This Upcoming Political Season: Can We All Avoid the “Them” and “Us”?

”Finally when will it be enough
To find there’s no ‘them’
There is only us
There’s only us”

-Thrice, “Only Us”

As you know, I haven’t blogged on my personal account in a while. Running a martial arts school and keeping up with three daughters keeps me busy!

But this time, I had to. The thought bubbled up inside me.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

-Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

 

I’ll sum up the thought before I get started, for those with a short attention span or little time.

  1. This post is me imploring all Americans to make sure their political system is subservient to their values, as opposed to making their values subservient to a party’s platform. (Surely you aren’t going to match a party on EVERY topic, are you?)
  2. This post is me imploring all Christians of all political positions that while EVERY political party creates good guys and bad guys, anybody who seeks to be a disciple of Christ and a student of the Bible must divide the world into only two groups: The redeemed and the sought-after. The desired. The chased.

 

No matter your “side”, you are taught to be “for” a group and “against” a group. Our history taught us, both on December 7th, 1941 as well as September 11th, 2001, that nothing unites our country faster than an enemy.

We’ve seen this in middle school and high school as well, haven’t we? Gossip feels so tempting and alluring because pointing out someone’s flaws and mistakes is a highly effective way to get an “in” with the crowd. Having an enemy unites us. Creating an “us” and a “them” is a quick recipe for community.

Sociologists believe that this “tribalism” used to be part of helping us survive. A feeling of aversion and distrust of the tribe that looks, speaks, and acts different was part of survival.

The quick-and-easy route to unity is to create a shared enemy.

 

And the leaders of BOTH sides of our current political spectrum know this. (You didn’t REALLY think it was just one side, did you?)

I mean, the further polarized you get, the worse it gets, sure.

On the right side, you have nationalism. Our team is America, and the bad guys are those terrorists and illegals, attempting to either attack us or syphon our resources. On the far right, you have a belief that our country is better than other lesser countries, and that our culture is better than those other, backward cultures.

On the left side, you have class struggle. It is not necessarily our country who is our team, but rather, the poor and disenfranchised are being oppressed and wronged by big businesses and the politicians in their pocket. On the far left, you have those who would like to see wealth redistribution enforced by the government.

 

Now, if you lean slightly (or more) to the left, you might have read that and thought that the nationalists and the Neo-Nazi’s outnumber the “actual socialists”. If you lean to the right, you might believe that those “socialists/communists” outnumber those Nazi’s, and that the media is blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not here to debate either one of those. All I’m saying is this: EVERY political entity out there tells you that there is an enemy out there, and that they are on your side to stand against that enemy. It’s an effective way to “sell” you on their vision, and why their platform should earn your time, your voice, and maybe even your money.

 

Good thing I, Carson Clews, am not like that at all. Except I am. I find it inside my own heart. I can see it. When someone is just like me, I feel at ease. Don’t you? When someone has a different culture, a different background, a different way of speaking, a feeling rises in me that says I need to keep my guard up.

(I don’t think this makes me bad. I think that good people are not the ones who don’t have bad feelings, but those who have bad feelings but keep those feelings subservient to their values.)

 

“Us” and “Them” in the world

In every setting, micro or macro, I see someone creating an “us” and a “them”. Elitism is one of the outworkings of the sinful nature, or the Id (from Freudian psychology).

Within the world at large, we see it in racism (I remember a speaker at Corban saying “If you believe that racism actually doesn’t happen nowadays, then I want the white people in the room to imagine what your parents would say if you brought home a black person you were dating.” Multi-racial relationships still raise eyebrows, don’t they? To pretend that racial prejudice doesn’t exist anymore is naïve.)

Within businesses, we see it in “perks” and “Gold Memberships”. Something, ANYTHING that can make us one level higher than those others. To acquire a higher level of “prestige”.

 

“Us” and “Them” in the Church

Within the Church, we see it in certain doctrinal dogmas. All who are in Christ are one with Him, but although we don’t admit it, listening to just Christian music makes you a SUPER Christian (many people are greatly benefitted by regulating what goes into their ears. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about that in business. Pumping your head with positivity). Maintaining virginity before marriage makes you a SUPER Christian (by the way, great idea. Having sex with the one you’ve committed your life to is definitely way less risky than committing to the one you’re having sex with. Apparently our brain is better at choosing a mate than our genitals. Who knew?). While we seek wise decisions, this desire for elitism in our hearts is always looking for ways to create an us and a them.

In fact, on that topic, the church made a huge mistake for years that was directly contradictory to Scripture. Out of our fears of the life-altering consequences of teenage premarital sex, we wrongfully taught (I am part of the church, I was there, I remember hearing this and passing it on, so yes, I mean we) young women that however many men they had kissed, or slept with, or gotten physical with, that this lessened their “value” to their future husband (To stay consistent, we tried to teach the same thing to young men, so that we wouldn’t be all hypocritical and imbalanced).

But this concept is in no way consistent with Scripture. In fact, Scripture gives us a picture of prostitutes who are redeemed and honored and clothed. To teach or even imply that virginity makes one more “valuable” than a non-virgin is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ.

 

Whether in politics, in church, or in small social settings, Christ seeks to create “One” where we seek to create an “Us” and “Them”.

 

So if you lean to the right, I encourage you to stay away from the narrative that the invaders are coming for our resources (And if you are staying away from it, great!). How can America HELP the world? How can the world help us? How can we work together?

If you lean to the left, I encourage you to stay away from the narrative that every financially successful person is greedy and big business is out to screw over the little man. There are greedy people in big business. Yes. There are also generous people in big business. There are big companies that ask “How can we do right by our employees?” Seek out those stories. They are there.

 

And Christians, I used to think that Christians shouldn’t get involved with politics, because Christ doesn’t fit well into EITHER party. While I still believe that Christ doesn’t fit into either party, I do believe that there are good Christians who are called to push for political change. But I implore you to do these two things:

 

The second most important one is that you don’t try to make your position the “Christian” position. Left-leaning Christians would like to see the government doing more for the poor, and they call the right-leaning Christians out for voting “against” the poor. Right-leaning Christians can care about the poor, but they believe that the private sector does a better job than the government. However, right-leaning Christians, you can’t ignore that there are some damn good programs out there. It’s naïve to ignore programs like WIC or food stamps. Programs that keep Dave Ramsey’s “four walls” up (Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation) are a benefit to society, not a “handout”. If one person takes advantage of the system, but 2 or 3 use it because they need it, then I certainly don’t want to see the system go away.

 

The first most important one is that your political stance remains subservient to the One you’ve built your life upon. Don’t fit Jesus into your politics. Rather, make Jesus LORD of your politics.

And unless I’m missing something here, this will inevitably result in this: The world will be divided into those Christ HAS, and those Christ yearns for. Our enemies are not flesh and blood. If they are flesh and blood, then they aren’t our enemies.

 

Thank you for reading this. When the Democrats tell us that big business is our enemy, or when the Republicans tell us that illegal immigrants are the enemy, I hope God’s word and the Holy Spirit give us clarity of mind and clarity of vision.

 

”Finally when will it be enough
To find there’s no ‘them’
There is only us
There’s only us”

-Thrice, “Only Us”

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

-Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

I will never know a God that didn’t gift us His Son

There are several things in my life that I am blessed by, but because they are so consistent, it takes effort and intention to be thankful for them. Because they are so consistent, you don’t notice them…until they’re gone. Yet, I am blessed enough that they have not been gone.

A few examples:

Parental empowerment/approval – The fact that I knew my parents approved of me, loved me, and were proud of me, was a fact that empowered me to keep boundaries against negative adults in my teenage and young adult years. I know people whose feeling of approval was threatened by the changing of the wind. But mine wasn’t. I had a “confidence anchor” that I know many were not blessed with…and I would be a different person without that.

Companionship – The reason the dating phase is so exciting, yet stressful, is because of the uncertainty. When you learn that someone you are interested in wants to be your companion as well, it is exciting because it takes away the lingering uncertainty and loneliness. Because of this, a loyal, unwavering, loving spouse is not “exciting” by those terms…and it’s easy to forget that “romantic void” feeling that was the only reality you ever knew when you were single.

Financial security – As a wedding present, Sarah and I were gifted Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University by my old instructor. As a result of this, I learned to stop being a rampant credit card spender (like, rampant, I’m telling you) and start to budget, plan, and actually have a modicum of self-control. Because of this gift, Sarah and I learned to do the Baby Steps and build an emergency fund early on. Ramsey said, concerning the importance of the emergency fund and having some financial security, “Men, your wife has a security gland in her brain. It is connected directly to her face.” It has been a long time, thanks to Dave Ramsey, since we’ve only been one low paycheck away from disaster. But I know that this is not true for a great many families. It is a blessing, one that I would not have come by without Dave Ramsey’s FPU and a wife that keeps me accountable.

There are other blessings that come and go. There are people, and gifts, and situations that we feel blessed by. But since they come and go, it is easier to picture life without them. But the consistent blessings are the ones that are easy to take for granted.

And that’s what’s on my mind this Christmas.

Christmas, the celebration of the Father sending His Son to us to be born as a baby, is a celebration of a one-time event that changed everything. But what is so interesting to me is that once a year, we celebrate this one-time event that affects 365.25 days of my year. Fact is, everything that is true during Christmas is also true for the rest of the year. It is consistent.

And there are some direct effects on me. My framework for life. My psyche. My security. My purpose. There are consistent truths that are not realized by everybody.

Unchanging truth: Christmas shows me my value to God. God sent His Son for me. My value does not go up and down like a stock. Not everybody feels their value. I am able to because of Christmas.

Unchanging truth: The Gospel presents “Grace” rather than “Striving”. A criticism of Christianity is that it is a very poor sociological tool. A good sociological tool rewards good works and punishes bad works. But Christianity was never intended to be a sociological tool…any good works a Christian does is meant to glorify God, not avoid punishment or earn salvation. Other worldviews have people always questioning their standing (am I good or bad?), striving for a level of ethics or morality. Christianity answers that by “providing me Someone Else’s goodness”.

Unchanging truth: When everything else fades, I still have purpose. My purpose is not rooted in my career, my family, my physical or mental skills. In any situation I find myself in, I can glorify the Risen Son of God.

It is my observation that self-destructive behaviors come in bunches when someone loses their sense of purpose. This is part of what makes a “mid-life crisis” so difficult…when one’s purpose/identity is found in the career they do or the kids they are raising, then that purpose goes away when the career starts to focus on the young up-and-comers or the kids start to become adults and move out.

Since my purpose is not found in “phases of life”, my purpose is an unchanging truth.

These things are constant realities for me…but I know that they are not constant realities for others who haven’t grabbed onto them. So it’s hard for me to imagine not having that…but I try to.

I am thankful.

The birth of Christ changed everything…but it changed the whole year, every year, every day.

I hope that you never know purposelessness. I hope that you never know worthlessness. And I hope that you never wonder whether you cut it or not.

What I know is that never knowing those things is possible in Jesus.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless.

 

-Carson

Criticism as a defense mechanism: Don’t let it stop you from greatness!

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle

“Criticism is a natural by-product of success. Welcome it!”

 

“Would you like to donate $1 to Muscular Dystrophy Research?”

I think I was at Safeway when I was asked this question. Or was it Carl’s Jr.? Or was it Taco Bell? Or was it Roth’s?
Oh, right, it was probably all of them.

“No, thank you.” But then my inner pretend-sociologist kicked in. “Hey, out of curiosity, when someone says no, how do they usually respond?” I asked the clerk.

She half-smiled, half-sighed. With an exasperated look, she answered my question. “Oh, lots of different ways. Sometimes they tell me their life story, and why they can’t donate. Sometimes, they list off all of the other things that they donate money to. Sometimes, they actually get frustrated at me just for asking! I’m just like ‘It’s okay to say no! It’s fine, I’m not judging you!’”

 

(Sidenote: Generosity is a hard topic for me to blog about, because of Jesus’s teachings on it. If I’m not generous, then I feel ashamed and I have to hide the fact that I’m not generous. But if I am generous, then Jesus basically tells me to shut up about it. So you can never know whether I’m generous or stingy, because I won’t tell you. Oh well.)

 

Here’s what I found so interesting in her response: Why would anyone get mad at Safeway for doing a good thing? “Oh, there’s probably a few people, not too many.” But no, the Safeway clerk said otherwise. It’s common, strangely. Even if they don’t get mad, they get defensive.

 

THE SUCCESS OF OTHERS MAKES US MAD

What we found here was this, and ask any clerk who has asked anyone to donate a dollar to (insert non-profit here) if this is true or not: A successful fundraiser/action/donation/etc. draws out a defensive reaction from people. Why?

 

Actually, I’ve come to find it’s much bigger than just fundraisers.

 

Any success, whether moral/financial/business/personal, draws out a defensive reaction from people. And that is often where criticism comes from.

 

In fact, think about this! If somebody takes a good, selfless, charitable action, such that a critic couldn’t find anything wrong with it, the critic falls back on this tried and true tactic: suggesting a different good action that the person should have taken, in lieu of the one that they did!
For example, have you ever heard this classic line at church? “Missions, missions, missions. All this talk about missions. We have plenty of needs right here in our neighborhood. What about those?”

Are you kidding me? As though donating to missions or doing missions work is a bad thing or something?

Nobody is shouting it from the rooftops…but I’m going to venture a dangerous guess that will never be confirmed or denied. What do you want to bet that the person who brings up this criticism is not donating money to either domestic needs or missions work?

It is simply that the call to action, and the celebration of others’ good actions, draws a defensive reaction from people.

 

We could go for hours with examples. But what I want to point out is that in all aspects of our lives, success draws criticism.

Publicly gush about how great your wife is on Facebook? You’re showboating. Showing off your marriage. I’ll bet you have issues that you’re hiding. Who you trying to impress?

Gush about your kids? “Oh, just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re in for it.”

Make money and buy yourself something? “Oh, that money SHOULD have been spent like blah-blah-blah”

Make money and do something good with it? “Oh, I don’t know why you’re donating money to X when you could be donating money to Y.”

 

THE WORST PART: WHEN THE RESULT OF CRITICISM IS INACTION

Those who take action or go public in any way open themselves up for criticism. It is unavoidable.

But this is what I believe to be the biggest tragedy: When somebody, somewhere, doesn’t take a good action for fear of being criticized. And I believe that this does, in fact, happen.

I always liked to answer questions and ask questions in youth group growing up, in Bible studies, etc. But then, as we talked about Pharisees and about how they loved to be seen by men, it caused a question to cross my mind…

“Carson, what if you’re raising your hand just to be seen? Just for attention?”

It was a good question. I mean, I’m not shy…I do enjoy the limelight. I do enjoy the attention. So does that mean I need to put my hand down? And stop talking?

Just as I was considering stepping back a little bit, someone talked to me. “Hey, I like the questions you ask, and your thoughts. I’m always glad when you show up for the Bible study.”

So I made the decision that day: For me to not raise my hand because people might perceive me as too attention grabby? That concern about how others would perceive me was, in fact, actually self-centered. When there is a good thing to be done, good words to say, then I should take the action. Haters gonna hate.

 

CRITICS THINK IN ISOLATED INCIDENTS, INSTEAD OF THE PROBABILITY OF MULTIPLE SUCCESSES

 

I was reading an article about “second-level thinking” (whatever that means…I’m still learning about it) and there was a new concept I hadn’t thought about before. “First level thinking deals with isolated incidents, second level thinking deals with probabilities.”

If I suggested a change to how we run our martial arts school, then good thinkers would not just “accept” it. However, the “first-level” thinker would think of that one person who wouldn’t like the change, and why they wouldn’t like it. The “second-level” thinker might think the same thing, but they would think “okay, how often is that concern likely to come up, and do we gain more than we are likely to lose if that concern comes up often?”

Therefore, according to this concept, the “first-level thinker” would let that one person, that one possibility, that one criticism, stop them. The second-level thinker doesn’t go in blindly, but it takes more than one kink to stop them.

 

OUR MASTERY OF OURSELVES, OUR WORDS, HAS AN ACTUAL EFFECT ON PEOPLE.

To the dreamer/fighter/entrepreneur in all of us: Don’t let the critic get you down. And, in fact, don’t even try to avoid criticism. Choose who you want to be and go dominated it. Know that you WILL get criticized, and that if you aren’t getting criticized, you aren’t accomplishing anything.

To the critic in all of us, and yes, I know it’s present within me: Any of us can be careless instead of careful with our words. Here’s what I know…I don’t want to be the one who stopped someone from doing something great because they didn’t want to be criticized by me.

I don’t want anybody to hold back or not try something because they thought they would look silly or stupid in my eyes. I want to be someone who spurs people to take action and try new things, not someone who inhibits them and makes them feel self-conscious.

 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

 

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)