I’m worn down, these days, by debates and arguments, hatred and fear mongering. I’m weary of culture wars, polarization, and “code words” that signal whether a person or group is liberal or conservative. I’m tired of negativity and criticism, tired of the magnifying glass of scrutiny pointed at every word, gesture, action of people and institutions—from politicians and celebrities to church leaders and even people like me. I confess that I am not always aware of the power of my words to wound others. And I admit that I am easily hurt by the words of others.
This cultural environment of negativity and mistrust, of judgment and suspicion seeps into my spirit. These days when I stop and look inside my heart, I find that it’s filled with toxic wastes of fear, cynicism, and judgment.
Jesus didn’t say, “Be civil” or “Be nice.” Jesus went so much farther than niceties when he said, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34-35, CEB). “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matthew 5:39, CEB). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, CEB).
That’s a tough order these days. It is so easy, now, to live only in the bubble of “people like me,” to slip into thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that encourage mistrust and judgment rather than promote love and compassion. When I communicate more often through digital means than face to face, it becomes even easier for me to slide into places of labeling and criticizing others.
I want to become more aware of my own interactions—both digital and face to face. I want to watch out for the ways that I contribute to a culture of incivility and polarization by the things that I say, the stories or images I share, the anger, hatred, or cynicism that I harbor or nurture in my heart. I want to challenge myself to take the time and energy to look more deeply into an issue—or the eyes of another person—before I jump into judgment.
Henry H. Knight III and Don E. Saliers said it well: “One reason we are apt to ridicule or demonize is we wrongly think we know enough about another person or group to form a judgment on their character. We know one thing about them: they are evangelical or liberal, pro-choice or pro-life, or perhaps charismatic, feminist, liturgical, or liberationist. Then, because we know one thing about another person or group, we believe we know everything.”
I must consider, what are the judgments I make about others based on only one thing I know about them? What would it be like if I stepped out of my comfort zone and had a conversation with someone who has a different social or political view from me? I must ask myself, can I truly “love my enemies” as Jesus has called me? Honestly, I confess that I don’t know if I can do this. Please pray for me, for all of us, who live in fractured families, churches, nations. Christ, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
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Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel.
Adapted from Alive Now, November/December 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Upper Room.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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