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It’s a tale of two cities.  That’s how I have observed American politics and culture for the last 11 months.  Leaving the country for a period of time has a tendency to give a person a different perspective I guess.

In that time – many topics have come and gone based on social media feeds and breaking news alerts I get in my e-mail.  The latest one being racial tension of course, but it could be any number of other concerns facing the nation.

A tale of two cities is about the only way I can describe what I observe.

These two cities use what appears on the surface to be the same language, but in reality, these cities have two very different languages.  These cities change affiliations from time to time, but there are always two cities.  And there are a whole bunch of non-city dwellers who live somewhere between the two cities and try to be fluent in both worlds.  There are some who are able to do this and others who just hope to mind their own business.

Just as the affiliations change over time, so do the issues these cities talk about and how they talk about them.

Often, each city portrays the other as wrong, sinister, the enemy, and sometimes downright evil with intent on destroying not only the well-being of the other city, but the very nation they both are a part of.  And sometimes the rhetoric goes further claiming that the other city is trying to bring about the destruction of the world.  It’s never really explained why or how this benefits the “evildoers” but hey, there needs to be an enemy, right?

“If only the other city could see it our way, they’d see how right we are and they’d stop their evil ways” – that’s the sentiment I have heard time and time again.

The funny thing about this is that the two cities, while supporting different sides of any given topic, use the same arguments with the only variations being the names that are used.

But what about the people who don’t reside in either city but rather make their homes in the countryside between these cities?  These people have friends and relatives in each city.  They love these people dearly.  They even get the arguments that each city makes and instead of seeing everything in a dualistic – us/them, good/bad world, they see the points that are being made and understand that people come to their conclusions for a reason.  When these people hear them out, they learn something.  They may not agree, or at least not agree totally, but they learn something valuable about the topic and more importantly, the person they just invested time with.

The people who are not residents of these two cities understand that each city has its own language.  The languages sound similar, but they have their own dialects.  Words that mean one thing in one city, have a different meaning in the other city. The fascinating thing for these non-city dwellers is that they find it hard to believe that people in each city don’t understand that how a word is defined is really important.

Lately I’ve heard plenty of talk from various people about a desire to have a conversation about race, but the cold reality is that we don’t know how to have an actual conversation, let alone about race.  We’ve forgotten how to have a conversation. I hear the desire for conversation, but the rhetoric I listen to is not so much a desire for conversation as a desire for conformity.  It’s the language of power.

When the citizens of the two cities make their arguments and then attach labels to those that differ from them, their arguments start to lose credibility.  Why would you label your opponent if your argument was solid?  Is it to deflect from a weakness in your own argument that you aren’t willing to acknowledge? Is it much easier to dehumanize your opponent or make yourself superior in someway?

I would argue that we don’t know how to have a conversation.  What would we actually talk about – I mean in a practical sense.  How would the conversation go?  What would the topics be?  What would be considered in bounds and out-of-bounds?  Do we even know what the questions are?  We have two cities who don’t even see the same “realities” about race.  How do you have a conversation when there seems to be a lack of common vision?

Instead of an actual conversation, would we rather have something akin to the presidential “debates” where each candidate throws zingers at the other and gets two minutes to solve some pressing issue?  Really, two minutes, huh?  If only life were that simple.

I wonder if we think that we can “solve” this problem ourselves.  That always seems to work out well, doesn’t it?  How often do we take issues that involve people and turn them into things to be tinkered with and fixed?  How often are we too busy trying to fix something or someone without paying attention to the fact that people are involved and anything that concerns people is going to be messy, take time, a great deal of patience and understanding and change from both parties involved?  How often are we so busy fixing the problem that we forget to make room for others to be a part of the solution?  How often are we squeezing out God – “There’s no room here for you God, this is our problem.  We’ve got an easy fix, so we don’t need you.  We’ll call you when we need you.”

Throughout the bible we see this same story repeated time and time again.  Humanity screws up – kills people, enslaves people, takes stuff from people, etc.  Humanity tries to cover it up, distract itself, fix it, etc.  God comes in, forgives, sets things “right” in a unique way that humanity never dreamed of.  We thank God for God’s faithfulness and then start over again because we are fallen and we fall for same old line that the serpent in the garden sold us – that we can be like gods and have power over ourselves, others, creation and yes, even God.

Thankfully God is faithful.  I don’t know the answers for the problems the US faces right now.  I don’t know that anyone really does when it comes down to it.  I think you have to be one arrogant, egotistical SOB if you think you know the answer for everyone.  I do know this much – when humanity tries to solve the problems it creates, we usually create more problems or unexpected consequences that we don’t like and have to blame someone else.  We’ve been doing that since Adam and Evil blamed the serpent for their actions.  I also know this – God is faithful and when we turn to God, things don’t always turn out the way we wanted, but they end up exactly how they need to be.  And humanity is then able to do some unexpected things that no one even dreamed about.

Like I said, I don’t know the answers for America’s problems.  I can start though by praying that God’s will be done for the country.  I can pray that I am open to seeing my own faults, no matter how painful that may be. I can pray that God use me as God sees fit in regard to this sin.  I don’t know, but God does.

It’s time to get out of the cities.  People aren’t issues or things.  They are people.  They are children of God.  It’ll be messy.  There’s no easy answer.  And you know what.  That’s probably the best thing.  Maybe we can stop trying to fix this “problem” and start seeing the person.  That person we label has a name, do we know it.  They have a family and loved ones they care about – do we know that too?  Maybe we can start seeing Jesus in the person we had been labeling.  I wonder what would happen then.