Yesterday I broke my own rules by talking politics on this blog that is supposed to be about our journey to health. I was lamenting the loss of political discourse with manners. (But really, the lack of civility is MAKING ME SICK so I think it’s relevant). I have been repeatedly bewildered by the fact that NO ONE seems comfortable enough to cross the political aisle to build a bridge to compromise. Why do we have to admit that every part of every idea from anyone on the “other side” is a bad idea? I would knit myself a purple cap if just one of our leaders would be brave enough to admit that “the other side” has SOME valid points.
We are missing the opportunity to show our children how live out our values AND play nicely with the other team. And if you are part of a faith community where faith informs your vote one way or another, aren’t we undermining the human value of those on the other side of our ballot when we paint an entire group as evil? I teach my Sunday School children lesson after lesson about Jesus seeking and drawing in the outsider. Whether they were marginalized by illness, religion, occupation, or social status, every encounter with Christ restored their health, well being, and status in the community. He helped them to discover personal value that transcended societal mores. And then I leave these lessons behind with the glue and the glitter, and fall back into my fragmented community. I can’t help but think that God must be grieved by this fragmentation. I have had several verses jump off of the pages of my bible enough lately that I’m beginning to see a theme. I keep reading, over and over, how God is grieved when “trouble is stirred up in the community.” Our leaders are terrified that giving “the other guy” any credit is their political death sentence…because it IS. (Do we have to throw out entire policies because we hate the authors?)
I’m going to do a really fun thing now and share some parts of the best sermon I ever heard. (You must be trembling with excitement.) I was with my mom in my congregation in 2011, and this sermon was so good, she and I used up all of the offertory envelopes in the pew row because we were taking notes. She leaned over to me and said “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard” which is why I can share it here…it’s Janice approved. This message left an indelible mark on my heart, changed my worldview, and challenged my theology to such a degree that I’ve asked John for permission to share it several times. And because he is awesome, I’m republishing parts of it below.
Our church was in a series on “The Fruit of the Spirit.” In this particular sermon, John (Herman) was mourning what I was moaning about above…the fact that in our “argument culture” every side is painted as the enemy, and he was encouraging our unique congregation – which was called “PEACE” Lutheran Church – to live into our name and live our faith in a different way. He was referring to a book I’ve quoted before called “The Argument Culture” by Deborah Tannen based on a claim that our society has become a “culture of critique.”
“The argument culture urges us to approach the world—and the people in it—in an adversarial frame of mind. It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done: The best way to discuss an idea is to set up a debate; the best way to cover news is to find spokespeople who express the most extreme, polarized views and present them as ‘both sides’; the best way to settle disputes is litigation that pits one party against the other; the best way to begin an essay is to attack someone; and the best way to show you’re really thinking is to criticize.” (Tanner, 3-4)
John unpacked this by pointing out that “There was probably a day when presidential debates were about issues and substantive dialogue; I just don’t remember back that far.” He challenged us to lay aside our differences and instead work towards one another…because one doesn’t have to negate the other. John said that “Into the midst of this divisive culture, the gospel of Jesus brings an alternate perspective. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,’ or from the apostle Paul, ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’”
He reminded us that “The root meaning of “peace” comes from the Hebrew concept of shalom. Shalom refers to a state of well-being, wholeness and harmony; a connectedness that infuses all of one’s relationships, with God, each other and the world. Both shalom and peace describe a way of living, A way of repairing the world.”
But what really convicted me was the way he landed this plane: He offered 3 concrete steps to further of God’s work of peace: (And for the record, I am still quoting verbatim.)
- “First, practice ambivalence. You could define maturity (emotional, psychological, spiritual) as the ability to hold two truths in tension. The world is not black or white. It is characterized more by ambiguity and complexity. What does ambivalence look like? In political terms, we are not the good guys and they are not the bad guys. We can support our troops and question the wars. We can respect the president and hold him accountable. We can believe in our form of democracy but also open ourselves to the reality as to how our might and power are perceived by the rest of the world. (Robinson, “God Bless America: Be Careful What You Pray For,” 7/4/11) The argument culture tries to seduce us into thinking it’s a black and white world, with two opposing sides to every issue. It’s not. Practice ambivalence. And so further the peace of God.”
- “Secondly, practice crossing the boundary. (As the Samaritan did, in Jesus’ parable, ministering to the Jew in the ditch.) Welcome strangers. Embrace those who are different. Refuse to demonize other human beings. Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies. What did he mean? To treat them with the respect and dignity every human being deserves. (Robinson) Practice seeking the common good. What is good about the ideas of the other person? What is good about the other person? How can I be a peacemaker in my own little circle? How can I be a peacemaker in our wider community?”
- “A third way to further God’s work of peace: Practice serving others. There’s a lot of need to go around. Pick up a newspaper any day and you’ll be made more aware of it than you’d like to be. Children who are hungry right here in America. Large populations who do not have access to clean drinking water. Young people whose only experience of family is being a part of a gang. People of color who bear the everyday disgraces of racism. The mentally ill who are left to fend for themselves without medication or treatment. (Robinson) Children, youth and adults who cannot read. Pick a need. Any need. We can’t do them all. We can hardly make a dent in one life, let alone many. But pick one. And allow the light and love of God shine through you.”
“Practice ambivalence. Practice crossing the boundary. Practice serving others. What might the world be like if we practiced that kind of living and loving even in small ways? A better world…A more peaceful world, I think.”
As much as I want to instill in my
children men a legacy of tolerance and reaching out to the marginalized, I know that I don’t want THESE PAST FEW MONTHS to be the lesson they learn from me. I’m not perfect. I will fail by 10 am most days. I will to continue to call my congressman, and advocate for the areas I’m passionate about and the people I want to protect. But I am also going to fight for us – collectively – to do this better.
God Bless You All Good.