We now are a nation of tribes engaged in war. We are now a nation with a surplus of people with megaphones and a critical deficit of listeners. We are now a nation of people who are losing our capacity for empathy, always in a defensive posture, always quick to lash out at the first sign of a perceived slight. We are a nation with a large number of Christians who have lost touch with the most important themes in the teachings of Christ, instead placing their faith in the teachings of Paul, or dwelling in the comfort of antiquity found in the Old Testament because it’s much easier to feel superior there. We have become a nation of people spoiling for a fight instead of seeking out peace. We are now a nation full of people who lie in wait on social media, looking for the next opportunity to practice our brand of keyboard guerrilla warfare–ambush–hit–run– hide, either caring not a whit for the damage we inflict, or hiding in the shadows to surveil our wake with a sick sense of accomplishment.
Traditionally, we’ve preferred to look upon ourselves as a nation of two tribes. In reality, that has never been the case, and even less so now. Within the progressive tribe, there is bitter division and the same is true of the conservative tribe. This is just as much the case in the sub-tribes that form within the parent tribes. Christianity has been divided into the fundamentalist evangelicals and the progressives. Yet, as I am learning more and more, those subdivisions are far from united. There is a segment of conservative Christians, for example, that have begun to back slowly away from their support of our current president, causing a great rift in their ranks. And among the progressive Christians–people who preach loudest about tolerance and love–the moment one of their own steps out of line in their view, they will viciously attack like a school piranha smelling blood in the water. Simply put, it’s hard to find true tolerance in this nation. It’s as scarce as empathy.
I am as guilty of what I am talking about here as anyone and I admit it. For instance, if I pass a car with an NRA sticker in the window, I have an immediate negative internal reaction. I begin to automatically formulate a less than glowing opinion about that person. If I drive by a house displaying a “Trump 2020” flag in the yard, I have an automatic visceral response. I immediately write the inhabitants of that house off as bigoted, uneducated, white people on the back side of 50. None of what I just described about myself is admirable. But, sadly, I’ve changed just as quickly as the nation has.
I have a somewhat unique perspective from which to observe all of this change. As a writer who shares, as frankly and honestly as I know how, my thoughts, feelings, and opinions, I am constantly exposing myself to all manner of public feedback. Sometimes I don’t pay much attention to the response at all because, often, it’s just too much to keep track of. However, sometimes I get captured by the undertow of response to the things I’ve written. On occasion, that can be unpleasant. Sometimes I get angry and, frankly, sometimes I’m hurt by it. Normally, when I feel hurt, it’s because of the personal nature of what I shared. I recently shared a very personal story about my very long process of coming to an understanding and peace related to a very dark period of my life. The headline of the article mentioned “God’s Will.” I hesitated to write and share this piece because I don’t show myself in the most flattering light, to say the least. I chose to share it only because I thought there might be other people who might find comfort in knowing that people such as myself often struggle for many years to find any peace or understanding about bad things they go through. While I did hear from some who appreciated the story and said that they indeed did need to read it, I was caught off guard by the negative responses I got. Quite a few people took my personal struggle and ascribed to it the false notion that I was cheapening personal tragedies they’d experienced by saying that everything was for the best and that it was God’s will that they had suffered. I just told my story. And I told of the more than 20 years it took for me to find a way to deal with it that made any sense to me–a part of that…my story…was that I believed that had I not gone through that pain in a very messed up place in my life, things might have been much different. So, in a way, it comforts me to shoulder some of the blame for what happened and that God provided another plan that worked out well in the end. For that confession, I was blindsided by a handful of people who belittled me on various Christian platforms on which the piece was shared. I was accused of simplifying or cheapening the grief and pain others have gone through by somehow inferring that all you need to do is “keep your chin up and know that God’s got a plan for you.” It wasn’t what I said and it wasn’t what I meant–my own chin was down for two decades. I just told my story. As a result, they did to me what they had accused me of doing to them. I felt like my 20 year process of introspective self reflection to arrive at a place of peace had been mocked and discredited. That hurt. Push back to my political opinions is easy to deal with. It is expected and welcomed. But when my own struggle to find my own answers in my own life is used to criticize me, I find it difficult to reconcile.
But this is who we have become.
I pray that I have never, in my push back against others, made them feel illegitimate or belittled. If I have, I beg for forgiveness.
And I offer my forgiveness to those who made me feel like that when I told my story. I trust that you misunderstood my motives for sharing it and temporarily lashed out in reaction to that misunderstanding.
This is a requirement of people who value tolerance. We must be willing to offer it in order to be able to receive it.