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These Divided States of America

Back in the day [really it was less than 10 years ago] I spent a lot of time talking about and helping The Marin Foundation. A question I’ve been asking myself lately is, “What can I take from that experience to apply to what’s happening in our country today?”

Elevating the Conversation

Rooted in the philosophy of The Marin Foundation, which existed in a place and time when the tension between the LGBTQ & evangelical communities was at a peak, was the idea that change would come if they could help elevate the conversation.

They found that people with firmly held positions were not actually talking, when it was it would break down into position statements and posturing, and it was not just unproductive, it was hurtful.

The brilliance of this was that as they sought to elevate the conversation the could help move people to the ultimate goal of divided people seeing one another as fully human, sometimes for the very first time.

It wasn’t about setting aside differences or changing the subject, pretending differences weren’t there or unimportant, it was about learning to love one another as humans first, getting to know “the other”, seeing people as whole and not “them”, and then from that place of humanity working back into a posture of, “Since we’re both dearly loved humans how can we move forward?” “What can change in me for us to love one another?”

Divided States of America

Travel around and you’ll see we are no longer the United States of America as there’s nothing united about us. These Divided States of America need a new flag, not with stripes but hashtags. Social media profits by dividing us with algorithms, many are left posturing like prized cocks in the barnyard, we look past one another’s personhood to concentrate solely on what separates us instead of focusing on the values which unite us. Everyone seems to see everyone else as separate and unequal. Everyone seems hurt. Everyone a victim. Everyone on edge. Everyone talking about their anxiety.

It’s pathetic. And we all know it. The media profits from it. So do the politicians. To them, it seems, it’s all a big game and they laugh all the way to the bank on our suffering.

To you and me its heartburn and heartache. We want something better for us. We need something better for our children.

And, unlike seemingly everyone else, I believe you and I can do something about it. I see a lot of people sitting on their hands, waiting for someone else to do something. But this our moment. This is something you and I can do.

Elevating is Not Ignoring

So here’s the pushback against my desire to elevate the conversation: It could be said that asking people to look past what divides us is really just ignoring differences which really do exist.

And, I’ll concede, maybe there’s a sliver of that in there? But, maybe just for a moment there’s value in setting aside our differences simply to get to know one another as human beings? Maybe, just maybe, there’s more importance to us to be known than to be right? And may, just maybe, in order to see the change so many of us long for we need to be impatient for that change yet humble enough to recognize that the tip of our spear is not as useful as the crack of a smile?

I’ve seen that elevating the conversation helps divided people establish a relationship. It gives us space to stop talking past one another, to actually get to know one another, and then from that place of a genuine relationship we try to move forward.

There’s something beautiful about being able to say, “This person is my friend” without the qualification of the more popular cop out version, “We might disagree on a lot of things but we are friends anyway.”

Relationships bond us. They give us the space to know, and yes– to change.

But without relationship we have nothing. More algorithms. More division. And, as an elderly neighbor who stopped in front of my house to chat wondered out loud recently: Doesn’t this all end in bloodshed?

I hope not. I really do. But that’s where this is headed.

Neighbors First

As a Christian I’ve been taught to love my neighbor as myself. If I don’t love my neighbor I don’t love myself. To love my neighbor is to love myself.

This principle upsets the algorithms. It’s anti-Tribalism. It flies in the face of everything contemporary culture says we should be doing.

It says, don’t make friends with people just like you. Make friends with the people who live on your block. Yes, even that one.

Loving your neighbors dulls tribalism. It makes you a better person. It makes everything better.

So that’s my sermon to myself this morning: Elevate the conversation. See people. Know people. Unite.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

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