The Lifeboat Theory integrated into my personal observations and experience:
These words are only a few that one might associate with the person of Kirsten. The world we live in tends toward chaos. In the midst of that chaos I believe we try to compartmentalize and rank people, explain everything and form an opinion as fast as possible. “I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer to life’s questions and problems. Even worse, not choosing a “side.” After all, life is a mere fight for survival, right?
My amateur observations of people groups (and some influential reading material by Ravi Zacharias and Susan Caine) has brought me to this: As a culture we are ok with “light” and, even, “dark” emotions. But we despise uneasiness and confusion. We love loud, assertive leaders REGARDLESS of where they lead. But we almost despise fact checking, measured response and slow reaction.
Sometimes I feel that we’ve decided to treat life like a game of Fantasy Football. Choose your players and then let’s watch and see which of us picked the “right” ones. Oh, and don’t forget that we must argue along the way about how well OUR choices are doing. All in an effort to prove our worth in the “lifeboat.” I’ll explain the lifeboat analogy later.
I am going to say this once.
And then I’m going to say it again and again and again in different ways.
There are not two sides.
As we loudly proclaim our opinions about guns, the womb, finances, health… many of the more reasonable among us will concede mid-argument, “well, I guess that are two sides to every coin.”
It’s a stupid analogy.
And this is why: it perpetuates the idea that for every possible topic, there are only two options. One is heads and one is tails. One is right and one is wrong. One has value and the other does not.
So let’s start again. Those words at the top to describe me? They don’t describe me. You DON’T know me based on the boxes I tick. And you DON’T get to determine my value based on them either. I bet you have some preconceived notions about my political opinions based on the word “conservative.” Ha! You don’t know me. I grew up in a conservative family in a liberal state…who has met conservatives I disagree with and liberals I agree with. And even those words vary in their definition relative to topic, but somehow we have condensed them into two immovable platforms or “sides of the coin.”
Let me challenge you for a second with this quote from another favorite of mine, Donald Miller in Searching For God Knows What:
“I do not believe a person can take two issues from Scripture, those being abortion and gay marriage, and adhere to them as sins, then neglect much of the rest and call himself a fundamentalist or even a conservative. The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, and neglects health care and world trade and the environment and loving his neighbor and feeding the poor is, by definition, a theological liberal, because he takes what he wants from Scripture and ignores the rest.”
I think we should be self-aware of the labels placed on us (by ourselves or others). I also think we should be willing to challenge the things we accept because of them. I’ll use a personal and pretty embarrassing example. I tend to vote Republican. However, I’m not thrilled with our current choice of President. In a dreamy conversation about other people (maybe even a woman!) who might make a good president, my friend Kate mentioned Michelle Obama. And my reaction was, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really trust her.” Like it came out of my mouth so fast. Her response, “why?” Guys, I couldn’t answer. I was appalled at myself. I had just blurted out an unfounded opinion of a person. That is definitely the wrong kind of judgmental. Eventually I remembered that soon after Barrack was elected, my “conservative” acquantainces on Facebook were digging up and slinging as much mud as they could find. I now vaguely remember some opinion piece about Michelle being a Muslim, Black elitist with ulterior motives. Gosh, the conservative base really demonized them. The world was going to end. The Obamas were the anti-christs and our nation was going to enforce Muslim law. Although I remember rolling my eyes at the drama and telling people to calm down, I silently accepted the loud opinions of my “conservative” label. Be willing to challenge your own opinions. Is it YOUR opinion? Or have you only regurgitated someone else’s? I admit, that is the easier route. It is always easier to agree with someone who affirms your value than it is to disagree with them and risk rejection.
Donald Miller poses a question to one of his friends:
“Let’s say I was an alien and I had to go back to my home planet and explain to some head-of-the-aliens guy about what people on this planet were like.” I told Grant I would say to the head alien, “The thing that defines human personalities is that they are constantly comparing themselves to one another.” […] “Humans, as a species, are constantly, and in every way, comparing themselves to one another, which, given the brief nature of their existence, seems an oddity and, for that matter, a waste. Nevertheless, this is the driving influence behind every human’s social development, their emotional health and sense of joy, and, sadly, their greatest tragedies. it is as though something that helped them function and live well has gone missing, and they are pining for that missing thing in all sorts of odd methods, none of which are working. The greater tragedy is that very few people understand they have the disease. This seems strange as well because it is obvious. To be sure, it is killing them, and yet sustaining their social and economic systems. They are an entirely beautiful people with a terrible problem.”
You know what? I agree with the alien. We are a beautiful people with a terrible problem. Comparison and ranking. Always striving to attain more worth for ourselves.
[…] it caused me to wonder if this thing that makes us compare ourselves is what happened at the Fall. It occurred to me that what the alien was saying made sense because now that God was gone, now that He wasn’t around [like in the Garden] to help us feel that we were loved and important and good, we were looking for it in each other, in a jury of peers.”
For every word describing me, there is an obvious opposite. And the more opposite qualities a person has to you, the more of an opponent or enemy they are…right? Although I think we tend to assume this, admitting and recognizing value in someone different does not somehow diminish our own.
As you can see, I read a fair bit. It is by reading material from across the spectrum and interacting with people across that spectrum that I have come to the conclusion that the “two sides” thing is a misnomer. We’re all complex humans, not coins!
Let me introduce a new idea:
The Lifeboat Theory as told by (you guessed it) Donald Miller
“When I was a kid in elementary school my teacher, Mrs. Wunch, asked our class a question that […] went: “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?” I don’t remember which person we threw out of the boat. […] I do remember, however, that the class did not hesitate in deciding who had value and who didn’t. The idea that all people are equal never came up. As I was saying before, we knew this sort of thing intrinsically. Or at least we thought we did.”
What disturbs me most about this tendency in professed Christ-followers is that we have been specifically warned that it is unwise to compare. 2 Corinthians 10:12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. Despite, God’s acceptance of us and provision for us… we continue to fight to keep our place and our status. Indeed, what status could matter except our title of sons and daughters of God?
[…] “The thing is, if people are in a lifeboat, the reason they feel passionately about being a good person and all is because if they aren’t, they are going to be thrown overboard; they are going to be killed. I realize that sounds grim, but I kept comparing, in my mind, the conversation that might take place in a lifeboat with the conversations I heard at Palio or at Horse Brass [people talking about their status, who they liked or didn’t like]. Because when you really think about it, these wants we have, like wanting to be right, wanting to be good, wanting to be perceived as humble, wanting to be important to people and wanting to be loved, feel perilous, as though by not getting them something terrible is going to happen. People wouldn’t get upset about being disrespected if there weren’t some kind of penalty in play.”
[…] “That is pretty crazy because somebody cutting in front of you [on the road or in line] is only going to cost you a second, but it feels like something more; it feels like there is a penalty for not being respected by other people, it feels like you are going to die unless you get some kind of respect and appreciation.”
“If Jesus was coming from a place where all emotional needs were met by God, His social economy would be shocking and different as the social economy in the Garden […] His values would be different.
[…] He (Jesus) had hunger and thirst and He slept and rested, but He had no regard for the lifeboat politics you and I live within every day. He believed a great deal of absurd ideas, such as we should turn the other cheek if somebody hits us, we should give somebody our coat even if they just ask for our shirt, we should be willing to give up all our money and follow HIm, we should try our hardest to make peace, we should treat poor people the same as we treat the rich, we should lay down our lives for our friends, and so on and so on. It seemed He believed we should take every opportunity to fail in the lifeboat game, not for the sake of failing, but because there wasn’t anything to win in the first place. It was as if He didn’t believe the economy we live within had validity. No part of Him was deceived by its power.”
The two main points you need to understand from the above mishmash of quotes is:
Our fallen system is bent on defining our worth in the Lifeboat from a jury of our peers, but the Lifeboat doesn’t exist! God has parted the sea (despite our sin) and provided us safe passage on dry ground. Truly, God is the only one who gets to tell us who we are and how valued we are. Spoiler alert: what God loves he values. “For God so loved the world…” John 3:16
How dare we diminish the value of another (even unconsciously) when God himself has already defined it by His sacrificial love.
*This is probably the logical end of this blog, but I didn’t want to end on an accusing note. If this topic is intriguing you, please take a moment to consider your labels and the people in your life who are different than you. Then feel free to keep reading as I flesh out why we are “better together.”*
Gosh, if traveling the world has taught me ANYTHING, it’s this:
- I love my opposites. And I need them too.
- I identify more with the edge of a coin that the side of one
(if we must keep the coin analogy, might as well change it)
In this next section I am going to talk about myself and my opposites. While this is by no means exhaustive, I hope it lends a glimpse into our need for less division and more unity. This world would be drab and dimensionless if it was made up of only people like me.
So I’m white. In my case, I’m also from a “cold climate” culture where efficiency is king, time is money and achievement is the point. My enemy is NOT the dark-skinned “warm climate” culture where relationship is king, there is always time and family is the point. I need them in this world to remind me that the kingdom of God is eternal and parts of my culture will only achieve for me worthless riches. They need me to remind them that we work for God and not for man, so we should be excellent in all we do.
So I’m a woman. That puts me at a disadvantage, but of course my whiteness partly makes up for that in this world. Statistically, 1 out of 4 of my sisters will be sexually assaulted. The majority of politicians and CEO’s in America are male. My enemy is not men. I need them to see the inherent, not intrinsic value of a woman and keep those around them accountable to that. I need them to lift up and draw upon the wisdom of the women around them. They need me to see the world through different eyes. They need me to remind them of their role “to guard and to keep.” They need me to present solutions that have never crossed their minds. They need me to speak. I need them to sit in the front row and nod their encouragement.
So I’m a Christian. The church around the world is suffering bodily harm (still) for their faith at the hands of those in other religions. The church in the U.S. is frequently attacked for not condoning homosexuality. My enemy is not Muslim. My enemy is not gay. Their existence does not offend me. Instead, it inspires my compassion as I draw closer to Jesus. He denied his deity and became human. He sacrificed his dignity and his life for the CHANCE, that any who look to Him would be able to be a part of something more transcendent than themselves. And he did it all knowing that some would look…and not follow. That reminds me that I must love regardless of response.
“I began to wonder if what we were doing it evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.” Donald Miller, Searching For God Knows What
So I’m introverted. I can spend an entire day alone and not mind. I study without music. Small talk runs me down faster than an intense workout. After I spend time with people, I crave time alone to recharge. I feel like I often express myself better in writing than in anything else. I think long and hard before I make decisions. I collect data. I examine the pros and cons. Multi-tasking is overstimulating for me. However, my enemy is not extroverts. They, also, make up the majority of CEO’s. They take up the most air-time in conversations, are charismatic, full of energy and make quick decisions. Although we perceive these types to be better leaders, it is often only because of our image infatuated culture and the “extrovert ideal”. Making a quick, clear decision is favored over making a better, slow decision. (See how it all comes full-circle? Our “extrovert ideal” practically explains why we chronically jump to snap decisions and solutions. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking about it. Just make an assertive left turn and own it.”)
So I’m ________ political party affiliated. I take personal responsibility for my life and actions. I manage my finances well. So, I basically think that others (and the government) should do the same. I think government is necessary, but that they pretty much stink at running things effectively (haha I wrote this before the government shut down in January). I think the private sector should be in charge of lots of things because business competition leads to innovation and better ways of doing things. Instead, government stagnates. These opinions place me in the conservative category. My grandpas would be proud. However, I also don’t immediately agree with several other stances on the conservative platform. Abortions. I don’t want to ban them. I mean I do for moral reasons, but I think there is a much better conversation to be had about regulating and limiting them to a greater extent. For example, I want the government to stop funding an organization that is wrought with unethical practices (I’m not even speaking in terms of morality). I think if abortions are going to happen, they should be in the light. In regular hospitals. Not clinics in the hood. I also think that organizations such as CareNet should be promoted and more highly utilized. Because crisis pregnancy counseling is a humane act that gives dignity to both mother and child, and organizations like this do an excellent job of actually showing a mother what her REAL options are. Another topic: welfare. Generally conservatives hate it and think it should basically not exist anymore. I agree and disagree. I think welfare is a crutch and that it is 100% the government’s fault for not having a plan to phase out or scale back after The Great Depression resolved. Now that we are in this predicament, I think there should be finance counseling for those in government housing and assistance in transitioning people into better situations that are not dependent on the government (and my tax dollars). I know people who have been put in a financially difficult situation because they started to earn more money….just enough that their government housing became more expensive without warning. So much for saving up and moving out! Guns. I think they are a necessary part of our culture, but I am repulsed at the apathy that nothing is to be done about the numbers of recent violations and abuses of the right to bear arms. I think something must be done, but that it will take an open-minded person/s to find what that thing is.
In many ways, I and basically any other human are conditioned to believe that we should fit neatly into descriptive boxes and “forsake all others.” Let’s just suppose that there is an evil in the world that seeks to overtake good. Sounds like he/it has a pretty well-implemented “divide and conquer” strategy already in play. Are we going to let that type of division rule our assumptions and interactions with others?
I am a woman who needs men, a Christian who needs the unchurched and an introvert who needs extroverts. I believe the inverse is true as well in almost every category by which we define ourselves.
I suppose much of this is simply opinion, so I’d like to share a couple more things that influenced my mind to believe that my life is better when it is lived in harmony with others and not enmity to my opposites.
The first is the story of two well-known individuals. Their differences worked symbiotically to make history!
“Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on. She carries herself erectly, despite having spent the day bent over an ironing board in a dingy basement tailor shop at the Montgomery Fair department store. Her feet are swollen, her shoulders ache. She sits in the first row of the Colored section and watches quietly as the bus fills with riders. Until the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger.
The woman utters a single word that ignites one of the of the most important civil rights protests of the twentieth century, one word that helps America find its better self.
The word is “No.”
The driver threatens to have her arrested.
“You may do that,” says Rosa Parks.
A police officer arrives. He asks Parks why she won’t move.
“Why do you all push us around?” she answers simply.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But the law is the law, and you’re under arrest.”
On the afternoon of her trial and conviction for disorderly conduct, the Montgomery Improvement Association holds a rally for Parks at the Holt Street Baptist Church, in the poorest section of town. Five thousand gather to support Parks’s lonely act of courage. They squeeze inside the church until its pews can hold no more. The rest wait patiently outside, listening through loudspeakers. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd. “There comes a time that people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression,” he tells them. “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amidst the piercing chill of an Alpine November.”
He praises Parks’s bravery and hugs her. She stands silently, her mere presence enough to galvanize the crowd. The association launches a citywide bus boycott that lasts 381 days. The people trudge miles to work. They carpool with strangers. They change the course of American history.
As with other complimentary pairings–masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative–humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality types [introvert and extrovert].
Take the partnership of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.: a formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn’t have had the same effect as a modest woman who’d clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation. And Parks didn’t have the stuff to thrill a crowd if she’d tried to stand up and announce that she had a dream. But with King’s help, she didn’t have to.”
The second is a speech that inspired me. I’ve heard some people pick apart the words like they’re grading a paper, but I sure would not like that done to me. So, for my sake, take a listen. And note the acknowledgement that unity is what it takes to create change in this world.
We are better together.
So let’s stop obsessing about being redeemed by a jury of our peers. We are all equally loved and valued by God. And nobody needs to be voted out of the lifeboat. We are on dry ground.