Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Would you want to live in a world of only plains? Or maybe a world filled with only mountains? Or even a world filled with only cities? Or only small towns? Or only the ocean? Would you want to live in a world with only vast stretches of desert? And of course we can extend this image to other areas of life: Would you want to only taste sweet foods? Only spicy foods? Only salty foods? Would you want to live in a world filled with only extroverts? Or introverts?

And here it starts getting trickier. Should we want to live in a world filled with only Christians? Muslims? Jews? Atheists? Liberals? Conservatives? Post-Modernists? Libertarians? And then what about those within our particular "camp" who still disagree? Shall we only live in a world filled with our particular "vision" of atheism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc, etc, etc.

We have a very natural human tendency to want to shape the rest of reality to our own already set beliefs and behaviors (can we say confirmation bias?). Thus we also tend to want the rest of reality to reflect our own sensibilities. We can do this either by outright rejecting any competing claim to the epistemological terrain or by reframing (and usually distorting) those competing narratives so that they end up suiting our own desires. I know this tendency well, since I've engaged in it on a regular basis myself.

I've lived in a number of different "terrains" both physically and ideologically and spiritually and emotionally. If I only ever saw a city landscape, I'd either get bored with it or see it as the only possible reality. And my all too natural instinct would be to either deify it or demonize it. In that sense, I guess I'm extremely grateful that though I did grown up in NYC, I also grew up on the south shore of Staten Island, which was and is still quite wooded and rural. So while we climbed trees and traversed many wooded paths, we also were a stone's throw from the concrete canyon of Lower Manhattan.

I often only half jokingly say we were the Beverly Hillbilly's of NYC.

But along with being culturally rural so close to a city environment, my family was also quite politically liberal in a very conservative neighborhood. We learned early on that not being in sync with the political majority held it own costs.

Another beautiful benefit of my very broken family was that we knew and interacted with those different than us. I was exposed to friendships with Jews, blacks, Latinos, Asians, the developmentally disabled, the homeless, etc. from early childhood. Though, in the midst of our own brokenness, it was always tempting to retreat into an interior reality blocked off from outside experience, experience, and I believe God, gave me a sense what it's like to walk in other people's shoes.

So again I appeal to my conservative friends to get to know and learn from liberal friends. And likewise, my liberal friends need to truly listen to what conservatives have to say and why. And on another spectrum, my atheist friends need to know more religious folks, so that you don't only see the caricatures presented by the supposedly "new" atheists. And of course, my religious friends also need to know, as in actually know, those who don't share your own convictions, and listen with a spirit of generosity to those who deeply differ.

So, for me at least, I choose to walk a path that includes mountains and plains, oceans and rivers, cities and towns, liberals and conservatives, atheists and believers. It doesn't mean I deny a particular sense and sensibility of reality. But it does mean that, even though we may deeply disagree, I will listen to you, because you do have something good and important to say to me.

So in this spirit, let's talk. Truly and truthfully.

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