A Way Forward

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Michael Browning, unsplash.com

We are a divided United States. The tone and rhetoric of the presidential campaigns was as divisive as I can personally remember. The hyperbole and fear-mongering turned all the way up to 11. It felt as if we were becoming more polarized with each passing day.

And then the election happened. The person who was elected president was not the person with the most votes. That is our system and, like it or not, that is where we are today. Over half of those who voted are angry and/or disappointed. While a large percentage of us celebrate, another large percentage of us grieve. People are protesting, friendships and families are being pulled apart, and the ugliness continues.

Our exit polls tell us that our country continues to be divided by race. We are split on what issues matter most to us and the best ways to handle them. We are divided on our outlook and by our religions. We are divided by urban and rural population groups.

To be clear, we have been divided in the past. We once enslaved people. We once had a sitting vice president kill a political enemy in duel. We once fought a war between states. We once had separate drinking fountains for people based on skin color. Division isn’t new to the US of A, but it’s not good for her either.

Will we ever unite again? Are we doomed to polarize until something breaks? Is this the new normal? I believe there is a way forward.

Simply put, we need each other. We need our varying opinions; we need our vast array of experiences. Our differences do not have to separate us. They don’t have to alienate us. We do not want uniformity, but we do need harmony.

Harmony allows us to sing distinct notes or play unique parts while working toward the same goals. Harmony allows our differences to combine for something bigger and more beautiful. Harmony will lead to us unity.

This was the vision of our founding fathers. They set up our nation so that we could find room to disagree while still having protections and a say in the process. They wanted everyone to have freedom and a voice. John Adams said, “When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power, we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” Actual American patriotism is rooted in diversity.

Unifying despite our diversity will be neither quick nor easy. If we are to harmonize it will take hard work, patient determination, and calm resilience. It may eventually take acts of Congress or grassroots organization, but we can start today with the small things.

The way forward I would like to propose is the way of the kitchen and dining room table. If our country is ever going to be big enough for all of us, a good first step will be to make sure our tables are big enough for all of us as well.

When we pull up a chair at our table we communicate that a person has value. When our lives intersect with one another, we find that along with our differences we carry things in common. When we share the same experiences, we see our shared humanity. When we sit and talk with people who are not exactly like us, we learn and we grow and we are better for it.

If you don’t know why a person could possibly support Donald Trump, have dinner with someone who did. If you can’t fathom why a person might vote for Hillary Clinton, ask someone who did to go for coffee with you. Don’t try and change their mind or show them how wrong they were. Listen to them. Right or wrong their opinion is just as valuable as yours.

Invite a person of a different race into your home. Ask them their story. Ask them what they feel is unique to their experience.

Instead of mocking people for wanting a safe space, create one for them in your home or office and hear them out. Maybe you’ll both be better for it.

Instead of characterizing anyone who doesn’t agree with you with the worst labels you can come up with, ask them how they came to their conclusions. Maybe you have the wrong idea about them. Maybe they have the wrong idea about you. Maybe you are both partially wrong.

Find someone who has immigrated to our country. Talk to them about why they came and what the American dream means to them. Ask them what things they like or don’t like about our immigration policies.

If a person is responding to this election by saying they are afraid, ask them to help you understand where their fear comes from. To dismiss pain and fear is to dismiss people. That is not the way forward.

Instead of sharing sound bites and memes, share apple pies and book recommendations.

If you don’t understand the things that concern a 20 year old, get to know a 20 year old. If you can’t comprehend how a 64 year old might feel about the direction of our country, go talk with them.

Find people who disagree with you on something divisive, then find what you have most in common and celebrate it. We might disagree on the best way to do healthcare but maybe we can agree to love our local sports team. Let’s make finger foods and paint our faces and unite around that.

When is the last time you sat and talked with a person who practiced a different religion or no religion? Are you even sure what other faiths believe or don’t believe? Spend time together.

If you can’t think of anyone you know or anyone you love who believes differently than you do, that is a major part of our problem. We’ve isolated ourselves from our neighbors and fellow citizens which makes it easy to assume we are always right and demonize anyone who thinks otherwise.

Some say fences make great neighbors. I say fences make poor tables. Let’s tear down what separates us and use the wood to build a bigger table with room for everyone, even those we do not yet understand or appreciate or agree with. This is a first step toward a united nation. This is a first step in overcoming the worst parts of us. 

Unity won’t mean that we all agree. It won’t mean that suddenly my convictions will change. Realistically it won’t solve all our issues. It will, however, mean that I can’t dismiss you immediately. It will mean I am more likely to hear what you have say. It will mean that I can’t label you my enemy because you believe differently.

It is a lot harder to hate a person for their beliefs when you love them for who they are. If we value each other as part of a common community we will work to find a way to bridge the divides between us. We will compromise where we can, agree to disagree when we must, and be united by our shared care and concern for one another.

Let’s start here. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s sit and talk. Let’s listen.

The way forward is around a table, sharing a meal and a laugh. The way forward is watching as our kids play together in the front yard. The way forward is working shoulder to shoulder to make our communities a better place. The way forward is in being teachable. The way forward is you and I and us and them, doing life together, loving each other from the start, and putting in the hard work to make sure we are doing right by each other.

From city to farm. From Christian to Muslim to Hindu to atheist. From white to brown to black. From rich to poor. From gay to straight. From Trump Train to those With Her. From sea to shining sea. You are welcome at my table. Let’s move forward, together.

To My Non-Christian Friends This Election Season

To My Non-Christian Friends, dearfriends_black

This election season has been something else, huh? (Here is a video of puppies if you need something to cheer you up.) Take heart, it is almost over. We have at least until February before people start openly campaigning for 2020.

In the meantime, I’d like to say something to you. Specifically, I’d like to say sorry. I think you have seen us Christians at our worst lately and for that I apologize.

I’m sorry that you’ve seen so much fighting between us. We can be brutal to each other and we call ourselves family. We fire missiles from all sides of the aisle and don’t worry too much about collateral damage. It probably isn’t very inviting when we behave this way. I’m sorry if you are less likely to want to be around us after all this.

I’m sorry that you’ve probably gotten into a debate or two with one of us. I’m sorry that we don’t often fight very graciously. I’m sorry that we stoop to things like name calling and rapid dismissal.

I regret that we often want to be heard, rather than hear. That isn’t very kind of us.

I’m sorry if you were unfriended because of your political views. I’m sorry we value our opinions more than your friendship. I’m sorry that we let partisanship get in the way of relationship. There are things we will all never agree on, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing meals and photos of our kids and life in general.

I’m sorry that you see us defending things that are indefensible. Things Jesus would oppose. Things we have routinely and loudly condemned. I’m sorry that we hold a double standard so that we can excuse our candidates and condemn someone else’s. That’s not consistent and its certainly not Christlike.

I’m sorry for all the false memes and bunk articles we have posted. We don’t think very highly of lying, but we are at times in such a rush to be right we fail to check our information. That isn’t very good of us.

I’m sorry if we have led you to believe that a person’s eternal destiny hinges on how they vote. We don’t actually believe that, though we sometimes act and preach like it. Sometimes we (rightly or wrongly) put a lot of hope and energy into these things, but if you give us a time to catch our breath we will remember it is grace, not ballots, that save us.

We sing a song that says our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. I’m sorry we haven’t acted that way lately. While we want to have a say in government, ultimately our hope is not in presidents and senators and legislation.

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by the way we talk about the candidates and their supporters. Regardless of politics you and they are loved and cherished by God. We’ve failed to reflect that too often. That grieves me.

I apologize that regardless of which side we are on, we are often unable to understand where you are coming from. I’m sorry if we talk down to you or figure you couldn’t possibly know or have hurt you with our assumptions.

I know it is probably hard to see through all the nonsense, but Jesus is better than we represent. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but I’m absolutely positive of that. I’m sorry if we have failed him and you this election season.

If we are honest we are just regular ole humans. We mess up, we don’t always do what we want. We can be too passionate, we can be misguided, we can be flat wrong. Please don’t hold that against Jesus.

I can’t speak for all of us, but I can speak for me. I would trade in all this election stuff if it meant people would be more likely to consider following Jesus. His ways are better. We have a saying that goes like this, “His grace is sufficient.” The grace of God is sufficient to cover our weakness and our mistakes. We greatly depend on that.

Now I’m asking for grace from you. Please forgive us for our actions and attitudes, our words and our compliance. Please forgive us for pointing you toward a political party more than Jesus. Please forgive us when we cross the line, wound others, or look no different than any other person you know.

We are supposed to do better than that. We have been wrong. Maybe not all of us, but some of us, including me. And I’m sorry.

What Kaepernick, Immigrants, Republicans, and You Have In Common

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source: generationnblog.wordpress.com

There have been several stories in the news over the past few days that have bothered me:

I have this question: What is wrong with us? How has this become the way we respond to people who are different? It isn’t that we are just so passionate or a little too polarized. These things speak to a lack of decency and a seemingly increasing inability to see value in other people. This is not okay and we need to reconsider some things to bring it a stop.

So let’s start with the basics.

What do Colin Kaepernick, Republican campaign workers, and Somalian refugees have in common? They are human beings. Just like the people who responded to them in evil ways.

And being a human means a few things. It means they are someone’s son or daughter. They could be someone’s mother or father, aunt or uncle, brother or sister, grandfather or friend. They are loved by people. They matter to somebody. They are connected to others.

Being human means they have hopes and dreams and fears. They have plans for their kids. Their dogs are counting on them to be home in time to let them outside. They have projects around the house that need attention. They hate when their cereal gets soggy. They have seasonal allergies. They are real people.

We have to remember that everyone is a person first. It seems simple, but it’s not.  They are a person before they are a statistic, before they are a candidate, before they are a Christian or a Muslim, before they are “all that is wrong with America today.” They are flesh and blood, heart and soul, people.

They may make you irate, they may do things you consider immoral, they may vote from opposite worldviews, and they may be different than you in every way, but they are people. Which means you have something in common with them. If we can start with our common humanity, perhaps we can begin to move toward something better than hate and division.

In the book To Kill a Mockingbird Scout quips, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Her brother dismisses her as young and naïve, but I think she is on to something.

There are a lot of ways I may be different from another person. Religion, politics, economics, culture. Some of those differences are things I am not able to set aside. I can’t or won’t change who I am in a lot of ways. For instance, I will never be a New York Yankees fan. This is unthinkable. I have principles. But it doesn’t mean that I have to reject the humanity of those who support that team. They are folks just like me.

Despite our differences, we share something first. And it’s not just that we share tangible things like skin and bones, but there is something deeper that connects us all and informs the way we should treat one another.

The Scriptures say that people are made in the image of God. All people. Not just a select few, not just the ones with the right beliefs. All of them. It extends to all political parties and sports fans and nationalities. It crosses religious divides and language barriers and class systems. If you are human, you bear the image of God.

So I can’t hate you. We have too much in common. We are image bearers. We are people. All of us. And people are meant to be loved.

For me and my tribe, the followers of Jesus, this is not optional. Not one bit. Even if we are confident that protesters and party leaders and immigrants are the enemy, Jesus says to love them anyway. In fact, the more we are convinced they are the enemy, the more our love toward them should grow. That is the way of Jesus.

I believe the more we look at our story, the more we see all the things we share universally. For all have sinned. For God so loved the whole world. Good news of great joy for all people. There is plenty here for us to build on.

So let us start with what we have in common. Let’s start with the fact that we are people. We are all folks. Even when we are different, even when we disagree, even when we are confident we are in the right.

We have got to do better. We have to refuse to be part of the continued dehumanization of “the other.” We cannot allow our world to be a place where people are hated or dismissed or hurt because they vote differently or worship differently or think differently or have a different skin color. We have far too much in common for that to continue.

You and I must remember our shared humanity with the people on the news and the people across town and the people around the world. We share something with the person who is driving much.too.slowly when you are in a hurry. With the waiter who is neglecting your long empty sweet tea. We share some things in common with the annoying guy at work. With refugees and Democrats and The Donald. With the people we don’t understand. With our neighbors.

They are human. Just like you. They aren’t perfect. Just like you. They have experiences and stories. They have hopes and fears. Just like you. They aggravate someone. Just like you. They are made in the image of God. Jesus died for them. They are meant to be loved. Just like you.

Let’s start there and see if we can’t make this world a better place for everyone. Let’s set aside as much “us and them” language as we can and stick to the things that make us “us.” Let’s see the shared humanity in everyone we meet.

Church, We Have No Dog In This Fight

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One of the worst aspects of an election is that it pits people against each other. We start noticing who is with us and who is against. We draw lines and form ranks. Its us versus them.

As we line up to choose sides the candidates lay out their battle plans. Pro-this and anti-that. We (hopefully) weigh the pros and cons and we chose our side.

We select our candidate. We stand united. We rally behind them. We argue as to why they are the most suited to hold office. We applaud their good nature. We justify their bad behavior. And we stand at the ready to defend and fight for their rightful place. This is our normal.

The question I have been wondering this election cycle is, why do we, the church, feel the need to pick a candidate? Why do we feel like we have to take a side? And perhaps most soul searching, why do we feel like we have to baptize our candidate of choice and line them up with our religious beliefs?

This is a concept foreign to many Christians in the world today and for most of church history. Things like democratic elections are still rare when you consider the breadth of human experience and existence. Yet here we are lining up, doing battle, anointing our candidates.

What if we decided we don’t have a dog in the fight? What if we said, you know what, these candidates are so flawed, so disingenuous, so other-kingdom focused, that we’re not even going to bother taking sides?

I believe this is what the early church would do. As the church was being born, first making its way across foreign lands, the Roman Empire held much of the known world and would soon experience great politic unrest. They didn’t hold elections and they didn’t care too much about what the church thought, but I think there is a lesson here for us.

If you would please allow me a moment for a brief history. Just a few decades after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Roman emperor Nero had become so unpopular that the empire turned against him. In response he took his own life, leaving a vacancy for the throne.

In the year that followed, four different men would hold the title Emperor of Rome. Galba would be the first and hold office for seven months. He withheld payment from his soldiers and they in turn killed him, backing the authority of a man named Otho. Otho would take the throne only to learn that yet another man was marching on Rome. This man, Vitellius, would conquer Otho’s forces and be recognized as the legitimate ruler of the empire. That is, until Vespasian arrived from the Middle East and dispatched Vitellius and his sympathizers, and took the throne for himself.

Talk about a crazy twelve months. It makes 2016 look fairly tame in comparison.

The reason I tell you this story is because I doubt the early church, our foremothers and fathers, put much stock in which emperor they supported. I’m guessing they didn’t pass out voter’s guides at the weekly gathering or put signs out in their yards. I am fairly certain they weren’t overly concerned with which one was going to raise or lower taxes and which one had a better economic policy or even which one was more pro-life.

I am positive they weren’t looking to see which candidate would more closely line up with their Christian values. They would have never tried to force one of them to fit their worldview in order to justify their support. I don’t imagine them saying, “Well if you don’t like Vespasian you must be pro-Galba.”

They likely would not have chosen a side. They had no dog in the fight. No horse in the race. Whoever sat in the Roman equivalent to the Oval Office made little difference to the church. I can hear them saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The church didn’t pick sides because no matter who is emperor, Jesus is Lord. They didn’t pick sides because the options laid out before them were unsatisfactory. They didn’t pick sides because the laws the Romans passed had very little to do with how they were called to live. They didn’t pick sides because God already sat on the only throne that mattered.

There is the Kingdom of God and there is the empire of Rome. They are two different realities. The church firmly established that they were Kingdom people. “Strangers in the world,” one writer would say.

Kingdom people have too much to do to worry about who is going to be the next Caesar. In the Roman world when babies were abandoned to die, the church brought them in and built orphanages. In the Roman world when health was fleeting and disease was rampant, the church brought them in and built hospitals and administered healthcare. It was the church who brought in strangers and foreigners and took care of the poor and widows. It was the church who stood against a world full of racism and sexism and classism and slavery. And they did it without petitions or lobbyists or super pacs.

The early church didn’t look for the government to legislate morality or justifiably use tax money. They didn’t look to the government for tax breaks or religious liberty. They looked to Jesus and tried to live faithfully.

Galba. Otho. Vitellius. Vespasian. Why pick a side? We are pledged to Christ.

Church, I truly believe in this election (and probably most elections) we don’t have a dog in the fight. I don’t think it is worth choosing sides. We have the two least liked candidates in our nation’s history and we keep saying you can or can’t be a certain kind of person if you don’t pick the right one.

To be so emotionally invested in picking the next Caesar is a waste of energy. To put our hope in whichever one we think will protect our freedoms the most is dangerously shortsighted. Emperor-to-be Otho promised the world to his soldiers, they put him in power, and then he withheld everything he promised and was forced out three months later. Don’t sell yourself to the highest bidder.

You don’t have to do all the lining up behind your choice. You don’t have to become their champion. You don’t have to justify their every move or attempt to get their world and your world to line up perfectly. Spoiler alert: they don’t fit. You don’t have to compromise your fundamental beliefs in order to pick one of the people desperate for power.

If you objectively study the candidates (and not just the top two) and can vote for one, okay. It is also a completely Christian response to say I can’t choose between these people battling for the throne. It isn’t a waste, it isn’t a vote for the other side, it is a matter of principle.

We are Kingdom people first. Our fight is a different fight. Our Kingdom doesn’t require borders or laws or military or taxes or presidents or elections. We have already made our choice. Caesar can have the throne, the land, the money, the power. None of that matters. Caesars come and go. Presidents come and go. Nations come and go. But the Kingdom of God endures forever.

So don’t worry. Don’t fret. Don’t feel like you have to pick between the lesser of two evils. Pick Jesus. Live faithfully. Love people.

If you feel you must make a choice and just have to put out a yard sign or bumper sticker, go with one that says, “I’m with Jesus.”

The Promiscuous Church & Her Part-Time Lovers

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Source: Pixabay

The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of a man named Hosea. This religious leader and prophet is instructed by God to marry a promiscuous woman named Gomer (sounds wonderful, right?). Their marriage will demonstrate to the people of Israel how they have forsaken God by turning to the gods of their neighbors.

The neighbors’ gods were promising a host of wonderful things. A bountiful crop, fertility for families and livestock. They offered health and wealth and security. They promised to vanquish their enemies. And the Israelites bought it hook, line, and sinker.

They worshiped these other gods. They looked to them with hope and expectation. They gave them their time and treasure and affection. Perhaps they even put bumper stickers on their donkeys and filled social media with how these gods were going to save the day.

I’m sure many people thought all of this was simply in addition to the worship of their God. I’m guessing some figured God was using these other gods to accomplish his will for the people. Many probably thought they could remain faithful to God, while using these other gods to meet their needs.

But they couldn’t. They cheated on God. And Gomer’s continued infidelity was an illustration of the way the people had traded in the faithful love of God for the groping arms of part-time lovers.

There is a lesson here for the modern Church. 

Certainly the gods look a little different these days, but they still promise the same benefits: comfort and luxury and security and all the things we dream of late at night. Our politics and culture and lifestyles are just another group of suitors clamoring for our affection.

They invite us to give ourselves to them in exchange for some lofty promise. We are convinced they will make us happy or feel important or keep us well fed. We slide under the sheets with political parties and cultural fads and materialism thinking that this time we will finally find all the things we are looking for.

There may have been times when we felt guilty about our little forays, but lately we justify it, baptize it in religious language, and even convince ourselves this is God’s will for us. We join the Israelites in assuming all of our potential lovers are legitimate. We think we can still be faithful to God in the midst of it all.

But we can’t. And just like Gomer we have become harlots. We sell ourselves to whoever will promise us the most. We forsake our vows and our values for the chance at something enticing: a record-setting crop, the promise of security, heaps of privilege and power. We prostitute ourselves to whoever and whatever can make us feel prettiest or safest or shower us with the most presents.

But in the morning when the lights are turned on the Church finds herself in bed with a multitude of strangers who are not all that interested in her. When the elections are over or when things start to get a little tense or when someone else a little more appealing comes along, we find that we have not been loved in the slightest.

Those who intoxicated us with their charm and flashy smile have abandoned us. They weren’t faithful and never planned to be. They lied, promising far more then they could ever deliver. They used the Church for their own pleasure and gain.

So we are left unloved and broken. Those we hoped were lovers turn out to only be consumers. What we had hoped would satisfy has done nothing but leave us starved. What we hoped would make us feel whole has instead wounded deeply. And our reputation has been sullied in the process.

In the story of Hosea, the two-timing Gomer eventually finds herself living with another man. Sadly she has become his possession, not his beloved. She is exploited, not adored. How often is this our story?

Hosea, her rightful husband, the man who loves her, purchases her back. He redeems her. He tells his wife, now forgiven, that she needs to leave this life of promiscuity and not fool around with other men. He commits to be there as she restarts her marriage. He will not leave her.

You see, God wants his people to realize he is faithful. He isn’t quick to drop them. He isn’t running around on them. He isn’t sneaking off in the dark of night. He actually desires them. He cares for them. He loves them. He is always true to them.

The message for Israel is the message for the Church.

It isn’t these other gods who care about you. They have no real power to change your life. They might look appealing and they might offer little trinkets, but they are not worth your affection. They will leave you feeling empty sooner or later.

It isn’t the political parties who love you. They are just another john in a long line of johns who will promise you the whole world if you’ll just be faithful to them. They want to use you. If you want to give them your vote, okay fine, but not your allegiance. Not your heart.

It isn’t comfort or cash or attention or accolades or pleasure or power or privilege that will satisfy you. In the morning they will all run off for the next person and then the next person and then the next person. These things are fleeting, not faithful. Don’t give yourself to something that won’t give itself for you.

If the Church is the Bride of Christ, she cannot allow herself to be seduced by the siren songs of potential suitors. We cannot climb into bed with whatever things sound most fun or promising or comforting right now. We cannot give ourselves to anyone or anything other than the God who redeems us.

Ours is a God who is faithful. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. He is the one who will satisfy our desires and give us hope. He is the one we can rely on and who won’t run away when times get rough. He won’t abandon us for the next pretty little thing that walks by or use us only for his personal gain and pleasure.

Church, may we be faithful to the One who is faithful to us. May we remember that the sweet nothings whispered in our ear by culture and politicians and neighbors are nothing more than empty words that lead to broken hearts. May we remember our vows and may we change our promiscuous ways. And may we find all we ever need in the loving and trustworthy arms of Christ.

When We Disagree.

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Photo Source: conferencecalling.com

One of the blessings and/or curses of social media is that everyone has a voice. You get a voice, I get a voice, your crazy uncle gets a voice. And since everyone has a voice, somewhere on the internet somebody is wrong right this second. They are going to vote for the wrong candidate or they don’t value your religious convictions or they think the Dallas Cowboys are a team worth supporting.

The chorus of voices is diverse and our opinions are many and yet it seems to me that we have lost the ability to disagree well. We insult and antagonize. We jump to conclusions and fight straw men. We even go ALL CAPS when feeling particularly saucy.

Every issue is now politicized and our ability to find common ground is stunted. We make enemies out of people who hold differing views or experiences. We dehumanize ourselves and others simply because we disagree. And amazingly, despite all the venom we spew and seemingly conclusive facts we vomit, we change not a single opinion.

We can (and should) debate and be passionate, but we need do it with decency and mutual respect. We don’t have to hate each other just because we don’t agree. We don’t have to make it our personal mission to correct or rebuke every wrong person we encounter.

It is time we recover some civility in the midst of disagreement.

Which means we need to hear the other side. Not just take in their words, but actually process what they are saying. Why do they hold the positions they hold? How did they come to that conclusion? What experiences have brought them to this point?

It is easier to just unfriend or unfollow people. It is easier to watch only the news channel that reports from our preferred angle. To dismiss alternate opinions and brush aside any information contrary to what we already believe.

The consequence is we end up living in an echo chamber where the only voices we hear are the ones that sound like ours. This makes us more polarized and deteriorates our capacity to understand people who think differently than we do. We are in trouble if we are so convinced we are right that we can’t even allow other opinions to show up in our newsfeed or on our cable news station. This is a weakness, not a strength.

If we are going to disagree well we will need to listen, actually listen, to what every side has to say. We will be better for it. Our own positions will be strengthened as we learn what others believe and perhaps our well-roundedness will gain us credibility.

If we are going to disagree like adults we will need to stop villainizing people simply because we don’t see eye to eye. I may disagree with you but it doesn’t mean I hate puppies or sunshine or your children. We can do without that nonsense. We may not come to the same conclusions about how taxes should be spent, but I don’t think either of us is trying to destroy our country.

Disagreeing with me doesn’t make you a Neanderthal/jerk/heretic/Nazi/communist/whatever-your-scariest-insult-is. It just makes you wrong. Using blanket statements and hyperbolic terms will get us nowhere. A person is not an idiot just because they have the audacity to disagree with you or me. Sitting behind our keyboards and slinging mud and insults at people we don’t have to look in the face is the cheap way out.

This is not how the real world works. We have to cooperate and live and work and study and worship with people who may disagree with us on any number of issues. They are our friends and spouses and bosses and neighbors. If there is no one in our lives who disagrees with us, we are missing out on meaningful relationships while at the same time not having any influence on people who see the world differently.

If we are to disagree well, we need to be realistic. We need to understand we won’t change everyone’s mind and agreeing to disagree is okay in most situations. We are not likely to convince a person that the positions they’ve held for decades are ignorant and no thinking person would ever come to such conclusions. Some opinions are incredibly complex and have been formed over much time and thought.

Be heard, be prepared (and be kind for crying out loud), but don’t expect a pithy statement or even a heartfelt plea to change someone’s mind. When is the last time an argument in the comment section convinced you that you were wrong? People have been arguing about the things we argue about for a long time. There are smart and caring people on many sides of many issues.

We can do better.

We can be humble. We can sometimes keep our mouths closed and fingers still. We can remember that compromise and finding common ground is not caving. We can think critically. We can allow for others to freely share what they believe. We can learn. We can listen. We can avoid attacking the other person. We can respect and love and esteem each other as fellow human beings. And still disagree.

Disagreeing isn’t the problem. The way in which we disagree will determine much of what we contribute to the world. Are we adding to the discord and division that needlessly rules the internet? Or are we voices of reason and people of respect and decency? Do we sow peace and love or discord and hate?

Let’s be right and wrong with a heaping scoop of decency. Let’s disagree well. Or at least better than we have been recently. Can we at least all agree on that?

Our Political Gymnastics

Gymnastic_Background

Image Source: Club Penguin

When George W. Bush was in office he was harshly condemned from the political left and loyally defended from the right for his response to Hurricane Katrina. Instead of visiting in the immediate aftermath, President Bush was photographed observing the destruction from the comfort of Air Force One as it flew over.The image would be used to supposedly show the president was disengaged from the storm’s victims.

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Jim Watson/Getty Images

Later Bush reflected on how he would have been taken to task if he had landed instead. He imagined his critics would have said, “How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?”

Which happens to be the exact reasoning people are using to defend President Obama for golfing instead of going to assess the current flooding in Louisiana. The tables have turned and it is the lack of boots on the ground that is now ridiculed from the right and rationalized from the left.

I don’t pretend to know what the right response is for a president in times of crisis. I don’t know when one should abandon a needed vacation or when the magnitude of a disaster requires the president’s presence.

What I do know is that we are overly willing to bend and maneuver our opinions in order to line up with the politicians we support.

We have become Olympic level gymnasts in our ability to backflip and contort ourselves into whatever position will most serve our politics. We jump and twist and twirl, though without any of the elegance exhibited by the Simone Biles of the world.

Had it been Hillary who recently showed up to Louisiana with a truckload of supplies the folks at Fox News would have called it a publicity stunt and the people at MSNBC would have skewered Trump for not caring enough to respond. Instead it is the opposite. Our opinions change based on which side did what.

If our preferred politician does a thing, we defend or justify their actions. “Give them grace,” we say. If a politician we don’t support does the same or a similar thing, we condemn or vilify their behavior. We cry, “Crucify them!”

This is why Trump backers can talk about Bill Clinton’s infidelity with straight faces and Hillary supporters can claim that Trump is out of touch with ordinary citizens.

We are so devoted to our political positions that we’ve lost the ability to be objective, honest, and consistent. We reek of hypocrisy. Our flexibility exceeds that of the world’s elite gymnasts and we are probably going to hurt ourselves.

Somehow we have reached the point where we are afraid to call out the behavior of the people we support politically. We are unable to acknowledge that people from our political slant make mistakes or that at times we may strongly disagree with them.

It should not be hard for us to say, “Despite supporting this person on a large percentage of issues, this decision was wrong.” Or “I will probably vote for this person, but the way they responded to this was not okay.”

Sadly, it has become unfathomable to admire the response or policies or decency of a person from the other side of the aisle. Instead we end up awkwardly swinging back and forth as if we are on the uneven bars. Our moral position is summed up as, “Today it is okay when my side does it, next time it will be wrong when your side does.”

If our moral indignation is determined by the person, not the behavior or belief, we lack core values of much substance. If the party name behind a politician is what determines how we respond to what is said or done, we lack intellectual integrity. When we have selective outrage and relativistic convictions we lose our credibility. There no medals for this balance beam routine.

There are certainly times worth calling out politicians. Let’s just do it with integrity. Let’s not excuse or dismiss behavior we wouldn’t allow in a person from a different political persuasion. Or condone behavior we opposed yesterday. Let’s not condemn things we have previously applauded or applaud that which we have previously condemned.

Let’s be fair and honest in our political assessments. And consistent and principled in the things we believe and the standards we hold our leaders to. And let’s leave the backhand springs and gravity defying stunts to the professionals.