How many times have we read, heard or watched a story on America’s “culture war”? To hear it often told, Middle America and the urban coasts are always at loggerheads – a constant conflict between two groups of people who have simply become too different to work together.

Brandon O’Brien’s life has been a study in contrasts. He grew up in a picturesque, small town in northwest Arkansas. Today, you can find him navigating the subways on the bustling island of Manhattan. Brandon’s latest project saw him launch a deeper look into what divides us as Americans, and how we can work to overcome it as followers of Jesus.

“One data point I found really interesting in a survey – most Americans, regardless whether they’re rural Americans or urban Americans, they both feel people who don’t live in the kind of place they live in don’t understand their struggles. They don’t understand what their life is like. So if you live in a rural place, you think the rest of the country misunderstands you. And if you live in an urban place, you think the rest of the country misunderstands you.”

“So that may not come as a big surprise, but the corresponding point I found really interesting is those same people in that same survey said they believe they have a pretty good idea what life is like in other parts of the country. What that means is that everyone feels misunderstood by the rest of the country, but – at the same time – they feel like they understand the rest of the country!

When we start to see the underlying irony in our position there, we might just be ready for some genuine self reflection.

“I think it’s really easy to see how other Christians who live somewhere else might have compromised their values to the culture, but then it’s really hard for us to see how we’ve done the same thing. So I hope the book will help people to recognize how the places they live and the places that they love shaped them, and invite them to see how in some of those cases it’s a really good thing, and in some cases it’s actually caused me to miss something important in my Christian life. And I need to reflect on that, and maybe repent.”

Brandon believes the other powerful key to bridging our divides lies in prayer.

“If there is someone in your life – maybe it’s a relative that lives in a different place, and you see each other just at holidays, or you interact with each other just on social media. And that person’s politics – or whatever – drive you crazy, I think what I would encourage you to do is, instead of locking horns with that person, and trying to prove you’re right and argue the point, to pray for them. And to pray for them in the way you pray for the people that you like and you love the best. Pray for God’s blessing in their life, for abundance in their work and fruitfulness  – all those kinds of things you would pray for the people you love, and I believe God will change your heart toward that person.”

Brandon O’Brien is the author of Not From Around Here: What Unites Us, What Divides Us, and How We Can Move Forward.

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On the Road with Brandon O'Brien

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