It’s Complicated

Life has felt more than a little crazy as of late. We’re still fighting a pandemic, which people have seemed to stop caring about. We are seeing the largest rise of racial justice protests and movement I’ve ever witnessed in my life, both across every state in the US and in countries around the world! That is both exciting and depressing that it took the murder of another undeserving person of color to get people to finally care enough to do something. We’re coming up to a Presidential election which is always its own special kind of crazy. We’re still in an economic crisis. Whew.

As I’ve been getting more and more engaged with politics and civil issues, I’ve found a very tempting tendency, which I have certainly fallen into many times, of over-simplifying things. It’s mentally easy to make things black and white, good and evil, right and wrong with no in-betweens, no gray zones. I’ve never used the n-word, so I’m not racist. I’m a Christian, so I vote Democrat (in my case; I think for a lot of people it’s the reverse). Welfare recipients are taking advantage of the system. Immigrants are bad/dangerous/stealing our jobs. When in reality, it’s never that simple.

Especially as I’ve learned more and more about racism in the US, I’ve been blown away by how ingrained and complex it can be. One of the podcasts or books I’ve read on the topic said that racism is the air we breath in the US. It can be hard to see, hard to define, and hard to identify when we’ve grown up here, especially as white people. But it is a very complicated topic and history. Do the research.

As a Christian, I’ve grown up reading the Bible. I’ve read the whole thing multiple times and many books several times. I haven’t been to seminary and I don’t have a degree in theology or Biblical studies, but I’ve been reading lots of books by people who have. They have taught me that the Bible is complicated. The many different books (66) are written by many different authors in many different writing styles (poetry, history, prophetic, personal letters) and in more than one language. It was written to a specific group of people in a specific era with a specific lived experience that would have common knowledge within itself which is no longer common knowledge to us today. The Bible was not written to or for modern day Americans. It’s not trying to answer all the questions we may have with today’s mind. It was very preoccupied with its own questions (most notably how to explain the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon, did God abandon them? Etc etc) So the stories, the meaning, the implications – it’s all complicated. We miss out on a lot when we don’t do the research.

I understand the desire to make things simple. Life is crazy, busy, difficult, stressful, and complicated as it is. In addition to the entire first paragraph above, we all have our own personal issues, drama, family problems, health problems, financial stress etc. Life is hard! It can be equally beautiful, but it is hard! So it’s nice to take the easy way, to not do the extra research or searching or thinking, and go with the pre-formed ideas that come out of whatever package we ascribe to. I get it. I’ve done it.

The truth is, in very every single issue in politics, in religion, and in life, things are complicated! I’ve been reading a fantastic book on politics called I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers. They do such an amazing job of discussing politics from each side of the traditional aisle (Sarah from the Left and Beth from the Right) and doing so in a nuanced, grace-filled, amicable way. Their book is the closest thing to therapy I’ve ever read. It’s pointed out areas that I’ve fallen back on talking the party talk. They bring up many examples of different political hot-topics – welfare, trade, healthcare, abortion, etc  – and show how truly complicated these issues often are. I certainly have not done all the research to fully understand many if not all of these topics. I have “formed hardened opinions on subjects without understanding them.”

We all only have so much mental energy, so much time, so much brain power. It is necessary and ok to prioritize and have boundaries. What I’ve been realizing is that I need to keep my mouth shut more often when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I don’t have the right to get into heated conversations if I haven’t done the research. And I should be doing the research more often. We live in the nirvana age of access to information. I can do a quick google search on my phone, make sure I’m looking at a trusted source (and hopefully a few), and learn some background on a topic. The ladies who wrote the book I’m reading have a podcast called Pantsuit Politics, in which they’ve done several “primers” on complicated political topics to give people the background knowledge in 20-30 min sessions. There are books and podcasts on any topic you care about that make it easier to learn from someone else who has done the deep dive.

I think if I, and more of us, could stay calm when discussing current events and politics, and could stay open and humble, we could enjoy a much more friendly atmosphere. Staying humble allows us to truly care about the person we’re talking to, to remember that they are in fact fully human and deserving of dignity, even when we don’t agree, and to listen with curiosity before jumping to respond. Staying open allows us to dig down to the root issues of why people think the way they do and find that maybe there is some common ground that has translated into different courses of action.

I’ll be honest. I’ve truly struggled with understanding anyone who supports President Trump. I see him act in ways completely counter to what I value as a Christian and as a decent human being. They are too many to list here. He’s one of the few people that I truly find despicable. However, I know people who voted for him. The people I know personally who voted for Trump are good, loving people. They volunteer and spend their time and money helping others. Again, it’s complicated. I’ve seen a lot of people unfriending and unfollowing people they disagree with or who vote differently than they do. I think that is so dangerous. The more we cancel each other out, the more set in our ways we all get.

Let’s try to find a way to have healthy conversations again. Let’s stop villainizing the “other side.” Let’s remember the full humanity of everyone we’re talking too. People are complicated, motivations are complicated, issues are complicated. Let’s stop taking the easy, lazy way and actually do a little research. Actually learn about the issues and the history. It’s always more complicated than it seems. Maybe your stance doesn’t change, but at least you get more sympathetic to other viewpoints. I think if we can practice true listening, humble hearts, and open minds, we can change the ugly state of US politics. And especially with an election coming up, that is my deepest prayer.

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