“You don’t understand… Some problems are just too hard to fix… We will never get on the same page…” they all exclaimed at one another.
I sat there staring at a group of young adults in my city as they argued about the fate of the broader church and our country.
I had nothing to say. All the typical, pastoral cliches felt empty.
I was at a loss for words.
Our country (and the American church) is going through an exceptional season. Several issues are happening around us that are undermining the very fabric of being a community.
The pandemic keeps us from one another.
Racial unrest keeps us from one another.
The election keeps us from one another.
We are becoming anonymous, face-covered, racialized, politicized, media-influenced robots. We are losing our human connection with one another.
In a world that is overly connected, we are drifting further apart. With all of this information at our fingertips, we are becoming puffed up with pride. If we are not careful, this is a recipe for disaster.
Peter states in the Bible,
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind,
sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart,
and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8)
There’s that elusive (and ridiculous) word.
I know we need to be unified, but I don’t want to be unified in a cheap, meaningless way. I don’t want unity that sweeps all the issues under the rug, quotes a few verses, and adds a few popular hashtags.
I want to experience unity that is forged within the fiery, difficult circumstances that we are facing and one that will endure future disappointments and disruptions.
Here are four suggestions from that verse.
This means that we have sorrow for someone else’s misfortune or stage in life. So many people are going through difficulties around us. Sympathy calls us to carry their burdens. Sympathy says stop tweeting at them and start weeping with them. Listen to the stories of others around you, especially those that are different racially and politically. Show sympathy because we are all fragile humans that could perish within a blink of an eye.
This is the type of love makes you family with those to which you have no blood relation. What if we could make the word “family” into a verb? Go out and “family” people into your life. Share your dining table with others. Show brotherly love so people don’t have to be alone. Love hears their voice instead of critiquing their words. Love wants their true presence not their perfect presentation. Love commits not cancels.
Unity starts when we take the risk of opening our lives knowing we could be hurt by others. Why? Because calloused hearts cannot truly connect on deeper matters of life. Tenderness is often being replaced by punchy one-liners, meme-like mimicry, or cold cancel culture. It’s easy to be a troll when we can hide behind our devices. Tenderness does not allow us to hide. It exposes us to one another. It creates risk that just might pay off.
I know we all have so many different opinions. We are all smart, done the fact-checking, and convinced we are right about our beliefs. But humility makes room to hear something different. Humility deadens our echo chamber. Humility asks how to build something instead of deconstructing and tearing everything down. Humility puts aside personal agenda so that the intertwining tension of our ideas can create something stronger.
For a while on my phone lock screen, I had the quote, “Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle”. It reminded me to give people a second chance. To show sympathy, love, tenderness, and humility.
We cannot see the hidden aches and pains and heavy burdens that we each carry. I don’t know how this article will seem from your point of view. But I want to believe, overtime, we can share those burdens.
Here’s the truth: we have a chance to start anew and foster unity that is messy but rich; difficult but enduring; complex but faithful.
Again, let me reiterate, unity does not mean you have to believe all the same things as others for every pressing issue; that’s called uniformity. Uniformity can lead to mediocrity. None of us want that.
However, unity means that I may disagree with your position, but I choose to acknowledge your humanity, your Imago Dei, with sincerity, love, and humility. I cherish your viewpoint because we sharpen one another.
I know this entire article runs the risk of being overly idealistic… I feel that too. At one point, I almost deleted this whole article to write something else. I don’t know, maybe, the twitter-verse is right, and perhaps unity is too ridiculous to consider anymore.
But, I have noticed that as all of our little tribes deconstruct, critique, and cancel one another, it seems that our tribes are getting smaller and smaller. Let’s face it, we are on a dark trajectory of becoming isolated and alone. Perhaps no one will be left in our tribes after we are done with all of our canceling.
However, if we confess to be Christians, the world should be able to know that by our love. Love that is sympathetic, tender, and humble. Love that leads to an intertwined and intricate community made of honest (yet, really opinionated) people.
Is unity really that ridiculous when compared to the dark trajectory of our unchecked disunity?
As a church, we will strive for the ridiculous... for unity. I hope others will join us.