I was a pretty lousy math student. There were a number of reasons why, including untreated ADHD, and not wanting to ask for help until the direst need. But I’m sure one of the bigger reasons was because I tried to do most of the figures and equations in my head: write the problem out, go through the formula and calculations in my head, and then magically an answer appears next to the problem on my paper! Like I’m some kinda genius or something! Get this man a scholarship. So that wasn’t real smart of me. On my best days it was adequate for passing grades, and on my usual days, the results were not impressive. Some folks might be able to get by just fine with these methods, but I was not one of those people. Going through the steps on paper allows you and the teacher to see where you went wrong. It also should help you stay on track better, and catch any mistakes before you’re done with the problem.
Now, years later, that attitude towards math interests me again as I see it everywhere (including, yes, in my own head).
Let’s take one of the hot button items of the past few years: refugees and the United States’ policies towards them. I have no interest in diving into the pros and cons of this whole discussion here (though you can probably guess my general bias here), but it’s been a good example of this phenomenon, I think. Someone’s stance one way or another on this situation doesn’t bother me, unless it’s clearly an “eff them all” sort of thing, or another extreme which says that unless I’m clearing out my guest bedrooms RIGHT NOW, then I’m not following Jesus, or I’m a hypocrite for expressing concern for them. What is of interest to me though, especially from Christians, is when a position is reached without even lip-service to compassion, or a reasonable caution on the flip side. Regardless of where you finally end up on an issue, you do realize you’re talking about a whole lot of individual human beings, right? Children? Folks who have lost everything, family, even limbs, to war and unrest? Maybe partisanship is relevant to the discussion, and one or both sides are using it for an agenda of some kind, but there’s still real people out there caught in the hell. Can we “show our steps” along the way to our position, and at least acknowledge these factors? Even if you’ve come to the conclusion that we can’t or shouldn’t do anything for the situation, at least keep your humanity along for the ride. Show compassion. Don’t skip this step. We can’t let ourselves be so jaded that our default response is to ignore the humanity and run straight to policy and partisan arguments. Tragedies are not commodities, and we can either be swept up in the commotion and forget the tragedy, or start from ground zero and retain our humanity along the way to a conclusion. Heck, you might find yourself coming to different conclusions. When the dust of our scuffles and posturing settles, there’s still human cost. Empathy is exhausting, but if you’re not ready to dive in to the deep end, maybe you shouldn’t toss opinions around flippantly.
“Show your steps”
Here’s another subject that hits a little closer to home for me: church/domestic abuse. Over and over again I and other friends in the spiritual abuse survivors community have seen public figures and social media gurus lose folks over this. Some don’t even bother with the lip-service of compassion to the hurt ones, and skip straight to damage control. The agenda must continue unimpeded! I’m sorry you were hurt but the show must go on. The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few. Keep your groaning down, I’m trying to sleep over here.
Maybe you find out after all there were misunderstandings, and their conclusions are off base, or there’s not much you can do for them practically. Maybe they’re putting more blame on you then you feel you deserve. Alright then. But is it that hard to reach out and acknowledge the pain? We Christians are in the people business, aren’t we? If there’s a trail of bodies behind you or your ministry, just what kind of people business is it? One recent example is Josh Harris, of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” notoriety. Whether you think his change of heart on the subject is meaningful, I think it was a stand-up move to open up his platform and listen to a whole lotta folks who felt that his book caused them a lot of pain. It’s still such a rarity to see in Christian (or the majority of people in spotlights, for that matter) circles that even if he didn’t change a thing about his beliefs, it was still shocking to see someone do that. That is sad. We, who of all people should be most vulnerable, transparent, teachable, and humble, are known at the leadership level for not listening, and a whole lot of people are watching and learning.
“Show Your Steps”
Why do you believe what you believe? Is this convenient for you? Did you read a book and become an expert? Is that what you grew up with? Is this something near and dear to your heart because you’ve witnessed consequences? Has this come as a result of a significant amount of study and experience? Why do you care? There’s a million causes out there that come to our attention, while some demand our attention because they affect our daily lives or our loved ones. Why does a given cause spark your passion? You might say you care about the things God cares about and that’s reason enough, but you’re still going to be choosing the things you can reasonably invest your emotion and intellect into one way or another, and this is revealing whether you intend it to be or not.
I am vocal about abuse, mainly religious abuse (whether physical or emotional/spiritual). I am because that has been my experience, I’ve put a lot of time into it since coming out of it, and I’m passionate to see it and the systems that enable it be a thing of the past, and to help individuals grow past it into health. As a subset under this, I care about gender equality, as inequality has been one of the ways my wife and many of my friends have been abused and suppressed, in the name of the Bible, often enough. I care because we’re living with the effects, still. Blogging and tweeting about it in depth is one way I “show my steps”. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other subjects, only that I must pick my spots with care and stay with a posture of listening on those subjects, or I’ll be out of my depth quickly.
I hope my statements are not posturing, or needlessly divisive, and that I can and do show how I got to my positions or why I feel the way I do, and so strongly. This is a process. I want you to be able to see, when I say something, where I’m coming from, and where I am on this particular road. Not necessarily so you can see me in the best possible light (though I hope I make sense, even if one disagrees), but that perhaps the additional perspective will flesh out the listeners’ worldviews for greater understanding. I don’t always follow these intentions well, but there they are anyway.
Vulnerability in this way not only allows my positions to make better sense to listeners (hopefully), but it also allows them to correct or inform or add perspective as necessary. It’s necessary for meaningful conversation. You can see a forest by flying over the trees, but if you want to experience it and learn it and understand it, you’ll eventually need to get down on the ground and look around, and look up. Similarly, if all you’re seeing is end results, final conclusions, bold statements, and firm lines, you’re missing the beauty, the pain, the growth, history, the flaws, or even the real ugliness that results in the conclusions. If you’re not letting anyone into the forest, so to speak, where is the integrity in that? Whether you painted the picture, or whether you simply reprinted another’s work does matter.
It’s easy to live in the land of hot takes these days, where entire races, genders, professions, institutions, or events can be summed up in a tweet or a blog or a quick book by a guy or gal who’s got a bolt of lightning up their bum for better or for worse, but if these concepts mean anything substantial and if we are going to help anyone, we need to do the intellectual and emotional labor of understanding the whole picture ourselves, the best it’s available, and walking through the steps ourselves, so it’s our journey, our belief. If we let others do the labor for us as we take our positions, we may well be right objectively, and have the best facts, but we’ll also be functioning psychopaths as far as that discussion is concerned, and we and our cause might well be better off if we kept silent. Truth™ without heart, or conviction. The world doesn’t need one more disconnected voice telling us what they think of pastors, or women, or men, or millennials, or #BLM, or the Left, or the Right, or Muslims, or whatever the scratching post happens to be, without context or life investment to go along with it. The world doesn’t need your disembodied bible verse hitting them up side the head as they go outta line. Don’t cheapen truth™ by tossing it around like an amateur juggler with borrowed balls, or a fan running onto the playing field with their own football while the game is in progress.
“Show Your Steps”. You may just find you missed one in the process.