Gray Areas in the Gray Matter

Click on picture to link to Arthur Brooks TED talk

 Click on picture to link to Arthur Brooks TED talk

Click on picture to link to Arthur Brooks TED talk

I listened to The Ted Radio Hour on NPR recently. The show I caught was titled, “Beyond Tolerance.” The hour was head-lined by Arthur Brooks and his talk was about the fact that we shouldn’t just tolerate those who are different from us but we have to get to the place where we realize we need them That’s right: We need people who think, believe, look, and act differently from us.

Right after Trump was elected president I was also listening to a show on NPR—can’t remember which one—but the speaker was talking about his view of Trump supporters. He said something like this, “If I find out one of may Facebook friends is a Trump supporter I can’t take it. I have to unfriend them. I just think, ‘I don’t need you in my life.’”


Arthur Brooks said in his Ted Talk that we have to make it personal to understand why we need those people in our lives who disagree with us. Think of some relative (sister-in-law, brother, cousin, spouse, parent) who doesn’t vote/believe/act like you do. Would you be willing to banish them to another continent to get them out of your life? No! You need these people. We are connected to them in a more primal way than the ways in which we differ. They’re our blood or they’re loved deeply by someone we love or they’ve given life to us.

If you were marooned on a deserted island with one other person—think of your complete opposite—would you be willing to live utterly alone rather than spend the life you have left with that one? I believe we would all work to find what unifies us, what we can appreciate and love about the other in such a case rather than be alone and lonely.


Well, we are all on this huge floating planet together. And all we have is each other. Tolerance isn’t going to do it. Coexistence isn’t going to do it. The dictionary definition of to tolerate is “to accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.” Wow, that’s like swallowing a bitter pill or under-going mild torture. That can’t possibly define living in relationship with another. And the definition of to coexistis “to exist in mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests.” Let me get this right, that’s existence with enduring forbearance. “I HATE you but I’ll grit my teeth and bare it.” At least that’s better than the guy with the unfriended Facebook “friends!” But barely. We’re finding out in this charged political climate that we can’t go on like this for long. Violence has and will be the outcome and, for some, the final outcome. So, what to do? What to do? Do you have any ideas?

SPY vs SPY.jpg

I have one. We have to find the gray areas in our gray matter. We have to back away from the ideological precipices we’ve brought ourselves to before we all fall into the Valley of Mutual Destruction. This has been brought on by political motive asymmetry. Now I didn’t know it had a name when I wrote(insert name & link to prior post) but learned it from Arthur Brooks: “A majority of people in our country today who are politically active believe that they are motivated by love but the other side is motivated by hate. Think about it. Think about it. Most people are walking around saying, ‘You know, my ideology is based on basic benevolence, I want to help people, but the other guys, they're evil and out to get me.’ You can't progress as a society when you have this kind of asymmetry. It's impossible.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Boston College, Liane Young says, “There’s so much research in social psychology suggesting we first think about who we are and what motivates us, and then we tend to apply that to other people. What we’re seeing here is just the opposite, where I say one thing for me and instead of extrapolating that it would be the same for you, I say it’s just the opposite for you – that you’re motivated by your hatred of my group. That’s pretty striking to me. These attributions tend to also track with other sorts of consequences: If you think that the people on the other side are motivated by their hatred of your group, you also are unwilling to negotiate with that group. You tend to think they’re more unreasonable, suggesting that people’s misattributions of other groups may be the cause of intractable conflict.”

OK, got that??? We’re at the precipice because we’re just so sure that the other guys are hateful bigots or murderous anarchists (depending which side of this canyon you’re on). So I propose that we dilute our certitude with a little uncertainty, that we temper our righteous anger with a little tenderness, our supreme judgment with a little mercy. That we color our black and white separations with a big swath of gray.

 Click on picute to go to Lisa Labon's website

Click on picute to go to Lisa Labon's website

As we have seen in recent events, there are hate-filled people out there. Im just asking that we not paint everyone with the same broad brush. There are gray areas in most people. Try to find the gray areas in yourself. Begin to revel in uncertainty. Question your quick judgements, your knee-jerk reactions to people and events. Ask yourself it there could be another explanation for someone’s actions? Assume the best motive of the other person—the kind that motivates you. And just float around in the fog for a while.


by Brian Zahn

I was once so sure
So sure of myself
So sure that what I wanted
Was one in the same with what God wanted
How could it be otherwise? 
Child of God that I am

I was once so sure
I was taught to assert my will
In the name of the Lord, to be sure
For the name of the Lord is a talisman
To endorse and empower my will to be done
For what else could my god have to do
But to make all my wishes and dreams come true?

I was once so sure
That I knew what was good for me
And what was good for me
Was good things for me Me. 
Me. … Me. …Me. …Me. …Me. …Me. 

Oh, I knew better than to say it just so
I knew how to dress it up in altruistic robes
And how to crown it with chapter and verse
Nothing like a plucked verse to make you so sure
(Yet it and I weren’t all bad, oh no, far from it) 

But the point of this confession is
I was once so sure
That I knew good and evil, right and wrong
In me, in thee, in theology, in policy
But there’s a snake that lives in that tree
Is original sin a sin of epistemology? 

To be so sure
Certitude in doctrine and politics
And just where the dividing line runs
Safe in the certain knowledge
That I’m on the right side
Of the right-and-wrong line

I was once so sure
And it’s fun being so sure
People like it when you’re so sure
(If they share your certainty) 
And isn’t that what faith is? 
Being so sure? 

Well... I’m not so sure
Cock-sure, can’t-miss certainty
Is not the faith that I see
When I look at the patriarchs, prophets, and poets
And Jesus
(“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”) 
At the cross faith and hope find their finest hour
But arrogant certitude is proved to be an impostor
(Did I hear the cock crow?) 

Instead of brashness and bravado
The poet of hope said “In quietness and trust” 
So now when I’m not so sure
I try to be quiet and trust
Not myself, my mind, my kind
But in the mercy of God
In his severe salvation
A salvation that is sweet as honey
And severe as the cross
Though he slay me
Yet will I trust him
Surely Goodness and Mercy

Brian Zahnd -

What is the MOST Important Thing?


Imagine being able to live with your hero. This person (male or female, pronouns used interchangeably) is your ideal of what it means to be a human being. You adore this person. You cherish the times you can be with her. You have been around him enough to know that he posesses wisdom unlike anyone you have ever encountered. One day you find out that your hero has a terminal disease and that she will only be with you a short while longer. You feel like you have just been hit by a bus. You reach out to your hero and ask if you can come over for a visit. (Perhaps your last?) You sit down across the kitchen table from each other. Emotions and thoughts race between the two of you before a word is ever spoken. A conversation ensues. As your hero shows signs of exhaustion, you know you must leave soon. Your mind is whirring with all the things you want to say and/or ask. Finally, you arrive at the question. Eye to eye, heart to heart you ask, "Tell me, what is the one most important thing in life that I should know?" 

Take it to Heart!

Now, if that scenario happened to you, don't you think you would hold on to that ONE most important thing? Don't you think you would ponder and consider how you can incorporate that one thing into your life? You would contemplate all the implications of that one bit of wisdom and scrutinize your actions to see how well they conformed to the wisdom your hero gave you. It would become your credo. 

If you are a Christ follower, then you know that the scene above has already played out. It was when someone came to Jesus and asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" You know the answer: LOVE. Love God with all your heart & soul & mind and love your neighbor as yourself (a quick paraphrase). Now that we know what our hero thinks is the most important thing, wouldn't we focus on this more than any other aspect of our faith? Sadly, quite often this is not the case. Looking at the state of our hearts and many of our churches one would think that Jesus had answered that question by saying, "Above all else, make certain you are theologically correct and espouse all the right doctrines." Or, "Be on the correct side of politics and vehemently stand your ground against all those who disagree!" Or perhaps He said, "Huddle together against this evil, sinful world and don't let yourself be stained or spoiled by its influence." Or even, "Ignore the needs of your city, state, and country. Instead, be happy getting together once a week with people who look and think just like you, to sing songs, stroke one another on how great life is and then go on living your life with no real nitty gritty interaction." 

I'm Already Doing All That... I Need Something Deeper, More Substantial 

Is it amazing how quickly and easily we pass over the two* most important things that Jesus taught and instead focus on a thousand less important things. I won't go into detail on these other things we put our energies into instead of learning to love. The primary reason we so easily skip over the mandates to love is that we consider that we're already doing such a great job in both areas! Right? "Of course I love God with all my heart! I have a daily devotional quiet time and I go to church!" And, "Of course I love my neighbor! Look at how nice I am! I smile at everyone and always attempt to see the best in people." 

I always find it fascinating to look at the subjects of various conferences and weekend retreats within the Christian community. "Ten Steps to a Better Marriage" or "Doctrines of Sovereign Grace" or "How to Get More of the Spirit" or "Jesus and your Money: a Christian Approach to Financial Responsibility and Freedom" and (dear Lord!) let us not forget: "Prophecy and You: Are we in The End Times?" These types of conferences far outnumber the symposiums or retreats I have seen in my lifetime that were titled, "How to Love My Next Door Neighbor" or "Love Til it Hurts: What Does Sacrificial Love Cost?" or "How to Lose Your Life for Others" - how about "Loving God: More than 'Clean' Living?" or even "Loving Your Extended Family During the Holidays" (now that would be a conference to attend... would it not??) 

Traveling Together

As we moved to Greensboro nine years ago we started a process that had us considering and pondering upon those things that Jesus found most important. And you know what we found? We found it was the most challenging lifestyle we have ever pursued... and the most joy-filled. We invite you on this narrow, difficult road with us. We are no better at traveling this road than anyone else and there are many that are far, far more experienced than us. But if we travel together it will be tons of fun and we can learn from one another! 

As you join us in this blog, we will be exploring the principles and ideals that Jesus taught us are tantamount. We want major on those things that He thought were major. Join with us. 

*Jesus refuses to be tied to only one thing in this story. He knows that one is worthless without the other. One cannot be madly in love with God and madly in mad with his neighbor! 

Can We Talk?

Hey, can we talk?

I was going to title this post, “Towards A More Civil Discourse.” But I wanted people to actually READ it! So...”Hey, can we talk?!”

Have you ever read, or better yet, seen Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare? One of the most famous speeches from that play is Mark Anthony’s eulogy for the murdered Caesar. It begins, “Friends, Romans, countryman! Lend me your ears!” I’m sure you’ve heard that line. In sarcasm, Caesar’s eulogizer, Mark Anthony, goes on to say that what Brutus says about Caesar--that he was ambitious--must be true because he, Brutus is such an “honorable man.” But then Mark Anthony gives example after example of Caesar’s heroism, compassion and patriotism, all things Mark Anthony knows personally about his friend and ally Julius Caesar. From this we see that Brutus has discredited his political opponent in order to justify maligning and eventually assassinating him. It makes it so much easier to get the crowd on your side if you can convince them this guy is a monster.


Friends! Americans! Countryman! Lend me your ears! Please let’s stop demonizing our political and cultural opponents. Let me explain what I mean by demonizing. A demon is a purely evil monster. Not human, not like us. Certainly not worthy of love or respect. They must be defeated, brought down, destroyed. They are all bad, all the time.

So when we demonize our opponents we assume the very worst about them. We make them out to be haters, killers, liars and thieves. But guess what? The other side makes YOU out to be haters, killers, liars and thieves. And you know you are not. You know that your motives are just and true, pure and right. You know that you have love in your heart and that you can be kind and generous. You know that you’re a great Dad, a really good mom, a loving son or daughter. You want what’s best for your family, your neighbors, your country... the world. This is who you are.

Well, what if they know all the same things? What if their motives are just and true, pure and right? What if they are kind and generous and lovin-- No! That can’t be.

The Switch-A-Roo

But what if it is? What if we could all go through a switch-a-roo like the characters in the movies Freaky Friday, Vice Versa and Big? But instead of parents to sons and daughters or children to adults, our transformation would be into our political or cultural opposite. If we’re rich it would be poor. If we’re black it would be white. If we’re Christian, it would be Muslim. And here’s the kicker, if we hate Trump we would now love Trump!! We would become them and they would become us. In this scenario we would live their life for awhile. We would experience their trials. We would inherit their family and background. We would do their work, play their games, worship their God, eat their food, sing their songs. 

What do you think this would do to us? I think we would see that they are not the monsters we have made them out to be. They are more like us than we want to admit. They are children of God, wonderfully and marvelously made. They have faults and foibles, failures and fissures but, just as we do with our own faults, we would have a kind perspective that excuses and minimizes most of them. We would love the “other” like we love ourselves because we would be them.

We judge others by their behavior, we judge ourselves by our intentions.
— ― Anonymous

Here’s the thing, love assumes the best about another person. When you fall in love with someone you assume they are kind, loving, gentle, patient, beautiful, worthy, humble, and more. Scott Peck, in A Road Less Traveled, describes what happens. When we fall in love our ego boundaries get stretchy as we envelope each other. “You like pie? I love pie.” You wanna go dancing? I love to dance.” As the relationship develops our ego boundaries begin to snap back into place. “No, I don’t want to dance. I never dance at weddings” “You ordered pie for me? I wanted ice cream.” This is a slap in the face as we realize that this “perfect” person is not us; they are the “other.” 

But true love from the heart transcends these ego boundaries and with eyes wide open, the relationship matures until we love the “other” like we love ourselves. Love is selfless, sacrificial even. Love gives way, gives up rights, gives up life. Love shows deference and respect. Love dignifies. Love champions. Love supports.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It isn’t jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. (Wait...What?) Love is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever. (That’s not mine; it's Rabbi Paul)

So how about this for a challenge (since I don’t think we’ll be having the magical transformation into somebody else any time soon) how about the next time we confront an opponent, especially political, we try a little tenderness. We look them in the eye, take a really deep breath and... LISTEN. Ask questions and listen. Then stand back and watch the magical transformation of our society begin.

How to have 60 people for dinner!

It is 6pm and I have been up & working since 4:30am. But I am not tired, in fact, I am jazzed, pumped and ready for the joyful unknown that awaits us.  Ruth is scurring from room to room to make sure every detail is ready for the evening. She is putting the finishing touches on table decorations, lighting candles, preparing the drink station and directing a host of volunteers who are here to help us. My kitchen helpers, Diana or Chewan or Janet are encouraging me and letting me know that they got my back. We are working on the appetizers and suddenly wish we had another 2 hours to prep & make ready!  It is now 6:45 and the doorbell rings. Ruth or a volunteer answers the bell and welcomes 5 guests into our home, then another 5, then another 10, then 6 and it doesn't stop until 50 or 60 people have invaded ready for the time of their lives! 


Grub Prep

The Table... let's eat

What I have been describing is a glimpse of behind-the-scenes at the Greensboro Grub. The Grub is the cornerstone and launching pad for just about everything we do at City 616. Once a month (sometimes twice a month!) we set four ten-foot tables down our 71 foot hallway. We then prepare a meal for 60+ people. About half of these people are strangers brought by friends or many are folks we met on the street or shopping or while walking the dogs. Our guests arrive around 7pm and help themselves to some soft drinks, wine or beer. The crowd grows, the volume rises with laughter, talk and get to know one another. Soon we take our seats and begin a sumptous meal. The cusine is always different at the Greensboro Grub. We have have served offerings of many, many ethnic flavors. We have served Greek, Moroccan, Russian, Peruvian, German, Italian, South African, Spanish, Cajun, French, West African, Indian, Chinese, Thai and even down-home Southern. (And I am sure I am forgetting a few varieties.) 

Everyone is finishing up the meal and Ruth glides into the kitchen to dish the dessert with Rob and Josephus. While dessert is being dished, I get everyone's attention to begin the "Grub Interviews." Selecting a guest at random, I ask them to stand and we begin to find out a bit about them: where they were born, most memorable moments from childhood, favorite movie or favorite book. They are also asked for more "intimate" information: tell us about your first kiss; or besides your immediate family who has made the greatest impact on your life? And finally an "off-the-wall" question: if you could have any super power, which one would you choose? After two or three interviews dessert is ready to be served and all dig-in once again. 

The Sharing of One Another

After dessert is consumed (gobbled down, gulped and/or stuffed into our bellies) everyone is encouraged to pick-up their chairs their chairs and take them into the Gathering Room. Guests are seated and this is truly when the magic happens. This is the time when any or all are encouraged to to the stage and share a talent, a poem, a joke, a song or play an instrument. But before anyone begins, we lay the ground rules. We tell our guests that we adhere to the GK Chesterton philosophy of talent & performing: "If a thing is worth doing... it is worth doing badly!" Everyone laughs but that is not the end of his doctrine. He goes on to say, "How many of us have banished singing, dancing, drawing painting from our lives for fear of not doing it well? If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing for the joy of it!" So having the ground rule established, we are ready to warm to the glow of others sharing their hearts and souls. People who have only performed in front of mirror rise to give it their all. Seasoned professionals who sing or play an instrument for a living give gracefully of themselves. And no one is judged good or bad, weak or strong, professional or amatuer. We just bask in the depth of love for one another. It is magic. 

Before we know it, the evening has slipped away and we must go to our separate lives. But we hold the magic and the charm of that evening for a lifetime.