We live in a non-committal era. Facebook invites are easily ignored or marked as “maybe.” Bowing out of a commitment at the last second via text is fairly common. In the swip-right, non-ending-options society we find ourselves in, digging in and staying committed is certainly optional.
Within friendships, it can be easy to let things fade when changing schedules, changing jobs, adding kids to the family or simply distance makes it hard to get together. And when all of these semi-valid reasons for not keeping in touch exist, it’s so easy to ease out of a relationship that has gotten tense. Tense because of changing life stages of one or both parties, tense from newly recognized differences in political or religious opinions, tense because of different expectations or values within the friendship. So we ghost. We get flakey, cancel on commitments, slowly stop responding to texts, and voila! Discomfort escaped.
But should escaping discomfort be our motivator in life? Should we be hiding from and avoiding conflict and tension at all costs? What is that doing to us as a whole? The more we shrug off people with differing opinions or values, the more homogeneous we all become. We start living in echo-chambers, having conversations with people who nod in agreement and validate everything we say without every challenging us to think deeper, more critically, more holistically. We join groups and read books and go to clubs where it’s more of the same.
How dangerous, I think, to surround ourselves with people who are just like ourselves. Humanity is not homogeneous. Mankind is made up of such astonishing variety – different cultures, different colors, different histories, different stories, different perspectives, different ideas, different ways of living out this life that we all share. That variety is truly “the spice of life.” Just as in cooking, a bland dish with very little flavor gets boring quickly and usually isn’t as nourishing. Different dishes with different spices, different meats, different produce keeps the mouth intrigued. Exposing ourselves to different people, ideas and cultures brings intrigue, interest, and health to our life.
The American Church is notoriously homogeneous. There’s a quote that basically says that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time in America. I would go further to say that, beyond racially, we are segregating more and more into spiritual and intellectual camps too. If a church has a musical style we don’t like, we leave. If the sermons are too long, too short, not “meaty” enough, not “seeker-friendly,” too shallow, we leave. Certainly if the content is something we aren’t on board with – too pro-LGBTQ for comfort, not inclusive enough, too Biblically literal, too open to Biblical interpretations (or the wrong one), we leave.
I get it. I think we do this, with relationships and our institutions, because we are all just trying to live this life the best we know how, and we’re seeking validation. No one knows if they are doing life right, but if I find a friend that thinks or does like I do, then that must mean we’re both onto something, that we’ve arrived at the correct way to live. If my church is sharing style or content that I am nodding away in agreement to, then it confirms my opinions.
It was so nice, in a way, the first 24 years of my life being in school. Thankfully, I was a good student, and getting those As felt so good. I had done well, I had performed and studied correctly, and got black and white feedback as to my correctness. How comforting. Being out of school, with no one officially watching my every move and judging and grading me, I think I seek that feedback still. I want to know that I’m living the right way. But the truth is, it is false to think that there is a singular, correct way to live. Even within relationships, even within church and our faith, there is endless variety. Slice out the specific example of current American Christianity from the bigger pie of current, worldwide Christianity, the even larger pie of Western Christianity historically since the split from the Orthodox branches, the bigger pie of Christianity since the beginning of it, from the even bigger pie of religious traditions worldwide across time. Even within that teeny-tiny slice of current, American Christianity, there is a wide variety of beliefs and cultures! That has to be ok! There’s no way that one small twig on one small branch of this massive tree has just arrived at Total, Complete, Ultimate TRUTH. We are ALL FIGURING IT OUT TOGETHER, all the time.
And exposure to variety, exposure to other voices, other viewpoints and opinions, other people and other cultures is critical to advancing humanity as a whole. For a LONG time, the top tiers of society in religion, politics, social structures have been way too monotone. White culture has dominated so much of the world via colonization and wiping out the vibrant and thriving cultures already present. White culture has been the only voice heard from the pulpit, the Oval Office, the school board, the C-suite. And that sucks. We’ve been missing out, as a society, from the lack of female voices, the lack of voices from people of color, the lack of voices of minority groups in the LGBTQ camp, the lack of voices from other religious backgrounds. Those voices are the spices to make our life more interesting, more nuanced, and frankly, more enjoyable.
I’ve been making a concerted effort to expose myself to more of these voices. I’ve been seeking out books written by people of color and LGBTQ authors, I follow accounts on Instagram and listen to podcasts from those same camps. And my life is richer for it. My opinions get challenged and that makes me do a little digging, and think more critically about things I just grew up absorbing passively. Sometimes I change my opinions, sometimes not, but I’m better off from the journey.
There’s also a richness that comes from staying committed in those relationships, at those jobs or clubs, at the churches that don’t echo back our thoughts 100%. There’s a richness that happens from sticking around and developing history, shared culture and experiences with a person or group. There’s something special about those friendships that have been through thick and thin, seen you at your best and worst, and have a lot of blackmail photos of you from school that is hard to start from scratch in a new, adult relationship. We are healthier and more whole when we are challenged, forced to get off auto-pilot and really think about our views, and even just to sit in disagreement with someone. We don’t have to agree with a person to be their friend. We are all allowed to be ourselves, with our own opinions and ways of living life, and it’s ok.