Monday, December 12, 2016

Disagreeing in these terrifying times

              I wrote much of this in a newsletter article for my congregation before the election, but I still think it applies so I'm posting it here as well:

               As we approach the new year, tensions within our country are on the rise.  I don’t remember them ever being this high before, but they certainly are now.  People read different news articles, believe very different "truths" and believe absolutely that the other side is reading lies.  We don't see or hear the same things, we don't believe the same things, we don't trust the same sources, and as a result, we cannot possible see eye to eye.  This is becoming more and more true, instead of less.  
For both sides it feels like central issues are at risk right now, core beliefs, core values, and in some ways I feel that we have entered into a truly terrifying time where we no longer listen, no longer hear, but are more and more divided from one another.  How can we be family together if we cannot stand in the same room?  How can we learn to “love our enemies” when we will not listen to them?  How can we work together to help bring the kindom of God to earth “as it is in heaven” when we refuse to work together towards solutions?  And what can we do when we are afraid?
               There is a YouTube personality called “kid president” whom I feel did a really nice summary of the ways we might choose to respond to people with whom we disagree.  For those who are computer savvy and enjoy these videos, I would encourage you to check this out.  He is funny, sweet and right on target:  For those who’d rather not watch a video, I will share a few of his awesome points about how to disagree, mixed with thoughts of my own. 
              We have to start by remembering that the other person with whom we are talking is another person.  They are not a punching bag.  They are not an ant (though, frankly, it wouldn't hurt us to try to be respectful of all God's creation, including the ants).  They are a person.  Or to put it in Christian terms, we are called to remember that the other is also a child of God.  They are our brother or sister.  Therefore we are called in all times and in all ways to treat the other as that child of God, a reflection of God, a living, breathing soul who has been given life by none other than our good Creator.  Even when the other is horrible to us, we are called to love them.  You know the scriptures.  From Matthew 5: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” And “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
               We have to treat each other with love and kindness.  This is not optional here, especially for those who claim to follow Jesus.  Fighting hate with hate is not an option, being violent is not an option, fighting the darkness with darkness (to use MLK's phrase) is not an option for those who follow Christ.  That means, though, that we have to spend time getting to know the brother or sister that we see as an enemy.  It isn't an "out there" idea.  It certainly isn't a theoretical philosophy.  It is our call.  We are to love the other. That has to start by getting to know the other.  And getting to know the other begins with listening.
         That means refraining from yelling or attacking or shutting someone else up.  It starts with simply listening.  Closing our mouths, opening our ears, and working with every breath in you to HEAR.
           Kid President says the next step is to “pause, breathe, love”.  Another way to say this is take a moment, remember again that the other is a person, love them as God has called us to love one another, breathe in the Spirit, the Ruach, which is the Spirit of God, the spirit of peace.  Do all of this before you respond.  And when you respond, don’t be MEAN.  That means no name calling, no insulting.  Just state your difference of opinion and why.  Saying things like “well, that’s just stupid” does not further communication, understanding or peace.  Saying things like, “what a ridiculous thought!” again does not further love.  That is what we are about, furthering love.  To quote Kid President, “nobody wins when all you want to do is win.” 
               I would encourage all of us to listen more and to strive more for kindness.  Those random acts of kindness make a huge difference in the world. When someone yells at you from their car, it can ruin your day. When someone takes the time to help you, it can make your whole day brighter.  When we are doing better, we treat others better. We pass that along. Meanness, hatred, anger, fear – these things cannot be allowed to rule us in the big things or in the small things.  And that means we have to start by showing that kindness, love and caring to each other in the small matters as well as in the big.  Especially now during this season of such high tension, fear, anger and hatred, we are called to show a better way.  “They will know we are Christians by our love”.  Well, let’s be part of proving that.  Let us love one another.  That's it. Not easy.  But simple and clear.