Saturday, July 09, 2016

Avoiding the Process of Becoming Devils

Making the Most of a Teachable Moment

Yesterday, as I was preparing to depart for a day of sales calls, my wife told me about two things that were all over the internet that morning.  The first was the video shot by a woman describing, rather clinically, the situation as her boyfriend bled out beside her in the car.  The other was the news of a sniper attack at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.  

As I was on my two hour drive to Nashville, I received a call from my sales rep in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.  Normally we discuss sales opportunities, quotes, and service issues, but yesterday our 30 minute discussion centered almost exclusively about the video.  My rep had watched it, and was extremely disturbed as there seemed to be no provocation that would justify the lethal force the video documented, and this had shaken her profoundly.  She talked about the fact she has a 24-year old daughter with a diversity of friends who does not always hold her tongue, and this worried her, especially if a routine traffic stop had the potential to go so bad so quickly.

I was disturbed too, by the superficial knowledge I had of the Dallas shooting.  It is a classic guerrilla tactic to use the predictability of an enemy to advantage.  Provoke a response and, when the inevitable reaction force shows up, destroy them.  Without any real access to news as I went through my day, I brooded and prayed about the juxtaposition of these two events, I became more and more concerned that things were spinning out of control beyond the ability of men of good will to contain them.

So I did something I have not done since we were children:  I reached out to my older brother, not to discuss family matters, or even to talk about the events of the day, but to try and find comfort and sense in the moment of seeming despair and bleakness.

My brother, sister and I had the misfortune of having our parents first separate through divorce and then both die extremely young (Mom was 47 and Dad was 54).  As a result, we have missed out on the primary tie that binds adult children together such as family: things like Thanksgiving meals with their parents and having impartial arbitration of disagreements and disputes.  This lack explains much of our family dysfunction and outright hostility, as we have had no restraining influence to counteract our strong wills and reaction to each other.  So what I did yesterday was both unusual and deliberate.  I wanted words of comfort from someone who was family and who probably saw things less bleakly than I was at the moment.

We had a long and very productive conversation.  Both Mark and I are very concerned that too much conversation in this country consists of making our own points and not listening to the other person's point of view.  Opinion and assertion in the form of talking points that are spoon-fed to us by whatever source our "itching ears want to hear" have become substitutes for really looking at the facts.  The basic divide is this: some of us look at America as a glass half full and concentrate on the positive aspects of our society and history and ignore the rest.  Others see the empty part of the glass and focus exclusively on that.  Both sides are in denial.  America is indeed the "last best hope of mankind" and the "City on the Hill", but it is flawed in many areas as well.  In this, it is a reflection of the good and bad contained in all of us.  

C.S. Lewis describes this dynamic brilliantly in the chapter entitled "Forgiveness" in Mere Christianity, his masterpiece of Christian apologetics .  Mark brought this up in our conversation and then read a passage from it.  In context, Lewis has just concluded a discussion of how the notion of "love the sinner hate the sin" makes complete sense.  He then puts forth this test of how well we are able to apply this in the following passage that Mark read:
The real test is this.  Suppose one reads of filthy atrocities in the paper.  Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.  Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite as bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, or even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible?  If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process that will make us into devils.  You see, one is beginning to wish that black were a little blacker.  If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.  Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not being able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
I think this properly describes much of the process behind the rhetoric of the day.  Newt Gingrich yesterday did a live feed from his Facebook page with his colleague from his time on CNN's Crossfire, Van Jones.  Van did most of the talking, explaining the legitimate feelings that galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement.  He conceded that perhaps a better term for the idea would be "Black Lives Matter Too" because that is the real message.  Of course, this is nothing more than the message of Christianity that all human life is sacred and should be cherished as we are unique in all being "created in the image of God".  Christianity doubles down on this concept with the Doctrine of the Atonement, which states that man's estrangement from God by sin was so intolerable to God that He sent Jesus to die as substitutionary sacrifice for our sins so we could resume our proper place as "children of God".  Van also said something that resonated with me.  Conceding that he and Newt have vastly different views on many issues, he said that they were both sincere in wanting to find the best solutions to the problems confronting the nation.  He used the phrase "two minds, one heart" which I think describes Mark and me as well.

Here is the problem though: when confronted with this positive message coming from Newt Gingrich, there is that reaction Lewis talks about, the desire to continue to portray your enemy in as bad a light as possible.  According to the article, headlined: Newt Gingrich Suddenly Acknowledges Structural Racism. Here’s Why It’s Hard To Take Him Seriously. , while what Newt is acknowledging is true, the author says we still do not trust him primarily because he is Newt.  He is somehow not being sincere, he is doing this out of some calculation, or is being hypocritical, etc.  Point made C.S. Lewis!  Until we can transcend the blinders that keep up married to our narratives, we will never be able to move forward.    

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