Long Spoons, Bowls, Food, and Feeding: An Allegory

I came across a short video today through the perusal of my Facebook feed. In order to get the full effect of what I am going to say, you’re going to need to watch it.

Source

After watching it, I posed this:

“A pretty good illustration of what is possible, but can you see another, more self-preserving solution? Once you see it, can you see that the selfless action is just as productive as the selfish one? And that it is simply a matter of choice between the selfless and the selfish?”

Being struck by its simplicity and positive message, I began to think more deeply about it, and another nagging thought planted itself in my mind, and that led to this post.

Are you ready for the thought? Sitting on the edge of your seat with intense anticipation?

Here it is…

Where did the bowl come from and how did it come to be in that place?

I get it. I get it. That is not the point of the video. The point of the video is, that through selfless action, it is possible to meet the needs of others while having your own needs met at the same time. I respect that fact. It does, however, imply the above question.

Does the answer to the implied question matter? Will answering the question solve the problem portrayed in the video and get the food into the people’s mouths?

No. No, it will not.

You might even ask me, “if it does not matter, then why bring it up to begin with?”

I am glad you asked, because, as always, I have an answer, and that answer speaks to a larger issue beyond the video, just as the video speaks to a larger issue than just getting the food from the bowl to the spoon to the mouth.

I don’t know about you and all of your friends, but I am friends with folks from wildly varied walks of life. I have male friends and female friends. I have gay friends and straight friends. I have white friends, black friends, latino friends, and Asian friends. I have friends that were born in the United States and friends that were born elsewhere. I have friends who are cat lovers and friends who are dog lovers and friends who love both. I have friends who drink alcohol and friends who don’t drink alcohol. I have friends who believe marijuana should be legal and friends who believe it should not be. I have friends who are pro-choice or pro-life or have no opinion whatsoever. I have friends who believe the Confederate battle flag should not be flown by the state and friends who believe it should be and friends who do not care one way or the other. I have friends who own guns and friends who don’t. I have friends who believe guns should be regulated and friends who believe they should not be. I have friends who believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and friends who believe any two people can marry regardless of gender. I have friends who believe government is based on secularism and should remain true to that basis, and I have friends who believe government is based on the word of God and should remain true to that basis. I have friends who believe in the veracity of science, and I have friends who believe in the veracity of the word of God. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are Christians and friends who have other faiths and friends who believe there to be a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name.

This is not a comprehensive list of differences that my group of friends have, but I think you get my point.

I want to focus on the last division of friends, those who are atheists, Christians or of another faith in a divine being or force, or believe in a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name. I want to take this varied group of friends, some of whom are quite loud in professing the absolute truth in what they believe to be true and mix this debate into the context of the video, focusing on the bowl of soup itself.

The characters in the video do not ask how the bowl got to where it did. Their only concern is getting what is in the bowl into their bodies, and how to do it. One of the characters uses the spoon to feed another, but requires help to do so, which the other characters figure out. Then the other characters see that by sharing and helping, everyone gets fed. See? Simple.

Let’s talk hypotheticals for a moment.

Suppose one of the characters, instead of working to solve the problem of getting what is in the bowl into the body, decides to proclaim, through either divine inspiration or rational thought, that they know how the bowl got to the place where it sits. Then another character challenges that proclamation, and, before we know it, the original problem is forgotten because the characters find it more fulfilling to proclaim what they know to be true and work harder to convince others that their idea is the truth. Then, let’s say that one of the characters succeeds, after a lengthy amount of time, to convince all of the other characters that their truth is the right truth and they all agree on it. Already hungry and malnourished, they are even more so and more weak than they were before. They are so weak they cannot find the collective strength to pick up even one spoon together, but the original problem still remains, even though they found the truth.

Or…

Suppose we have the same instance as just above, one character proclaims an idea concerning how the bowl came to be where it is and another challenges their assertion. While the two are arguing over their ideas and the other characters get distracted by the debate, one of them figures out a way to get the contents of the bowl into their mouth and eats the contents as the others’ concerns remain distracted, and leaves nothing for them.

Or…

The same instance occurs. An argument ensues, taking attention away from the original problem. One of the characters figures out how to get the contents of the bowl into the body, tries to get the others’ attention, but fails to do so because they cannot overcome the zeal of the arguing parties. So the character waits passively until the parties come to a conclusion so the solution to the original problem can be shared, and by that time, all of them are too weak to utilize the spoon, even collectively.

Or…

The same instance occurs with the same argument, taking attention away from the original problem. The same character figures out a solution to the problem of getting the contents of the bowl into the body and jumps into the middle of the argument, and points out that they all can be fed. They all see the solution and that it works, but they are so zealous in their need to be correct concerning the bowl, they refuse to care about the contents anymore.

Or… (I know you are probably losing patience, but bear with me)

The same instance occurs with the same argument. Attention turns to the bowl itself rather than getting the contents from the bowl into the body. The same character figures out how to get the contents from the bowl into the body, jumps into the middle of the argument, points out the solution to the others, and the others reconcile their differences so that they can learn the solution to the original problem and take in the contents of the bowl and be nourished.

Or…

Well, these scenes can vary any number of ways, an infinite number of ways, to be sure. However, with all of those infinite possibilities, not a single one of them addresses the original and most pressing problem. They all focus on the bowl and its place rather than the contents of the bowl and how to get the contents from the bowl into the body. The problem is lost in a sea of disarray and all because of a disagreement that cannot, in all likelihood, be definitively proven one way or the other.

By focusing on the contents of the bowl and the need to get those contents into the body, a solution was found and shared. The solution took not only deliberate thought but also deliberate action in order for it be achieved.

Do not let loud voices that proclaim in one way or another how something came to be distract us from the central problem. Be deliberate. See the problem clearly as it originally presents itself and work toward a constructive solution that brings a benefit to all of the parties that are affected by the problem at hand.

With each constructive solution to a problem that provides a benefit to all involved, a little more peace finds its way into what can be a peaceful world. Pray or meditate to find guidance or seek answers to larger questions through rationality. However, do not let those practices distract us from seeing the problem and finding a constructive solution.

That’s kind of the whole idea anyway, right?

There is no doubt that there are plenty of questions that are implied by the video or assumptions made by the viewer and vice-versa. Anyway, that’s what I see when I watch this video. What do you see?

The Intersection

I have seen multiple headlines and statuses on social networks from any and all sides concerning this Josh Duggar fiasco. It is clear that no, absolutely no, middle ground can be reached because folks commenting on the issue, regardless of their stance, fail to put their thoughts in a way in which a sensible and rational conversation can occur. There is fierce anger which leads to an intense feeling of defense from the opposing side, and these both materialize within any side of the argument.

I am going to attempt to portray the two primary sides of the argument here, the “progressive” or “liberal” side (that I have seen) and the “conservative” or “traditional” side (again, that I have seen). Then I will share my thoughts on the issue.

Before I begin, let me share some posts and comments I have come across in the last couple of days from different points of view (the posts are kept anonymous. It is the words said that are important, not who said them.):

“Mike Huckabee Argues Josh Duggar Deserves Forgiveness” (article)

“He has gone off the rails”

“This makes me sick. I have no words.”

“Mike Huckabee: Even Though He May Have Fondled Little Girls’ Breasts and…” (article)

“Josh Duggar: God Has Forgiven Me for Molesting Young Girls” (article)

“I doubt it”

“sickening”

“they think their god forgives…their actions…so they expect us to believe that they’re absolved of obligation or responsibility…”

“The Duggars Aren’t Hypocrites, Progressives Are” (article)

“He is so merciful and I will continue to chose [sic] not to judge this family for their mistakes. Nobody deserves to be prosecuted in this way for actions he and his family have clearly tried all in their power to make right and have had a tremendous amount of guilt for.”

“‘Reprehensible’ is cheating on a test. Molesting little girls is a horrific crime. Enough of Christian conservatives telling us how to live.”

“Tell TLC to Stop Supporting A Child Molester By Canceling 19 Kids and Counting” (article)

“…And then they kept filming their show lecturing America?”

“It is poetic justice that Josh Duggar, member of a family with an overbearing aura implicitly forcing their ‘family values’ on others, would be caught up in a child molestation scandal that remained hidden for over a decade.”

“If they had focused on Christian redemption and forgiveness, the story would be different. But Josh and his family have been elevating themselves and condemning those who are different from them.”

“Why is it we are happy to receive God’s grace that we don’t deserve and are not willing to allow others to experience the same grace. If he truly repented and it sounds as if he did, who are we to say he doesn’t deserve that same grace?”

“Jesus loves those harmed by sexual abuse and Jesus loves Josh, this I know. We are not called to be the judge of those who walk in darkness. We are called to be their light.”

“I cannot believe so many people are dismissing this man’s sexual assault on children as if because he is Christian it is okay. It’s NEVER okay!! It was covered up by his parents and now he is free to continue ruining children’s lives. Would you be so quick to forgive a child molester that was Muslim or Jewish or Atheist? Nope. But a Duggar…. oh, he made mistakes it’s fine. Disgusting!”

“If they had focused on Christian redemption and forgiveness, the story would be different. But Josh and his family have been elevating themselves and condemning those who are different from them.”

**Just a note, these are the more civil comments, articles, statuses, and posts that I have seen**

One side of the argument portrays Josh Duggar and his family as hypocrites. Regardless of whether or not that is a fair label is not the issue. Rather, the issue is why do folks see them as hypocrites. The thought comes about due to their support and activity within groups such as the Family Research Council that lobby, encourage, and sustain the political and social idea of traditional values. The website provides the group’s mission:

“Family Research Council’s mission is to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.”

The two primary issues with which the group deals are traditional versus non-traditional marriage and abortion. There are others and a link is provided so that you can view them yourselves, but these are the two that are most noteworthy.

I will not go into detail concerning the political and social friction that occurs between this, for lack of a better label, conservative group and liberal groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, other than to say that each receives and spends vast sums of money to support and further their respective causes, and that those in support of either group believe wholeheartedly in those endeavors.

The hypocritical view arises from the Duggars’ support of traditional values and their attempts to suppress non-traditional ideals based on a strict interpretation of the Christian faith and the idea of the sanctity of the traditional family unit, essentially that the institution of marriage insists on the union of one male with one female. Where bitterness comes into play is the insistence that a holy mandate such as the traditional Christian union and sexual immorality (though not exclusively these) need to be codified into secular law. Put the two together and the old phrase “practice what you preach” comes into play, and since Mr. Duggar failed to do so gives him, or those in support of him, little ground on which to stand when believers attempt to stipulate, dictate, and legislate how other folks choose to live their lives. I think that is it in a nutshell. I could elaborate more, but that would only belabor the point.

Those in support of Mr. Duggar point out that he was 14 when the incidents of molestation occurred, and since that time he has repented of his sin, worked hard to right his sin, and has attempted to lead a Godly life. As told in the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of the book of Acts, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” (NIV), by doing so he has been forgiven by God and, thus, is to be forgiven by fellow believers, and further with verse 38 in the second chapter of the same book, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,’” (NIV). Mr. Duggar has been held accountable by God. He has confessed his sin before God and his fellow believers, and he has repented of such. Therefore, he deserves forgiveness, because no one is perfect but only made perfect through Christ (Heb.10.14). Also since the United States is a country founded on Christian values, and that those values are given by God, the law of the land should reflect such (though neither in the Bible or in the Constitution can I find any reference for such). Again, that is it in a nutshell.

As I said, the conflict lies in the above two paragraphs in a nutshell, boiled down to the simplest points I can present.

The conflicting sides meet where personal faith and divine authority intersect with secular law and authority, essentially the law and authority as established by the people (Preamble) and ratified by the states (Article VII) according to the Constitution.

According to the Bible, Christians are to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” (Ephesians 4.32, NIV), and to forget “what is behind” and strain “toward what is ahead,” (Philippians 3.13, NIV). Also, Christians are told that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death,” (Romans 8.1-2, NIV). Therefore, according to these and numerous other passages concerning repentance, forgiveness, and salvation, Mr. Duggar is forgiven by God, is free of his sin, and is to be forgiven by fellow believers. This is just and fair according to one’s personal faith in Christ and his divine authority.

Where the hypocrisy comes into play is when that same gift of forgiveness is not bestowed universally. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” (Matt. 6.14-15, NIV). According to this verse, there are no conditions in which a believer in Christ cannot refuse to forgive “men their sins.” So we cannot pick and choose which sins we will forgive or which sinners we will forgive.

A primary question asked in this vein is how can this man be forgiven when in the next breath a man committing a wholly different sin is condemned, both faithfully and secularly? This is not an unfair question. Remember back to September 11, 2001 or the Katrina disaster in 2005 when self professed men of God proclaimed God’s wrath on our country for its moral backwardness and shortcomings.

Now, these men are not fringe elements of the Christian faith. Many millions of believers believe just as these two men do. Yet, many of those millions will come to the aid and support of Mr. Duggar and will forgive him of his sexual immorality, and yet, will, and do, pass judgment on those others deemed unworthy of such forgivenss for their immorality. This is where the hypocrisy lies.

The conflict is further intensified when laws based solely on personal faith and morality are promoted, legislated, and codified into secular law. There is a difference between the divine law of God and the secular law of the United States, or any secular nation, and it is clearly noted both in the Bible and in the Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The government has no role in religion, faith, or, really, any moral system beyond the protection of a citizen’s right to life, liberty, and property. Once a government begins to legislate an individual’s or group’s faith, it encroaches on the faith or belief of another individual or group. However, when one’s lack of morality encroaches on another citizen’s right to life, liberty or property, government comes into play. Yes, it is morally reprehensible, and morally wrong, to murder, kidnap, or rape someone. It is against secular law to do so because the rights of a victim of a crime are infringed. In the case of robbery, a citizen’s right to property is infringed upon by another citizen. In secular government, morals can only be legislated if the effect of one’s immorality infringes on the rights of another citizen. This is the crux of the First Amendment.

According to the Bible, Christians are to “submit” to “governing authorities” (Romans 13.1-5, NIV), “every authority instituted among men” (1 Peter 2.13, NIV), and “be subject to rulers and authorities…to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men,” (Titus 3.1-2, NIV). So, for Christians, there are two laws according to which we must live, the moral and spiritual law of Christ and the secular law of the country in which we live. One set of laws holds us accountable to God and the other set of laws holds us accountable to our neighbors and fellow citizens.

For those that disagree with the above statement, consider one question. Do you support a state-sanctioned death penalty for the sinful (or immoral) act and secular crime of murder, or really any secular penalty that provides secular justice?

I know the broader context of this issue will not go away soon. Friendships dissolve and families split over the central issue presented here. It does not have to be that way. All it takes is a little patience and a lot of introspection and consideration. A particular point of view does not have to be agreed upon, but should at least attempted to be understood.

There are other points and issues that have been raised and thousands of comments exist for any of them, but the crux of the argument is here. For a broader perspective, give this piece a read.

An Evolution of Faith

A thought crossed my mind a few days ago. It continues to float in, wander around, and float out again. Last night I ran upstairs to jot down a few notes so that I would be able to somewhat clearly remember the jumbled thought, and, hopefully, organize it and make it a little more coherent. As I start to write this I can feel my heart beating a little faster because I tend to keep thoughts like this, thoughts concerning my faith and understanding private with the exception of a very small number of people.

Perhaps a little back story is required…

When I first began to read the Bible and other texts concerning the Christian faith in earnest, I was struck by the image of Jesus’ openness and vulnerability in the garden of Gethsemane. It was just him and God. There he prayed, alone, and asked God “may this cup be taken from me,” (Matt. 26.39 NIV). Alone, in solitude with others watching outwardly in order that he not be disturbed during such an intimate act. Also, he, himself, directs that prayer is an act to be performed in private in Matthew 6, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen,” (Matt. 6.6, NIV). Long story short, I rarely, if ever, pray in public. When I do pray in public, either in church, at the dinner table, or reciting the Lord’s prayer before an athletic event in high school (in my youth), it does not feel the same. There is a lack of intimacy, a lack of depth. It is not empty, but definitely not full either. Does that make sense?

I also take very seriously words from earlier in chapter 6 of Matthew, verses two through four, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret,” (NIV).

As I said, I keep my thoughts private, probably to an extreme. I keep my actions concerning my faith private, definitely to an extreme.

There are other reasons, well really only one reason, why I tend to keep quiet concerning my faith, and that is because when it comes to the very loud and outspoken conservative evangelical point of view, I have always seen myself in the minority and did not want to attempt to defend my thoughts against an overwhelming number of people driven by an unwavering opinion, belief, or faith in their rightness over others. And I am not just referring to more conservative Christian points of view, but also atheists and agnostics that are just as fervent and unmoving in their opinions and/or beliefs. It hits harder, though, coming from a fellow believer, because a fellow believer will tell me that I am missing, or have missed, the point, attempt to correct me, and then tell me that because I do not agree that I am lost and going to hell. Though those closest to me may never tell me that to my face, they do support and follow those that proclaim such, and, I won’t lie, that stings. That stings a lot.

So where am I going with this?

The thought that crossed my mind the other day was this. Grace vs. legalism. That’s it. One word against another, but oh, isn’t it so much more complex. A couple of definitions to start:

Grace- (in the Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings; a divinely given talent or blessing; the condition or fact of being favored by someone.

Legalism- excessive adherence to law or formula; theology dependence on moral law than on personal religious faith.

(Both definitions come from the handy-dandy New Oxford American Dictionary app on my computer)

Grace is further defined by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland as “God’s unfailing commitment to love,” (If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, p.7).

Those that read, study, have read, or have studied the Bible know that both legalism and grace are within it. Grace tends to abound in the New Testament, and legalism is firmly rooted in the first five books of the Old Testament, especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Why is that? The simple explanation is that Jesus came as the Messiah, or Savior, and fulfilled the old law (Matt. 5.17), bestowing upon the world God’s grace (John 1.17). There is more to it than that, especially if one reads the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) while considering what the Israelites living under the law were doing.

Think about it. These men, women, and children were freed from their bonds of slavery after generations. They had no real identity as a free culture. Little set them apart as God’s chosen people and descendants of Abraham from those other Middle-Eastern cultures surrounding them. They wandered to and fro seeking land to establish themselves. Not only were they seeking land to establish themselves as God’s chosen, but also they needed a law or code to set them apart, or sanctify themselves, from those around them that did not subscribe to their one God.

So there they were, a small, wandering tribe of people with little cultural identity to set them apart and a belief system that was completely alien to all of the other cultures around them. What better way for God to set them apart than to give them a strict code of law to follow and attempt to fulfill? A strict code that would not only keep them safe from natural harm (it protected them from eating spoiled shellfish, parasite ridden pork, and other harmful things (Lev. 11) ), but also directed the propagation and growth (the classification of homosexuality as an abomination/sin (Lev. 18 and 20), etc…) of the small tribe into a larger, established society dedicated to continuing its sanctification.

The Israelites eventually settled on a piece of land and continued to grow through observance of their God-given law. In this way, legalism served a positive purpose. It gave a group of people a direction for positive growth and security. It helped them establish a stable society in a time when the state, as we know it today, did not exist. As all of this was happening, they continued to live in anticipation of their Messiah who would save them from the perils of the surrounding world.

They did not follow the law word for word. How could they? It would take a true act of God for anyone to be able to follow such a strict and regimented code without falter. They did, however, follow it well enough to continue to multiply and reestablish themselves after being conquered and moved and resettled again, and being hellenized by the Greeks and later ruled by the Roman state (though different than the modern nation-state, a state nonetheless).

Seeing that His people were set apart distinctly from those surrounding them, and that their society was stabilizing and that the world around them was growing more organized and stable, God felt the time was right to bring forth a new law, one different from the law under which they lived that promoted outward sanctification, but inward sanctification. A law that would not only provide for their salvation but also the salvation of those with whom they lived and interacted, namely Gentiles. Thus enters into the world, Jesus.

Arriving in a time of Roman rule over the kingdoms of Israel and after the hellenization of the region by the Greeks, with trade routes and roads coming together and stretching to the limits of the known world, Jesus knew that the time had come for the law to change and that the gospel could and would be spread to the corners of the earth, allowing for the salvation of all people under his new covenant, regardless of their lack of observation of the old one. The Hebrew people had managed to maintain their society and culture under foreign rule and that through peace, they could continue doing such.

The law became one of spiritual sanctification. Followers were to no longer set themselves apart with action and behavior governed by law, but through their faith and their behavior as guided by that faith, with the complex old law being reduced to one phrase, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” (Matt. 7.12, NIV). Followers were also commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matt. 28.19-20 NIV).

The law became one of internal observation rather than observing that others were keeping the law. It became a law of forgiveness of others and bestowing grace and love on others, because we, ourselves, are inadequate to fulfill the old law. Through the same forgiveness shown to us, and the life given to us, we can forgive others and live a life of love, free from the judgment and punishment of others. In short, the law became love, and that love is shown through grace and mercy.

The writer of James said it well. “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement,” (James 2.12-13 NIV).

We all think of the impossibility of following the legalism of the Old Testament and the kind of discipline that must take. Little is ever said of how incredibly difficult it is to live under the covenant of the Gospel. How much more infinitely difficult is it to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5.44 NIV). Remember the “love” spoken of by Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth? The love that is “patient” and “kind”? The love that “does not envy” or “boast”? That “is not proud” or “rude” or “self-seeking” or “easily angered”? That “keeps no record of wrongs”? That “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”? That “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”? That is a hard love to give, even to ourselves and those we love. Imagine showing our enemies that kind of love. Imagine the kind of grace it takes to give that kind of love.

I have read those words many times in private and a time or two at weddings and one funeral. Yet, it still hits me at how difficult it is to show that kind of love, and I imagine it is just as difficult for all of us. I don’t just imagine, I know it is. It is infinitely easier to show contempt toward those with whom we disagree or disapprove. It is easy to show disapproval. Replacing that contempt and disapproval with love and mercy is our calling. It is what we are supposed to do, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13.34 NIV).

It is an endless road to walk. I know I will spend the rest of my life attempting to learn how to love the way in which we are instructed, and I will likely not ever get it completely right. I suggest we all do a little walking ourselves before we try to tell others where and how to walk. That is the whole point of the Gospel, not how, or about what, my neighbor thinks and lives, but how I think and live, and do I live and walk a life of love.

I partially stole the title of this piece from Philip Gulley’s book The Evolution of Faith. It’s a pretty good book and one that I will likely flip through again.

A Thought on Love, Empathy, and Faith

This started out as a post on Facebook, but I’m going to try to expand on it and see what happens…

If we spent more time seeing people as people rather than as the labels we put on them, then a path to real empathy and understanding shows itself. The problem with labels is that we all wear more than one. Yet, when we see a label on someone that we do not agree with, that is the label we give them. Never mind the other labels one might wear that we would approve of or wear ourselves. It is the label that promotes some kind of disagreement or conflict that we freely choose to accept as the one that most aptly describes or define the individual.

Surely we are smarter and more compassionate than that. Surely we all have the ability to see people for who they are rather that what they are. Why would we willingly take such an ability and simplify it? Does it make life easier? Does it help us sleep better at night? Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?

I’m going to address the last question first and see if they will help answer the other three.

Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?

I’m going to place a label on myself just to show how I view the answer I have for this question. I identify as a Christian, and the answer that follows is according to my understanding of Christian faith.

By simplifying an individual that we may not agree with to the label with which we disagree, faith eludes us. We are not told to love the neighbor with whom we most identify. We are told to love our neighbor. It does not matter who that neighbor is. It does not matter what that neighbor does. It does not matter what we think of that neighbor.

One of the most important aspects of love is empathy. In order to love someone, empathy, and the practice of empathy, within the relationship is absolutely paramount. With empathy, one must understand or want to understand the object of their love. With empathy, there may not always be agreement, but there is always an attempt to understand. Without empathy, one cannot find the commonalities one might have with another in order to build a meaningful relationship. Without empathy, it is easier to cast judgment on those with whom we disagree, paste a label on them, and toss their basic humanity aside. Without empathy, we fail to see the person behind the label. We fail to see the person’s wants. We fail to see their needs. We fail to understand them as people, and choose to see them as enemies, if even in the loosest sense of the word. Without empathy, there cannot be trust. Without trust, there cannot be love.

Empathy takes a lot of practice. It can be difficult, but isn’t that the point? Are we not supposed to practice our respective faiths? Are we not supposed to work in order to build a stronger character and make our faiths stronger?

We have an ability to understand. We have an ability to empathize. Some say it is God given. Some say it is an evolution of the mind. Some say it is a combination of the two.

We can also practice apathy. We can choose not to care. We can choose not to understand. In essence, we can choose not to love. Apathy takes no practice, builds no character, and is a weak foundation upon which to build faith.

Which brings us closer to our faith? Which makes life easier? Which helps us sleep better at night? For me, a better understanding makes me more comfortable and helps me trust that I will be okay. That trust helps me sleep at night. That understanding makes my life just a little bit easier.

There is a debate, has been for a long time. Does faith alone provide for salvation, or are good works necessary? Faith, in and of itself, requires work. Faith requires practice, because we, in and of ourselves, will never be perfect. Through practice, we can come closer to perfection, but cannot attain it but through the continued practice of love and of faith.