Friday, February 10, 2012

Between Us and Them

...But the people of the city were divided in their opinion about them.  Some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.   A mob of Gentiles and Jews, along with their leaders, decided to attack and stone them.    --  Acts 14:1-4

After some time Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's return to each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are getting along."  Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul disagreed strongly since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not shared their work.  Their disagreement over this was so sharp that they separated.   -- Acts 15:36-41

I've been thinking this week about potentially divisive disagreements.  Both of these readings from last Monday and Tuesday show serious differences of opinion.  One ends in violence and the other in separation.

Is this how all major disagreements have to end?  Can people on opposite sides of an argument hold together?

They hold together in the Bible.  The Bible contains many opposing positions.  Yet, even though various people in the Bible contradict each other, the ones who compiled the Bible were able to accept these contradictions.  Why is that?

I know that disagreements don't have to tear people apart.  My husband and I disagree on a lot of issues, but we have stayed married despite that.  We love each other despite our differing points of view, and we know that we are better together than we are apart.

On Tuesday, a friend shared a devotional by Max Lucado which describes this very thing.  It is in a parable about two people climbing a snow-capped mountain.  When the climbers keep their eyes on the peak, they make good progress.  But when the peak is obscured by clouds and they cannot see their ultimate goal, they start to quarrel over minutia.  Lucado writes, "Pilgrims with no vision of the promised land become proprietor's of their own land.  ... The result?  Cabin fever.  Quarreling families.  Restless leaders.  Fence-building.  Staked-off territory.  "No trespassing" signs are hung on hearts and homes.  Spats turn into fights as myopic groups turn to glare at each others weaknesses instead of turning to worship their common Strength." ("The Gift", pg. 46)   Is that the key?

Do people on opposites sides of an argument hold together only if there is a greater love or purpose that lifts us above our disagreements? 

I read yesterday in Lynne McTaggart's "The Bond:Connecting Through the Space Between Us", of a classic experiment about inter-personal relationships that was first tested in 1954.  Twenty-two eleven-year old boys from the same town, and of very similar backgrounds, were bussed to a summer camp in Robber's Cave State Park in Oklahoma.  The boys were divided into two groups, and each group was first engaged in bonding activities:  they choose names (Rattlers and Eagles), team songs, and exclusive practices that signified their group identity.  Also, the two groups lived apart from each other and, for this first stage, had no interaction with each other.  Then the two groups were brought together in a highly competitive and frustrating tournament that pitted the teams against each other.  Over the four days of the competition, the animosity between the groups grew to a boiling point.  "Good sportsmanship gave way to name-calling, invectives, and refusal by every boy even to eat when a member of the other group was present in the same food hall." (pg. 185)  Attacks were carried out by one group, and retaliated by the other group.  "The growing animosity ended in a fierce fistfight that the counselors had to break up." (ibid)  These two groups had become in-grained enemies.

In the next phase of the experiment, the boys were given activities that encouraged the groups to mingle with each other.  "But no amount of jolly, getting-to-know-you evenings, movie nights, or festivities on the Fourth of July seemed to lesson the tension." (ibid)  Something other than mutual entertainment was needed to bring these two groups together. 

Finally, the investigators created a series of crises in the camp that required all boys to work together to solve:  to fix a problem with their drinking water, to clear a partly cut-through tree that posed a danger, and to help get a truck, which carried food for both groups, out of a rut.  These activities lifted the kids out of their "us vs. them" mentality.  "After the groups worked together to finance a movie, the boys began eating together in the mess hall, Rattlers freely mixing with Eagles.  On the final day of camp the boys unanimously voted to travel together on the same bus.  Rattlers and Eagles sat together, arms draped around each other."  (pg. 186)

Only when the Robber's Cave kids were guided to see a common goal between them, an essential goal with a purpose beyond themselves and their group, were they able to work together cooperatively, and understand that the other did not have to be their enemy. 

When we put aside our differences, and see what is more important -- the health and welfare of the community, for example --  or our shared love of God -- we begin to also see each other as human beings, each with legitimate concerns and perspectives.  Then, not only do our differences not get in the way, but our unique qualities become valuable contributions to the whole.  When this happens, we have filled the distance between us and them.  In fact, we are no longer "us and them", we are just "us."  We have made a lasting bond.

Perhaps, contradictions and differences are there for this very reason:  to lift us beyond our individuality.  For we are all different, one from the other.  So, when we recognize these differences, we have two choices.  We can separate ourselves from "the other", continually, until we are completely alone.  Or, we can work together, and learn from each other, and finally see the necessary bond between us.

Dear God, thank you for directing my thoughts along this path again.  It is a lesson worth repeating many times.  Love always, Pam


Doug said...

Well, how can one read your blog and not think of politics. At least, that is where my mind went immediately. It brought to mind 3 things I think about often. One is the refusal of some in Congress to discuss issues and create solutions through compromise. Another is how so many of my friends would rather criticize, point fingers, and judge others than get involved or try to help those in Congress find solutions. And the third is how this same group of friends "generalize" things. Such as "all members of Congress are bad". It seems so easy for friends to find fault, be negative, judge, and criticize. I do not believe this is what God expects from us or perhaps I should say I do not believe this is what God expects from me.
There will always be disagreements and it takes a concious effort to keep them from dividing people. Prayer too.

Pamela Keane said...

Yes, Doug, I agree that politics easily comes to mind these days. I would love to see a politician understand the need for bridge-building, instead of name-calling and blame.

Blessings to you,