We have become a people divided: By opinion, politics, theology, preferences, lifestyle choices and any number of other issues. Those divisions alienate people from one another, create tribes that harbor animosity toward other tribes and prevent honest conversation that might just help us understand one another - even with our differences. What we lack are safe spaces for honest conversation.
Thus the umbrella principle. If you have a table with an umbrella in your back yard or deck, what happens when you raise the umbrella? What was before an impersonal space becomes a personal space for those sitting together underneath that umbrella, creating a more intimate and safe place for conversation. If you doubt me, try a conversation with friends with the umbrella down and then with it up. When you raise the umbrella you create a different environment.
Those of you who enjoy an occasional cigar will understand me when I say that you cannot easily get into a fight in a cigar lounge. It always amazes me that such different people become such close friends when communing together over a cigar. Differences seem to disappear as honest conversation takes place in a safe place that encourages rather than discourages friendship. And in the context of friendship, differences of opinion can be honestly discussed.
In every setting whether it be business, church, among neighbors and even family we ought to be looking for and creating safe places where understanding and friendship can be come more important than our differences - whatever they might be. And who knows, we might even learn something.
In the absence of friendship, differences divide. In the context of friendship, differences create opportunities to challenge one another in a healthy way.