Feels like the world is on fire, right? And I believe what is so mind-boggling is what we are fighting about. When we dial down our emotions for a second, I believe most people in this country want the same things for each other: trusting the police and the CDC, that peaceful protests actually work, that we will cure COVID-19, and that we find no offense or fear in the color of someone's skin. Yet, when the question is asked, "what do we do?" we tend to speak from our own experiences and hesitate to venture into someone else's.
Why do we do this? I don't think we are asking ourselves that question enough. Why can't I have this conversation? Why don't I just read a book instead of argue? Why do I doubt what this person says? Why do I roll my eyes instead of listen and consider? WHY AM I SO ANGRY ABOUT MY OWN STANCE?
It reminds me of the two different forms of dodgeball. After my research, apparently there are dozens of kinds of dodgeball, but I'm going to focus on the two that I am familiar with: traditional and survivor. When we can't agree on how to press for the greater good, it's like a game of traditional dodgeball. When the whistle blows, everyone makes a mad-dash for the balls lined up in the center and then retreat back to their sides for better positioning to win without ever crossing the center line.
My favorite version of dodgeball is Survivor, and my first time to play was quite memorable. It was my first season on Jacksonville State's volleyball team and our coaches would often let us begin practice with a non-volleyball game. When "dodgeball, upperclassmen vs. lowerclassmen" was announced, I was confused when all of my teammates went sprinting to pick up balls on the gym floor and just started hurling them at each other. I thought what are they doing? He didn't tell us what side to go to. What is going on? Finally, I saw that when someone got out they sat on the ground and that's when I realized that this was a combo of freeze tag and dodgeball. There was no center line, you just had pay attention to when the person that got you out got out themselves and then you are back in the game. Just as the lightbulb went off, I got hit with five balls at the same time which really built my character.
I liked three things about survivor method:
It was hard to win, no one could stand in the corner while the front line people got the victory.
There were a ton of ways to win.
There is one certain way to lose: stand there and do nothing.
You can't put a price on a drill that doesn't allow standing around. Despite what we believe, I think Americans are being stirred in this way. However, the tactics, strategies, and ranting seem to be holding up the team victory instead of advancing it. So, as Christians, what can we do? I am here to only share the perspective of learning from my sins which is what makes up the following...
1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This one is right out of the Steven Covey playbook. In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey explains that effectiveness comes from people who have the capacity to listen for the purpose of understanding. We often equate effective communication to someone that can speak well, but when do we learn how to approach a conversation with the intention to absorb as much understanding as possible? I hardly do this in my marriage, let alone with people that I know think differently from me. This discipline not only creates a humble posture, but it also has the ability to create pure-hearted intention when it's my turn to talk. Instead of the aggressive, "I'm gonna set you straight" demeanor, we desire the same listening ear that we gave our counter part. Thus, it's unlikely we would abuse it. A few tips on how to do this:
Do not practice a speech beforehand. We've all done it... those arguments we win in the shower or driving to work on our own. If you're married, how has this worked out for you? Let me tell you, I am the QUEEN of using the time before the talk to amp myself up and come up with the most stabbing, mic drop quotes. Then when the talk happens, I don't listen, I wait to throw my carefully sculpted punches. This turns a 30 minute conversation into a 2 hour argument that ends in the resolution and apologies for turning a discussion into a showcasing of my script.
Don't assume you know what the other person is mad about. This is how you build the case, right? You think you know why the other person is offended and you're going to tell them why they have no right to be offended. As humans, we can't help but make meaning of things like passive-aggressive comments or oddly specific social media posts, but we cannot let that drive our imaginations off a cliff. Be determined to not get offended. Someone you might think is dead-wrong might have concerns that you've never even considered.
Regardless of the other person's intentions, remember that it's not me vs. you, it's us vs. the problem. The devil lies in wait for us to start attacking each other the moment we forget that we both want a solution, much like what's going on here:
2. Repent, repent, repent. Know the difference in what feeds our flesh and what feeds a purpose. We just aren't going to get a lot done without empathy. How can we achieve empathy if we never lay down our preconceived notions? I could do a lot of preaching here, but I don't really think it would do the job like telling my own story. I hope it opens the door for someone else to learn rather than wrapping a subject in shame and creating corner-dwelling dodgeballers.
On the subject of race, I have spent the last decade or so repenting from the following:
Not wanting to understand white privilege. I believed Dr. King did the work and we are all equal thus I didn't see the problem. I didn't realize that the black children played with white baby dolls and action figures because there were no other colors available. I didn't realize that TV shows and Disney princesses didn't create characters and experiences for the black community. I didn't realize that a black person had to wear bandaids that were my color, not theirs. These are simple, everyday things. When I saw these things, I couldn't help but wonder what else is out there that excludes them?
Insulating myself to these every day societal shortcomings. I have an inquisitive mind that is constantly asking why? When my eyes were first opened to white privilege, my first reaction was to just tell myself that that's just the way it was. God hasn't allowed much of that in my life. Not long after Josh and I were married, I was babysitting for a friend and I took her daughter to the mall to pick out a toy. She darted for the Barbie isle where she could hardly narrow down her choices from dentist Barbie, fashion designer Barbie, veterinarian Barbie, and soccer star Barbie. An African-American child the same age came over with the same excitement. Except she left empty-handed, telling her mom "I can't even find one that looks like me." I realized then, that my friend's child and my own children would never have to worry about that.
Racially appropriating black friends. Thinking things like "I wish all black people could be like _____ "(a friend that didn't like hard core rap, wore cowboy boots, and listened to country music). This friend made ME comfortable thus I needed more black people to be like this so I could award a stamp of approval. In my repentance I quickly realized that not only should I have never wished that, but I also never had a stamp to begin with. As someone from the south with a passion for college sports, this repentance included all the times I racially appropriated black people because of how well they could run a football or dunk a basketball. Again, just another scenario where the stamp was used to approve what someone could do for me.
Saying "I don't see color/I'm colorblind." First of all, I can see color so that's just a weird thing to say, but saying that we shouldn't acknowledge race and nationality for the sake of not using labels implies that God made some kind of mistake by making people the way they are. I can promise you that God is not up there regretting making people different colors. And, honestly, it is fair for a person of color to assume that if you had to pick a color for all of mankind, it would be white. Now is a good time to remind ourselves that Jesus was brown.
Thinking it was a black person’s job to tell me what to do. This came during the awakening. I realized things weren’t fair and right but I treated it as if a freak storm had just come through. This was only new, convicting, and shocking to me. For my black friends, it was their whole life. Honestly, the thing that gave me the most understanding was when a black friend said, “Paige, I love you for wanting to talk about this, but this is not some kind of a revelation you’re having. It’s American history. If you want to learn more about it, there are a million books, podcasts, and movies about it. Don’t expect black people to want to sit down and reminisce on all the experiences that made us feel like crap. Do the work.” That might seem harsh or weird, but take that same quote and trade “black people” with “veterans” and it suddenly makes a lot of sense. I took her advice (after I cried) and thanked her later.
Things I have had to repent from in the past three weeks: Forgetting to pray for law enforcement, looking for things that make the other side look bad instead of looking for progress, posting on social media instead of signing petitions, allowing differing opinions to anger me instead of forgetting where I came from
Progress is not possible without perspective. All of the above takes my eye off the ball, hardens my heart, and drags me into joy-sucking banter that only results in broken relationships. As we’ve seen, the issues in our country extend far beyond my simple life experiences. This is the American experience and it’s one that Christ followers should pay attention to. I highly recommend the voice of Tim Keller on this, as he says it much better than I ever could.
3. Remember the image of God exists in everyone, whether they act like it or not. If we can commit to understanding, repent of our sins, then we have emptied ourselves to make room for a Christ-like love; a love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). We cannot love God without loving people. Whether your issue is with looters, bad police officers, the government, or your neighbor, Jesus would have left the 99 for them. Will we win them over? Maybe, maybe not. But none should be able to claim allegiance to one side because of the ridicule received from the other. Don’t look for this example in politics or on social media. Look to the part of Christ that lives within you. The problems are obvious, but only those that love others as Christ loved the church will find the solutions.
I pass on my favorite verse as encouragement for this coming week: "Let us not grow weary in doing good. For in time we will reap a harvest if we don't give up!" Galatians 6:9. Put yourself in someone else's shoes and consider what it might mean for them to win. A rising tide raises all boats.