A few weeks ago while visiting a church in Chicago, I was speaking to one of the pastors about how they created a second venue for worship on their campus. In our seemingly casual conversation, he used some language that I now understand as essential to the relationship between the current ministries at Matthews UMC and 801South. He explained how the church moved beyond tolerant to appreciative of the new venue. This terminology: beyond tolerant to appreciative, resonated with me deeply. I immediately recorded the phrase in my notebook.
As we watch the polarization of our country (or at least our elected leaders) manifest in a governmental shutdown, there is an incredible need for people to move beyond being tolerant to actually appreciating our differences. Perhaps the greatest component to moving from toleration to appreciation is empathy. When we learn to develop empathy for those who differ from us, we create footing on which we can stand in the middle. To dismiss the ideas of another that differ from our own, or worse to dismiss their existence, without putting yourself in their shoes and beginning to legitimately feel from where they are deriving these differing ideas is to deny our ability to relate as creations of God.
Of course to make space for empathy, we have to make time for story. Stories are the true footing that lead to understanding. Often, when I learn the story of another, I can at least understand how he or she came to develop his or her worldview even if I don’t agree.
So as we push forward, we would all benefit to move beyond tolerant to appreciative of each other. We build middle ground by demonstrating empathy for the life of another. If we then couple this empathy with resisting the temptation to comment on what we have not fully researched, we might just be the most appreciative people around.