[Note: To get this blog site up and running, I am reposting a few of my Facebook posts from recent months. This is one of them. It was first posted to Facebook on the date listed, though these first few posts to Neighborfy are being uploaded in June 2017. I’ve made minor edits to some of the Neighborfy versions. Because these posts were originally posted to Facebook, unfortunately the original comments from readers are not copied here.]
A Positive Thought for Your Day
We all hate to hear those words — “see, I told you so.” Usually they are used like a weapon to scold someone else. But there are rare opportunities to use those words as encouragement. This is one of those opportunities. Here goes…
By now my friends know I’m annoyingly committed to the notion that we, as friends (and as members of communities we value) must do better at talking about important matters, even public policy issues (gasp). I shouldn’t have to convince anyone that such discussions can be uncomfortable. Most of us have experienced or witnessed politically charged discussions that have hurt relationships. I’m urging you to believe that it doesn’t have to be that way. Honest, searching dialog can actually be relationship-building.
I can prove it.
Earlier this week I tried to remind folks that leaders whom they respect sometimes reach different conclusions about the policies we support as citizens. The reminder was meant for all of us (regardless of where you find yourself on the political spectrum, whether you’re left-leaning, right-leaning, or somewhere else). As my example, I pointed out an advertisement in the Washington Post that numerous conservative-to-moderate religious leaders had signed, stating their concerns about some of President Trump’s policies. Because many of my right-leaning friends acknowledge that those well-known pastors/authors/theologians are good, thoughtful, faithful people (at least I assumed they acknowledge that fact), I encouraged us to realize that one can’t paint everyone on the right (including Christian people on the right) with one broad brush. To my friends on the right, whom I value, I urged you to see that some of the people you have considered models of Christian faith have, at least in this instance, agreed with some of us on the left.
My hope was that you might realize that some of us on the left are really trying to apply our faith to practical things, and that we have merely disagreed with you on some issues. If you can get on board with that idea, it’s a starting place for more conversation between people like you and people like me. TO MY FRIENDS ON THE LEFT, the Washington Post ad should also have been a reminder to you that our right-leaning friends (including our Christian brothers and sisters who find themselves leaning right) likewise have varied opinions on issues of the day. If you left-leaning friends can get on board with that idea, it’s a starting place for more conversations between people like you and people on the right with whom you disagree. In short, neither left or right has license to paint the other side of the political aisle with careless broad brush strokes.
Here’s the story: On the morning after I posted that “blog post,” an old friend of mine (with whom I had recently sparred via texts on some issues), wrote me and asked “You don’t mean me, do you?” He was a little worried that I considered him to be on of the folks I was criticizing (folks who generalize the “other side” too much). I called him. We talked about the current political issues that occupy us (we agree sometimes, disagree sometimes). We talked about our mutual Christian faith. We talked about how that faith leads us to the particular ways we participate in the public debates. We talked about the things we agree on and about the issues where we disagree. Importantly, we talked about how important it is for good friends, like he and I are, to keep front-of-mind our shared conviction that we’re brothers. We agreed that we should show folks by our example that it is fruitful to talk with each other about important things.
Here’s the punchline: We were already friends. We ended our discussion being better friends. And I know that our conversation helped us both learn something about the way other Christians are processing tough issues in the current political sphere. That will prepare both of us to be more sensitive to our neighbors, to be more empathetic, and to be more gracious.
Simply put, conversation like that is relationship-building, relationship-strengthening, and God-honoring.
This morning I attended a portion of the Confirmation Retreat at Floris UMC in Herndon, Virginia. My 8th-grade daughter, Claire, is starting the confirmation process, and I’m one of the adult volunteers. During one of the presentations, the minister was talking to the teens about the Spirit of God, and she asked the adults to share a story about a time in their lives when they had experienced the presence and activity of the Spirit. A few adults shared their beautiful stories, so I didn’t feel the need to pile on, but I was thinking about the story I could easily have shared: I was thinking about that conversation with my friend – that moment when the Spirit in me recognized the Spirit in him. I believe (I hope, at least) my friend felt the same way.
My point today is an easy one: When we avoid wrestling TOGETHER through matters that faithful people ought to care about (maybe because we think avoiding the discussion will preserve relationships), we might be missing opportunities to grow, to build, and to demonstrate our care and respect for our discussion partners. Let me say it one more time: Sincere, respectful, gracious, charitable, loving conversations with our fellow travelers – ESPECIALLY when we challenge each other with our faithful-and-honest disagreements – really can be relationship-building, really can strengthen and deepen friendships, and really are a faithful way that we can honor God by lending an ear and sharing a faithful witness with our friends and soon-to-be-friends.
That’s exactly what happened between my old friend and me this week. Living proof.
See, I told you so.
[***P.S. Some of you contrarians (love you, too) will object that my story is merely anecdotal, for which you have numerous counter-examples. Well, I’ve seen the counter-examples, too. But when I think back through years and years of these discussions (like the one I described above), I can’t say I ever recall one when the Spirit failed to show up. All I can do is bear witness to a lot of experiences like that. Maybe some of you will share the witness of your similar experiences with the rest of us?]
[***And one more thing: When I invite my friends to “get on board” with the ideas I describe above, it might seem like I’m being guilty of the very thing I’m criticizing — i.e., that I’m painting with over-broad brush strokes by assuming that everyone on one side or the other side of the political aisle isn’t “on board.” (For example, it might seem like I’m saying that conservatives, in general, are in disagreement with me about these principles.) Just to be abundantly clear, I’m not saying that at all. I know that many of you are already devoted to living these very ideals. I know, and I appreciate you, but in this post I’m also not speaking to you. I’m inviting those friends of mine who aren’t already on board. If you’re already there with me, then I’m inviting them to join us. Will you help me recruit others to the cause?]