Labels are killing us, and we’ve got to stop it.

In order to understand this post, you’ve got to understand a little about lost causes.

I struggled with the title of this post, until I remembered my earlier thoughts about the idea of lost causes. The events of the past few days have caused people to say things — on social media, on national television, and on radio, no less — that should not be said.¬†People have¬†stooped to namecalling and labelling in a way that I have not seen in the public discourse in my lifetime. And it needs to stop — on all¬†sides, it needs to stop.

You are addicted to your narrative.

The Lost Cause Narrative is an accepted story, resulting from disputed version of events supported by an individual or by a group, that is not universally accepted by other neighboring individuals or groups, which later comes to define the behavior of that individual or group.

The narrative is an addiction, an obsession, that we usually dismiss as a grudge. The thing about grudges is that they come to define our life, and they enable the discourse — or lack thereof — that we have been privy to in the past several days.

Lost causes don’t do damage — it’s the resulting narrative that destroys people.

In order to catch the idea, you’ve got to catch the distinction between the¬†lost cause¬†and the¬†narrative.¬†The lost cause is not in itself bad. I’ve championed innumerable lost causes in my career. Operational changes, training programs, advertising schemes — you name it. They may have all been perfectly good ideas, but when taken to the¬†discussion table, for whatever reason they weren’t adopted.

The narrative comes later, when resentment is allowed to breed, fester, and create a story — an alternate narrative — that comes to define our behavior in subsequent interactions with opposing¬†parties.

In this¬†narrative, the discussion has never ended, and it becomes¬†part of a larger story — one where the opposing parties are not just in opposition to my idea, but they are in some way a threat to my existence. They opposed my idea, not out of rational disagreement, but out of a deeper plot to damage my reputation¬†or effectiveness, and prevent me from being successful. In this narrative, success becomes a¬†zero sum game, where their¬†success necessitates my failure, and vice versa.

The narrative necessitates a label. And labels kill.

The only way to operate within a lost cause narrative is by virtue of labels. People who don’t see the value of an¬†idea must be labeled “stupid”, “selfish”, or worse.¬†We’ve all heard it in the past few days on the radio, on social media, and on television. Our detractors detract, not because they have conscientious objections, but because they are actually ___.

Labels are good in an actual war. The enemy is labeled “enemy”, and that’s the end of it — we try to kill them. But as our world becomes more and more connected,¬†it behooves us to not think¬†of all our rhetorical, economic, and political disagreements¬†as wars. Our adversaries are real people, with real lives that continue¬†on long after the dispute has ended. When we choose to live within narratives that lend apocalyptic qualities to¬†our disputes, we reduce the chances of real engagement and peaceful existence in the aftermath to near zero.¬†

Labelling¬†cheats you — not them.

Labelling others in the midst of a dispute cuts off our ability to relate to them. It assigns them to a box, inside of which, they are no longer significant as a rational, independent entity. They are now “stupid”, or “awful”, or worse — ignorant¬†and unenlightened.

The problem with that is that it’s not true.¬†People with whom you disagree are, nonetheless, still people. And who is to say that you are more informed? When you place a label, what you’ve actually done is cut yourself off from¬†the possibility of engagement and persuasion. You’ve ensured that person will not come to see things from your point of view — because nobody is convinced of anything if they are not first engaged as a rational actor.¬†

Understanding enables us to have the life we were meant to have.

We were not meant to label our everyday adversaries. Children engage in such activities — and parents do their best to¬†help bring children into the word of adults, where complex situations require people to make hard decisions. People who disagree with us are not bad.¬†They are not bad, and they deserve our time, consideration, and respect.

If we are to ever get time, consideration, and respect from others, we must first be givers, and not takers.

 

The most important day in my lifetime

In order to understand my world, you need to understand something about culture.

The place where I live is deeply divided. Not 20 years ago, the people here experienced a complex war, between 3 sides, which was stopped by the international community in 1995, and left the city divided. There are literally two halves of the city, each with its own utilities, government offices, and postal service.

I am affected by this divided reality every day.¬†I live inside of it, and it governs¬†my daily routine. But no matter how long I live here, no matter how well I speak the local language, no matter how well I know the city, I will always be a foreigner. I will never be a¬†member of the culture here — not in the same way that locals are.

This aspect of my life here has taught me a great lesson about how I ought to think about my involvement in the country of my birth. This, I believe, is how I was always supposed to look at my own culture and society. Consider these words of Scripture:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

1 Peter 2:9-17

The point is that, regardless of where I was born, I am now to look at myself as primarily a member of the people of God. This membership is of utmost importance, such that I make it more important, in my own mind, than even my earthly citizenship in the country of my birth.

Just as my present city is divided, the country of my birth is divided, deeply. There are northerners, southerners, liberals, moderates, Democrats, Libertarians, and everything in between. But citizenship in the Kingdom of God enables me — it requires¬†me —¬†to look at those divisions as a member of another culture.

I see the divisions, I am affected by them, and I have my opinions about the sides. But no matter how much I am affected, no matter how well I try to speak the “language” of that debate, I know that I cannot involve my heart in the debate in the same way that most do. For them, this is ultimate — there is nothing transcending this cultural war.

 

But for me, if the words of 1 Peter are of any significance, then I know that this conflict is surpassed¬†by one much more important, ending in the realization of the longing of the redeemed hearts of God’s people, the redemption of all things. No matter how many times someone says,”this is the most important day in our lifetime,” — I know that a day much more consequential is coming, whose memory will never fade.

God speed the day.

You are addicted to your lost cause: The Psychology of Culture Wars

To understand my situation, you need to understand something about lost causes.

Lost causes in modern America.¬†Yesterday I posted a response to Dr. Russell Moore’s article about Donald Trump. In it I detailed why I disagree with the idea of Christians taking part in a culture war to bring back American culture to its Christian roots. My general positions were that culture cannot be “won back” after it has evolved, the country was founded as a secular nation, and Christians should see themselves as natives of a different culture.¬† Continue reading

It doesn’t matter whom you vote for: Earthly leaders and the heavenly leader

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:11

  

Scripture refers to people as sheep over 400 times. Why?

Sheep are hopelessly dumb; there is no other way to describe them. Unlike dogs or cats, they will wander and lose their way. Even when they are found, they may not follow their shepherd unless they are scared into doing so by a dog. At times, the shepherd must catch them, tie them up, and carry them back to their pasture. They will wander without direction, oblivious of their circumstances, until they starve and die, or are killed by a predator. 

And yet this is one of scripture’s favorite word pictures for people. There are many implications. People are hopeless without a shepherd. People are oblivious of their surroundings. People are unaware of how they hurt themselves. 

But there is one more implication that is especially valuable in this time: there is but one Good Shepherd. All others will disappoint. No other shepherd has the heart of Jesus, who lays down his life for the edification of stupid, wayward animals. 

Inject that insight into the circumstances of today. The American people will soon choose a new President. This is the choosing of a new earthly shepherd, a new earthly leader. To the top of the heap have risen characters whose pasts are checkered, to put it kindly. 

No one in this field has clearly demonstrated a desire to lead the American people that does not also include an obvious desire for their own profit and gain.  Maybe this is something we all instinctively know, but it is worth noting.

There is no perfect candidate, because there never will be one. The only leader who ever led from a truly selfless motivation already came, 2,000 years ago. And if we think that we can find a similar leader today, then we are sadly mistaken. 

If this is true, then, in fulfilling our civic duty we would all do good to recognize that all leaders are broken in some way. While we must still debate the differences between the candidates and discern the best choice for ourselves, it is helpful to be mindful that we are ultimately still comparing one broken person to another. None is perfect, and there is not one choice that is more “spiritual” than another. We are free to choose. 

However, while we are free to chose, we are not to judge the spirituality of another voter based on their choice for an elected office. It doesn’t make sense to assume that a person’s opinion of one broken candidate is indicative of their standing with God. All are broken, and all are capable of good things only through the grace that God gives. 

Lastly, it is good to step back from this whole process and recognize our own brokenness. We are all sheep, in need of a Good Shepherd. 

A sheep’s problem isn’t that it acts sometimes like a sheep, overeating in its own pasture and wandering off too far — its problem is that it is a sheep, and from that it will never escape without the guidance of a shepherd. And unless we recognize that we are the same, we deceive ourselves. 

You Just Do You: A Follow-up to “There is None Good But God”

just-do-it

Some of the social media comments on my last post were interesting. After a day or so of time to reflect on it, I believe there are probably a few more things I could say on the topic of how Christians ought to approach our culture.

I’m sure this will be an ongoing conversation, which is good for the blog format. Blogs are meant to be constantly added to, and so I’m glad to have found a few things about which I can keep the conversation going.

Do What Only You Can Do.

This may sound trite, but it is worth saying: in life, you ought to find out what it is that you can do better than anyone else, and then do that thing over, and over again. This is the alternative to simply looking for a job, or languishing in any stage of life waiting for someone else to tell you what to do. Rather than looking for someone else to give you direction, or tell you what you’d be good at, it is better to find something you are passionate about and find a way to advance that cause in any way you can.

You might be saying, “What does this have to do with socialism, conservatism, and all that stuff you wrote about the other day?”

Don’t Let Other People Tell You What to Think.

The point is, in the discussion about which viewpoint to take and which causes to back, socialism, conservatism, liberalism, and all the other -isms out there should really be irrelevant to the Christian. They really ought to be irrelevant to anyone who wants to have a positive influence on the world, but I know personally about the Christian perspective, so I write about that.

For us, we’ve already got a message that grounds us, and it’s found in the pages of the best selling, most widely read, most well preserved book that has ever been written. That message ought to precede any other message we ascribe to. It ought to be the one that determines what we say to a world that needs healing and redemption.

Focus on What Matters.

The problem that I see, over and over again, is that we keep on shouting about how things are too liberal, or they seem too much like socialism, or communism, or Keynesianism, or consumerism, or globalization, or whatever other ideology we wish to oppose. Really, those things ought not to be part of our thought process at all. What we ought to think about is, What are we called to do in this world, and how can we best do that thing. And how can we do it again, and again, and again?   

What difference does it make if following a message of redemption and healing takes us down a path that some feel is conservative or liberal? What we ought to care most about is whether it takes us down the path toward redemption and healing.

Go think about that thing and get back to me. That is all.