The View: Seek First to Understand, then be Understood series

By Les McMahan ,  Co-director Alliance Men’s Ministries

In this article, we continue the series “Seek First to Understand, then be understood.”  Often times, what we see from our perspective may be cloudy and not defined.  Others may see something totally different from their perspective and it has a major impact on how they live life.

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As I began writing this article, I was sitting at a cabin in the hills of Tennessee.  On this particular day, and even on the drive in, the Smoky Mountains lived up to its name, as far as the view went.  The fog was very thick (smoky) and you couldn’t see more than 100 yards from the cabin porch.  The cabin rental website spoke of wonderous views of Mount LeConte and even showed the pictures.  However, from my perspective there was nothing to see here.   After two days of nothing but fog and waiting for the view, the Tennessee weather began to shift.  The sun came out and what was advertised was right before me.  From the porch of that cabin, I received two totally different perspectives of the same scenery.

Several months ago, I met a wonderful man by the name of Jason.  Our paths crossed in a class called Unify.  The class was designed to discuss current issues regarding race and gender from a Christian perspective.  Jason and I struck up a friendship during our table discussions.  I asked him if I could interview him for this article.  Jason shared a view that I’d only seen through the fog, so to speak.  He shared about …

  •   …being stopped while driving with his friends, forced from the car, searched, and held at gunpoint for no reason other than profiling

  • …being pulled over for not using a turn signal and a gun pointed at him as the officer approached the car 

  • ……seeing his dignity as a lawyer questioned

  • …seeing inequity in the administration of justice and provision of opportunities

  • …being taught how to respond and act when approached by authorities so as not to be harmed.

As you read that, I am sure your perspective factored into your interpretation.  I think most would agree, whether your view is foggy or clear, that something is broken in society.  Instead of focusing on the ills of society, Jason and I spent our time discussing how culturally the entire church can be a bridge and not a barrier to reconciliation.  Jason shared some excellent wisdom that I think we should seek to understand.

While this may seem obvious, the first thing he shared was to NOT LET DIFFERENCES DIVIDE US.  Whether we accept it or not, we all bring differences to the table.  It may be skin color, ethnic background, cultural practices, socioeconomic status, or something else.  We are not the same.  Even if we are from the same regional area, we are uniquely created by God.  This should not divide us but rather it should help us build God’s kingdom together.   Jesus’ very own prayer in John 17 was that we’d be one.  We also have the same mission – that others would believe in Jesus.  We may have preferences in music, style, foods, or something else.  As Jason relayed to me, these preferences while different, should not become prejudices.   

Whether you are African American, Latino, Caucasian, or somewhere else in the demographic portrait, Jason pointed out that we should all GET CULTURALLY UNCOMFORTABLE.  During my interview with Jason, he suggested that folks should acknowledge and celebrate cultural differences.  Jason mentioned that folks sanctify cultural biases as if they are straight out of the Scripture and their cultural biases are the only ones that are ‘right’.  Jesus came to break down any barriers that keep us from being one in Galatians 3:26-28.  We can celebrate cultural differences.  This may require a different worship experience from time to time.  It will definitely have to be intentional, because everyone gravitates to comfort.  One of the most popular Scriptures during a mission’s week or event is Revelation 7:9, “…and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”  I don’t think it is a stretch to say when we stand before the Lamb everyone will not have looked the same, have acted the same, or talked the same.  We are ONE in Christ but we aren’t all the same in complexion or culture.    

While not original with Jason, he did reiterate that people have forgotten the command about LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR.  Those were part of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:39 in answer to what is the greatest commandment.  Ask yourself, “Have I really loved my neighbor as Jesus would have?”  We may be eager to do acts of service, but not so eager to just love the people around us as Jesus did.  It also seems easier to fly to different parts of the globe and love people than it is to go across the street or one community over and love people.  Jesus summarized every commandment and law into two commands.  Love God and Love Others.  Those are easily verbalized but not always intentionally practiced. Loving others may…

  • …require that you speak up when injustice occurs

  • …compel you to get out of the church into your communities

  • …have you breaking down barriers and building bridges

  • …be helping others launch out into their own calling

  • …require more than sending money, such as stepping into action

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While my view may still have a little fog, when I sought to first understand another’s view the perspective of what is out there became clearer.  Yes, there are difficult things that people face, but I learned some practical views that I can apply.   I learned that our differences shouldn’t divide us.  I need to become culturally uncomfortable to get the full experience of what God may be up to in building His kingdom.  Also, it was reiterated to me that loving your neighbor was something that Jesus stressed and demonstrated.  His life needs to be lived in me and through me.