Nothing Personal

I have tried, over the past week, to generate a few different posts on a few different topics, but found that I couldn’t bring myself to write them. I think, in looking back, that the reason for this grew out of the fact that they were all sort of interconnected in a way I hadn’t quite grasped yet.

I think I’ve got it now, so I’m going to give this a try.

Last week, a tragedy occurred. A poorly-maintained, heavily-traveled transportation artery constructed more than forty years ago failed due to neglect, and people died.

About 100 of them.

No, I’m not talking about the I-35W bridge in Minnesota. The cost of that catastrophe, in lives, at least, was thankfully much smaller than it might have been.

The same day, however, on the other side of the world, a train wreck in the Democratic Republic of the Congo took a far higher toll.

Also last week, as I noted in my last post, a religious talk show host made and defended statements linking the Emergent church movement with terrorists from al Qaeda.

Over the weekend, the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, which took power early this year after capitalizing on unethical and morally questionable tactics employed by the former Republican majority, violated the House rules they themselves had established, changed the total of a razor-thin vote after the Chair had gavelled it closed, and expunged the old total from the record, literally stealing the vote on national television. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was heard on camera responding to protests against the violations of parliamentary procedure with, “We control this house, not the parliamentarians.”

This week, one of my favorite bloggers, “Naked Pastor,” was viciously attacked on a popular “Christian” blog, where the author and several commenters cast brutal personal insults and aspersions masquerading as critiques of his blog’s content.

What on earth, you may ask, do any of these events have in common?

Perhaps it is the ease with which communications are conducted electronically. Perhaps it is the breadth of information that is easily available, allowing anybody who desires to become an intellectual. Perhaps it is the fact that government interventions and intrusions have eliminated the necessity for people to just grow up and be adults.

Perhaps it is all of these, and more, but it seems to me as though we have entered an age where we interact with numbers, figures, statistics, information and data, and forget that we live out our stories here on earth interacting with other people.

The news media has had a field day with the I-35W bridge collapse, giving it nearly wall-to-wall coverage ever since it occurred. In all the talk of recriminations, blame and fallout, the one thing I have yet to see is an ounce of sorrow over the lives lost.

“If it bleeds, it leads,” according to the common news media slogan . . . but that doesn’t mean they treat it as the human tragedy it is.

Still, since it is, after all, an American tragedy, at least it gets some recognition. The same day, virtually the same event in a country on the other side of the world received nary a breath of coverage, despite the far higher loss of life.

I asked my wife why she thought this might be, and her response was very telling. She said, “We care about the tragedy in Minnesota because that could have been us.”

That’s just it. We don’t care about the people who have lost loved ones. We don’t care about the lives lost. We care because it could have been us. Those of us in the Washington D.C. area care because we’re in the process of getting a new Woodrow Wilson bridge due to unsafe conditions on the old span similar to those that cause the I-35W collapse. Our emotions are not filled with sorrow, but with relief.

We don’t care about the train in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because that could not have been us.

In my last post I talked about Frank Pastore’s article excoriating the emergent church movement. I’m not going to rehash my previous words here, but it seems to me that this is the opposite extreme of the very same phenomenon that I talked about relating to the transportation tragedies in Minnesota and Africa. In Pastore’s case, it’s dehumanizing by taking things too personally.

Whoever you are, whatever you believe on any give subject, right now, I want you to think of the single issue you care most about in all the world. It can be a political issue, a philosophical issue, a religious issue, or your favorite color for all I care. I want you to think of a person with whom you have often and/or emphatically disagreed with on that topic. I want you to repeat after me. “Just because they disagree with me doesn’t make them stupid.”

I myself have fallen into this trap more than once – the trap of believing that disagreement with my staked-out position on some political, theological or philosophical issue is an indication that the one doing the disagreeing is less “enlightened” or “informed” than I.

That may well be true – but it may well not be. Very intelligent people are capable of coming to very different conclusions on the very same issue. Assuming that one who disagrees with our chosen beliefs is “stupid” is to assert that we know all there is to know on that subject . . . to assume that it is even possible to know all there is, on this or any subject. It is the height of arrogance.

It is this same arrogance that has led the political leaders in this country – both Republican and Democrat – to forget why they are there. In the case of our nation’s leadership, they have dehumanized the very people who put them in leadership in the first place, by treating power as an end in and of itself, rather than as a means to the end of leading this country well. When former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley, whose political views are as opposite as they come, can agree with one another that you’re doing something wrong . . . odds are pretty good that you’re probably doing something wrong.

In the case of the transportation accidents, we have dehumanized the victims. In Pastore’s article, he dehumanized a group of believers. Congress dehumanized those they’re supposed to work for.

In the final example I listed, though, a group of people did their best to deliberately and viciously dehumanize a single person who had done nothing to them . . . and in the process dehumanized only themselves. Many of the commenters chose to attack him simply based on the vague and provocative descriptions provided in the blog post itself, and the author of the post felt it necessary to filter out comments supportive of the attacked pastor, and then defend herself against his supporters in a second post.

Naked Pastor’s response is one more example of why I like him so much – it is full of the very same grace and kindness that his attackers chose to eschew. He doesn’t become defensive or take the bait of their vitriol. Instead he says,

To my sister Ingrid and Slicers. Thanks for the review of my blog. I’m truly honored that my blog even got noticed, nevermind a mention! A couple of things:

Your filters only block words, not pictures. The word “naked” in nakedpastor, a blog where I try to bare my soul and not much else, is what’s being blocked. You probably couldn’t get The Naked Archeologist either, and he just shows ruins and pots. I consider what I show on my site to be artistic and tasteful. We disagree there. I just wanted to correct you on why my site is blocked by porn filters.

Ingrid: I’m surprised you didn’t mention my cartoons! Come on – admit it – you HAD to like some of them. You could’ve written some of them yourself. That’s okay though – you were critiquing one aspect of my blog. But from my artistic style and taste to conclude that my site is “theoretically supposed to be a pastor’s blog” is quite a leap. There’s nothing theoretical about it. It IS a pastor’s blog, no matter how different in taste and expression he is from your image of what a pastor is or looks like. That’s okay too though. I don’t expect full endorsement from everyone.

This is just a slice of who I am. If you read through my site you might discover that we are, after all, brothers and sisters with the same Lord. You would “meet” some people from my church who I consider heroes of the faith – of the Hebrews 11 caliber! It interests me that some of you are so quick to call names like “pervert” and question my call as a pastor or even a Christian. But that’s okay too. I suspend judgment and hope that we can cross kinder paths in the future.

Lord haste the day when we will all finally stand naked before you!

david (aka “nakedpastor”)

Even in the midst of personal attack, he treats his attackers as human beings, with different tastes, opinions and beliefs – and that’s exactly what they are.

All of this talk about “dehumanizing” begs the question, “what does it mean to be human?”

I think, as I write this, that we have to return to the creation story to answer that.

Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us very much at all about humanity, other than that it was created. Neither does much of Genesis 2. Verse 15 tells us where God placed his first human. Verses 16-17 tell us of God’s first interactions with his first human.

Not until verse 18 do we learn anything at all about this creature Scripture calls “man.”

What, then, is the very first thing we learn about man? It is the simple fact that “it is not good for the man to be alone.”

There it is. The very basis of what humanity is. We were created for relationship. When we eschew relationship, we dehumanize ourselves and those around us. The more we pursue genuine, open, honest relationship, the more we are being what we were intended to be.

But instead of relating to . . . and grieving with . . . sufferers, we sigh in relief that it is not our own suffering. Instead of engaging in dialogue with others who do not believe as we do, we think them simple-minded or immature. Instead of serving one another we seek as much power as we can, and instead of being kind in our differences we are cruel.

What a fallen and broken race is this humanity! Where we are intended to nourish one another emotionally, instead we feed on each other, engaging in emotional cannibalism, and very accurately say, “it’s nothing personal.”

Indeed it isn’t. That’s the problem.

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