Whenever I hear an explanation of the actions of a large group of people and it is simple and straightforward, I tend to be skeptical.* Because people are complex.
In a novel I read recently, one character diagnosed the fundamental flaw of another: “Your tactics are self-centered. You have forgotten that you are not the only player on the board…you have allowed yourself to believe that others are mechanisms, static and solvable, whereas you are an agent.”
Ouch. That one hurt, because in it, I saw myself. I tend to assume that I have the moral high ground, which makes me look down on everyone else. I see myself and my reasoning as complex, but forget that everyone else is equally complex.
Sometimes I feel like life in general and interacting with other people in particular is a massive tome of Les Misérables or Anna Karenina. I can’t understand it and it intimidates me, so I take it and fit it into an adorable illustrated board book instead.
Ah, yes. That’s better. This is at my level. I can understand this, every word, and the pictures to go along with them are familiar and soothing.
Okay, here we go: “Groups appeared waving flags.”
That’s a narrative that makes sense to me. I don’t have to work to understand it. Why add in the complications of revolutionary philosophy vs. the establishment, questions of nonviolent resistance, of grace and law and whether Russell Crowe was a good Javert or not?
Perfect. I can now understand the entire scope of Anna Karenina in just a few pages. And, yes, I can also find the fan. I am so smart and accomplished. The next page shows a train, and I like trains, so the train will probably only do good things. (Kidding, they don’t show the train scene.)
Isn’t it nice when people and politics are simple like that?
(No. The answer is no.)
And yet I do this. I make generalizations and imply them. I disrespect others in what I say or just think resentful things about them in my heart. I assume I’m right about everything and check out when I feel defensive.
I don’t want to live like that.
Let’s refuse to take the board book answers after this election, guys. Remember that even the people you don’t understand or agree with are made in the image of God.
I’m not talking about some touchy-feely tolerance where we all agree to disagree and sing the national anthem to the tune of “Kum By Yah.”
You don’t have to hand out participation trophies to millennials to make them feel seen and heard. It’s better to model and seek out chances to share wisdom than it is to repeat stereotypes that make you feel better about yourself as either the exception to the rule or part of a generation with better values.
You don’t have to change your political party to show love to those from the other side who are feeling hurt and misunderstood.
You don’t have to agree with everyone to show grace to them in the way you treat them, talk to them, or talk about them.
My college president was fond of saying that his view of the Christian life in the world was simple: “Absorb chaos. Give back peace. Provide hope.”
You might put it differently. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Either way, the call is the same. We are ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven, which means that our primary goal is to glorify God through our lives: the way we talk, act, serve, and spread the gospel.
Let’s do this. Together.
*Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: Unless the explanation is “sin nature.” That I can usually get on board with, although it’s so general that it doesn’t help much in understanding the problem or what to do moving forward in response.