A Pollyanna Lesson

A Pollyanna Lesson

I've put off writing this post for over a month, mainly because it seems like every time I try to write it I think of an entirely separate situation that it could apply to or another way it might offend someone or I'm just reminded that there is a near-deafening roar of information and opinion here on the world wide web at the moment. But when I truly can't get away from something, there's usually a good reason. Please know up front that I say all of this in love and that I've certainly not achieved any of it 100% by any means. I'm just trying.

The last few months have been, to use a word that has really had its moment lately, unprecedented. First there was (and is) the global pandemic, the result of a virus that has killed thousands and infected--body, soul, and spirit--millions more. There have been some really amazing moments that have transcended class, politics, or geography (see just a few compiled here).

But whether the angst is concerning the source of the virus, the response to it, the politicization of it, or just the decision for or against wearing masks to fight it, the tension online has been at an all-time high. Extended quarantine/lockdown, business closures, and social distancing/isolation have all taken a toll as we have sought to quiet (or stir up) our fears by turning on each other, usually by way of comment sections.

I get it. I am an Enneagram 6 (we tend to peddle in Worst Case Scenarios) and even I with my long list of Scary Things did not see any of this coming, nor have I handled well the idea that such a deadly virus is still largely a mystery. And when we're afraid (of much more than being sick... lost jobs, depression, anxiety, loss of access to other medical care, lack of support/community, etc.), we lash out at those around and latch onto whatever we think will make us safe. Since we have different opinions on that, things can (and did) get ugly.

Then over the last month, there has been a massive national response to the murders of three different black people in a brief time period (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd). While some responses to their deaths have turned violent and destructive (which no serious person I know is condoning), the positive effects of this outpouring of concern and empathy from people all over the country, particularly white Christians, have been monumental. I'm not here to debate that... any movement away from racism and toward racial justice/reconciliation that is done within the framework of the gospel is a good thing. But, as always, these conversations and events have sparked fierce debates on what those changes should look like and have caused some irate reactions from some who do not want to be confronted with the truth of our nation's racial history and current reality.

On top of all of this, it is an election year. Hooray! Let's take the most divided and polarized time in recent history and throw in a literal "us versus them" contest. Perfect.

Okay, I'm not here to talk about politics. Honestly, I'd rather chew off my arm. =) But I think it's worth mentioning that some of the comments and posts we've all seen over the last few months have been just plain ugly about a variety of topics besides this election. And I'm not even talking about conversations between strangers (even though that's still the norm). I'm talking about people being hateful to people they KNOW and apparently have the guts to chew out on Facebook when they know they won't be seeing them at church because it's online. Yikes. Masks on, gloves off.

So, as election season descends upon us and things ramp up even beyond the fever pitch they've already seemed to reach, I want to encourage you to check out a few resources that will help guide our thinking when it comes to another round of "If You Don't Agree with Me, You Must Hate My Guts." Or something catchier. Then we'll get to the "lesson" part of the post.= )

Them by Ben Sasse- Written by a U.S. Senator who explains, as the subtitle says, "Why we hate each other and how to heal." Senator Sasse is a Christian and a good man. This is well worth your time.

Political Tribes by Amy Chua- this book explains "group instinct and the fate of nations": basically, what political tribalism really is and why it harms rather than helps the groups that cling to it most fiercely.

You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy- man, what a timely book, whose subtitle says, "what you're missing and why it matters." When the MO of most online interaction is to devolve into virtual screaming matches, this book is more relevant than ever before. I genuinely want everyone I know to read it.

Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke- this is a short little book that teaches us how to "treasure Christ in the media age." We are constantly inundated with information nearly every moment of the day and we desperately need discernment in how we process and respond to it. Reinke provides a biblical framework for how to do that.

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King- this is a biography of Fred Rogers and boy, do we need more Fred Rogers in the world. If I could personally assign every American some homework it would be to watch an episode of Mr. Rogers at least once a week. Maybe some of his kindness would rub off.

Humility by Andrew Murray- probably the hardest one to implement but the most valuable one to read. Murray's short little book on humility is something we need to return to again and again. We are never more Christlike than when we are seeking humility and never less like Christ than when we reject it in favor of pride and self-importance. This is a great book.

Coming soon: A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good by Daniel Darling and
Divided We Fall by David French

Finally, I'll leave you with this scene from Pollyanna (I didn't forget the title of this post... it just took me a while to get here). If you haven't read the book or seen the movie (which you should totally do), Pollyanna is a little orphan girl who's come to live with her rich aunt, who is fairly grumpy and basically runs the town. Pollyanna comes across the pastor of the local church practicing his very fire-and-brimstone sermon and innocently suggests the "glad passages" her own father used to preach from. Throughout the movie, she encourages the pastor and others to play the "glad game" with her: always looking for the good in everything and everyone around them, even when it becomes almost impossible.

In this particular scene, though, she shows the pastor her necklace that is inscribed with these words: "When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." (Watch the scene here.) That's where we are, isn't it? We look for the bad and are pretty much never disappointed!

It's a great movie and that's a great little game, but it could be revolutionary if we actually put "looking for the good" into practice. I'm not talking about ignoring sin or injustice or being "okay with" things that are objectively wrong. But I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that there's a whole lot of space between acknowledging that someone else has a different viewpoint (or is even completely biblically off-base) and choosing to belittle or dehumanize that person. We have been reduced to memes of ourselves and each other and it seems like the biggest victim of "cancel culture" has been the Golden Rule itself.

It would be quite a day in this country if we would recognize and understand that there is not a single person that Jesus did not die for. There is no one across any political aisle from me that Jesus loves less than he loves me. I am not more highly favored to God because I believe a certain way about anything. I base what I believe on what He says in Scripture and try to live that out, but He doesn't love me more because of it. Every single person, no matter what their stance is on any single issue, is created in the image of Christ, is fully loved and known by Him, and is eligible for His saving grace.

"Even if...?" Yep, even then. That is God's creation you're talking and posting  and commenting about. Even them. If loving our enemies is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

I read an amazing article from the guys over at Rambling Ever On (please read the whole thing), who shared this quote:

 Few things communicate genuine love like listening to a person. And a most sacrificial form of this can be when we listen and observe and try to learn from people who dress differently than us, act differently than us and think differently than us. My brand of cultural Christianity often thinks you have to have answers and that revealing ignorance is shameful. But exposure to other cultures teaches me that there is so much I don’t know–about God, about people, about the world.

I think it is incredibly easy to assign motives we can't fully understand, intentions we'll never really know, and malice that may be present but may also be projected. Again, I know there are issues that we can and should stand for. I'm also saying that the way we stand is just as if not more important than the fact that we are standing. Imagine if a driver gave you the finger and then you noticed they had a certain church's bumper sticker on their car. Maybe it was even the pastor! That might affect your opinion of them and their church a little. Well, it seems like over the last few months we have collectively flipped the bird (sorry, but it's true- have you BEEN on Facebook??) to each other, to kindness, to civility, and to empathy, and goodness gracious, do we need to beg God to help us get them back.

Join with me, friends. Tensions are high, misinformation is rampant, anger is rising, and fear is flowing. But we can stop it. Not in our own strength, but in His. I know it's confusing and exhausting to be a person right now. There is so much injustice, so much hate, so much wickedness. We want to do better but it's hard to know how. We want to stand for right and against wrong but it feels nearly impossible to separate light and darkness sometimes. We want to be kind but that post we scroll by just gets us so riled up and our keyboard warrior fingers begin to fly. If we stay silent, are we complicit? If we speak up, are we causing more division? It is just plain hard to navigate these days.

Still... the tides are turning; in some ways it feels very much like we are on the verge of something. I'd love for it to be revival, wouldn't you? Aslan is on the move.

Please look into some of these resources. Check information you find against the Bible. Use discernment and discretion before you jump onto something just because it "sounds right." Listen. Care. Look for the good, and find it.