Conversations on a Cloud: Dealing with Conflict and Controversy

This past week there was yet another reason for me to stay away from social media: another mass shooting at a school. This makes 18 so far, and we haven’t even gotten to the third month of the year. While I have no answers to any of the issues, I do have some strong opinions about the matters of gun violence… I do, and so does everyone else, making social media anything but social.

I jumped into an online discussion of the issues between two of my friends. The conversation was spirited but cordial. I am happy that it didn’t go on forever with sides further polarizing and people threatening to “unfriend” each other – I’ve seen many other conversations go that way. The closing of the discussion was very interesting: one friend said:

 I always defer to the fact that we are going to spend eternity together because we have a God that loves us beyond limit, and who am I to argue with him. When we get to heaven, this discussion becomes moot.

This got me thinking about what “conversations in heaven” will be.  I can see it now… Jim and Bob, sitting on their clouds (or in neighboring mansions… picture it how you like 😉 ) talking about the “good ol’ days…

Bob: Hey Jim! You remember when we were talking about gun control?

Jim: Bob, that was a thousand years ago! Kinda, but what about it?

Bob: Nothing much… I was just remembering how heated we got over it. Seems silly now, right? I mean, we’ve been hanging out in heaven together all this time…

Jim: wonders if it was silly

Bob: In the light of heaven, doesn’t it seem silly, Jim?

Jim still wonders…

What will conversations in heaven look like? Are we going to be able to go to each other and say, “wow, now that we are here, all is forgiven.” or something like that? What will make our conversations better when we are sitting on a cloud?

One of the most, if not the most famous prayers, contains the line:

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

From this, I’m thinking that our cloud conversations in the future should be worked out here, in the present. There have to be methods of having His will (heavenly conversation and relationship) be done while in the midst of earthly turmoil… I mean, what are we gonna do if we are having a knock down drag out fight with someone, only to find that we are standing next to each other in the line for the pearly gates?

What Divides Us?

I have witnessed (and I admit, participated in)  a lot of these conversations. They usually start out with “Them” or “Those” or some derogatory caption of the group the person is against. Liberals this, conservatives that… illegals, racists, democrats, commies, the list goes on and on. I have an opinion, and “those people” are the problem. We spend so much time on “those people” that anything they say is just another brick in our wall to not listen. Lately, anything that doesn’t agree with our belief is fake news, and there can only be one side of an argument. People even start their posts with “if you believe this, you can unfriend me now.”

Today we can read of the conflict in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi, with hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered because of the “difference between them”. However, the people on both sides are fighting for a belief that is largely fabricated by colonizers. For centuries they lived as one people, yet allowed something outside of themselves to divide them and lead to the destruction of countless people, as well as the entire nation.  And this is but one example in a system of division that we continue to adopt: “They” are wrong and bad; “we” are right and good. In social media circles, while not on the same physical scale, the same thing is happening: People who were once friends have been polarized by external agendas, where it is very easy to identify the enemy – easy, because we cannot physically see them.

What is Really Valuable?

When I was in college in Iowa, I had to pass the houses of a couple of old men, one 84, the other 82. Having been born at the turn of the century from 1800’s to 1900’s, they have obviously seen some radical changes in race and gender relations in their lifetime.  They would sit on their porch every afternoon, just enjoying the day, and I would wave to them as I went to my student housing. One day I decided to go talk to them, and that day turned into many days of sitting with them and just “conversing on our clouds”. They told me of days gone by, and in one of our conversations, asked me what I preferred to be called: colored, black, or whatever, because colored was the only thing they knew growing up. I told them I didn’t care, and truly I didn’t: the designation of my race wasn’t important to our conversation. However, I loved that they asked – it showed that they valued the friendship as much as I did.

Today, we are willing to lose friends because they espouse a different political view, or because they believe that certain people do, in fact, matter.  Unfortunately, some people are going to read that last sentence and go off the rails because they will associate this with Black Lives Matter, and refuse to read anything else.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson said,

Any time scientists disagree, it’s because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. And we move on. That kind of conflict resolution does not exist in politics or religion.” 

According to Tyson, science gets it. When conflict happens, science values something larger than the scientist’s opinion, no matter how passionate the scientist is about their opinion.  I can have all the research at my disposal, but that doesn’t mean someone else’s research is invalid. All of it, just like the universe, is bigger than what can fit between my ears. So for science, conflict leads to questions, which leads to more data, which leads to the possibility of better and informed answers. It leads to learning, growing, and where needed, solutions.

When we talk about gun control, or Black Lives Matter, or conservative vs liberal views, what do we really value? Are we willing to value people / society / relationship enough to be willing to be wrong for the purpose of a greater right coming to light? Are we willing to admit that we don’t have all of the data, and that those “across the aisle” may have just what we need? It’s scary, because it means we may have to change, to acquiesce, to come under those that we have “opposed”, but if we value them more than we value our opinion, we won’t see it as a loss. It will be a win for all.

Conflict is Coming

I like Jesus because he rarely minced words. One time he flat out said,  in this world you will have trouble. Our cloud conversations on earth are not always going to be heavenly. We are not always going to agree, and we are going to see things very differently. But he says we can take heart, because he has overcome the world. What does that mean for us? Well, for starters, I, as a black democrat can sit down with a white republican, overcome our differences and find ways to address our world that are bigger than both of us. It means that my opinion as a man is not better or stronger or more valid than a woman’s, that both are needed and both are valuable, and must be valued. It means that I, as an American am no different or better than someone from any other country, and that their experience only adds to mine.

Nas creates one minute videos from around the world, and this one above all struck me. There was such an opportunity for understanding by those he was speaking with, but it was all thrown away because of a preconceived ideology. What was even worse was that the ideologies of hate were being passed down from generation to generation. Even when the family had the chance to learn something different, they refused to engage in meaningful conversation.  I love how he ends the video:

“You and me, we need to be heard more… so the next time we meet in real life we can talk about something as boring as the weather!  It’s beautiful today!”

My friend Keith and I were sitting in his backyard, and he initiated a frank and honest conversation about race. We talked about “recognizing race” in each other, and how important it was to acknowledge each other’s differences. Those differences cause us to grow, to learn, to experience more than we would if we were all the same. Similarly, when we experience conflict, it’s not necessarily because one person is right or wrong. It is because something needs to be addressed, and it takes both of us (or all of us) to figure out what is the right thing for all… but we have to be willing to have those cloud conversations, not in heaven, but here on earth.

I challenge you this week, instead of throwing out your ideas on the issue of the day, invite someone into a discussion where you listen to them. Don’t listen so you can answer back with your own rhetoric, but really listen so you can learn, and thank them for their thoughts on the matter.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what may happen.

Notable notables

Keith, whom I mentioned before, is a hospice nurse, and has had the opportunity to talk about some of his experiences at TedXSalem. Many of the things he says echo this discussion. I invite you to listen, and to begin to have conversations that matter.

4 Replies to “Conversations on a Cloud: Dealing with Conflict and Controversy”

  1. Love you Ken,

    And one of the points I make in my TEDx talk is that we’re often avoidant (or scared) of having important conversations. When it comes to death and dying, it is often to protect our loved ones.

    Your conversations about race with the two elderly men on their porch, and our conversations about race were likewise important. And for many people can be just as scary.

    But I think we (I, anyway) avoid these to protect ourselves more than protecting others. We feel so unsafe.

    Which is why what you have to say here is so important. And Nas, and others — we NEED to have these conversations in real life (and online).

    Thanks for having the courage to give us all permission to have conversations that matter.

    1. I think it is that fear that makes the social media “conversations” so toxic, because we don’t want to delve deep into the real issues. We say what we say to protect our own feelings, our beliefs and rely on the engine of likes and shares to validate our thoughts, but as you said, bottom line, we feel very unsafe in a lot of these discussions.

      I loved what you said in your Tedx talk, even though it is a topic that we all shy away from (shy… no, run frantically away). Facing reality, truth, and the fact that we are not the eternal be-all and end-all can be so healing and life affirming, when we have the courage to do so.

      (I think this just answered a big question about Job’s struggle… 😉 ).

      Thank you for sharing in the many ways you have, Keith 🙂

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