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The Hug

• Greg Boyd

Two sermons in one today: Part 1: How does children’s reliance on technology affect their ability to use their imaginations? And part 2: Looking at the Botham Jean “hug felt around the world” and how we might be stuck in a silo and not even know it.

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During this Interfaces series, we have been looking at some of the implications of technology and social media, and ways to guard against some of the potential downsides.

Today, Greg shares two final points, which are somewhat unrelated but both are important and he wanted them to be included in this series.

The first point is intended primarily for present and future parents and grandparents, or anyone that has influence over a young child. Ask yourself this question: Is your child’s reliance on technology helping or harming their imagination?

Greg, like many of us over a certain age, grew up without computers or smart phones. He and other kids invented games, and created & acted out stories. Kids entertained themselves using their imaginations.

Now, video games make up the narrative and the rules for us. TV shows create the story for us. Our phones entertain us during every dull moment so that we never have to use or even discover our mind’s ability to self-entertain.

Studies by child psychologists have shown that teaching kids to use their imaginations early on is essential. Like language, we can learn it any time, but because children’s brains are so plastic, learning imagination early makes a huge difference and affects many other areas of learning.

Imagination affects every area of life. It affects our ability to form a vision for our future, empathize with others, and it plays a large role in our relationship with God, as Greg wrote in his book Seeing is Believing.

If he had to do it over again, he would make sure that imagination was a top priority with his kids and grandkids. We should play imagination games with them and encourage them to entertain themselves without ever forming a dependence on technology.

Teach them to talk to God. Teach them how to hear/listen for God’s possible response. He shared the story of a woman he knew who always prayed with her kids before they went to school. She would ask, “Jesus, do you have anything to tell us?” Her young son felt that he heard a word — to sit with someone sitting alone in the lunch room. Then at school there was a boy with Down syndrome sitting alone, so her son sat with him for rest of school year. Whether it was actually the word of God or just his own idea does not matter, the point is that he took a moment to imagine what God would say, and was encouraged to do the right thing from this exercise.

So if you are able, restrict the amount of time your kids spend with passive entertainment, and encourage them to use their imaginations. It will benefit the rest of their lives.

The second sermon might be a little more challenging for some.

James 1:19 teaches us: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Our current environment of cultural fragmentation can quickly condition us to be quick to anger, and slow to listen — the exact opposite of what we should be doing. It makes us not even want to listen, and for some, not even capable of listening.

In 1996, way before social media was even a thing, two MIT researchers published a study which eerily predicted our current cultural predicament:

“Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual clicks, insulate themselves from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases. Internet users can seek out interactions with like-minded individuals who have similar values, and thus become less likely to trust important decisions to people whose values differ from their own… The loss of shared experiences and values may be harmful to the structure of democratic societies as well as decentralized organizations.”

This may be the most dangerous aspect of the internet: It fragments society and places people in silos where all we hear are those who agree with us. It makes sense, because nobody likes to have their beliefs confronted, all of us gravitate to what confirms our beliefs. Then we get to feel like we are part of a team and we are all right. But these silos surround us and essentially create the world we think we live in and the way we view it. Our sets of facts and assumptions that we operate on are increasingly divergent so that we live in entirely different worlds, but we don’t even realize it, because we don’t know what we don’t know.

This devolves to a point where we can’t even fathom how anyone could disagree with us or see things any differently. Our own beliefs seem to be so obviously true. And so others are obviously wrong, we think they must be either stupid or even evil.

This dynamic played out this past week in an unexpected way, with “the hug heard around the world.”

The background to this, is that there was a story in the news this week where a white off-duty police officer walked into what she thought was her apartment (but it was actually his apartment) and saw a black man sitting on the couch and shot him dead on the spot. During the sentencing hearing, the man’s brother forgave the woman and hugged her.

Social media exploded with celebrations from white Christians of the beauty and Christlikeness of that act of forgiveness. This seemed to have Jesus written all over it. It did not occur to white Christians that some black christians might not be so quick to celebrate. And it certainly did not make sense why we should see it any other way.

But, as James says, be slow to speak and quick to listen. What are some other ways to see this event?

Greg discovered that this week when he received an angry email from a white congregant saying that one of our own pastors was putting race before Jesus.

He read Osheta’s post on the subject, and was initially puzzled. She was not celebrating the act of forgiveness. Why not? So he read it again a few more times, more slowly, and saw that she was not saying anything like this lady was reporting. The perspective was more nuanced and after reflecting on it, it made sense. But he had to think about it — be quick to listen, and slow to speak.

Osheta’s concern was not the event itself, but the potential social ramifications of focusing too much on “the bright side” of the hug. It might be tempting to interpret this event as somehow representing something about the larger issue of the racial injustice that caused this event to happen in the first place. Osheta reminded people in her post that forgiveness is not reconciliation.

“White peacemakers, you need to learn to sit in the pain of this event and not rush to the “Joy“ or quite frankly, the relief that the hug gives you. The hug, while or arresting in its mercy, only serves to short circuit any progress towards dismantling white supremacy. This is what we need right now: we need to focus on dismantling the very racism and fear of black men that took Botham Jean’s life. Remember this: forgiveness is not reconciliation. We are called to be reconcilers. So, white peacemakers listen to the people of color in your contexts – if we are concerned about this, maybe you should be too.”

-Osheta Moore

We white Americans tend to assume that our justice system is the best on planet. And truly it is worlds better than the alternatives. But we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Other voices are saying there is still something broken about it when it comes to people of color. Instead of disagreeing we should ask ourselves, what if they are right? Of course we don’t see the ways that the system is broken because if we are white, it’s not broken for us. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. We have not experienced first hand the injustices that we are hearing about. Our experience is limited, so we need to be aware of the limits of our knowledge and experience and think that maybe there is something to learn from others with different perspectives.

As one writer put it:

    “As a pastor, I would love to talk at length about the transcendent beauty of that moment of forgiveness and the powerful inner strength on display. But in many cases, to do so would be to promote cheap grace. Experience has taught me to be wary of those who trumpet black forgiveness without advocating for black people. Such people tend to use those miraculous acts of forgiveness as an opportunity to shut down discussions about racial injustice, primarily because of their intuitive sense that such a conversation would cost them something of value.

Forgiveness is important, but only in the context of a holistic process of restoration that points towards true shalom, where we care not only about resolving the immediate aftermath of wrongdoing, but we also attend to the root causes and the structural inequities that keep contributing to it. If mercy is the act of pulling a drowning person out of the water, justice begins when you asked the question of how they ended up there in the first place.

So if you are a white, evangelical pastor, and your only takeaway from the saga of Botham Jean is, “wow, what a powerful moment of forgiveness“, then I challenge you to look deeper, engage in some healthy self reflection, and see what you can do to help make a positive difference in our current racial divide.”

-Jelani Greenridge

As a white person Greg felt he needed to hear that. He appreciated Osheta and other black writers for pointing that out. The system works for us so it’s easy to assume it works for everyone. It is hard for us to relate to the perspectives about the larger systematic problems because to a large extend we simply don’t see them.

If ever there was a time to be slow to speak and quick to listen, it is now. We are in a culture of racial division and in a time of social fragmentation, where we are only surrounded by perspectives similar to our own, and social media (and just media in general) which is too quick to attack our opponents. If we are white, we need to open our minds and lay down our assumption that ours is the only way to see things. We have never before needed to bother listening to other claims of truth because we ran the system, but that assumption has allowed evil to creep into the system. It is time for us to notice our own silo, ask what are the other perspectives, and assume that people who believe different things are intelligent people who might know something we don’t know.

The question for Christians is can we be the community that refuses to be siloed? In a world increasingly quick to be angry can we be the ones who are quick to listen, and slow to speak?

We are called to be conformed to image of Jesus and transformed to the renewing of our mind. If that is the case, then we must not allow ourselves be conformed to pattern of the dominant culture, or our political party, or MSNBC or Fox News. If we have allowed ourselves to be conformed to these worldly forces then we are captive to them, rather than taking our thoughts captive in Christ.

We are called to follow in Jesus’s footsteps and tear down every wall that divide people. Jesus died to tear down those walls, our job is to live that out. We must be a community where people listen to one another, including those with whom we may disagree. Other perspectives broaden our own perspective. And this is the only way we can evolve toward unity.

The white perspective is still seen as “normal”. But our calling is to be counter-cultural and question what the dominant culture calls normal. We must let go of our assumed-correct perspective and that also means letting go of our white myopia and realize the limits of our knowledge. Be quick instead to listen to those who disagree with you. Assume they have an valid reason for their perspective and try to understand it — what can you learn from them?

If ever you are inclined to dismiss an entire population as being stupid or not caring… it probably means you are not trying hard enough to listen. You don’t have to agree. But we do have to try harder to listen and to understand. Avoid the siloing of your brain.

This is the path to becoming an us without a them!

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Topics: Controversial Issues, Culture, Imagination, Parenting, Politics, Reconciliation

Sermon Series: Interfaces

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Focus Scripture:

  • James 1:19

    My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

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7 thoughts on “The Hug

  1. Al says:

    I’m glad I saw this video before getting involved with this church.

    1. Cheryl says:

      I find this remark very sad. Very Biblical message.

  2. Natalie says:

    Churches will always struggle preaching Christianity (agape) versus culture (eros – the best culture can do). The two-part talk on agape from the conference linked below (#14 The Lamb of Forgiving Love and #15 The Lamb of Serving Love) is invaluable in clarifying the oft confusion between the two – as applicable to this sermon as the variety of other ways people have voiced “their” interpretations about the larger cultural context of “the hug.”


  3. Lynn says:

    WOW, I am in New Zealand, I had no idea that this even happened, probably because I actually spend less time on the interent that even Greg. I did not know that in the USA there is still so much hate with races. This makes me sad. We are not immune to it here, but listening to Greg speak and hearing what Osheda (excuse my spelling) said on Face book and how she was attacked, i am sad for those few who did that. I love listening to you all from here in NZ. Greg you always make me laugh, and always give me something to think about. I am blessed to have been introduced to your site though my American Family. Keep up the great work, love that you keep it honest. Lynn ::)

  4. Anne says:

    Pastor Boyd,

    Thanks for this message!!

  5. Lori says:

    Pastor Greg,
    My father was from Lebanon and I have an African American goddaughter and over the years I’ve had to deal with negative and ignorant comments regarding both. My heart hurts for the fragmentation of society. Thank you for this much needed message.

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