Let’s take a risk & broaden our circles

by Kristin on October 27, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Crackers93

Yesterday’s impassioned string of comments on my blog post about religion and politics got me thinking about sameness, difference, and our tendency to gather into clusters of people who are more like us than they are different.

If you look at the comments, they fall mostly into three categories (in relation to me): There’s the “you go, girl” crowd (people who share my belief structure and my take on how those beliefs should be expressed in the world); and then two variations of the “agree to disagree” camp—those who share my core religious beliefs but not necessarily my expression of them, and those who don’t share my religious beliefs but are encouraged by my expression of them.

At the end of the day, I’m thrilled that we can all jump into the conversation together, and I’m very aware of how rare that kind of opportunity is.

Many jobs tend to attract people with a similar educational background and socio-economic status. Most religious institutions attract not just people who share the same beliefs, but also the same race and socio-economic status. For the most part, the nation’s public schools have very little diversity when it comes to race, religion and socio-economics (my daughters happen to go to schools that are very much the exception).

Similarities attract

When it comes to friendships, we usually start with a pool of people that’s already narrowed by the societal factors I just mentioned, then we narrow it down even further, finding people who are even more like us, in more specific ways. We can end up with a group of friends that share our political views, our food and music tastes, and our sense of humor. We shop at the same places, go to the same restaurants, and sign our kids up for the same soccer team or theater program.

Don’t get me wrong—that’s completely natural and healthy. We long to spend time with people who *get* us, and who affirm us. Sometimes we feel very much alone in the broader world because of some peculiarity we represent (like being a politically liberal Christian). We long to feel less alone. No wonder immigrant communities form such strong bonds.

But just because being with people who are like us is good in some respects doesn’t mean it’s a healthy in all respects. I really think we need to figure out how to break through those lines that get drawn, and make a conscientious decision to mix things up.

Seek, celebrate and work at difference

Sometimes, amazingly, it just happens. You find yourself forming friendships and having discussions with people who are different from you in various ways. That’s when you need to make a conscientious decision to celebrate, nurture, and respect those friendships. Just yesterday on Twitter, for instance, @relunrelated said to @chambanalaura and I, “Can’t tell you how much I enjoy seeing Christian, Jewish, & atheist agreeing on things. lol!” It made me incredibly happy and hopeful.

I don’t want to pretend, for a moment, that this is easy. Without a doubt, the more alike we are, the easier it is to get along. My marriage with Jason is a relative breeze mostly because we see eye to eye on almost everything, from religion and politics to food, favorite pastimes and how to raise our kids. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

The same goes for friendships, via social media and in real life. Here on my blog yesterday it was much easier to respond to Debbe’s “right on” comment than it was to respond to Craig’s “have to take issue with” comment. And being a part of a church community like mine—made up of people who see the world in surprisingly different ways—is messy, exhausting business.

But I believe, without a doubt, that it’s worth it. Not only is it worth it, I believe it’s the only way out of this polarized mess the world is in. Let’s each do what we can to start making the different and unexpected a reality.

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  • http://www.manypinksneakers.blogspot.com sarah louise

    YAY!! Yes, it is exhausting to be with folks that have different mindsets, but it is also incredibly important. I ache to see my extended family grow further apart due to political and religious differences of opinion.

    The single/married chasm is a hard one, as are breaking socio-economic and racial boundaries. But I agree, digging in, being grown-ups, is the only way to de-polarize this mess.

    Thanks for this post, what a great follow up to your last post.

    xo,
    SL

  • Craig

    Kristin,

    Maybe everybody grew a little yesterday. I know I did. I almost just left, you know, not being halfway to any Normal myself. Thinking – well that community doesn’t like me, want me, need me, and maybe just move on.

    Your picture is brilliant! Made me stop today and try to figure out who is the fox and who is the cat – and should it really matter because we don’t have to follow only instincts – we can think – and grow – and communicate.

    That being said, I did eaves drop on the Twitter conversations from yesterday – all of them. I know – bad of me. They weren’t all so loving – the things that were said behind a certain Conservative Christian’s back were pretty mean and hurtful and have staying power.

    I know it wasn’t an easy blog day for you and in case our fox and cat tails don’t cross again. I’m sorry I put you through it. If the original rant was never made, if a certain commenter (read me) really read well what you had said, before shooting from the hip – well the the day would have been much more rosy for everyone. I was responsible for the first shot of snark. I’ll give the ensuing anti snark credit to God.

    Not sure where this fox or kitty tail will land – but if it doesn’t come back this way again. God bless you and keep you – and your community. I have learned a bit about being more careful with my words. Growing sometimes has pangs.

  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    I certainly appreciated reading your post yesterday, Kristin, and I appreciated reading your thoughtful notes interspersed between those who commented. I thought you were welcoming toward Craig, and showed kindness to Sean.

    My experiences on the blogosphere the last two years have been formational. I’ve encountered so many people whose hearts beat for Jesus yet feel as though there is no place for them to “belong” in real life. It’s a tragedy, and shows the failures of North American Evangelicalism (of which I am a part).

    I believe the early church hosted an amazing diversity of socio-economic-political opinions because the church steadfastly refused to buy into any worldview other than the Lordship of Jesus and the in-breaking of his kingdom. My reading of the New Testament shows me slaves worshipping along side their masters. Women and men fulfilling radically different roles in society but sharing counter-cultural relationships within the church. Political viewpoints are rarely mentioned within the life of the church.

    I think our current polarity stems primarily from subordinating Jesus to other priorities in our lives, the result being we press “Christianity” into the service of things we think are more important. The church becomes a battleground for our other opinions. The scripture becomes for us a mirror instead of a portal of heaven. It becomes ammunition instead of the bread of life.

    Finally, Kristin, you’re right. It’s worth the effort. I would say it’s our God-given responsibility. Peace to all!

  • teresa

    I agree with Craig. your picture IS brilliant!
    :)

    smiles to both of you, I’ve ejoyed the posts and conversation.

  • Dan J

    I’m certainly glad that we’re finding the things we agree on, and the things we have in common. It does make it feel like more of a community that way.

  • http://www.kristensloan.com Kristen Sloan

    I had a conversation the other day with the senior pastor at my new church – Forest Hill. Forest Hill is in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a very diverse area of socioeconomic classes and of ethnicity. We talked about how valuable living in this area has been for his kids (who are teenagers now). I agree completely. I grew up in a white, middle class area with no diversity of any sort and wished I had exposure to different races and classes growing up. It’s so valuable to learn about those different than you. It challenges me and allows me to grow personally and spiritually.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    sarah louise, when you see families driven apart by differences of opinion, it’s no surprise that strangers or mere acquaintances have a hard time overcoming them. You bring up some other chasms in our society (like single/married) that are important to remember. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, like we can’t begin to bridge them all, but I think if we each pick a chasm or two that makes our hearts hurt most, and do what we can to attend to it, we will be on our way.

    Craig, I was worried that someone would try to figure out who was the cat and who was the fox, but I like where you ended up—we don’t always have to follow our instinctive natures. In fact, I think we have to override those very defenses a bit if we’re going to accomplish any of this. I’m sorry you were hurt by Twitter chatter, but it obviously wasn’t “behind your back.” Twitter is a very public forum—everyone who uses that knows it. I often seek wisdom from people there who have been doing this blogging thing for a lot longer than I have. Everyone who finds their way to Twitter has the choice to “lurk” or jump into the conversation. Both have their dangers.

    Ray, I have discovered the same thing since diving into blogging and Twitter a couple years ago: “I’ve encountered so many people whose hearts beat for Jesus yet feel as though there is no place for them to ‘belong’ in real life.” And I think your assessment of the problem is right on: “I think our current polarity stems primarily from subordinating Jesus to other priorities in our lives, the result being we press ‘Christianity’ into the service of things we think are more important.” I continue to be challenged and pushed by your insightful, eloquent words. Thanks for being a part of this community.

    teresa, thanks! Finding the right photo is sometimes half the work of getting a blog post up—the struggle to come up with the right concept and then the right photo often seems to take as much time as it did to formulate my thoughts and write the post. (And every once in a while, the time spent looking for the photo is worth it. :)

    Dan J, I obviously agree. :)

    Kristen, this is one of the main parenting issues I’ve struggled with: How do we best prepare our children for life—especially for a life of kindness and compassion, not just “success” by the world’s standards? Providing the best education for them certainly has its benefits, but it has its drawbacks, too, since most of the private schools I’ve known about have very little true diversity (and I’m not just talking about a few token students of color). Socio-economic diversity is just as important for our kids to be aware of. At any rate, I hear what you and your pastor are saying. I grew up in a small town with almost no diversity, and I’m thankful that my kids are having a different experience.

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    “…pick a chasm or two that makes our hearts hurt most, and do what we can to attend to it…”
    That’s a good way to approach life. Whether through blogs or other social media, bridging those gaps is very important. Thank you for having the courage to speak.

  • Trina

    Though I’ve been absent from this community for some time, one thing I enjoy about about coming here is the divergent thoughts compared to my own, Some times we do get too comfortable with what is easy…but when one chooses to go beyond their comfort zone the results can be very rewarding indeed. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – so to speak.

  • http://amberRobinson.com Amber

    Not easy, but worth the effort.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Daisy, I do think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and also easy to look at the problems around us in a one-dimensional way. As you pointed out, there are ways to bridge gaps and using social media, just as there are in the “real,” concrete world. Thanks for all of the ways you address the gaps, too.

    Trina, it’s good to see you! Since my early blog days, you have been a reader I could always trust to listen with open ears and to stretch me with your own point of view.

    Amber, the trick is to keep convincing ourselves and one another that it IS worth the effort during those long stretches when it just feels like too much work.