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Picking sides

When U2 performed in the Super Bowl in 2002, the nation was still hurting from the 9/11 attacks. If you take a few minutes to view the clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n13CU-NvPMU , you'll note that around the 1:20 mark, Bono says this, twice: "O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise." This is from Psalm 51:15. The band then launches into "Where the Streets Have No Name."

As the story goes, the song gets its roots in the fact that in Ireland, the tension between Catholics and Protestants is so strong that they segregate themselves by neighborhoods. When you meet a person, you determine if you are going to like them or not when he tells you the name of the street he lives on. Bono, the son of a rare combination of Catholic/Protestant parentage, looks forward to a time and a place where street names -- representative of those things that divide us into opposing groups -- will no longer be important.

Although this message was certainly timely in the aftermath of 9/11, its importance stretches across time and into practically all aspects of life. It is apparently human nature which causes us to take sides, and to demonize those on the other side. In the IT world where I have spent the last several years of my working life, arguments about Linux vs. Windows can get pretty contentious. In the web design world, it's Mac vs. PC. I just read a story today that Bill Gates forbids his family to purchase an iPod or iPhone. It seems we are unable to acknowledge that "the other team" might have something worthwhile to offer. My friends who live in Albuquerque tell me that you are either a green chili person or a red chili person. You must choose.

Donald Miller recently pointed this out on his blog, www.donmilleris.com, using the Mac vs. PC commercials as a strong example of how an entire marketing campaign is based on this "us-vs.-them" mentality. Although I love Don's writing, I have found examples in his speaking and writing where he perpetuates the same divisiveness along political lines. I don't say this to slam Miller, but to point out that all of us are bound by this tendency, regardless of how hard we try to free ourselves from its grip.

Probably the most surprising example of this phenomenon in my life was when I was at a national gathering of Christian men in October of 1997. There were hundreds of thousands of us, praying, crying, sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit in a profound way. We were repenting of our sins, trying to get right with God. We were breaking down walls of race and denomination. But as I found out, not all walls go down as easily as others.

It was lunchtime, and I got in line at a fast-food place. I struck up a conversation with a man in front of me, and once he found out I was from the Dallas area, he informed me that he was from Philadelphia. While he wasn't rude, he did rib me a bit about how much the Philly fan hates the everything Cowboys-related. It was clear that something happened in the conversation once my affiliation became known. While the men gathered there that day did find themselves on the receiving end of protests from some women's groups, I was shocked that the division among the attendees themselves would be manifest, and would be based on sports, of all things. I could understand somewhat if the difference were, say Israel vs. PLO. But the atmosphere in the conversation changed based on the fact that I root for the team that that guy hates.

This thing has no limit. People draw lines based on so many dichotomies that I cannot possibly list them all.

Dogs vs. cats.
Union vs. non-union.
Once-saved-always-saved vs. those who believe otherwise. (I got into an argument with my uncle about this one evening in 1983, and it got intense, because I couldn't accept the fact that he saw this issue differently I did. Tragically, it was the last conversation we had, as he unexpectedly died before I saw him again.)
Calvinist vs. Armenian
Leno vs. Letterman

Why do we do this? Why do Republicans assume the worst about Democrats, and vice Versa? Why do we forgive those on "our side" for actions while blasting those from the other team for the same actions? Is this human nature? Is it something that will never go away until Jesus returns? Lord, I hope not.

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