May 27, 2020
Many years ago, a member of our church was a local police officer who typically worked the midnight shift. I asked him if I could do a ride-along one night and got the necessary approval to do so. Early on, we came upon a car driving erratically on Van Dyke heading south toward Detroit. We pulled him over. We were two white guys, and he was black. "How many times has this happened?" I wondered. It shouldn't automatically feel tense, but of course, it did. The man initially appeared to be drunk, and I didn't know how this was going to go. But, the officer I was with was exceedingly kind, gentle, experienced, and wise, and after asking a few more questions, rightly discovered that this man was a diabetic having an episode. He was able to get the man into the police car and we were able to get him home safely so that he could get something to eat before he worsened. Of all the things that happened that night, I remember that as my favorite. This was a great example of public safety. I wish all the stories were all like this.
The tragic account coming out of Minneapolis coupled with the killing in Georgia are hard to hear and are a deep grief to bear. I resent the sense of distrust and distance these events have upon our lives. I hate wondering if you are thinking about race or if you are wondering if I am thinking about race. But then I read something this morning that in an odd way, gave me pause and a smile.
A report came out this week explaining how two years ago, leaders at Facebook realized that the algorithms they used to direct content to users "exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness." It also explained that if they didn't change them, they would send users "more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention and increase time on the platform." We all know that news stories that generate fear increase viewers, which increases advertising revenue, which increases the networks' addiction to stories on fear, which keeps people jacked up with anxiety. Ha! No wonder there are so many anti-anxiety medication commercials, right?! Now we are seeing this same formula applied to social media. "Exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness!" Yes, it will "increase time on the platform," but at what cost?
Anger, fear, distrust, division, me against you, and us vs. them are all short-term buttons that anyone can push in order to start a reaction. But, there is no joy in that. There is nothing sustainable about that. Like legalism, you have to keep stoking the fire with fresh meat and new enemies, or else the movement cannibalizes itself. And yet, that is what so many groups are based upon and organized around. Not the church. Not the true church. And that is what made me smile.
We are so different, and that difference is both real and deep. Our unity is grounded in Christ. Our fundamental core identity is not based on what we are against (though we are against certain things), but on WHO WE ARE. Therefore, our unity does not stem from who we are better than (since we are not), who we don't like (since we love), who has wronged us (since we are forgiven), or who we want to punish (since we are debtors to grace). Our unity comes from outside of us and is not artificially inflated by fear, but deepened by seeing and savoring our identity in Christ.
Beware of any attempt to "exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness." Beware of the stories that want to make you think differently about those whose face-mask habit is different than yours. Beware of the attempts to make you look at others with suspicion and fear. Instead, lament the brokenness in our world, but rejoice in our unbreakable and eternal union in Christ.
And again I say, rejoice!
By the way, thanks to all of you who sent me your pancake pictures from Sunday!
Grace and Peace,