In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Kirsten Powers joins Pete and Jared to discuss toxic public discourse, non-dualistic thinking, and a look at how grace might hold a different meaning than we previously imagined. Together they explore the following questions:
- Is it possible we have misunderstood the meaning of grace?
- How does a move toward non-dualistic thinking factor into a conversation about grace?
- How can we fall prey to “ignorant versus evil” logic?
- How can dehumanization affect our ability to show grace?
- Are there certain situations where binary thinking can be helpful?
- What are ways a misunderstanding of grace can be weaponized?
- How do we navigate grace and cancel culture in real-world scenarios?
- What is the difference between accountability and annihilation?
- What is the impact of the way we conduct ourselves on social media?
- How can internal work on ourselves help us have grace for other people?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Kirsten Powers you can share.
- “Some people misunderstand grace to think that it just means letting people get away with everything. That’s weaponizing grace. Grace does not mean that people aren’t held accountable, it just means that they’re held accountable with humanity.” @KirstenPowers
- “Holding someone accountable is not a lack of grace. Saying something that’s true is not a lack of grace. You’re getting into the area of a lack of grace when you’re now judging, labeling, demonizing and all of these other things.” @KirstenPowers
- “We do need to look to the people who’ve actually experienced harm, because sometimes we’ll be very quick to say something’s not that big of a deal because it doesn’t affect us. So, we don’t really understand the impact of it.” @KirstenPowers
- “If you don’t like cancel culture, then start dealing with the things that people have been complaining about literally since forever. Generation after generation, people have been complaining about racism, sexual harassment, and really haven’t been listened to.” @KirstenPowers
- “I also think it’s really important for people to do whatever work they need to do, to be able to have grace for themselves. Because if you can’t have grace for yourself, then you can’t have grace for other people.” @KirstenPowers
- “Once you look back and you have some humility about where you’ve gone wrong, then you won’t be so quick to judge another person or refuse to give them grace for their mistakes.” @KirstenPowers
Mentioned in This Episode
- Website: thebiblefornormalpeople.com
- Book: Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts
- Support: patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Jared: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the episode. Before we get started, just an update on the campaign that we mentioned last week. It was one week only, but you didn’t even need a week – we raised that support within just a couple of days, and we could not be more thrilled.
Jared: So, our goal was $40,000. As of today, right this minute, I mean, probably that’s not true, $44,378.50. Which is more than $40,000.
Pete: I thought it was like, $800,000 or something like that.
Jared: You were misinformed.
Pete: Someone didn’t tell me the truth. Anyway, but that’s, yeah. That’s still amazing. Listen, we have a lot of people to thank. Two team members who were just instrumental in making this work – Stephanie Speight and Tessa Stultz.
Jared: Absolutely. And thank you so much to Sarah Bessey and Brian McLaren, who jumped on, provided some wonderful affirmations of the work that we’re trying to do. Really appreciate their support.
Pete: Yeah, and, you know, obviously most of all – all you people who are just so generous and just, you know, it’s very, it just blows us away, you know, that we had so much support so quickly and it’s really gonna help us.
Jared: Yeah, and I think, for me, I don’t know about you, but it really galvanizes kind of our passion for the work and the mission of bringing the best in biblical scholarship to everyday people and seeing the need and seeing that a lot of people are in it with us, I think, it just means a lot.
Pete: Yeah, it’s fantastic. So, it’s going to help us continue doing things like, you know, Nerds-in-Residence which we’ve talked about having, bringing scholars on to partner with us in bringing just amazing content to all of you.
Jared: Yeah, and just accessibility. Bringing more free content to everyone that we can get our hands on. That sounds creepy. But, ya know…
Jared: Metaphorically. Digitally speaking.
Pete: Legally, legally.
Yes, as well as a new platform.
Pete: Can you tell we don’t rehearse anything here, folks? We just go for it, you know, whatever. And we say dumb things.
Jared: And then what’s the fourth thing?
Pete: Oh, yeah. The platform! The platform is the thing too. That’s the big thing to make it, like you’re saying, to make everything just neater and nicer, but also, we have the Pastors for Normal People, which is something that just, Jared, why don’t you tell a little about that? That’s a really great thing that we’ve started doing.
Jared: Yeah, helping just to resource pastors, you know, the most we think about how do we help bring the biblical scholarship to everyday people, what better way than to resource pastors who are with people in their congregations every week who are going through challenges and how do we give them support and give them resources. So, those are the four things we’re planning to do with this.
Pete: Yeah, absolutely. So, folks, again, thanks so much for all your support, it means a lot to us.
[Music begins, then fades as Pete begins speaking]
Pete: Hey, everybody, welcome to our podcast today and our episode is “How Grace Saves Us” and our guest is none other than Kirsten Powers and she is a best-selling author. A lot of you probably know her. She is a CNN Senior Political Analyst and she just came out with a book called Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts. That’s pretty irrelevant, don’t you think, Jared?
Jared: Uh, yeah. I don’t know what possessed her to write a book like this.
Pete: Yeah, really. Just write a book about martians.
Jared: So unrelatable.
Pete: I know, whatever.
Jared: No, I thought we got into some great stuff. I really appreciated toward the end, where we talk about our own trauma and our own baggage and how doing some of this inner work helps us because I do think, sometimes we use things like social media as a scapegoat. Sure, social media, not great for polarization, but it really just amplifies what’s going on inside of us in a lot of ways.
Pete: Yeah, we’re making it polarized.
Pete: Right, right.
Jared: Right. It’s just a tool, and we’re just maybe using it badly.
Pete: I appreciate Kirsten, you know, bringing her own life. She’s thought about this a lot. She’s experienced things. And she’s really thinking, “How do I want to live in this climate?” That’s really what it comes down to and I’m like, yeah, you’ve got something going on here. I think this is worth listening to.
Jared: All right, well, let’s jump in.
Kirsten: We all have our different things that we could do, if we actually really want to change the world, that don’t involve demonizing other people. Holding someone accountable is not a lack of grace, saying something that’s true is not a lack of grace, you’re getting into the area of a lack of grace, when you’re now judging, labeling, demonizing. If you don’t like cancel culture, then start dealing with the things that people have been complaining about literally since forever.
Pete: What led you to write the book? Sorry about that question.
Kirsten: I think what made me write the book is interesting, because I think it’s what sort of plagues many of us, which is, I sort of hit a wall with the rage and the fury and the contempt and all the things that are happening.
Pete: Rage, what rage?
Kirsten: Yeah, I’m sure you don’t have that problem.
Pete: I didn’t sleep for three months during the election last time. That was just horrible.
Kirsten: Yeah, it just, it became untenable for me and I really, I hit a wall and I just realized I can’t keep living like this. And my behavior and just the thoughts and the sort of soundtrack of doom in my head was not in any way aligned with my beliefs.
Kirsten: So, the idea that I should love my neighbor or even love my enemies, right? I was so far away from that I couldn’t even get to a place where I even wanted to do that. It wasn’t even like, I believe that and I’m going to try to do that. I just was like, I just I’m not even sure I even believe that anymore. I can’t, there’s no way. And so, I just realized that something was really wrong. And I pulled back from social media a little bit, I took some time to reflect. And what I came back to and I ended up writing a column, I write for USA Today, I ended up writing a column about this just about how toxic our public discourse is, but also looking at how I was participating in that, and mostly online. And it was pretty shame inducing, honestly, when I looked at it, because I didn’t really feel, again, aligned with who I feel I am and who I think a lot of people would say, “Oh, well, you’re, you’re the voice of reason. You’re so reasonable.” And that’s true, I am often very reasonable and also what I realized is I could also be very toxic.
Jared: Those aren’t mutually exclusive.
Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. And so, I had to- in a way that I don’t think I was before, necessarily, 2016.
So, I had an intuition that what we needed was grace. But until I really started writing this book, I don’t think I really even understood what I was saying. I think I was thinking about it almost in a kind of spiritual bypassing kind of way, right? Like grace is going to solve this problem. And it wasn’t really until I got into the book and really had to delve deep into this, that I realized that yes, I think that is what we need, but I actually completely misunderstood what grace was. And it ended up being so much more than what I had even thought it was in the first place. So, I think that where I got to was where a lot of people have gotten to, and I think a lot of people were thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be different after the election,” but of course, spoiler alert, it’s not. So, it’s like, if anything, it feels like it’s getting worse.
Jared: Well, maybe back up, because I think that’s a really good place to start is that the idea of grace maybe wasn’t what you thought it was and I don’t want to put you on the spot because you wrote a whole book on it. So, it may not be easy to really define, but how would you now, kind of gone through all this, how would you define grace?
Kirsten: The way I define grace, I use the Christian paradigm of unmerited favor. But usually, when Christians talk about grace, they’re talking about grace from God, so unmerited favor from God. But if we apply that to each other, then it’s basically looking at other people and seeing the humanity in them if you’re a believer, maybe seeing the divinity in them. No matter what they have done, or said, or believe, or who they voted for and being able to really allow them to not be you without being demonized. And so, I think that, it creates a kind of space, I think, between us and people who are upsetting us, and we’re and so it’s something that you give to other people, not because of anything they’ve done to deserve it, right? It’s you just have grace for people because they’re people, right? They’re human beings, complicated human beings that are more than the sum of the thing that they’re doing that’s maybe really, really bad, right? It may legitimately be really bad. It may just be something that you have exaggerated into being really bad.
Jared: Okay, so let’s talk about this concept you use quite a bit, which is non-dualistic thinking, because it seems to be foundational to how you think about grace. So, what do you mean by non-dualism? And then how does it factor into this conversation about grace?
Kirsten: You’re right, it is very foundational and it was a real turning point for me. And I think that had I not encountered that idea, which is basically everything is not black and white, everything is not either/or, there are gray areas. There, you know, it doesn’t have to be this all or nothing thinking, which I was particularly inclined to, but I think in our culture, it is very much the way that we’re trained to think. And had I not encountered that, and I encountered it through the teachings of Richard Rohr.
And I, I don’t even know that I would have been able to come up with the idea of grace being a solution. I think that was the thing that just gave me just enough space to step back and say, “Maybe I’m not seeing things totally clearly here. Or maybe there aren’t- maybe there are other ways to think about things that are different than the way that I think about them. Maybe everybody’s not so evil.” Right? It’s possible that somebody could think something that I don’t think and not be evil. I was very locked into that really hyper-binary thinking, and so, when I discovered Richard Rohr and then I also at the same time met James Martin, who’s, some people might know, who’s a Jesuit priest, and he became my spiritual director. And he also really was encouraging me to embrace mystery and embrace that kind of gray area and the kind of not knowing and that was really new for me and I think that just helped me kind of turn a corner and start moving in the direction of being open to the idea of grace.
Jared: Yeah, it reminds me of- I talk about this sometimes, where if the truth is obvious, if it is very obvious, which is like that black and white thinking, we can fall prey to what I call ignorant versus evil logic, right? So, if the truth is obvious and we disagree, there’s really only two options: either you’re that dumb, like you’re ignorant, or you’re that evil, meaning you’re purposely skewing what’s obvious for your own nefarious purposes. And so, without the grayness of breaking down the binary of the non-dualism of maybe there’s a spectrum of things, maybe this stuff that we’re talking about is really complicated and reasonable people can disagree about really complicated stuff. I think without that, we don’t really have a lot of options. People who disagree are either really stupid or really bad. And so, it sounds like you this non-dualism-
Kirsten: Yeah. Isn’t that what most people think?
Jared: Yeah. Right!
Kirsten: That’s the thing. I mean, I cite, you know, surveys and studies and all sorts of things in the book where when they ask people what they think of people, you know, ask a Republican what they think of Democrats and ask Democrats what they think of Republicans- they think they’re subhuman.
Kirsten: At this point, right? Where they actually wished- they think the country better off if large-
Pete: Yes, if they weren’t there.
Kirsten: Yeah, if they died, basically. If large numbers died of the opposing party. So, it really, we have dehumanized people and I think that is obviously made worse by the fact that we’ve really sorted ourselves into these bubbles where we don’t really encounter people or even ideas really, that are that different than us, except when they’re given to us by people who think like us and then it’s always the caricature of what other people think. Right? So, it’s like, you’re getting all your information about Republicans from some liberal on Twitter. And you’re getting all your information about Democrats from Fox News.
Kirsten: So, it’s like, you’re not really- that’s not really how you learn about what people think. And the studies show, social science shows that when people can even think of one person that they know, it’s not even a friend, just somebody that they know, who they like. You know, if they can just think about one person, they will immediately depolarize- a person who thinks differently than they do and belongs to the other party. And so, it just takes that one person where they can take it out of the abstract, because it’s very easy to hate abstract people and take it to a real person. And then they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, okay. Yeah, I could see how, yeah, I don’t agree with them. But I can see that they’re actually not, you know, evil.”
Pete: You can’t show grace to a person who’s dehumanized. You know, I mean, you have to really, I mean, I think that’s a great point, you have to really make them into people, make them just recognize what they are right. Of course, social media doesn’t help all this. But you know, the abstractions and the and the distance we have from each other, but it’s about really, I guess, I mean, the way I would put it from what I’m hearing you say, is just remembering that just as issues are not black and white dualistic, people aren’t either. And even if they come across a certain way, they have a story. They have a history and there are things going on. And people have fears and people have hopes and dreams and then getting to that, and I think just even having conversations with people that you disagree with strongly- and they know you do- that’s a sign of grace, right there I think. That can go a long way.
Kirsten: Yeah. And then, like I said, it’s allowing people to not be you and not be turned into a monster.
Kirsten: Because that’s basically what I was doing. It’s like, “You think what?”
Now, I do want to say that sometimes binary thinking is helpful, because there are some things that are clear. So, to me, it is clear, and I don’t actually know a lot of people that would disagree with what I’m about to say, that racism is wrong. Right? So, we can recognize that that’s wrong, what we can’t know is what a person believes because they voted for Donald Trump. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s like, we make all of these assumptions about people or a person does something that’s misogynist, for example, then they are a misogynist versus a person who, like you said, has a story, has all sorts of good qualities that we don’t know about and is more than this one moment in their life. Now, that doesn’t mean the person is not responsible for what they did.
So, some people also I think, misunderstand grace to think that it just means letting people get away with everything and it’s often invoked that way by people to say basically like to marginalize people, well just have grace for the people who are saying the racist things, just have grace for the person who sexually harassed you. That’s not- that’s weaponizing grace. And grace does not mean that people aren’t held accountable, it just means that they’re held accountable with humanity. So, and they’re held accountable, hopefully, with the idea of some sort of restoration with, you know, hopefully, they will repent and they could be welcomed back into wholeness, and there could be wholeness where that brokenness was created. But, as I talk about in the book, if you look at our criminal justice system, that is the opposite of what goes on there. So, it’s not really that surprising that we also sort of reenact this kind of thinking in our other relationships, in our other interactions, that we have an entire system in our country that is just so vengeful and inhumane and I think that that’s kind of a mentality that we have just accepted the kind of brutality, right, of how we treat each other. And in this book, I’m trying to get people to step back and say – we don’t have to treat each other this way. We also don’t have to be unified and agreeing on everything, I’m realistic about that. You know, I don’t think that-
Pete: Of course.
Kirsten: I think where both sides are, I mean, I don’t see unity. Even though, you know, the President’s now calling for that. But I do see a situation where we could have grace and we could try to, you know, try to turn it down a little bit and step back from dehumanization and demonization of people who are different than us.
Pete: So let me ask, you mentioned before, you know, a statement that, you know, most people would certainly agree with that racism is wrong, but there are some who would probably say I disagree with that, but they just have different definitions of racism, and they may actually be racist, and have not a problem with it.
Kirsten: Well, see, because I always find it interesting that racists always insist they’re not racist.
Pete: Right, exactly. Because it’s just the natural order of things. I’m not doing anything wrong.
Kirsten: But they’re admitting that racism is wrong. You see what I’m saying?
Pete: Yeah, no, I agree with you.
Kirsten: Yeah, very few people would just say like, “Racism is great. Let’s all be racist.”
Kirsten: Like, it’s yeah, it’s like, I think most people would be like, “No, racism is wrong. And I’m not racist,” even if they’re doing something –
Pete: How would you show- I’m assuming, just from what you’re saying, that grace can be shown to those people and probably should be, or am I misreading you here? Again, grace doesn’t mean you’re fine, whatever, it doesn’t matter. It just means how you talk to them, and maybe trying to find out their story. Maybe there’s something going on in there. There’s a way to talk to them that can at least crack open the doors to help them see something from a different angle.
Kirsten: Yes, though, I don’t think- and I think we may have even talked about this last time I was on, I don’t think that you should just befriend people to try to change them. So, you know, seeing somebody as your little ministry or your little like, you’re gonna save them. I think if you’re going to enter into any kind of relationship-
Pete: Well, that’s why you’re on our podcast.
Pete: I think I actually made that joke last time.
Pete: Let’s move on from this. I have four jokes I recycle.
Kirsten: So, I would say that, I think that it’s basically seeing the whole person and not like reducing them to this one thing, but also being very clear about what’s wrong and naming that. So, you can name what some- you can name something that’s wrong without judging somebody. And so, I talk a lot about that in the book. I think grace helps us to be non-judgmental.
So, it’s you can make a judgement, which is like discernment, versus being judgmental, where you immediately start down the road of what a monster this person is and they’re so horrible. And the next thing you know, you’re like, marinating in this person’s stuff.
Kirsten: Right? And you’re not helping anybody. You’re not making anything better. And I mean, a lot of what I talk about in the book isn’t really about changing other people. It’s more about how can you not absorb things that really don’t belong to you, right? So, if you are concerned about somebody who’s done something misogynist, you can say something to them. But there’s also a lot of causes you could volunteer for, there’s people you could give money to. If you’re me, you could write a column. We all have our different things that we could do if we actually really want to change the world that don’t involve demonizing other people. So, I think that we can name that somebody has done something and say that this is a problem. In an ideal world, if you know them, I talked about calling people in first, right? You could, instead of humiliating them on Twitter, try to talk to them and say, “Hey, you know, you said this thing, did you realize that it was offensive?” And maybe they’re going to say, “Oh, my gosh, I had no idea I’m going to apologize.” Give people an opportunity to try to do better. And then sometimes people get called in and they get called in, they get called in and they just don’t listen and they just keep doing the things. And then, ultimately, they get caught up in something and they lose their job. Right? Like, this happens. And, you know, in that case, sometimes I don’t like it when people lose their jobs, but sometimes people – that is the accountability, that is the consequence of their actions, right? And so, holding someone accountable is not a lack of grace. Saying something that’s true is not a lack of grace, you’re getting into the area of a lack of grace, when you’re now judging, labeling, demonizing and all of these other things. Does that make sense?
Jared: Yeah, I really appreciate the way you said it earlier that we don’t want to reduce people to their poor behavior, to that one thing. And yet, we also- that doesn’t mean we can’t name it and say this isn’t okay. It’s that reduction and reducing people to demonizing that is the challenge.
Kirsten: Well, it’s also just recognizing that people are doing the best that they can with what they have. And that even if it doesn’t seem very good to you, and maybe it legitimately isn’t very good, that you know, having you know, having some grace for them, also showing a little humility about the fact that probably you’ve done some things that are pretty messed up in your life, even though everybody is always the one who’s never done anything. You know, people have shown you a lot of grace and treat that person the way you would like to be treated if you screwed up.
Jared: Can we talk about that a little more? Because I think, in some ways, not that we’re purposely dancing around this, but I think it’s worth talking about cancel culture and this idea of, you know, forgiveness and how to balance forgiveness and accountability. So, can you speak specifically to that, like, what is grace? You talked about restoration and so, like, specifically, when people are called out for, hey, we found these 10 racist tweets that you put up, you know, 12 years ago? What do you, in kind of the context of what you’re talking about in this grace, what might be a better response? Or is the response that often happens, which we call it up, there’s this a lot of outrage, and then the person, you know, loses their job, is that accountability? Is that a lack of grace? How do we kind of navigate this in real world scenarios here?
Kirsten: Well, I mean, it’s a very complicated issue, I think, and unfortunately, everything gets oversimplified in our culture. And so, I don’t think any of these two cases are the same, even though they all get treated as being exactly the same. And so, you know, ideally, there would be some sort of multi-layered analysis, right? Just basic things in terms of is this the first time a person has done this? Did it happen 10 years ago or did it happen last week? How old were they when that happened? Were they a teenager or were they, you know, why are we holding somebody who’s 26 years old, accountable for something they tweeted when they were 16? Right? We should be able to look at these different things. Are they sorry? Are they a different person? Do they still even believe it? Right? That’s another thing, I’m always- no one’s asking this person like you did this is do you really believe this? And they might say, “No, I think that’s stupid. I can’t believe that I said that and I’m so sorry that I said that.” But that’s not really the way we approach things. It’s like this person did this 10 years ago, so therefore, this is who the person is. Which of course, I’m not even the same person I was two years ago, let alone ten years ago. So, I think that it oversimplifies things.
At the same time, I think that the reason, first of all, cancel culture, I wish we could just retire the phrase, because it actually doesn’t mean anything. It means different things to everybody. And it grew out of cancellation, which was a term that was used in a very different way and that was sort of co-opted by elites online and then it turned into this thing. And then conservatives started calling it cancel culture, it seems, with the intention of making it so that anytime anybody confronted racism, sexism, homophobia, they would be accused of canceling people. Right?
Kirsten: So, it’s a tactic, actually. And it’s not- it’s been so disconnected from what its original purpose was, and then is now used to try to silence like black activists. I mean, it’s very twisted. And so, I think, you know, at the same time, I think that it can be very problematic when accountability, we call something accountability, but it’s actually annihilation. Sometimes people will say, well, the person is just being held accountable. It’s like, really? Because it looks like their whole life has been completely ruined. That doesn’t really like that doesn’t strike me as accountability. Accountability is getting suspended for your first time offense, right? It’s not losing your job, your reputation, your health insurance, probably any chances of being employed again.
Pete: It’s very retributive.
Kirsten: Yeah, it really is. And so, you know, sometimes somebody does something that deserves that. But that’s not an everyday occurrence. So, it’s like, what, what would accountability look like? I think that you do have to, in different circumstances, listen to the people who are harmed. So, I would be very careful about stepping into a situation where something racist happen and saying, “Hey, I think this is what’s supposed to happen.” I would want to hear from people who were part of the community that was harmed, you know, what did they think? If something happens with sexual harassment or sexual assault, you know, I think for men coming in and then saying, “Let’s just have grace for him, you know, in this situation for harassing this woman at work.” It’s like, well, are you really in a position to even talk about that? Do you even understand what it’s like, right? Like, I think there, I think we do need to look to the people who’ve actually experienced it, because sometimes we’ll be very quick to say something’s not that big of a deal because it doesn’t affect us. So, we don’t really understand the impact of it.
The thing I also say in the book, which I think some people are going to have a hard time with, is that if you don’t like cancel culture, then start dealing with the things that people have been complaining about literally since forever. Right? Like generation after generation after generation, people have been complaining about racism, people have been complaining about sexual harassment, and really haven’t been listened to. And we’ve sort of drove people to the edge and we now have a situation where, again, someone will come out, a white person will say the N word and they’ll be like, “Oh, I didn’t know.” And when I talk to my black friends about it, they’re like, how can you not know that? How could you be alive in this country and not know that, right? So, to them, it just feels like they’re not vengeful, they’re not looking to destroy anybody’s life. They’re just like, when are you going to see us?
Kirsten: You know, when are you actually going to listen to what we’re saying? And so, when is it? It’s when people’s jobs are on the line? Right? It’s when- it isn’t until people are afraid of having their reputations destroyed and their jobs are on a line that people start listening and start paying attention. And now, you know, everybody’s having the trainings, diversity/inclusion trainings, and all these things. But would any of that have happened had it not been for so called cancel culture? I don’t think so.
Jared: Right. It’s telling that what gets the airtime and the red flags is cancel culture, but there wasn’t a lot of racism culture-
Jared: Or like sexism culture talked about over the last twenty or thirty years.
Kirsten: Well, right. And as soon as you know, #MeToo happened, I mean, we were five minutes into #MeToo, and people are coming up, “This has gotten out of hand.” You know? And it’s like, really? “All these men are losing their jobs.” Like really?
Kirsten: Like, this is what’s out of hand? Because it feels like it was the sexual harassment that was out of hand. You know, and so it’s like for my entire life, right? And it’s like, so, yeah, it’s very problematic that, you know, where you have conservatives also coming out and talking about like Pepe LePew being canceled-
Kirsten: But have never complained about police brutality, you know? Have never complained about racism against black people at any point, you know? And it’s like, in fact, if they talk about racism, it’s this like, alleged racism against white people. So, you start to look at it, you’re like, wait, we’re just getting like, taken totally off course here. And we’re not talking about why sometimes people, I guess some people would say, they overreact. I don’t really know that you could overreact to like hundreds of years of racism. But they’ll say, well, they’re, you know, they’re not, you know, they tone police them, they’re not saying it the right way. Of course, they’re never protesting in the right way. They’re never at the right place, which is apparently a place where no one will ever see it. And so, that people would finally maybe just get so fed up, that they would just start saying, like, “Yeah, you should lose your job. I don’t care.” Right?
Kirsten: Isn’t that just normal behavior?
Jared: Yeah, it’s like every action kind of has the equal and opposite reaction. It’s sort of like, if you’re looking at this reaction, maybe it’s time to look at the action and see what caused it.
Kirsten: And recognize how much grace you’ve gotten.
Jared: Mm hmm, right.
Kirsten: Because this country wouldn’t function if there hadn’t been, marginalized people hadn’t been giving people grace, right? It’s just the things that have happened in this country and the way people have been treated and the way they’ve been ignored. The only way that you could even live in this country would have to be because you’re offering grace to the people who are causing the harm, right? And so, to be thankful for that and notice like how much grace you’ve gotten and stop asking other people to give more grace, because that’s kind of the dynamic. It’s why can’t people have more grace when this person said the n-word at work or whatever, and it’s like, you have- there hasn’t been enough grace? Like, I just feel like there’s been so much grace.
Jared: As we’ve been talking about this, you know, I’ve been putting the pieces together on maybe why, you know, non-dualistic thinking is so foundational to this, because almost like the phrase that comes to mind is almost like structural grace, like the idea to slow down and say, maybe there’s filters or variables that we need to look at in terms of what you were talking about. There are all these criteria of, you know, how long ago did they say it? Do they still believe it? How old were they? Like those kinds of things kind of build in grace. It’s almost- I almost think of like, the ideals that our justice system was founded on, not that it always happens, but it’s like, innocent until proven guilty. Like there’s some- that’s kind of a grace-based statement. And there’s these structures that maybe could be put in place and that, for me, is the non-dualism. It’s not either they should be, you know, or shouldn’t be. It’s slow down; there’s these other seven questions we might need to ask first, before we figure out what the right thing to do is.
Kirsten: Yeah. And I think the thing that you run into is that when you start saying that, so- we’ll just use racism as an example. And white people start saying that when something racist has happened, then I think what, like my black friends were saying to me, when I was discussing all these topics with them, it’s like, well where’s the grace for the black boys, and we’re getting kicked out of school. Right? It’s like, there’s no grace and nobody cares. And so the same people who have never said a word about the well-documented, unequal treatment of black children in schools literally having their lives canceled, right? Like taken off track by being expelled for things that white students aren’t getting expelled for, you know, and punished much more harshly than white students are getting punished, the same people who never say a word about that are now talking about how this person who did something racist needs grace. Do you see what I’m saying?
Kirsten: And so I think if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it’s like, “Well, wait. So, now I’m supposed to have grace for the person who’s doing the racist things? But like, nobody cares about the fact that my son, if he does something at school will get no grace.” Not like the assumption, he’ll get like- the white kid will get grace for it, but the black kid won’t. And so, it’s, you know, so then at that point, someone usually says, “Yes, but the solution is that we just we want to treat white kids and black kids exactly the same way.” So, it’s we don’t want to like harm the white person because we’re harming the black person, and I agree with that. The problem is, I just feel like, and I say in the book, I am guilty of this, it’s a talking point. It’s something that I used to say. And so, I really stopped and thought about it. And I was like, well, I say this, but what are we doing to make it so? Right? It’s like a nice philosophy.
And it’s true, we want- the solution isn’t that we want to harm other people, but are we doing anything to stop harming the black kids? Like, are we actively trying to change that?
So, I think we have to look at why these things are happening. And, you know, I really try to do that now when I’m with anybody, honestly, of any issue. I tend now, when I look at people, whereas I used to be very judgmental, I tend now to have a lot more empathy. You know, and I don’t get hung up on how people are communicating things or, you know, if they’re saying it the right way. I’m just really interested to hear what they’re saying. And, you know, even if it’s something that I don’t necessarily identify with, like what is the pain that’s underneath what they’re doing and having more empathy for people. And so, and I feel like this whole “cancel culture” thing really takes us off track from that, that takes us off track of stopping and saying, “Why is this happening?”
Jared: And that seems like maybe a good segue into talking about- because cancel culture, in a lot of ways, at least as far as I’ve experienced it, maybe that’s just because of my own bias here, is on social media. And I just think there’s a lot of conversation around social media, when it comes to the polarization conversation and how we disagree with one another, and how maybe we don’t have enough grace for each other. So, do you have ideas as you’ve been thinking about this and writing about this, like how we can better handle ourselves with social media? You know, even if it’s- and Pete, you could speak into this because you are kind of in this conversation over the last year with social media and how it impacts us and how it impacts our brains and there’s a whole thing we could talk about, but particularly around this topic of how we get along or don’t get along or show grace or don’t show grace. You know, how do we handle ourselves with social media? What’s the impact?
Kirsten: The impact is huge. And I don’t think that- I think it’s very difficult to spend a lot of time on social media and have grace for people. It’s because it’s designed to activate you and enrich you. And so, it’s designed to actually interact with your brain in a way, knowing all of the things that your brain will do, to seek out information that confirms what you already believe, to make really quick binary, you know, judgments, which was super helpful when much more primitive times, not helpful at all now. It’s not helpful when it comes to trying to discern complicated issues. And then what happens is you see a tweet, you make a snap judgment about something, you see other people doing it, the whole sort of, you know, mob mentality takes over. And even though you’re not in an actual physical mob, a lot of the same dynamics start to play out. And so, you also are often seeing people who are not really necessarily at their best and they’re acting in a very toxic manner, and I don’t know about other people, for me, that can be very triggering. And so, the first thing I did was I got off of social media. And I mean, completely off. And I didn’t get on social media for probably a month. And at that point, when I got back on, I was like, this really messed up and I found it kind of repulsive.
Pete: Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, that’s what he says. He says, “If you want to break it, break the cycle, get off for one month,” I think he says one month or six weeks, then when you come back, it’s like, what was I doing here? You know, it’s like, and I’ve tried, I haven’t quite had the guts to do that, because social media is a little bit more of what we do. But like, I might not check it for three days. And then I’m on it for like 10 minutes and then I’m done. You know, but the reason to bring that up is because, you know, if we want to show grace to other people, we might have to train ourselves to avoid those triggering times and not get drawn into the social media machinery, which really does try to agitate us and it rewards us for being agitated.
Kirsten: It does. And I think also, though, we have to look at- I mean, in the book I talk a lot about coming to terms with some of my emotional issues and dealing with some of my past traumas, which also really drove me further into binary thinking, which is pretty typical people who’ve been traumatized. So, I think that you have to also do that work on yourself. So, it’s a lot harder now. It would take a lot more time on social media to activate me or to pull me in because my boundaries are so strong. So, I don’t, because I don’t judge, I mean, I can’t say I never judge people, of course, it happens. But before, all I did was judge people. So it’s like, I just was constantly judging and labeling.
And whereas now when I see something, it’ll register like, that’s no. Right? And I just move on. And that’s it. I don’t think about it again. I don’t have that kind of- I haven’t now intertwined myself with this person. Whereas in the past, I would get so wrapped up in this person, I’d be like telling my fiancé about it. I’d be thinking about it, right? It’s like you, you take it all on, whereas now I’m really just kind of looking at it like, going no, and I move on to the next thing. And I don’t, I just don’t get involved. And I just don’t get in Twitter fights.
Pete: Yes, amen.
Kirsten: I don’t call people out. I don’t, whatever, I just don’t do it. And so, if I’m going to tweet something, I tweet it. Right? It’s like, I’m not going to get into something with somebody.
Pete: Every time I call somebody out, I regret it like ten minutes later. And then I’ve got several days of crap I have to deal with. And yeah, you know, the more you become aware, I mean, I really like what you’re saying here about-
Jared: If you’re going to talk about me, Pete, you just say it to my face. You don’t have to say it passively, okay?
Pete: Can I say it anonymously online? But I think, you know, knowing- I guess, I mean, if I’m hearing you right, working through trauma has helped you become more gracious.
Pete: Is that right?
Kirsten: Oh, yeah.
Pete: Okay. And could you flesh that out a little bit? Because a lot of people experience trauma.
Pete: Right? And we don’t always realize how much we’re acting out of the trauma that we’ve experienced either big issues or the slow boil over many, many years. So, I think, talk about that a little bit, because I think that’s going to be really relevant to a lot of people listening.
Kirsten: Yeah, well, for me, it really was- do we do the Enneagram here?
Jared: Sure, yeah.
Kirsten: Enneagram people?
Pete and Jared: Yeah.
Kirsten: So, the Enneagram-
Pete: That satanic thing? Okay, got it.
Jared: We got a pentagram. We’re talking about the pentagram now?
Kirsten: That’s it. That’s it. So, the around the time I saw Richard Rohr, of course wrote a book on the Enneagram, so I think that’s when I first was really introduced to it. I’d heard about it, but I always thought it was kind of nutty. And then I started to look into it a little bit. Long story short, turns out I’m in Enneagram Eight, which is the Challenger.
Pete: Oh gosh! That’s the worst one.
Jared: That’s me. Pete, come on. That’s me too.
Kirsten: Oh, you are?
Kirsten: And so, Enneagram 8’s and 1’s, I also had I thought it was a 1, turns out I’m an 8, are very prone to binary thinking, and so, even more than the average person. And it’s what I did in response to my trauma, right? To make myself feel safe.
Jared: Yeah, when you control. Binary thinking helps you feel in control.
Kirsten: Exactly. And so I would, I would make these really quick decisions. I always thought I was right about everything and then I would insist other people had to agree with me. That was my dynamic, that’s very unhealthy eight behavior. And so, once I understood the Enneagram, was basically saying we create these personalities in response to our trauma, then I was able to really work on that with my therapist, and really start unpacking that, and even practicing things like how to say something, how to not be judgmental, right? So, I would say something and she said, “That’s a little judgmental.” And I’d say, “But it’s true.” And she’s like, “Well, it might be, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s judgmental.” Then she’s like, “Wanting to try saying it again?” And so, I’d say it again, she’d be like, “Still judgmental.”
And so, I actually would start, you know, learning, like, what does that mean? And how can I just be discerning? And so, that was helpful to me, and then actually going back through and really working through a lot of these traumatic issues. And then I went to this place called Onsite in Tennessee. And that was a major turning point for me, where I dealt with some traumas that actually had happened in my adult life. And then I had just a huge, huge turning point where I really felt my capacity for grace, just expand-
Pete: Is that a trauma recovery place, Onsite?
Kirsten: Onsite is, like, I don’t know how you describe it, they do all sorts of different things. They do have a trauma-I forget what you call it, like, I guess, a trauma recovery place. What I did is something called the Living Center program. And it’s a seven-day program and it’s in a group. And I had tons and tons of friends go there and they all said it changed their life. But I just always felt like I just don’t want to spend seven days doing therapy. It sounds so horrible. And once I realized, though, that I knew that I had some trauma that needed to be dealt with. And I just sucked it up, and I went, and it really, it was night and day, I just can’t even describe how different I was after I did it. And I really did process grief around my father dying and then my grandmother dying and then my stepfather died, it happened in very rapid succession, and I didn’t really understand even till I wrote the book, when I was interviewing a therapist who actually does work at Onsite. And she was saying that if our, if our grief is not witnessed, we get stuck in it.
And so, because I was in this group that was witnessing my grief and I was processing it with them, and they didn’t have any of the baggage that like my family would have. Because often it’s very hard for our families to help us with that, because they are having their own feelings about it. And so, I actually was able to really process this grief in a way that I never had. And after that I just didn’t have that need to be so certain or so right about everything.
And then it was done in conjunction with a lot of spiritual work as well. I mean, I have spiritual director, and we were spending a lot of time really on trying to, I guess, unlearn a lot of you know, my time in the White Evangelical Church was kind of a recipe for disaster considering my trauma, right? Like, I was already prone to be so binary that I just latched on to that and I probably took it too far in a way. You know, I think there are some people who go to those churches and that doesn’t happen to them. They can kind of look at it and go, ‘Well, this is okay, I’ll do this and not that.” Where I was like, “I have to follow everything to the letter. And if I don’t, then I’m a bad person.” Right? It just was very, very narrow binary thinking. And then I was able to move into a space of being totally comfortable with not knowing things with, yeah, just saying it’s a mystery. I don’t know. I just don’t know. Yeah, and that’s fine.
Pete: Join the club.
Jared: Yeah, it’s funny. We just someone a few days ago, I was talking to at a church I was speaking at and they said, “Yeah, you know, I was like, taking, I used to take this so seriously, and I had to get it right. And then I started asking these questions, and I started coming to different conclusions, and I talked to my husband who’s like, you know, doesn’t take it all that seriously. And I started saying these things. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve kind of always thought that.’” And she’s like, “You, you are kidding me.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I just I thought everyone just kind of showed up and kind of, you know, you shrug off what you don’t like and you just take what you do.” And she’s like, “Oh, my gosh.”
Pete: You can do that?
Jared: But no one told me. So, okay, as we wrap up here, I think I want to maybe ask this question in a way that we, it’s a little different than how we normally ask it, because what you were just saying I think is so important for people to understand is that showing grace to others isn’t always an external work. It’s not just about these, it’s not always about the other person. Oftentimes, it’s about cleaning up our own house, like it’s this inner work of figuring out, you know, the people who talk down to who can’t stand up for their own belief without talking down to me, I realized, have some insecurities in themselves. There’s something going on in them.
And so, as we kind of wrap up, are there other things, just what you’re talking about? So great. Could you- is there anything else that people could be doing for their own internal work that might actually help them have grace for other people, if they could kind of work through their own stuff?
Kirsten: Yeah, I mean, I think first of all, learning about boundaries is really important. And I have a whole chapter on that, but there are other places you can learn about boundaries. So that when you have the desire to kind of go there in terms of the judgment, the demonization to stop and just say, “Actually, I have a tool, and it’s called boundaries.” And I’ll have to do that. But I also think it’s really important for people to do whatever work they need to do, to be able to have grace for themselves. Because if you can’t have grace for yourself, then you can’t have grace for other people. And as awful as I really could be to other people, like, I was just as horrible to myself, right?
I was, you know, I had that just monstrous inner critic that was just always on me, always, you know, never cutting me any slack, never none of those things. And so, really having to, you know, become more integrated. And deal with your traumas, so that you can start having grace for yourself, which will make it easier for you to have grace for other people. But I also really found doing this kind of look back, like I did it in a very structured way where I actually sat down and thought about, you know, where have I gone wrong? And then I had all the shame around it.
And then I had to do this process with my therapist, where she’s like, where’s the grace for Kirsten? Right? Because I would be like, I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I said that, or I can’t believe this or that. And I just couldn’t let it go. Right? I couldn’t even have grace for myself.
And so, once I got to the place where I was like, “You’re right, I was doing the best I could. I was a mess. But I was doing the best I could.” It’s much easier to see that in other people, right? When- once you look back and you have some humility about where you’ve gone wrong, then you won’t be so quick to judge another person or refuse to give them grace for their mistakes because you just think what kind of person could possibly do that? It’s like, well, you might not have done that. But you did something else. Right? Like we’re all doing our own little messed up things. And so, I think that those, those things really help and you know, I am a big also, you know, if you have a spiritual life, identify if you have any binary inclinations and start trying to unlearn that a little bit. Start trying to lean into the idea of mystery and of not knowing and being okay with not knowing.
Jared: So practical and helpful. Really appreciate you coming on, Kirsten, and sharing some of your story which has to be vulnerable now knowing you’re an 8 I’m like, “Ugh, airing dirty laundry. No, thank you. Yuck. I’ll just, I’ll teach you.”
Kirsten: It is pretty awful.
Jared: Yeah, geez. So, thank you so much for doing that. I know how hard that can be, but I think it will be helpful for a lot of people. I think it was helpful for Pete and I, as well, to be thinking about some of this stuff. So, thanks again for coming back on the podcast. It was great to have you again.
Kirsten: Thank you for having me. It was so much fun.
Pete: Thank you, Kirsten.
Stephanie: You just made it through another entire episode of The Bible for Normal People. Well done to you, and well done to everyone who supports us by rating the podcast, leaving us a review, or telling others about our show. We are especially grateful for our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople where for as little as $3/month, you can receive bonus material, be a part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Our show is produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team – thanks for listening.
Pete: Welcome, everybody, to our podcasts and our episode today is “How Grace Saves Us,” and our guest. I’m going to start over again because I didn’t say “saves us” correctly.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: I’m sorry. There’s never any noise in my house, and now my dogs are just, like, going crazy.
This is my life. Kirsten, by the way.
Jared: So, we’ll just jump right in. We might actually even use what we already recorded from that beginning part as part of the intro, I don’t know. We’ll leave that up to our-
Pete: It’s fun.
Jared: Leave up to Dave, our audio engineer, who at the end of this last episode, put on our podcast episode me saying God d*&% it.
Pete: As an outtake?
Jared: As an outtake at the end. I’m like, Dave, you’re listening to this. Don’t do that anymore. Geez.
Pete: Don’t do that, Dave. I don’t believe you.
Kirsten: Come on, Dave.
Jared: We don’t run a tight ship, apparently. All right. Okay.
[End of recorded material]