No matter how good our cause, when our conversations are tinged even with a hint of superiority, exclusivity, or self-righteousness, we weaken our collective immune system and become vulnerable to the cancer of division. . .
This excerpt is from the new release, Belonging by Sharon Hersh.
That day—more so than many—I was aware of the real consequences of conversations. When we are divided from each other, conversations become part of a pattern of disengagement rather than connection. Whether the dialogue is in the hallways of a middle school or on a social media app, every conversation is potentially toxic and is likely to be marked by an opportunistic infection of division.
If we are looking to defend or condemn our politics, we can find a conversation that allows us to take sides. If we want to expose sexual harassment and abuse or affirm the work done in this area by many good organizations, we can find a conversation to affirm our place on the continuum.
If we want to wage war, we can find reasons. If we want to march for peace, we will find allies.
This is why before we engage in any conversation we need to ask, “What am I looking for?” As I learned that day on Facebook, we do not live in times when we can impulsively post our perspective and not consider the consequences.
“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”—Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
If we want our opinions to be puffed up, our perspectives to be “liked,” our side to be winning, we can use conversation as a weapon in our divided world. The good news is that the opposite is also true. If we want to open the door to different opinions, to wrestle with our perspectives, and to connect with people no matter what side they are on, we can create conversations that offer a healing balm. But before we consider conversations as healing, we need to acknowledge why they have become so sick.
All of the division in our world has weakened our collective immune system.
In the human body, every cell depends on the other cells. The New Testament likens a group of believers to an interconnected body: “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5, NIV). When a group of cells joins together against the human body, cancer is the result. Could it be that when we join together against others, we create pain and death more than life?
I remember a client telling me about her first venture into a church service. Unbeknownst to her, the theme of the service was “the right to life.” Two weeks earlier, she’d had an abortion. She was shaky, lonely, and confused when she walked into the church. The fervor and unity of the members of the congregation nudged her to slip out before she was even noticed.
Her story called to mind one of my own. A group of us met at a coffee shop to discuss a great book: Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst. Not one of us mentioned the woman sitting outside the coffee shop alone, smelling like alcohol and begging for spare change. While we discussed the book, sipping our lattes, I wondered if she was curious about this book on desire that we all carried into the coffee shop. Did we make her crave to belong to us? Did we even consider if she might want to be with us?
No matter how good our cause, when our conversations are tinged even with a hint of superiority, exclusivity, or self-righteousness, we weaken our collective immune system and become vulnerable to the cancer of division—potentially leaving others feeling attacked, left out, diminished, or even in peril. I can smell the fragrance of self-rightness and personal offense in my Facebook rant (the fact I recognize it as a rant is a clue that it was not intended to unite but to divide). I wince as I write that, because I believe I expressed some true and important ideas. But I want to be real. I need to be real and admit that the energy of the post was fueled by me and for me—to elevate me.
In order for healing to occur in the body, every cell must play its part of support. In order to address the cancer in our conversations, we need a serious change in how we view our interactions and the courage to be real before we can be supportive. We can’t just vent on Facebook and not expect the consequences of a weakened immune system. Conversations are meant to be sacred, a conduit to reveal not only who we are but what we long for in the interaction: love (the opposite of elevating self).
Incremental change in our conversations is not enough. We need a complete overhaul. Changing the conversation requires us to take seriously the love story God is telling in us. Daily we must read our own lives and look for God’s fingerprints of love on our stories, allowing our hearts to be penetrated and shaped by the love of God. As we do, common grace tells us that every conversation is an opportunity to reveal the vibrancy of God’s love, and our conversations will be set ablaze—not with our being right but with our being loved.
When was the last time you had a vibrant conversation filled with all of the different textures, hues, and dimensions of God’s love? We have the template: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). When our hearts are imprinted with the template of God’s adamant, unconditional love for us, love will be the primary story all our conversations are telling.
What would our world look like if our conversations were marked not by division but connection?
Rachel Held Evans dared to “imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.” Common grace allows people to be human, breathes life without prejudice, and knows—deeply knows—that we all suffer from the same condition. Grace sees another life in need of love. Not an “other” in need of love, but an image-bearer—one of us. We are pro-life when we are pro-grace for all people in all places.
We desperately need to change our conversations. The civil war in our country tells us that change may be a matter of life and death. When we experience—heart and soul—the vibrancy of God’s love story in our stories, we know conversations are meant to take us together into the heart of God’s story, because “Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.” Changing the conversation from one of pain and death to one of life—bringing to our interactions “a vital fragrance, living and fresh” (2 Corinthians 2:16, AMPC)—is possible if we make bold choices to bring our belovedness into every conversation.
Belonging by Sharon A. Hersh
Belonging offers a fresh perspective on common grace, leading us out of self-destructive narcissism and into whole and healthy relationships with God and others.
The reality is, God created us with an innate desire to belong to something more than us. When we integrate our story within God’s first story about us, we can bravely face ourselves and discover the truth of belonging and worthiness that God has written. And we start to imagine how to invite others into a greater sense of belonging.
The journey to finding ourselves and one another is not for the faint of heart. It’s messy. It’s hard work. It’s worth it. We can have a front-row seat to a tectonic shift, not just on the surface of our lives, but in places deep down inside as we recognize common grace in the beautiful and terrible parts of our lives. In other words, every chapter in our stories, every conversation, and every character is part of the way back to belonging. You are invited to the very edge of your seat to anticipate what could happen in you and others if you engage with the unexpected grace that passionately declares life is not all about our pain, our accomplishments, our rights, our abuse, our power, or our beliefs. It is about us finding our way. Together. It is about a supernatural interconnectedness to a deeper story that invades every nook and cranny of our lives with light and love—because we belong to one another.