The Broken T-Shirt

It was the Fourth of July so I wore a patriotic t-shirt. My five-year-old granddaughter looked at it and said, “Your shirt’s broken!” I had no idea what she was talking about until her mother pointed out that my worn out looking flag did have a broken appearance.

My granddaughter had a perspective on my shirt that no one else had. Now when I look at this shirt, I’ll always see it as “broken.” Through the eyes of a child…

I probably paid more attention to her remark because she’s my granddaughter. I still almost passed over what she said, but thanks to her mother, I paused to give her my due consideration. It immediately made me realize, however, how quickly I’m prone to dismiss other people’s perspectives.

Who cares? Right?

It’s really shameful, because I’m not the only one with legitimate opinions, perceptions, and viewpoints. Like me, many of us are very quick to dismiss the insights of others. If they don’t line up with ours, who cares? Right?

On a certain level, this is the crux of our problem as a society. We often summarily dismiss other people and their opinions simply because they don’t coincide with our own ideas. By doing so, we ultimately lose out on opportunities to enrich our own lives.

This whole subject leads to an overused (and misused) word in our common lectionary—tolerance. We seem to have a two-pronged approach to each other in our cultural attitudes. On one hand, we give no quarter to the opinions of others. Yet, we scream, “Tolerance!” to everyone else.

Tolerance!

Tolerance used to mean things like, “live and let live.” It used to mean we could exist side-by-side and respect each other’s worldviews (within reason). Somewhere along the way, the definition of that term changed.

Now when people cry, “Tolerance!” they mean something different. They strongly imply (if not flat out state) we must accept everyone’s opinions and practices as the truth. All these truths must be condoned and agreed to as equal to (or better) than our own. There can be no discussion, no civil discourse; just mere acceptance. If you don’t believe in someone else’s “truth,” you are now a bigot of some sort. Hence, you are intolerant.

Well… I have to say, I’m intolerant of that new definition.

Whatever happened to “let’s agree to disagree” or “I don’t like what you’re saying, but I’ll defend your right to say it”? Those sayings are still around, but the practice of such ideas is fading away fast. Like my t-shirt, these things seem to be broken. My hope is they are (also like my t-shirt) not really broken but simply have the appearance of being that way.

As the Independence Day holiday week rides off into the proverbial sunset, can we somehow find a way to reaffirm each other as humans? There’s only one being who embodies the truth. As the Apostle Paul once told us, “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (Romans 3:4)

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently the pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

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