Below is one of the most surreal moments I have had in the past 2.5 years.
Context… without it, this picture could mean virtually anything. To most, it means absolutely nothing.
Humility… without it, even after understanding the context, the response can be equally as subjective, meaningless, and offensive.
However, if any of you were aware of the experience Laura and I have had the past 2 years living in this area of Ohio City… if you had spoken with my wife about her transition to Cleveland after the wedding… if you were to spend a few hours in this spot on any given day or night… if you had seen this very street 3 hours prior to this moment… or if you had witnessed any number of moments of tension, anxiety, paranoia, anger, lust, deceptive behavior, and greed that we see on a daily basis right here…
…then maybe the photo would have a different impact. Maybe not. If nothing else, it leaves space for a genuine conversation and the opportunity for relationship. And ultimately, that is what we all need… now, and for the rest of our lives on this earth.
You see… the moment captured in this picture was fleeting. The stillness that surrounded me and the eerie silence left me teetering on the edge of anticipation for the next siren, engine, or holler. These moments don’t last in this spot. What most everyone who comes to this area sees is vibrancy, activity, restaurants, breweries, and nights out. They come, they consume, they leave… they write articles about up-and-coming neighborhoods in Cleveland… listing ours at the top. And they would be correct in their assessment.
Beneath this thin veil lies a plethora of personal experience. A thousand stories highlighting ten thousand nuances and idiosyncrasies of life in Ohio City. This picture is just one image symbolizing a hundred stories that Laura and I could tell (by the way, we would be more than happy to elaborate). Honestly, though… if you were to ask our neighbors, this image would represent a hundred different stories.
And that’s ok. These stories matter. Because although personal experience and details may differ wildly, there is a foundation of truth that can be uncovered… but only through relationship.
Humility in light of context allows for grace. It breeds true tolerance in the face of disagreement… not some half-baked notion of the word that we find convenient to leverage when we know it will give us the unearned moral superiority. True and authentic humility is the maturity of response based upon honest self-awareness and situational discernment.
Yet, humility without context becomes a lack of care or compassion for the truth. Ironically, it is not humility at all… for it betrays the very thing it bases its foundation upon. Similarly, context without humility becomes disingenuous pride on display… individuals looking to leverage their knowledge for selfish ends.
I fear that the situations described above are where we find ourselves culturally in this moment.
We lack compassion.
We refuse to humble ourselves in light of the context of a moment or person.
We take advantage of our understanding to act in consciously unsavory ways.
We spout opinions with neither context nor humility in mind.
We remove personhood to push agenda (political or otherwise).
It’s upsetting to witness the mix of willing naivety and conscious manipulation… for what? Two extra “likes” on your post? The cacophony of responses from the echo chamber of followers who already agree with you? Ultimately… it is vapor.
I certainly have opinions about topics. I’m stating a few in this very post. But through all the noise, 100% of the time, I find that where relationship is ignored, devalued, or disparaged… civility breaks down. Chaos fills the void.
Relational entropy becomes the slow death of culture, accelerating over time.
Contrary to popular belief and promulgated headlines, you don’t have to agree with every viewpoint to show compassion. In fact, your authenticity in seeking to understand context and act in humility toward those you detest is more compassionate than retreating to the trenches of your side and preparing for the next assault.
Relationship > Retweeted articles.
Relationship > Your opinion piece that begins with “I usually don’t post on topics like this, but…”
Relationship > Being correct.
Radical investment in relationship actually illuminates truth. But it takes effort. It requires risk and messiness. There will be awkward moments of silence and friction. A healthy tension of grace and understanding will have to prevail. There is no other way. There can’t be.
God designed our universe and its prized inhabitants to flourish in relationship. The trinity existed in it from eternity past… why would creation mirrored in His image veer from that fundamental truth? Should we be surprised when civility breaks down due to the trivialization of relationship?
Personhood comes before personal desire; meaning we should be respecting the dignity and value of others ABOVE AND BEYOND even our own. Wait, what?
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Philippians 1:3 (ESV)
Scripture is replete with admonition for these exact sentiments. More than just polite suggestions, we are commanded to treat others with the same respect (if not more than) we give ourselves. THAT is relationship. In our fallen state, it is not natural… but it is absolutely necessary.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”
Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)
Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.
Proverbs 12:18 (NLT)
A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.
Proverbs 17:27 (NLT)
I think the point is clear. So, I suppose I’ll finish with a couple questions.
Does your desire to know and love people exceed your desire to be proven correct?
Are you being as intentional about the relationships in your life (especially with those of whom you vehemently disagree) as you are in serving your own ends?
The answer for me many times is a resounding “NO.”
What stories do the photos of those surrounding you tell? And if you don’t know… maybe a good place to start is asking. You may find the divisive wounds we individually and collectively experience are healed in the humble search of relationship.