I was chatting with a Christian friend about the way in which our various social circles in life intersect, and I confessed that there are times I feel out of place in all of them. It made me think of one of my favourite Paul Colman Trio songs, "In The Middle", which has the lines:
Sometimes I feel like I'm in the middle
Not safe enough for you
Not crazy enough for some
Connections and Contradictions
I consider myself to be blessed to have a wide range of friends, people from all sorts of backgrounds, with all sorts of ideologies. One day I might be spending time with Christian friends, who share my faith and with whom I can discuss my beliefs. But, in the writing circles I move in—which are generally concerned speculative fiction—the majority of people would best be described as secular humanists. A lot of my country friends have more conservative politics, while I have another group of friends who are far further to the left than I am.
Obviously, the reason I spend time with each of these group is because I have something in common with them. But, sometimes a belief or position that is in sync with one group is completely at odds with one of the others, and that can cause a feeling of disconnect. However, over the past few years, I have come to realise that this is more of a blessing than a curse.
One of the common elements I see across all these groups is that we tend to create a bubble of like minded opinions around ourselves. I have long abhorred this tendency in Christian circles—you can listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV, find movies made for a Christian audience, and avoid the inconvenience of ever having your opinions or values challenged. Never mind that a part of your faith is about actually getting out there and being an influence the world.
But it is certainly not limited to Christians. Both sides of politics have managed to create their own echospheres, with news outlets that reinforce their existing viewpoints, and the ability to completely avoid anyone who disagrees with them. More and more, in every part of our life, we able to filter down the people we are exposed to.
Studies show that it has become a self-reinforcing cycle, with the most popular social media platform of them all, Facebook, actually influencing what you see in your timeline. The kind of posts that you regularly view or like will turn more often, meaning you will see more things that agree with you—giving you a slanted worldview.
The Cost of Comfort
This may not seem like a big deal, after all, who wants to be arguing all the time? But this comfort zone has a serious impact on the way we engage with the world. We are seeing an increasing degree of polarisation of worldviews, especially in the political arena. Because we are so used to people agreeing with us we assume that people who disagree with us are stupid or, even worse, actively malevolent.
This unwillingness to believe those on the other side of the fence might have arrived at their beliefs with the same care and consideration we did has led to a world of "us and them". Bipartisanship has become a dirty word and finding common ground is becoming harder and harder.
This is equally as true with religion, but there is an added danger for Christians. Because we surround ourselves with those who believe as we do, it can impact our ability to articulate our faith. We are instructed to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15), but where are we going to learn how do that?
If we are used to people nodding when we talk about our faith, how are we going to handle genuine curiosity—or robust challenge? Most importantly how will we be a light to the world when we are hiding that light under the shade of the company of fellow believers, or be salt when it stays in the shaker?
Expanding Our Horizons
I'd encourage everyone to take a look at their social circles, and see whether they are diverse and vibrant. If not, maybe it is time to expand your horizons and step outside that comfort zone. I know for myself it is a challenge, I have never been good at breaking into new social circles. Sometimes you will feel like you are stuck in the middle.
But when we do take that chance, it opens up a whole new world and lets us see things from a whole new perspective. And, most importantly, it shows us that people who believe differently—whether religion or politics or even taste in music—are just as human as we are.
Everywhere we look the world is increasingly being divided into camps, often hostile to one another. Let's do our part to break down barriers and create a world where there is no "us versus them"—only us.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a freelance writer, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html