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Looper column: Choose a side that does not divide us

Shayne Looper
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Telegram & Gazette

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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I feel like I am in a Doctor Seuss story - like we are all in a Doctor Seuss story - a story I know. My kids and grandkids know it too: “The Sneetches.”

In “The Sneetches,” Dr. Seuss presents a race of furry yellow, long-necked, narrow-footed creatures that are nearly identical to each other in appearance. The only difference among them is that some have a star shape on their bellies while others do not. By the third paragraph, we understand that the starred sneetches feel disdain for their plain-bellied cousins.

Into the story comes the ethically challenged grifter Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He sees an opportunity to use the sneetches’ self-righteous contempt for one another to his advantage. He builds a machine that can change a sneetch so that it looks like every other sneetch.

A sneetch, at a cost to itself, goes into the machine and comes out looking just like other sneetches. The grifter, of course, cares nothing for the sneetches, only for their money. He reshapes them for his sake, not for theirs.

Sylvester has reappeared. This time around, he has created a propaganda machine that imprints ideas rather than stars. All day long, people go into the machine - that is, into network, print, and social media - where they are made to look like every other person who accessed the machine through the same entrance.

Perhaps if Dr. Seuss were writing the story today, the sneetches wouldn’t have (or lack) stars on their bellies. They would have (or lack) masks on their faces. The disdain they feel for others would, however, remain as strong as ever.

McBean’s machine makes me think of a warning St. Paul once issued. He wrote, “Do not be conformed to this age.” J.B. Phillips famously paraphrased those words as: “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

People who constantly expose themselves to media, including social media, are like the sneetches who happily entered McBean’s machine: they are being squeezed into a mold. They come out looking like, thinking like and talking like everyone else. They are diminished by it. Their perspective is narrowed. Their friendships restricted.

This is even more of a danger when, like the sneetches, a person’s identity is wrapped up in which side he or she is on. Once one has joined a side, listening to others, entertaining their ideas and granting them value, is tantamount to disloyalty.

Should we then not join a side? Must we camp out on the fence, neither left nor right, never disagreeing with anyone and never agreeing?

No. We may, and even must, join a side, but it needn’t be the left side or the right side. There is also a top side. A side that is humble; that speaks well of others, even when others speak poorly of them. A side that loves enemies. A side that is allergic to self-righteousness and never demeans those with whom they disagree. A side where winning one’s enemies, not defeating them, is the goal.

Is there such a side? Yes, but it is hard to find on Fox News or MSNBC. It can be found on social media, but one will need to look for it. It is quieter than the other sides, not belligerent, not screaming to be heard.

To choose this side is to join with the one who does not “quarrel or cry out,” whose voice “no one will hear in the streets.” The leader of this side does not retaliate when insulted. When mistreated, he does not threaten. This is Jesus.

To join his side and identify with him does not cause one to disparage everyone else. In fact, it encourages one to value everyone else. It does not necessitate closing one’s ears to ideas nor to cries for help. It doesn’t harden a person, it strengthens them. It doesn’t weaken a person, it softens them.

To join Jesus’s side is to live in a larger universe, where political rivalries become less important and people become more important. It means foregoing the mold, being original, being oneself. One’s best self.

Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan. His blog, “The Way Home,” is at shaynelooper.com.