A Great Divide: Challenge or Impasse?

There is a lot of arguing going on lately. We feel deeply and find offense quickly. The thing is, most of us know which side of an argument we will stand pretty early on, and that rarely changes no matter what evidence we hear. And yet we keep trying to convince others to join our side, our cause, our “right side of history”. Instead of seeing change, all we seem to do is stoke the fires of our own side and further the divide from those who disagree.

I have little tolerance for an impasse. I don’t mean a challenge; I love a challenge. A challenge is when the road from where one is to where one wants to be is difficult, or is non existent and needs to be built. An impasse is when every inch of progress is countered with destruction. It takes time to determine whether one is experiencing a challenge or an impasse. But eventually that impasse becomes clear. Most successful individuals will tell you that learning to recognize failure is essential to success. Remaining in the impasse is guaranteed to be continued failure. Most of us, with our views and convictions, remain at an impasse.

As I read and watch the latest divide, the #TakeAKnee/NFL/National Anthem controversy, I find myself tired. Not of the issues I believe in, but in the engagement with others over those issues. I am tired of trying to find meaningful dialogue. I am tired of the nasty dismissals of differing thoughts and ideas. I am tired of everyone talking and no one listening. I am tired of the ignorance, the lack of respect and love, the self-preservation. I am tired of being those things and I am tired of encountering those things. I am tired of the divide that seems to deepen and widen in this country.

This morning I took my coffee to my back porch. It is a beautiful fall morning, significantly different from yesterday’s nearly 90 degrees and very humid weather. The birds sang and the sound of leaves from the breeze blowing soothed my tired soul. How does one move from impasse to progress? As I sipped my coffee, I began to think about how my mind has been changed over the years. It wasn’t solid arguments or clever soundbites that I thought of. It was some of the people I have gotten to know and their stories I have heard. That is what has changed my mind, my opinions, my beliefs time and time again.

I thought of Dana, my friend with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Through her journey, I have learned how little has been spent on stage 4 research. We celebrate the progress we have made with treating breast cancer. But there is significant and serious work we aren’t doing enough of. The progress we have made has been largely in the shallow end of the pool, so to speak. We have much work to do in the deep end of the pool and can’t claim victory until we navigate those deeper waters. Those with MBC are dying in the deep end. The pink ribbon campaign isn’t venturing out there enough yet gets most of our attention and funding. I now give differently because of Dana.

I thought of my friend Terry. As he shared the story of teaching his son to drive, which included how to safely be pulled over by the police (my friend is black), a bubble that I was living in burst. I had recently taught my son to drive and never once did I worry for his safety if pulled over by the police. Terry was one of the kindest men I knew. If he experienced injustice because of the color of his skin (and he did often) then I knew the world wasn’t quite as evolved as I thought it had become. I now see my privilege because of Terry.

I thought of John, a pastor and friend I knew years ago. When he told me he was gay, I expressed love for him and gently reiterated my position that I didn’t agree with his “lifestyle”. I didn’t hesitate in wanting to continue my friendship with him. And I felt it was my responsibility to be clear about where I stood on the issue of homosexuality. A few weeks later I received a letter from him. In it he said, “Do you think a moment goes by that I am not aware of what most Christians think of my being gay?” Navigating different convictions is difficult. Making someone feel loved shouldn’t be. What we do with our convictions is as important as the convictions themselves. I now see my self-righteousness because of John.

I thought of Kim, Jocelyn and Angie, women I went to seminary with who are lesbians. They are serious about their Christian faith. They challenged my views of homosexuality simply by living out their faith meaningfully. I had been taught homosexuality was a sin. These women (and many more friends since) taught me that their being gay is as much a part of who they are as being christians. And I wouldn’t want them to be anything other than who they are. I now see my ignorance because of Kim, Jocelyn and Angie.

I could go on. So many examples of people I got to know who by their being who they are challenged my ideas and perceptions. This is how we move from the impasse. We get to know people who are different from ourselves. If I have made any kind of impact in this world, it hasn’t been through my blog or Facebook status update or Instagram photo. Hashtags don’t change lives. If I have had the ability to make any kind of difference, it is because I am a better person having learned what I have learned along the way and am interacting meaningfully with others who differ from me.

I love to engage in conversations with diverse opinions being expressed. The point in doing so isn’t to convince others to see things my way. My hope is that each of us participating leave that conversation having taught something and having learned something, not with that as an agenda but with that as the outcome. But that is a choice we must make. And that is how we bridge the divide. When was the last time you learned something that surprised you? When was the last time a conviction changed, even slightly? These questions will help to determine whether you are up for the challenge these days require, or are part of the impasse that is getting us nowhere.

 

Why I Will March

I am not much of a fan for large gatherings. I do not trust the mob mentality. I hate porta-potties. I don’t like shouting or long periods of standing. I don’t own a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt or a pussy hat. I don’t like abortion. I have voted conservatively far more often than not. I consider myself a serious Christian in that I take my faith seriously, apply it to my life vigorously, and have devoted my life’s work to advancing faith holistically. I am a heterosexual, middle class, white woman. And on Saturday, I will go to Washington DC along with many others to march in the Women’s March on Washington while men and women all over the world will march too, in solidarity of one another, for one another.

I march because I believe in the dignity of all people. I march because I stand for the voices that are ignored, silenced, and trampled upon. I march because kindness matters. I march because my Christian faith compels me to. I march because I do not believe we should legislate a morality that conveniently fits us and ignores the reality others face. I march for my daughter, my son’s girlfriend, my niece, and all the other young women I know. I march for my friends who are gay, people of color, Muslim, transgender, refugees, immigrants.

I want them to know that I stand with them. I want them to know that it is not okay to be objectified. I want them to know that they are not disposable. I want them to know that our country is better with their being part of it and that their voices should be heard. I want them to know that while wealth might hold significant power, it is important to stand up and insist upon the dignity and respect for all because it is an essential part of our being human.

How easily we pick causes to be passionate about yet cost us very little. We hold our convictions with righteous indignation yet we live our lives relatively unchanged. As we point fingers we miss opportunities to listen, to be kind, to love, and to help. But convictions are meant to be transformative of the one who holds them, not accusatory of others. Some of the most passionate people I know are some of the most unloving people I know.

I am not a fan of pulling scripture out of its context and applying it to a current situation. That is lazy work, biblically speaking. But in my studies, there are a few passages that have a transcending quality. One of those is Galatians 5:22-24:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

The description Paul, the author of this passage, gives is not about what a person does, but rather the way in which a person does it. I often use these words as a litmus test as I attempt to live out my convictions of faith. This process is what has helped convict me and transform me, when I have been willing. It is far easier to see another as the problem though, isn’t it?

I will march because I want us to do better in being respectful, kind, loving, accepting, and attentive. This is my way of contributing to that work. I expect God to be there and at work as well, in me and through that experience.

The Paradox of Unity and Justice

Last week, I posted “Trump or Love” believing that you cannot choose both.  I made the case that Trump’s rhetoric counters love. Jesus was for the poor, the marginalized, the weak and the oppressed. None of those descriptors fit Trump or the majority of his supporters. And it is often the marginalized, the weak, the outsider who is painted by Trump to be the enemy.

Last night, I was challenged to seek unity by avoiding what is divisive. It was a challenge for me because I have felt strongly of the need to speak out against Trump. Each divisive statement he has made that preys on the fears of Republicans at the expense of minority groups has increased my resolve to be clear about how dangerous Trump is. I know my opinions have made people uncomfortable as evidenced by the conversations and cold shoulders I have experienced as a result. Am I working against unity by speaking out for justice? This is the question that weighs heavily upon me now.

I am highly unhappy with politics in general. I think politics has gone the way of religion and education in our country – we are more concerned about protecting the systems we have than educating, inspiring, and empowering those we lead. The systems are antiquated and failing. I have friends and family who are wonderful teachers and pastors, but they operate in these systems that more often hold them back than help them move forward. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter because he was the only candidate asking inspiring and relevant questions. His movement reengaged me and many others across the political spectrum. Even though there was great disagreement on the answers Bernie gave, we engaged the questions as we considered what might be possible and practical for our future.

But here we are, many of us unhappy with the options for November’s presidential election. Is seeking unity in our unhappiness the best choice we’ve got? Or is there another point in which we can connect? How do we unify and seek justice? What if our definitions of justice differ? I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. What we need are people with different perspectives who are willing to respectfully engage the conversation in order to seek the solutions. I have increasingly little patience for one-sided thinking which appears to be more egocentric than helpful.

Maybe unity isn’t about getting along in spite of our differences, but engaging our differences with respect. What surprised me about my post on Trump wasn’t the level of engagement about Trump but a retaliation against Hillary. I don’t blame you. You felt hit by my post so you swung back. It is so hard to stay engaged when we passionately disagree.

I am also thinking about how unity for unity’s sake can be dangerous. Germany was unified as it exterminated millions of Jews. I want to seek ways to unify through respectful dialogue. And where unity impedes justice, I want to speak out. How do I value and practice both?

So many thoughts swirling in my head today…

Trump or Love? You Decide

Remember that good looking guy in high school who seemed to have everything going for him – cool car, star athlete, rich parents – and he also happened to be an asshole? At first, you look past it because he’s sooooooo cool and you really want to be friends. You tell yourself he is just having a bad day. Or maybe he’s got a lot on his mind. But after awhile you don’t care how cool he seems, you know he’s a jerk because he keeps acting like one. And yet he always manages to have his pick of girlfriends, a group of followers who loyally put up with his behavior, and adults who seem to be living vicariously through him. That’s what I’ve been continually reminded of with Trump’s presidential candidacy.

Trump seems to have the goods that have made a whole lot of people envious and willing to set aside convictions of faith and common sense. Too many of us seem to be that girlfriend of the jerk who thinks, “I know it’ll be different with me.” We are jumping in the sack with Trump, hoping that he will deliver all what he promised: love and respect. Or maybe it’s wealth and power.

I have friends who seem to live with a lot of fear lately. These friends are white, Christian, middle class, and working. I’m not quite sure WHAT they’re afraid of, but they are. In the past, I have seen Christians jump on plenty of bandwagons. But seeing them jump on one being driven by a bigoted, racist, sexist narcissist who owns a strip club defies explanation. The only conclusion I can make is that Christianity has moved very far away from the person of Jesus.

Jesus talked a lot about love. Love God, he said. And love your neighbor too. And later following the gospels in this little book called 1 John, the writer says this: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… We love because God first loved us.” Trump fosters fear. Trump counters love. Trump is dangerous. Not only do I worry for the people he will target and exploit, I fear that he will do significant damage because of his lack of diplomacy and sound judgment. He has proven throughout his career that he will do whatever he wants for his gain at the expense of others. This is not simply an ideological difference. Trump is unfit to serve as president.

I can only hope Trump’s numbers continue to decline, and before long he’ll be like that fading high school star who still wears his old football jersey even though it is two sizes too small, while everyone else has moved on and built a life beyond high school. God help us if we don’t leave Trump behind.