Identify and Divide

  • Randy Karlberg
woman putting sticky notes on wall

I remember first meeting Mark over 30 years ago. I had never seen him before nor was I aware of any friends we may have had in common. We met in a professional setting and it seemed that as we worked alongside each other there was some unity  between us. Initially we only spent three days in the same meetings and then went our separate ways. I could never have imagined that I was meeting a lifelong friend that I dearly love and respect. We worked for different companies; he lived in a  totally different town, and we were of different ethnicities. None of that mattered. As I ran into him in later months and began talking on a more personal level, we  both realized that we had so many things in common and our life-long friendship naturally ensued. Some of the counsel and advice Mark has given me through the  years still rings loudly in my ears as the birthdays continue to mount. His love for the Lord and God’s people has continually been an example and encouragement to  me.

The reason Mark and I were able to become friends is because we were drawn to each other in spite of our differences. There was no hesitation, only wonder as to what makes up this new person in my life. We have laughed together, cried together, watched too many athletic contests together to count, and we’ve even given each other counsel regarding family and friends. How was I to ever know how much I  would appreciate this man if I had labeled him at our initial meeting, and then used that as an identification to avoid personally spending time with him? 

I feel that it has become normative in our current cultural climate to label people  and then see that label as a reason not to associate with them because we are  different for some reason. This practice of labeling and dividing is pervasive in all of our culture. It is not just limited to politics–whether you trust one political  persuasion versus another, although there is immense pressure to see it that way.  We need to seek out people in our lives and work to get to know them as a person. I  am reminded of a statement from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation  where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He was referring to racial issues which are of course still very much prevalent in our society today. I think that the number of things that are dividing people in our society has only increased in recent years. It is my feeling that the only  way to help with understanding each other is to sit down and open up an honest  conversation with people. The common practice of digital conversations does not  have the same effect on people as coming together and listening to one another in  person.

The ancient practice of two individuals sitting down with each other, even with witnesses if needed, was not just performed because modern communication was not available. This personal interaction was successful in gaining an understanding and deducing the issues that need to be resolved. This is an art form that is not only being lost, but I feel replaced with a “quicker” but less effective form of communication. You don’t have to think too hard to remember an email you sent that was interpreted in a way that you did not intend. I am not saying that if we can just sit down and meet together that all of our differences will be solved. But I firmly believe that sitting and listening to another person will have a positive effect rather than keeping another at cyber-arms length.

The Bible is filled with counsel and commands regarding sitting down personally with others. Whether it is Jesus’ instructions in Luke 6 to, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” or settling disputes with one another before you are taken to court from Luke 12 and I Corinthians 6, it is clear that the Biblical principles are for people to draw closer to those that they are in disagreement with and treat them well despite their treatment of you. James 3 tells us that selfish ambition is not compatible with Godly wisdom. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That to me sounds like it includes spending time with someone and listening to what they have to say. The goal here is to live peaceably with others. Most people desire peace with others. The challenge is, what has to happen for there to be peace with another person?

The practice of placing a label on someone and then shifting to battle stations at  opposite spectra is not constructive in bringing about unity. If we are serious about  being reconciled with another, we need to seek people out, to bless them, and to pray  for an opportunity to come together and listen. That is what God’s Word tells His people to do. This is very difficult to do relying on digital means. So whom do you need to get with?