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  • Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • So our story started several years ago,

  • when my wife and I got a complaint letter in the mail

  • from an anonymous neighbor.

  • (Laughter)

  • I'll never forget the way my wife transformed before my eyes

  • from this graceful, peaceful, sweet woman

  • into just an angry mother grizzly bear whose cubs needed to be protected.

  • It was intense.

  • So here's what happened.

  • This is our family.

  • This is my wife and I and our five awesome kids.

  • We're pretty loud, we're pretty rambunctious,

  • we're us.

  • You'll notice, though, that two of our children

  • look a little different than Mary and I,

  • and that's because they came to us through adoption.

  • Our neighbor, though, saw two different-looking children

  • playing outside of our house every day

  • and came to the conclusion

  • that we must have been running an illegal day care out of our home.

  • (Murmuring)

  • We were really angry to have our children stereotyped like that,

  • but I know that's a relatively minor example of racial profiling.

  • But isn't it sometimes what we all tend to do

  • with people who think differently,

  • or believe differently or maybe even vote differently?

  • Instead of engaging as true neighbors,

  • we keep our distance

  • and our actions towards those

  • are guided by who we think sees the world as we do

  • or who we think doesn't.

  • See, what my neighbor suffered from is a condition called agonism.

  • And sometimes we all suffer from the same condition.

  • It's not a medical condition, but it is contagious.

  • So let's talk a little bit about what agonism is.

  • My favorite definition of agonism

  • is taking a warlike stance in contexts that are not literally war.

  • Agonism comes from the same Greek root word "agon"

  • from which we get "agony."

  • How very appropriate.

  • We all tend to show symptoms of agonism

  • when we hold on to two deeply held beliefs,

  • first identified by author Rick Warren.

  • The first one is that if love someone,

  • we must agree with all they do or believe.

  • And the second is the inverse,

  • that if we disagree with someone,

  • it must mean that we fear or we hate them.

  • Not sure we really recognize the agony this way of thinking brings to us,

  • when our relationships die

  • because we think we have to agree or disagree

  • no matter what.

  • Think about the conversations we've had around Brexit,

  • or Hong Kong,

  • maybe Israeli settlements or perhaps impeachment.

  • I bet we could all think of at least one personal relationship

  • that's been strained or maybe even ended because of these topics,

  • or tragically,

  • over a topic much more trivial than those.

  • The cure for agonism is not out of reach.

  • The question is how.

  • So might I suggest two strategies

  • that my experience has taught me to start with.

  • First, cultivate common ground,

  • which means focusing on what we share.

  • I want you to know I'm using my words very, very deliberately.

  • By "cultivate," I mean we have to intentionally work

  • to find common ground with someone.

  • Just like a farmer works to cultivate the soil.

  • And common ground is a common term,

  • so let me at least explain what I don't mean,

  • which is I don't mean by common ground that we were exact,

  • or that we totally agree and approve.

  • All I mean is that we find one unifying thing

  • that we can have in a relationship in common with another person.

  • You know, sometimes that one thing is hard to find.

  • So I'd like to share a personal story,

  • but before I do,

  • let me tell you a little bit more about myself.

  • I'm Caucasian,

  • cisgender male,

  • middle class, evangelical Christian.

  • And I know, as soon as some of those words came out of my mouth,

  • some of you had some perceptions about me.

  • And it's OK,

  • I know that not all those perceptions are positive.

  • But for those who share my faith,

  • know that I'm about to cut across the grain.

  • And you may tune me out as well.

  • So as we go,

  • if you're having a hard time hearing me,

  • I just gently ask that you reflect

  • and see if you're buying into agonism.

  • If you're rejecting me

  • simply because you think you see the world differently than I do,

  • because isn't that what we're here talking about?

  • Alright, ready?

  • So I've been thinking a lot about how to find common ground

  • in the area of gender fluidity,

  • as an evangelical Christian.

  • For Christians like me,

  • we believe that God created us man and woman.

  • So what do I do?

  • Do I throw up my hands and say,

  • "I can't have a relationship with anybody who is transgender

  • or LGBTQIA?"

  • No.

  • That would be giving into agonism.

  • So I started looking at the foundational aspects of my faith,

  • the first of which

  • is that of the three billion genes that make us human --

  • and by the way, we share 99.9 percent of those genes --

  • that I believe those three billion genes are the result of an intelligent designer.

  • And that immediately gives me common ground with anybody.

  • What it also gives me ...

  • is the belief that each and every one of us

  • have been given the right to life

  • by that same intelligent designer.

  • I dug deeper though.

  • I found that my faith didn't teach me

  • to start relationships by arguing with somebody

  • until they believed what I believed,

  • or I convinced them.

  • No, it taught me to start relationships

  • by loving them as a coequal member of the human race.

  • Honestly though,

  • some who share my faith draw a line

  • and refuse to address somebody by their preferred gender pronoun.

  • But isn't that believing the lie that in order for me to honor you,

  • I have to give up what I believe?

  • Come back in time with me --

  • let's say it's 20 years ago,

  • and Muhammad Ali comes to your doorstep.

  • And you open the door.

  • Would you address him as Muhammad Ali

  • or his former name of Cassius Clay?

  • I'm guessing that most of you would say Muhammad Ali.

  • And I'm also guessing that most of you

  • wouldn't think we'd have to immediately convert to Islam,

  • just by using his name.

  • To honor him would cost me, would cost any of us

  • absolutely nothing,

  • and it would give us the common ground to have a relationship.

  • And it's the relationship that cures agonism,

  • not giving up what we believe.

  • So for me to honor my faith,

  • it means rejecting these rigid symptoms of agonism.

  • Meaning, I can and I will love you.

  • I can and I will accept you,

  • and I don't have to buy into the lie

  • that if I do these things, I have to give up what I believe

  • or chose to fear and hate you.

  • Because I'm focusing on what we have in common.

  • When you can find even the smallest bit of common ground with somebody,

  • it allows you to understand just the beautiful wonder

  • and complexity

  • and majesty of the other person.

  • Our second strategy

  • gives us room to (Inhales)

  • breathe.

  • To pause.

  • To calm down.

  • To have the kind of relationships that cure agonism.

  • And how to keep those relationships alive.

  • Our second strategy is to exchange extravagant grace.

  • (Laughs)

  • Once again, I'm not mincing words --

  • by grace, I don't mean we should all go sign up for ballet,

  • that would be weird.

  • (Laughter)

  • What I mean is not canceling everything over one mistake.

  • Even if that mistake personally offended you.

  • Maybe even deeply.

  • Perhaps Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom put it best

  • when she said,

  • "To forgive is to set a prisoner free,

  • only to realize that prisoner was me."

  • My faith teaches me that we humans will never be perfect,

  • myself very much included.

  • So we need the grace of a savior,

  • who for me is Jesus.

  • And while I define grace in the context of my faith,

  • I know there's a lot of other people who have defined it differently

  • and in different ways.

  • One of my favorites is radio broadcaster Oswald Hoffmann, who said,

  • "Grace is the love that loves the unlovely

  • and the unlovable."

  • And I just love that picture of grace.

  • Because I know I am,

  • and maybe a lot of you can think of a time

  • when we're just pretty dadgum unlovable.

  • So it would be the height of hypocrisy,

  • dare I say repulsive to my faith,

  • for me to accept

  • the unconditional, unqualified grace and love from God

  • and then turn around

  • and put one precondition on the love I give you.

  • What in the world would I be thinking?

  • And by extravagant, I mean over the top,

  • not just checking a box.

  • We can all remember when we were kids

  • and our parents forced us to apologize to somebody

  • and we walked up to them and said, (Angrily) "I'm sorry."

  • We just got it over with, right?

  • That's not what we're talking about.

  • What we're talking about is not having to give someone grace

  • but choosing to and wanting to.

  • That's how we exchange extravagant grace.

  • Listen, I know this can sound really, really theoretical.

  • So I'd like to tell you about a hero of mine.

  • A hero of grace.

  • It's 2014.

  • In Iran.

  • And the mother of a murdered son is in a public square.

  • The man who murdered her son is also in that square,

  • by a gallows,

  • on a chair of some kind,

  • a noose around his neck

  • and a blindfold over his eyes.

  • Samereh Alinejad

  • had been given the sole right under the laws of her country

  • to either pardon this man

  • or initiate his execution.

  • Put another way, she could pardon him

  • or literally push that chair out from underneath his feet.

  • (Exhales)

  • I just ...

  • I can't picture the agony going through both Samereh and this man

  • at the time.

  • Samereh with her choice to make,

  • and this man, in the account that I read, was just weeping,

  • just begging for forgiveness.

  • And Samereh had a choice.

  • And she chose in that moment to walk up to this man

  • and to slap him right across the face.

  • And that signaled her pardon.

  • It gets better.

  • Right afterwards, somebody asked her,

  • they interviewed her, and she was quoted as saying,

  • "I felt as if rage vanished from within my heart

  • and the blood in my veins began to flow again."

  • Isn't that incredible?

  • I mean, what a picture of grace, what a hero of grace.

  • And there's a lesson in there for all of us.

  • That as theologian John Piper said,

  • "Grace is power, not just pardon."

  • And if you think about it,

  • grace is the gift we give someone else in a relationship

  • that says our relationship is way more important