Talking Across the Divide

Is the world a divided place?

Ever since the stories recorded as early as the third chapter of the Bible, people have been divided from each other, casting blame and hiding from their own weakness.  And we usually end up doing what’s called “binary sorting” to make sense of our world.  We create caricatures of otherwise real people and ideas, sorting complex and nuanced realities into oversimplified categories of “either” one “or” the other.  There’s good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Black or white.  Conservative or liberal.  And so on.

And it’s easy to “boo” a caricature, the way people yell at athletes from the safety of home or their seats.  But when the same critic is confronted with the humanity of the other person, the condemnation that came so easy only seconds before vanishes.  Take a look at this telling clip (please forgive any bleeps or coarse language):
What if we were able to start with the human being in front of us, rather than a 2-dimensional representation?  (This, by the way, is one of the greatest dangers of social media – it turns human beings into cartoons.)  When the apostle Philip came across a caravan heading south to Ethiopia, he met someone who he would have otherwise been entitled to ignore as an unclean outsider: a eunuch working as a servant to the queen (Acts 8:26-40).

Instead, Philip accepted the man’s invitation to sit with him and eventually baptized him into the family of Jesus Christ.  Luke tells us that the man “went on his way rejoicing.”  Is it possible that this man – an African, dark-skinned, Gentile, sexual minority – was the first reason the good news of Jesus entered the entire continent of Africa?  And note one more thing – this Ethiopian is the first person outside the Jewish people whom Luke records as coming to faith in Christ.  

In our present world, the “culture war” language has tried to co-opt the Gospel (meaning “good news”) of Jesus and manipulated to support the agenda of whichever side chooses to use it.  And whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all being steeped within these “waters.”  So rather than thinking we’re not part of this cultural mindset, the better and more honest question we each need to ask is: Who is the person whom I cannot imagine sitting at the table with?

Bill Bishop’s disturbing book, The Big Sort, reveals how binary thinking is tearing our country apart.  But it has been the pattern for generations, whether we’re aware of it or not.  We have inherited a long legacy of retreating into our familiar enclaves.  So keep these four principles in mind, as you try to honor Jesus’ “bigger table”:
1) You are more influenced by your environment and experience than you realize;
2) You are less likely to challenge your own presumption and think freely;
3) To grow, one must leave the "circled wagons" and engage in previously unchallenged convictions;
4) Re-engage Holy Scripture with wider perspective toward God's bigger table.

Finally, take a look at this deeply revealing and moving experiment about sitting down with another human being with whom one has deep differences:
For reflection:
-Do you find it hard or easy to think of the person (or type of person) with whom you really do not want to sit at table?
-Did you find yourself taking sides when watching the second video above?
-How did you feel when the people in that video were forced to be honest with each other about their views?
-If you were one of the people in that experiment, would you have stayed to talk, or gone on your way?

Blessings, MM

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