There’s no doubt in my mind; this isn’t the first crisis most of us have endured, and it won’t be the last.  Spring follows winter, even the most brutal winter.   The only essential long-term unknown is, who will I be when it’s over?  As I gaze backward at these difficult days, what will characterize my words and actions?  What movements of my soul will echo in others’ memory?  Did I respond to the people I interacted with as if they were eternal beings, precious and of immeasurable worth, designed and created by Jesus, whom I claim to follow?  Despite their error or manner, did I love them?

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