Tug of War
Summertime is the bane of parenting, with endless hours for children to become bored. Instead of learning, doing homework, and going to sports practice, they turn to the longtime childhood favorite pastime: sibling torture. In this time-honored tradition, one child might declare that the sky is red just to watch the anger settle over their sibling who insists that the sky is, in fact, blue. Another child will delight in declaring that the winner of an arm wrestling match can have power over the remote for the whole day. Of course, this will be the older/stronger sibling who is obviously going to win. The goal of this sibling torture is simple: to prove that there is only one way to see the situation, and it is obviously MY way. Ahhh, summer memories. Even as an adult, it is easy to get locked in to this either/or way of seeing something. It is infinitely more challenging to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see their point of view. When well-meaning, intelligent Jesus followers find themselves on different sides of difficult decisions, we don’t often know how to reconcile.
Looking through one frame, a group chants “Black Lives Matter.” Their position is firmly entrenched by the violent loss of black human life. This movement asks for a reexamination of white privilege. It challenges white imagination to see the world through a frame of violence and racism, where black people always come up on the wrong side.
Looking through a different frame at the same moment in history, a different group chants “All Lives Matter.” They insist that life lost to violence is a tragic waste. Born as a counter to “Black Lives Matter,” the cry of “All Lives Matter” lives in opposition. It seeks to affirm the good of every human, no matter their race, but in doing so it minimizes the systemic prejudice that exists in America.
For the last four years, Jesus followers have found themselves on both sides of this social argument. Unsurprisingly, our bickering hasn’t brought peace to any part of the situation. It has caused each side to further dig in their heels and refuse to listen. Our tug of war has only widened the gap between each position, leaving more of a barren wasteland than a neutral zone in the middle. This leads me to wonder: is the Body of Christ supposed to be alienated from parts of itself?
Since the church began, there have different points of view on social issues (see Acts). I am not here to imagine ANY social issue that every single follower of Jesus would academically agree upon. I am here to say that unity, as a Body, has to be possible because it is what Jesus asked his Father for in John 17:
I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them, in the same way you’ve loved me. (John 17:20-23 MSG)
As it stands, each side has latched on to the rope. Each group is pulling with all their might, with the anchors placed at the end of each line. The only way this game ends is with one winner and, therefore, one loser. Whoever wins claims the spoils.
Why does there have to be a winner and a loser?
Could we, instead, find a third, creative way? Is there another frame to look through?
Yes. The contemplative way—the way of true peacemaking—invites us to see through the frame of relationship.
First, and continually, we have to see and own what we stand to gain in any situation or conflict. If I am a person of privilege, in this case white, I must own the fact that I have vested interest in the status quo. It is to my advantage to keep my privilege, and I cannot pretend that it’s not or I lose the ability to honestly listen. But, if I can confess this truth and keep it in the light, I am able to at least admit that I listen through a filter of self-preservation. Individuals and communities of faith would be wise to notice and confess their biases that protect them. Only then can we even begin to listen outside of our ego.
Even more challenging to the human heart is realizing that we remain loved, even in our self-promoting ways. God has named us beloved children created in his image. Despite our dishonesty and selfishness, we are loved. This revelation gives us the freedom to stop fighting for what we want so that we can freely hear what the other wants.
Finally, we must choose to see the face of God in the “other.” Each human being bears witness to God’s great work of creation. When I see God in my enemy, I have to choose love over hate because I cannot choose to hate God, my Beloved.
When ego, self-hatred, and isolation are removed from conflict, creativity can flourish. When pride stops demanding its own way, peace can take root. When relationship is the frame we see through, love wins.