We all know that cats and dogs hate each other, right? That was my experience until we adopted Xander, a little orange kitten, at 4 weeks old. She was part of a feral cat’s litter which had been abandoned. Someone from school found the kittens, brought them to school in a box and well, you can guess what happened. Our dog Wookie took immediate interest in Xander as soon as we brought her home. He licked her so much that she was literally soaking wet. He wanted to constantly be at her side. Xander, in turn, adopted Wookie as her mother, cuddling with him and attempting to nurse on him. They grew up together and although they are completely different from each other they get along very well even as adults.
A while back my husband who has a PhD in Intercultural Studies said something to me that I found extremely helpful and have thought about many times since. He shared Dr. William Gudykunt’s theory that when people who are in our inner circle do something we disagree with we are very quick to try to understand and excuse why they acted that way without using stereotypes. But when people in our outer circle do the same thing we are similarly quick to attribute that behavior to some category like race, religion, etc. He writes that “it is not our experiences per se, but our interpretations of our experiences that constitute our ‘realities’” We attribute the behavior of people in our inner circle to their individual personality and character traits. But we attribute behavior outside of our group to stereotypes about that group.
What stuck with me is that it really, really matters who is in my inner circle. If people who are not of my race or my religion or political beliefs are in my inner circle that helps me be more gracious, more loving and kinder to all. Being completely honest here, I started truly seeing Muslims as loving people when I had close friends who were Muslim. I started caring so much more about the treatment of African Americans when I became close friends with an African American. I started wrestling through my views on sexual orientation when relatives came out. I became seriously concerned about understanding mental health issues when my son became afflicted with a mental illness. I don’t think this is hypocritical. I think it is honest. I think being forced to confront my own views is very helpful and part of growing in our faith. We are never in a steady state and we should be always growing and learning as believers.
I think one reason that society reacted in a stronger way than usual to police brutality in the George Floyd case was that we in a strange way felt we could relate to him. Our rights were restricted. Because of the quarantine we hadn’t been able to move around freely or even breathe freely for months and we didn’t know when it would end. Suddenly we could better imagine and empathize with what it would feel like to be detained and choked by the police.
Jesus is the anomaly because in some ways everyone was in his inner circle: men, women, Jews, Greeks, prostitutes, tax collectors, mentally ill, Pharisees, fishermen, rich, poor to mention a few. We in our human condition are not like that. However, we can take some cues from Him and be a bit more intentional about who we bring in close to our heart. Take a minute and think about your inner circle. Is everyone your same race? Same religion? Same political views? And to take it a step further, does your God look just like you? Have the same priorities as you? We often choose the theology that best fits our own life experience rather than one that disrupts us.
I have often thought that one way that church could grow in love is to intentionally match up pairs of people who were from very different backgrounds. They could commit to having coffee or taking a walk together twice a month for several months. Just that simple step could go a long way to building understanding and growing in the love of God. I want to be that dog that appreciates the cats in my life. Or to put in another way, I want to be more like Jesus.
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Thank you. 🙂
Such a great analogy and so true as to the way we view those in our inner circle compared to those in our outer circle! Back story of ones life brings such understanding.
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Does God have to be a person?
God is so much more than a person.
Wow…this is powerful, Kim. (And the photos are adorable!) And so true, I think…for both my sister and me, we didn’t start deeply, actively caring about issues of racial justice until we had close, inner-circle friends who were from other racial backgrounds. And I’ve heard that from others as well.
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Thank you! Your personal experience says it all. I so wish we could find a way as the church to help people bring the unfamiliar into their inner circles.