Diversity! Tolerance! Individualism! Constant mantras of our culture to be sure! The violations of these values, real and perceived, are regularly placarded and protested, highlighted in the news, and often disintegrate into contempt and even violence. People desire their rights as members of a free community, and are goaded into action by social inequity as well as rhetorical aggression. In the midst of the fervor and intensity of such passion, the historical danger is to become the very thing you hate. To end tyranny you become a tyrant. To fight oppression you become oppressive. To combat hatred you become a hater. It is easier to be an accuser than a persuader. It is easier to condemn than to repent. It is easier to blame and generalize than to listen. And it is much easier to maintain than to reform.
Every person, on either side of the inflammatory issues of the day, desires personal respect. One wants to be valued and cherished for who he/she is, and not merely categorized and vilified because of association with a particular external. Unfortunately, in pursuit of equality, many people have become mere political pawns, courted or dismissed solely on the basis of their color, gender, or sexuality. A person’s talents, accomplishments and efforts become secondary to or even obliterated by labels. Wait! Wasn’t this the original problem?? The individual gets lost in the solution. Too often we observe the veneer of supposed concern for the victim’s well- being crack and peel off if that same individual deviates from the accepted position. Group think overrides personal opinion if the viewpoint does not conform. The ‘offender’ is dismissed or maligned – or even destroyed. The tragedy is that meanwhile legitimate wrongs and offenses are perpetuated by a widening chasm of miscommunication. Problems cannot be discussed except from approved talking points on both sides. Feelings become more important than facts. So there is little progress in the conversation as people talk at each other and not to each other. Sadly, the issue is then judged by the passionate protest or the reaction to it rather than the merits of the cause itself. People react rather than respond, defend rather than defer, dismiss rather than engage, feeling offended rather than persuaded. Listening seems to be a lost art. Demagogging is the rule of the day, anger is inflamed and rational solutions are all but impossible.
How does salt and light bring kingdom influence to a society which seems very likely bent on destroying itself? I for one would like to champion the dignity of the individual. Engaging in the emotional blame game on either side is both counterproductive and unspiritual. Seeking to truly understand the situations that have brought us to this point and having compassion for obviously hurting people will undergird a move to restore community. Filtering anger and inflammatory rhetoric through the lens of “considering your brother better than yourself” will open avenues of connection rather than separation. Truly, the “powers that be, soon to be the powers that were” are in some way profiting from all the turmoil, angst, and division that they are perpetuating. My job as a believer is to demonstrate in my little corner of life not just tolerance, but loving acceptance (Scriptural definition: to regard favorably). Not just sympathy but compassion as described by the apostles in the New Testament: “to suffer with another, to be affected similarly,…to be touched with, to have mercy, to show kindness, by beneficence, or assistance, to have pity, a feeling of distress through the ills of others.” Before I have an opinion I must have a heart aligned with my God. That’s the hard part! When my heart is right, I can then be useful in changing the landscape – perhaps not of the entire culture – but of my own sphere of influence. Finally, I must be watchful for opportunities to act – to demonstrate that I treasure the individual more than my opinion. This requires that I look deeper than skin color, sexuality and gender and certainly past offensive (to me) behavior. I also have to be ready to speak to my peers to encourage compassion and challenge misconception. I must do all I can on my part not to let difference divide. I must be talking to God and listening for His bidding. The incubator for all this is love and forgiveness – the hardest and most foundational kingdom attitudes!! It will probably look different than I thought it might, or what others are doing. The important thing is to go where He sends. Be His hands and heart and voice. Begin by looking at each and every person as an indescribably amazing eternal being – and then proceed.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” Galatians 5:25-26 Message
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, infuse your spirit with His, brothers and sisters. Amen” Galatians 6:18 Voice
IMPORTANCE OF THE INDIVIDUAL
(from Alexander Maclaren’s obserrvations about Exodus 2)
“The set of opinion at present minimises the importance of the individual, and exalts the spirit of the period, as a factor in history. Standing beside Miriam, we may learn a truer view, and see that great epochs require great men, and that, without such for leaders, no solid advance in the world’s progress is achieved. Think of the strange cradle floating on the Nile; then think of the strange grave among the mountains of Moab, and of all between, and ponder the same lesson as is taught in yet higher fashion by Bethlehem and Calvary, that God’s way of blessing the world is to fill men with His message, and let others draw from them. Whether it be ‘law,’ or ‘grace and truth,’ a man is needed through whom it may fructify to all.”