As a homeowner, I have painted several rooms as part of the upkeep and renovation of our home. When the time comes to paint, I want the job of painting the room with the roller or broad brush because the intricacies of “cutting in” near the ceiling or near the trim is more of an art form—a skill I do not possess. The roller or broad brush gives me the opportunity to paint a wide area in fewer strokes, getting the job done more quickly and with less effort.
As I think about our current situation as a culture, I wonder how much of our division, disagreements, and anger has manifested because of a broad brush approach to relationships. Recently, I have read several social media posts and news reports that seek to make a point through the process of lumping a group of people into one statement. So, for example, the intimation, and sometimes overt statement is made, all (insert people group, political party, or profession) thinks/feels/does (insert action or intent). These broad-brush approaches seek to make a valid point, but through the use of the broad brush, they lump together a larger group of people who may or may not feel a certain way.
The broad-brush approach to relationships and disagreements within relationships tends to leave more people wounded than the more Biblical approach of disagreement within relationships. In Matthew 18:15-17, we witness Jesus teaching us how to work through adversity: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
The intricate work of relationships fits better into the image of “cutting in,” where we spend time with the one who has offended or hurt us instead of painting with relational broad brushes, lumping people together out of a desire for efficiency or a quick quip. Just as the work of “cutting in” takes time and precision, so too does the relational work of naming the offense and the offender without lumping all people of a certain type together.
In 2009, former President Obama reached out to a Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer after the president made disparaging remarks about the officer and said the police had “acted stupidly” in the arrest of an African-American Harvard Professor. Obama admitted he should have chosen his words more carefully and stated, “Because this has been ratcheting up and I helped to contribute to ratcheting it up, I want to make it clear that in my choice of words, I, unfortunately, gave the impression I was maligning the Cambridge police department and Sergeant Crowley. I could have calibrated these words differently.” Famously, Obama and Sergeant Crowley shared a beer on the White House lawn, seeking to find reconciliation and a calming to tensions that were rising.
Whether you agree with the policies of the former President or not, his willingness to admit wrong and to speak his concern to Sergeant Crowley is commendable and should be a great example for us to be careful to not use broad brush approaches in relationships; rather, it is an invitation to do the hard work of “cutting in,” recognizing the time and effort it will take may require more time and emotional energy, but will reap much better results than a broad-brush approach.