The culture of finger-pointing and catastrophizing others' words has grown…
I love stories like this when people rise above the negativity and conflict.
By the way, this blog is not and will not ever be about politics. However, public figures and public behavior is another matter. When people stand up in positive ways, it’s worth noting because they make a huge difference in our culture (and vice versa).
Just yesterday, Slate and others reported that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (a Democrat) said he will introduce a resolution to rename the Senate’s Russell office building after Sen. John McCain (a Republican), who died on Saturday after a battle with brain cancer. The suggestion by the top Democrat in the Senate amounted to an acknowledgment of how McCain built up a lot of respect and goodwill among Democrats as well as Republicans after serving Arizona for more than 30 years on Capitol Hill.
“As you go through life, you meet few truly great people,” Schumer said in a statement. “John McCain was one of them. His dedication to his country and the military were unsurpassed, and maybe most of all, he was a truth teller—never afraid to speak truth to power in an era where that has become all too rare.”
McCain was a man who deserves that kind of respect because of his respect for humanity. You may recall when McCain famously complimented and acknowledged the good in his Presidential candidate opponent, Barack Obama—just three weeks before the election—and was booed by his own supporters on national television for doing so.
When a woman stated that she couldn’t trust Obama, McCain said, “No ma’am, He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him. I want everyone to be respectful, and let’s make sure we are. Because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America.” (Source and video.)
Melania and LeBron
Just a couple of weeks ago, Melania Trump said something simple, ordinary and positive. But because it was positive, it actually made the news—everywhere!
Because her husband had been in a Twitter feud with LeBron James, Melania’s positive comment actually became newsworthy because she appeared to differ with her husband. But I took a slightly different look at this.
On August 4, 2018, CNN reported: “Melania Trump praised LeBron James for his charity work less than a day after her husband attacked the NBA superstar’s intellect in a tweet Friday night.
“The first lady’s spokeswoman on Saturday said Trump is supportive of James’ work with children. ‘It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today,’ Stephanie Grisham said in a statement to CNN.”
So kudos to Melania Trump for walking upstream in a torrent of negativity taking us downstream (often led by her own husband). And kudos and respect to LeBron James for his commitment and investments to making a positive difference in the world.
And whatever we think of these people as people, let’s put it aside and acknowledge the positive.
Peacemakers: They’re Counter-Culture
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).
Have you ever found it odd that political opponents rarely acknowledge when the other party has done something good?
Judging by the way they slam and degrade each other during campaign rallies and debates, the conventional wisdom appears to be, “Never say anything positive about an opponent.”
But if we’re choosing to walk in the way of Jesus Christ, we can’t act like that. It’s not Christlike behavior and it’s not making the world a better place, regardless of what consultants and experts advise us to do.
It’s not simple-minded to be positive. It’s a matter of standing for something of eternal significance.
Being consistently positive is walking in the footsteps of Christ.
What Did Jesus Do?
Example #1: The Scribe Who Got Something Right
Jesus had many enemies back in His day. The people called “scribes” in the Bible prowled around Him and tried to find fault with anything He said or did.
But there’s an interesting story about “a teacher of the law,” who got into a dialogue with Jesus about what was the most important commandment of God. (See Mark 12:28-34.)
I like to picture Jesus smiling as this potential enemy, the scribe, said something truly wise and profound, something totally consistent with what Jesus had been teaching Himself. The scribe says,
“To love [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).
Now if Jesus was acting like our culture today, He might have said something like, “Yeah, well you guys are still totally messed up because you do [such and such] bad and stupid things.”
But He didn’t. We read the following:
“When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:34).
Jesus affirmed the positive. He complimented the man’s valid insights. Jesus clearly maintained his stature as the God of the whole earth, given His authoritative language, but He acknowledged the goodness and wisdom of the man’s words.
Example #2: The Woman at the Well
On another day, Jesus walked through a place where Jews never walked: Samaria. There was a historic hatred between Jews and Samaritans so great that they wouldn’t touch each other, eat or drink with each other, or even talk to each other.
Yet, Jesus and a few of his followers went through Samaria on purpose. (See the whole story at John 4:1-26)
As Jesus sat near a certain well, a woman approached with a water container and He asked her for a drink. This was crazily outside of accepted behavior between Jews and Samaritans.
“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9)
It’s very possible that the woman sneered at Jesus with a tone and a look on her face like, “Seriously? Yo, get your own water. You shouldn’t even be here much less in my business.” Body language and tone of voice are not captured in the scriptures.
Even if she was courteous, Jesus deflected her comment altogether and began one of His most important mini-sermons, which we treasure to this day.
In other words, he avoided a tit for tat exchange with the woman of the hated race. He looked past the cultural norms of the day and was simply kind and positive—offering her the priceless gift that He had to offer. (As we continue reading the story in John 4, it sounds like the woman had had a hard life too.)
Later in their conversation, the topic came up of “which religion is right”—the Jewish religion or the beliefs of the Samaritans?
Jesus said plainly that “salvation is of the Jews,” even though nearly every leader in the Jewish councils was as corrupt as could be.
Jesus knew how to keep peoples’ behavior separate from doctrines, principles, and legitimate authority. And when necessary, he spoke out bluntly against the behavior of the leaders—not to relieve his frustration but to warn the people to not follow their poor examples.
5 Ways To Follow Jesus in a Culture of Negativity
- Make it a habit to be part of the solution (and not part of the problem).
- Compliment someone who is opposed or unkind to you.
- Stay focused on the positive even when others start being negative.
- “Be kind: everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (John Watson, aka Ian MacLaren; full quote below)
- Focus on issues and principles, not peoples’ failings or bad behavior.
John Watson quote source: “This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.” John Watson
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