“Be in the world, but not of it.”
He’s a fella you befriended through your work or church or some other large, weekly social gathering. Everything about average Joe seems nice enough, except…
Average-Joe lives two lives.
On weekdays and/or weekends, when you see him, he’s completely sane. He holds decent conversation and seems able to listen and process in a diplomatic and objective way.
But, when average-Joe is alone in his home, he goes off the rails on his social media page….it’s littered with ranting and raving political status updates, clickbait articles, and one sided, uneducated opinions.
Whether a conspiracy theory about the government, a tirade about an imaginary political enemy, or an oversized essay about the dirty homeless littering our streets, average Joe seems to go bat shit crazy once you set him down in front of Facebook and hand him a keyboard.
Do you know Joe (or Jane)? I do. Through my work as a counselor, pastor, and customer service rep, I’ve seen and experienced countless cases of Joes and Janes. They are nice people, most of the time, when you talk to them in person, yet sometimes they are primitive apes in the public sphere. They are both beautiful and an ungodly shade of ugly at the same time.
So what is happening, and what dynamic causes such a difference in character in the same human being?
Recently, during a Facebook discussion about politics and religion, one of my friends asked me, “If you met %$#& **for fairness and objectivity, the politician’s name we were discussing will remain anonymous** and had a chance to hang out with him for coffee or a beer, would you do it?“. Knowing I am NOT a %$#& supporter, he was testing me to see if I was able to see past the public presentation and into the humanity of my least favorite politician. He was challenging my theology and philosophy, in that he was challenging the lens by which I was seeing %$#&….and I greatly appreciate him for it.
Here was my response:
“…absolutely! I would even sit down and have coffee with the man himself if he so desired. I would love to get to know him as a real human being. This is a tricky equation in that we have to see through both a micro and macro lens at the same time. On the macro level, the American Evangelical church is being judged by God for her sins….she essentially has “sold her soul”. On the micro level, God cares about and loves each one of us, and does not desire that any perish…..it’s the same concept that would cause God to call the Israelite nation a whore and an abomination (Isaiah/Jeremiah), yet at the same time tell us that He cares for each hair on our head…..it’s the paradox between the micro and macro view of humanity. To be fair, I’m not at war with %$#& and his followers. I’m simply declaring that %$#& and American Christianity have no business together. In fact, I would say that %$#& ran his campaign in a way that completely spits in the face of the foremost commandment (love god, therefore love your neighbor). The things I’m against are NOT people, but bad ideologies and wrong ways of thinking that lead to death and destruction.“
I told him, “yes”, yes I would gladly hang out with %$#&, and I wouldn’t even blast him with a truck-load of my own opinions, because I know two things for certain:
- It is built into my philosophy/theology that no one is inherently evil, we just all have the capacity to make bad decisions.
- I don’t believe God chooses to see me just as a face in the crowd, but as an individual, and seeks relationship with me, uniquely, as I am…even knowing the number of hairs on my head.
On a large scale, mankind is typically a bunch of lying, cheating bastards who bully and manipulate their way around the earth, dominating everything in their path. On the small scale, we all have the capacity to deeply love and be loved and to do good for our fellow neighbor.
Each of us is a unique character in a narrative. A distinct story unfolding. When 2 or 3 of us gather together, there is typically good-will and high spirits. But at some point, as people and groups begin to cloister, our stories get blurry, and mankind becomes a series of generic stereotypes. We fail to see the forest through the trees and things get dangerous, even cancerous. Often, mob rule controls.
But, personally, as an introvert, I am what I am. It’s only natural for me to cast a doubtful and suspicious eye at a growing crowd. Deep down, I know both small and large scale interactions are important. Not only does it matter that we sit down and look each other in the eye, it also matters that we elect and choose wise and prudent leaders to guide us….both these micro and macro connections hold a certain kind of power and enhance (or inhibit) our ability to change.
In order to understand the dynamic of the macro and micro movements among us, we could use the example of the Women’s March in DC, which took place a day after the 2017 inauguration.
As I sit writing this, the women’s march has been 3 days past. Initially, as the media and internet watched, thousands, if not millions of women, children, and men gathered across the globe in a show of solidarity. No matter what your take on politics, the ability to freely and peacefully gather and freely express ourselves is always moving….not everyone in the world enjoys such luxuries, especially those who could really use them.
Yet, 3 days in and the media onslaught has begun. I’ve seen articles, memes, status updates, photos with subtitles, name-calling, doxxing, and numerous replies and comments which are placing an entirely negative spin on it.
So, it seems, the movement, which began peaceful, has been degraded and left tarnished by the great and almighty “unchecked and unmitigated human opinion.”
……or has it?
Frame of reference is key in all things, because, perception often becomes reality. From where I witnessed the march (through personal social media platforms), I saw nothing but smiling faces and peaceful crowds gathered in a state of unity. I heard nothing but positive comments across the board about the peace and sense of community it brought.
On the micro level, I saw many of my friends experience something that brought them and their community a sense of union and peace.
On the macro level, I now see slanderous and obscene photos of the march, as well as reports and articles that seek to discredit it entirely.
Why is that? What is the TRUE reality?
I believe the answer is both, both are reality.
A march and mass gathering of people that size will inevitably contain many controversial ideas and approaches. Defining the March solely based on a few negative interactions, only does disservice to the freedom of peaceful assembly. How could a March with so many various peoples from various backgrounds and beliefs be so narrowly defined?
And yet, a mass gathering of people needs a common goal, mission, or common enemy to rally over. There has to be some specific reason strong enough to compel people to get out in the streets and flex their First Amendment rights.
Therefore, I am left with a choice: See the Women’s march through the frame of what it meant to my friends, or, see the Women’s march how the mass media presents it.
I know that many who participated in the event do not have the same viewpoint as me, yet I refuse to let it be defined in such a narrow way. Instead, I choose to remember it and it’s significance based on how the people I know, love, and respect experienced it.
“Unless you realize truth cuts both ways, you will become nothing more than a conspicuous hypocrite…”
What matters most of all, is not necessarily what micro and macro communities ARE, as much as the lens we choose to SEE, define, and understand them with.
How interesting it would be, 3 days past the march now, to see more articles with titles like, “Why I don’t believe in much of what the Women’s March stands for, yet chose to be among them anyways….at least as a spectator.”, or “Here are some pros and cons of the women’s march I took place in….hopefully, we can have an even more effective voice next time.”, or “After seeing a few women spectators not participating in the women’s march, I decided to join them for conversation to hear their concerns. Here’s what they said….” Yes, I suck at titles, but you get the point.
If we choose to see humanity first through the micro interactions, the small places where we find ourselves looking into the eyes of someone we don’t agree with from across a table or a neighboring fence, we might learn about how beautiful and complex humanity can really be.
But if we choose to see reality as the thing that flashes in front of our eyes on a pixelated screen or in a mass crowd, we, in turn, will be greatly disappointed with the human condition. We will become sinister, self appointed ministers of facts and false knowledge, with no ability to share what’s good or experience lasting change.
We must choose to see both. Humanity as too big and too complex to be simply defined, as well as so small and so simple it could fit in your own neighborhood or around your dinner table. If we ignore the reality (and power) of either, we will go out of balance, and humanity will become nothing more to us than a series of horrifying images flashing across the screen.*
Jon Stewart interview with Charlie Rose, in which, he points out the dynamic of understanding our current political culture through both a micro and macro lens.
Update: Again, during this year’s 2017 prayer breakfast, I found myself deeply concerned with the President’s speech and what was being said. Nevertheless, I had a friend who attended the event in person, and wrote this:
“I had the honor and great privilege to be at the National Prayer Breakfast today. I urge you to not take what is being fed to you by news media about what was said and done in that room. There were Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen, Democrat and Republican gathering to PRAY for our nation and our world. I left there tonight with hope in my heart. What you will not see on TV or read in the paper is that two Senators of different parties lay their hands on our President and earnestly pray for him and our country. One name rang loud and clear in that room and that name was Jesus.”
Once again, even though my opinion of the event differs from his, it’s up to me to ALSO recognize the small nuances that are involved in an event of this sort….If my premonition is correct, many of us will be performing this same mental exercise for the next couple of years in order to understand the full reality of what’s going on in the world around us…..PEACE!
UPDATE: Charlottesville, August 12, 2017. Need I say more? I will stop with the updates, but the point still remains.