Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone


Thomas McKenzie's Blog.

Can You Hear Me? Can I Hear You?

This morning, I had a helpful conversation with a friend of mine (since I didn't ask his permission to talk about him, I'll call him John). John read the post about my position on the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. He didn't agree with it, but he felt like it was OK until the last paragraph.

In that paragraph, I invoked the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In so doing, he heard me saying that if he didn't agree with my position on this issue then he was a goat. In other words, he heard me saying I thought he'd go to hell. 

That is radically not what I believe, and not what I intended to say. But it's what he heard. Why? Was he not reading carefully? Is he not smart? Is he just a jerk? No, none of those things. I was not precise in what I was saying because I never thought about someone interpreting my statement in that way. However, reading it with that lens, I see what he meant. So, I rewrote the last paragraph of my post.

John and I broadened our conversation to talk about the current political polarization in America, which led me to think about how I communicate. I minored in Communication in college, and I was taught that communication has four parts: sender, message, receiver, and medium. All four of those exist in a context. That context is our culture, and that context is broken.

Our culture is so polarized right now, that I don't know if people can hear me. Not because they are bad or wrong or stupid, but because the cultural context is just so horribly fractured. So if I make statements regarding abortion, or refugees, or poverty, or homosexuality, or war, or whatever I am being interpreted as being on one team or another. I'm Red or Blue, I'm pro-Trump or anti-Trump. And people take what team they think I'm on very personally. Political team membership has become wrapped up with personal identity. 

Our culture feels like a hurricane right now. The winds are so fierce, all of our words are being drowned out. 

In my mind, the opinions I hold on contemporary issues come from the historic teachings of the Church. But those teachings are currently divvied up among the various political factions in America. It feels like I'm being told I have to choose a team, when all I want to do is be a Christian. But I know that people can only hear what they can hear, and that context creates and distorts meaning. I also wonder to what extent I am being influenced by that same context. Who am I not hearing? How is my judgment affected? 

I'm told that our country has not been this divided since the lead-up to the Civil War. If that's the case, can we still talk to each other across these divides? Does everyone have to chose a side? How can I serve as a peacemaker but also a proclaimer of truth? Am I being asked to  choose between a) keeping my head down and saying nothing about anything, or b) pointlessly adding to the conflict?

I haven't drawn any conclusions. I'm not sure how to engage, if at all, in this context. I'm really struggling with this, and your thoughts and prayers are appreciated. 

I will tell you this, I am sorry for the ways I have made matters worse. I did not mean to question anyone's faith. If that's you heard me saying, I am truly sorry. I hold my opinions on issues, but I also know that good, loving Christian people can disagree and not be "bad" in some way. Our identity is in Christ, not in our opinions.  Jesus Christ is our hope: yesterday, today, and forever. He's the only one who can bring true unity. He's the only one who can save us. 

Thomas McKenzie