11 July 2016

We Need More Armchair Receivers

In the past week or two, we have witnessed needless violence throughout our nation. Alton Stirling was killed by two police officers in Baton Rouge. Philando Castile was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. Five police officers were targeted and killed, and others wounded, at a protest in Dallas. Though these events grabbed the national headlines, there were other protests, some resulting in injuries. There were other unrelated murders that did not grab the national spotlight. To assume this violence is something new is misguided; it is nearly as old as humankind. What is different is the availability of information and the efficiency impulsivity with which we are able to respond through social media. For example, the widespread dispersion of smart phone technology allows bystanders to visually document events, often in a particularly gruesome manner. When we see Alton Stirling dying on camera, it triggers something deep within us. When we see Dallas police officers squeezing their loved ones tightly, we react.

But the availability of these advanced technologies also not only allow, but encourage us to share our thoughts and feelings. Facebook asks, "What's on your mind?"; Twitter asks, "What's happening?". So we respond. Twenty-four hour news feeds and the instant availability of information promotes a society of false experts. In the sports world, there are armchair quarterbacks who offer their opinions about things they know little about. As Alexander Pope said, "a little learning is a dangerous thing." Thankfully, when it comes to sports, it is rarely harmful to be an armchair quarterback.

Unfortunately, armchair quarterbacking is not limited to things that don't matter. As a society, we are eager to assert our opinions and beliefs about things like violence and racism. We even go so far as to presume that what we are sharing is "fact," but what do we do when our "facts" disagree with each other? If you don't believe this happens, talk to informed conservatives and liberals about whether President Obama has been good for the economy. You will hear different sets of "facts" complete with "reliable" sources. Furthermore, when we blindly assert that our set of facts are the correct ones, we shut down further conversation because we are unwilling to listen.

We need fewer armchair quarterbacks and more armchair receivers. 

We need people who are willing to sit and listen--really listen--to another tell her story, not with ultimate intent of offering a rebuttal, but to know her. It is quite possible that the people who share with us are wrong about certain things. So are we. When we enter conversations with others, we must enter with a desire to love, which promotes harmony, rather than to seek to be right, which often promotes divisiveness.  For my Christian brothers and sisters, we often do a poor job of listening.

One of my spiritual heroes is Francis Schaeffer, who was undoubtedly one of the most informed, logical, and thoughtful Christians in recent times. His ministry, L'Abri, had a profound impact on many people. Yet, what draws me to Schaeffer is his deep respect for others.  Jerram Barrs, a student of Schaeffer, had this to say, "He always treated people with dignity as God's image-bearers, with compassion as those fallen from a glorious origin and deeply marred by sin and its consequences, and with love as those for whom Christ died. If I long to imitate anything about him, it is this deep respect, compassion, and grace which was so evident in the way he responded to the miserable, difficult, and even aggressive people who challenged him."

We would all do well to heed these words from Schaeffer, "If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth." Friends, we need fewer assertions of fault and more curiosity about people. We need fewer opinions about causes and more compassion toward the suffering. We need more listeners and fewer commentators.

Every person we meet bears the image of God.
Every person you meet matters to God.
Every person you meet is loved by God.
Every person you meet needs God.


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