I’m studying Ludwig Wittgenstein this summer with a group of friends (a seminarian’s idea of fun). Ludwig was a philosopher born in 1889 who wrote about almost everything, including language and how it creates, interprets, and engages reality. He writes from an alternative philosophical foundation to Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am.”
I just finished a whirlwind business trip to New York City. I was there for several meetings, doing research and networking for an organization I’m starting called Level Ground. Thanks to some generous connections people made on our behalf, over the course of just two days, I (along with my co-director, Chelsea) met with eight different people–many of whom we had never met and knew little about and who, in hindsight, could not have been more different from one another.
Gay, straight, married, single, celibate, queer. Black, white, asian. Religious (or secular) Christian, agnostic, Jew, atheist. Conservative, progressive, reformed, liberal, evangelical. Activist, student, counselor, journalist, entrepreneur, filmmaker, lawyer, writer, social networking guru.
The only thing these eight people seemed to have in common was that they live in New York (and were meeting with me and Chelsea).
The last two days have been incredible. Incredibly hard. The good kind of hard. During our last dinner in the Big Apple I felt the weight of hearing so many different stories and convictions. As I’m trying to process what a trip like this means for me as a human, a Christian, and an entrepreneur, I am overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable difference of experience and belief. Even more, I’m struck by how none of these eight stories seem to overlap, and saddened that most likely, they never will.
I keep thinking what would have happened if all of us had been in the same room, at the same time, for one big meeting. Honestly, I think it would be a well-calculated disaster.
Yet in reality these people are probably in the same room all the time. On airplanes, at restaurants, in shopping malls and sporting games. The public, anonymous spaces of our culture. Where we sit and cheer politely next to one another, or yell and stomp our feet across the field or the television screen.
We are a siloed people. We tell our stories and talk about our beliefs with those whom share the same perspective as us (i.e. those who are in our silo), or we interact by superficial, infrequent, and unsustained confrontations and dialogue with those in a neighboring silo. People who are, who think, who believe, and who act differently just don’t mix well or mix often.
As I work to create an organization in which people who differ and disagree about sexuality and gender can meet one another on level (i.e. un-siloed) ground, I am struck by how much I don’t know. About the bible, about people’s lives and their traditions, about what’s right and wrong and what would really happen if these eight very differently minded people were ever to meet each other around this kind of conversation. Is such a meeting even possible, let alone a good idea? Where do we even begin?
This is where the thinking comes in. I think I have to believe that our silos are hurting us. That they are restricting and limiting our humanity. I think we become so numb to difference that our communities become polarized and people feel hurt, misunderstood, angry, and bitter. Which makes us more numb, more siloed, and more angry.
When I think about how deep and wide our silos have become, and how complex our differences and disagreements are, I think I also have to believe in a creative God that somehow holds all of it together. And I think that our own creative inspirations, reflections, and talents can produce the kind of art that provides a hopeful space to house new dialogue across our silos.
Because when I think about all of these things, I end up with a really, really big I don’t know. To almost everything.
Ludwig wrote some brilliant and complex things. One of my favorites:
“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.”