Is this the difference between us?

I had this thought in the shower.  (All my best thinking gets done in the shower.)  I wanted to toss it out into the blogosphere.  I’m hoping that my good friends– particularly conservatives– might respond.

This isn’t me trying to be argumentative.  It’s a real question, or atleast a real hypothesis.  A hypothesis around a fundamental difference between liberal and conservative.  I’m not interested in the definitions of these words.  I’m much more interested if I’m accurately speaking for you below.

Obviously, we all begin with the same data.  Suppose our data is an inner city adolescent.  Like too many inner city adolescents, he has done jail time and deals drugs.

We would both look at this child and agree that a failure has occured somewhere.  We would both agree that we must do everything we can to steer people away from decisions that lead to drug dealing and jail time and all the rest.

Could the difference be this simple: we have different emphasis (is that the plural for that word?) on where the responsibility lies?

For simplicities sake, let’s suppose there are three levels to society: There is the community, there is the family, and there is the individual.  Societies are made up of large numbers of communities.  Communtieis are made of large numbers of families.  Families are made up of individuals.

As a liberal/progressive, I would put a greater emphasis on community than a conservative.  I would say “At some point, this child did not hear the messages he should have heard.  He did not hear and believe that drugs are destructive.  He did not hear and believe that the laws exist for everybody.  He did not hear and believe that he can be succesful within the system.    The schools should have been teaching him this.  Churches and community groups and social networks should have done a better job.   The government should have done a better job of equipping and enpowering these groups to do this.”

For me personally, the issue is not so much that schools have failed to teach specific facts about the world.  (Though they have.)  It’s not that kids don’t who Columbus was, or how to calculate the area of a circle.  It’s much more that kids don’t recognize that calculating circle area and understanding who Columbus was are worthwhile pursuits. 

Some conservatives might disagree with me on this, but I think progressives and they place roughly equal emphasis on family.  But as a conservatives sense of who is responsible gets laser focused on an individual, a progressive would be typically least focused on the individual.

I am not saying that progressives don’t believe in personal responsibility.  I am also not saying that conservatives don’t believe in communal responsible.  But I think there is a difference in emphasis.

And unless we wanted to deny that personal responsibility exists, or we wanted to deny that communal responsibility exists, I think we would all do well to recognize that there is value in truth in both conservative and liberal arguments.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “Is this the difference between us?”

  1. I just finished a 12-hours day on Campus, so I’m barely telling my ass from breakfast and really can’t bear looking at written words so much, or producing them. I DID want to drop in a word and say that I put you on my newsreader, be sure that I will frequently (as far as time will allow me to blog, anyhow) visit here.

    Shiesh, looks like next time I’ll have to blog quietly is going to be Wednesday :/


  2. I have several thoughts running through my head on this topic but probably can’t write them out with much clarity with little ones running around me(nor am I a great writer, or possibly even a great thinker although I think a lot!) I do not consider myself a liberal or a conservative…I guess I am somewhere in the middle like many people. However, I will be the first to say the responsibility falls on the side of the community. I think many seem to be so willing to walk by(or maybe not so much willing to walk by as much as UNWILLING to get involved) members of the community, mostly kids get sucked into thinking there’s no way out..of whatever it is..poverty, drugs, abuse. These same unwilling folk are the first ones to rally behind the heroes in the community, even if they are past “bad seeds”. I don’t know if I am making sense, but think of the ex prisoner who gets out and makes a positive change in himself & the community. People are now there to kind of jump on the bandwagon…were they there before…when they walked past and pretended they didn’t know he was getting a beating daily?
    I think you can apply this to someone’s Christian walk too. Where does the responsibility lie when we let one of our own…church member, family member draw away from God, eventually maybe fall far away. You know that person you haven’t seen around church for wonder how they’re doing or you maybe know they are into some bad stuff and kind of just let it go, eventually you even stop praying for them..out of sight, out of mind. Does the responsibilty fall on that individual? I think not…it falls directly on us as the body of Christ.


  3. Thanks Kim!
    I think that was clearly and powerfully stated.

    This is going to sound incredibly partisan, and it’s not my intent to be divisive. But my thoughts recently had gotten into the same general neighborhood as yours.
    I hadn’t thought specifically about the guy you describe, and it’s a really interesting point. We applaud when he turns his life around, but so often we weren’t there helping him to turn his life around. And what a great and convicting paralell, the idea that we let people drift away.

    My thoughts had turned to the idea that it seems like the further “down” on societies ladder someone is, the more barriers there are to moving up. It seems to me it’s relatively easy to go from middle class to upper class but comparitively difficult to go from lower class to middle class.
    I’d been thinking that we create these escape valves. The very brightest (say) 1% make it out of the worst ghettos. The fairly bright (say 3%) make it out of the slightly better neighborhoods, and so on.
    Allow this minimal movement does two things:
    it gets the best and the brightest out of those neighborhoods so that they don’t stir up trouble by leading the rest of “them”. but it also gives the comfortable a poster child.
    They never actually helped the guy out of poverty, or drugs, or whatever, but once the guy gets himself out they say “See, that guy did it, the only reason the other people don’t is because they are lazy.”

    I’ve been trying to collect all these thoughts together for a future post. It’s been helpful to try and summarize them here in this comment.
    Thanks for your thoughts… I hope that you’ll share them again sometime soon.


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