Depolarizing the Person

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Dear friends,

This week I’m stopping and thinking about contemporary polarization and the ways we see others.

If you’re in Addis, you’re warmly invited to blueMoon at 5:30pm (opposite Sapphire Hotel). I’ll be speaking about the Neighbor-Love Movement and how we might see others as neighbors. Big thanks to Dr. Eleni Zaude Gabre-Madhin for her hospitality.

Yours with gratitude,
Andrew

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How do you see others?

Seeing others as angels is unfair. It gives them too much credit and sets them up to fail.

Seeing others as demons is also unfair. It gives them too little credit and sets them up to fail.

These seemingly opposite ways of seeing others are actually the same. They both refuse to behold – to see and embrace – the human being. They both need idols – super-human objects – to worship or smash, to adore or destroy.

The Bible’s basic vision of humanity is more complex and subtle. We are neither angels nor demons. We are finite creatures made radically good in God’s image and thus worthy of utmost affection and reverence. But we are also free creatures who are fallen and fallible in the depths of our being. We rightly merit suspicion and critique.

The human being is a beautiful and broken creature, who needs both encouragement and accountability to flourish. If we can’t see a person’s beauty without angelizing them or their brokenness without demonizing them, we cannot see them. They are always both. Humans are endlessly ambiguous and complex, and real love requires us to behold this mixture.

Of course, we can name famous figures who have seemingly surrendered themselves to evil. Their names have become synonymous with horror and atrocity. We can also think of less famous figures who have caused devastating harm to others and ourselves. Their evil should always be resolutely condemned and opposed.

Even so, I am challenged by Martin Luther King Jr.’s perspective in Strength to Love: “The evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.” From a Christian point of view, to deny this truth is to deny that God is our Creator and thus to worship the devil.

Our all-or-nothing, angels-vs-demons culture is disfiguring and mutilating our humanness. It is also stunting our moral faculties, whether the courage to critique a celebrity authority or the charity to extend empathy to a criminal. This polarization is also destroying dialogue, since we don’t talk to angels and demons: we praise and expel them. No wonder we can no longer talk to one another but only know how to shout or be silent.

Jean Vanier’s perspective is profound: “When you admire people” – and I would add: when you despise people – “you put them on pedestals. When you love people, you want to be together.” Is there a loneliness in contemporary group culture that drives us away from togetherness toward the easier options that polarization presents: canonizing or condemning others?

This week I choose to behold others as human beings, in our beauty and brokenness, with encouragement and accountability. I choose togetherness in our God-blessed goodness and radical fallibility.

How do you see others?

Resist polarization and behold others as neighbors.

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