Life would be more comfortable for all of us if we could agree on everything — probably not. I cannot imagine living in such a world. It would be a wretched place to live. We understand this when is comes to jobs and vocations. Not everyone is built to be a plumber, professor, or personal trainer. Each brings something of value to the rest of us.
It is this variety that leads to disagreement. Those digging in the ground for coal and those trying to build sound structures on that ground can have different priorities. Those wanting to use waterways for recreation and those using them for transporting goods on or over them need to work together.
Religion is an obvious place where disagreement is abundant and unavoidable. Education, economics, political and economic systems, culture, and geography are just a few of the sources that cause us to approach faith from different starting points. For example, those who come from more privileged backgrounds are much more willing to talk about grace and mercy than justice, while those from less privileged backgrounds preach on justice and judgment more often. It is as though we talk more about what we know we need rather than what we need to be doing.
As a person of faith, it is important to keep in mind that if we fail long enough God will make it happen without our cooperation. It would go a long way toward healing what ails us if those who are privileged practiced justice and those who have been wronged practiced forgiveness. We would learn to love and appreciate each other’s stories and strengthen each other’s weaknesses.
There are a few things that can get in the way. I am a Christian, but I believe that these things broadly apply. It is vitally important to understand the difference between facts and truth, which according to what I see, has been lost. Facts do nothing and on their own contribute nothing without something to carry them. The carrier of facts is “truth.” Here we run into another problem. We, as a society, have trouble agreeing on which truth we should carry these facts. It is better for that truth to be something other than an individual. “My truth” may be popular phrase but it is a shallow and unstable vector for carrying facts.
Truth is best found outside of a person and incorporated into life. I have no illusion that we will all agree on which truth is best. I do know that if it something stable enough we can at least have the chance to have discussions that are meaningful rather than yelling self-serving insults at each other.
There are also chronic differences in generations. Older generations tend to be about prohibition. Younger generations tend to be about permission. One asked, “Tell me why I should?” The other, “Tell me why I shouldn’t?” If this is not understood we can talk past each other without realizing it. Where we start will drastically affect where we end.
When it comes to reading scripture, it is easy to fall into the modern trap of seeking for “the meaning” of a text. Anyone who has lived long enough and read or recited Psalm 23 over the years will understand instinctively that the poem does not carry “a meaning.” Over the years I may decide that what I thought was wrong. More often I add depth and width to understanding rather than jettisoning what I though 10 years ago and completely replacing it. We do not work that way.
The hazard of communicating is that as soon as we speak a word we will be misunderstood. Not usually tragically, but if we tried to explain all the thought processes and context of every sentence we uttered, nothing of value would ever get said. How many times has it taken me a particular experience to fully understand something said to me years earlier? How many times have I walked away from a conversation that did not go well (or so I thought) only to go back and apologize? The opposite is also worth remembering. To listen is to risk misunderstanding what another is saying.
We know this about each other and yet seem to forget it every single day. Our differences are a strength. Our misunderstandings are opportunities to grow and mature as human beings. Conflict has the potential to bring us together.
But we must agree on this, “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (I Corinthians 13:4-6).