You’re at a dinner party. Looking around the table you see friends from all walks of life. Conversation is lively and laughter keeps erupting. Later over coffee, someone risks an opinion. It’s actually a lament, but the underlying emotion is dressed as opinion. If you could see the grief and fear, you would say, “You sound discouraged.” But since it touches on politics, body language around the table ices over and tension grips the room.
You have probably been in this scene listening to that lament and assumed it was anger. Despair about an issue can sound like a partisan hot take. It’s hard to see under the hood to what emotion is really driving.
My grandfather used to say, if you want to spoil an evening, talk politics or religion. And yet, scripture suggests a robust friendship at times can be like a knife drawn through a narrow channel, peeling off metal shards. Iron sharpening iron. Who is willing to be honed like that today?
Borrowing another image, what kind of people are aware of the hands already forming them, the way clay yields to its potter?
Problem: Formed by Politics
Few of us might admit the extent to which politics shapes the very contours our mental landscape. Or what puppeteer holds the strings of our reactions. A favorite columnist or news outlet may play the role of gatekeeper, narrowing a range of views to a binary choice.
Then someone hosts that dinner party and you wonder if there is not some third option, something other than a fight for who is right, or an anxious flight into indifference.
Fight for who is right
You probably know what it feels like to win an argument but not the person. It feels like a scene from an old romantic comedy. The main character never finds the right words at the right time to put someone in their place. Until she does. She shames her rival but finds a hollow victory.
Shame has power because it operates in half truth. It wields some part of the facts not as a tool to build but as a blunt instrument to tear down. It scores without regard to the long game. Without regard for winning the person.
Paul is talking about the long game, putting influence ahead of power, when he said,
“If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” That’s quite striking. You can have the deepest insight and even power and still be a lightweight—a “nothing.” Not even a whiner but just a whine.
Flight into indifference
On the flip side are people who want the appearance of compassion but without truth. Truth without love strikes fast like weapon. But “love” without truth corrupts slowly like a poison. It’s like shrugging your shoulders in nonchalance as if being nice were all love requires.
When someone runs towards a cliff, love sticks out a foot to trip. That’s not nice. Like the time I heard someone question his roommate about a girlfriend: “You’re not you around her.” More than a few metal shards peeled off that day. That roomie became far more than just nice. Love is not indifferent to difference.
Walk and chew gum at the same time
Fight or flight follows a path of least resistance. Is there a third option? “Loving the sinner but hating the sin?” Some call that glib and condescending. Even C.S. Lewis wrestled with it. But then he realized that’s exactly how he made peace with himself. A truth about us is not the truth about us.
“To be a descendent of Adam and Eve is both honour enough to lift the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor.”
Those are words of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. He was speaking to the budding young prince Caspian. Lewis affirms how the the dividing line between good and evil runs through the heart even of those with a noble, royal future.
The both-and of grace and truth is the challenge of relationships. Verbal pushback or indifference to difference is the natural shape of human interaction. We need more time on the Potter’s wheel to be formed more like the One who walked “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14)
That’s why G.K. Chesterton wrote:
“Christianity has not be tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”