Last year, a person I was loosely acquainted with, reached out to me, to let me know he thought my posts about the Unite the Right march at Charlottesville, were too political for a pastor, and also, that my comments were anti-free speech, and I should take them down. After informing him that allowing Nazis to march in the streets was not a free speech issue, but a complete danger to society at large, he started talking about Antifa and Colin Kaepernick (#whytho), and next thing I knew, we were talking at each other, instead of to each other.
Don’t get me wrong; this wasn’t a safe conversation. We didn’t even know each other, so there was no understanding, and neither of us wanted to budge. He also had some serious nerve to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be posting as a person, and a pastor. But, I was still scratching my head, like okay, Christians (cause you know he was) really are out here doing the most, and what are we going to do about it?
Honestly, it’s easier to pretend, or loosely hope, that someone else will take care of racism and sexism. Plus, we all have our own pain, relationships and issues that we’re dealing with, so it can feel like, who has the time (or energy) to even bother? Too often, we leave the change we want to see in the world, in the hands of someone else. The problem with that is, that in the echo chambers we intentionally or accidentally build, “someone else” is not coming.
We can’t tap out of our communal responsibility to each other.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve committed to having conversations with safe, sane people who think the exact opposite of me about politics, religion and justice. While I don’t recommend this practice for everyone, I do feel very strongly that this is part of my work, to understand where the “other side” in particular is coming from, because if a bridge can be built, I am interested in building it. I also think we can greatly benefit from suspending judgment, creating safe space, and having a conversation with other people, that is not happening in the comments section, or centered on our own opinions and thoughts.
When a friend sent me the podcast, Pantsuit Politics, I became a faithful listener. I am so hungry to hear reasonable conservatives, and also for bipartisan conversations between people who don’t always agree, but can both call a spade a spade, while holding a deep respect for one another. Their tagline is “Sarah from the left. Beth from the right. No insults. No shouting. Plenty of nuance.” (HELLO, more of this, please and thank you.) I just bought their first book: I Think You’re Wrong, But I’m Listening: A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations.
As a person of faith, I think so often about the goal of building the Beloved Community, which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., popularized through his teaching. Beloved community sounds like a beautiful concept, sweet and tender when we consider those words, but the truth is, it’s a difficult concept, albeit simple, and it is ferocious and fierce. In pursuit of this kind of love, we are thrust into chaos and community with others because God chooses them and calls them his own, not because we choose do, or desire to claim them at all.
Today, I reflected on the six principles of nonviolence, and six steps of social change, that make up the King philosophy, to overcome barriers to the beloved community. The reverend called them triple evils: Poverty, Racism and Militarism. (I’d add sexism to this list, honestly.)
True to my nature, and (I think) many of our shared desire to act during this season, I found myself sitting with the steps longer than the principles. Step 1 is Information Gathering, and in this step, we research in order to understand and articulate an issue, and to become an expert in our opponent’s position. Step 2 is Education. Step 3 is Personal Commitment. Step 4 is Discussion/Negotiation, where the goal is not to humiliate the opponent, but to call forth the good in the opponent. Step 5 is direct action, which is taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into or remain in discussion/negotiation, to impose a “creative tension” into the conflict, supplying moral pressure on your opponent to work with you in resolving the injustice. And Step 6 is Reconciliation.
On this step, Dr. King’s principle states this: “Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action.”
Father Greg Boyle says, “God doesn’t have enemies; God has children.”
Many of us inherited a faith narrative of conquering and defeating enemies, and instead of setting that in its proper context, we live to defeat and conquer others who don’t agree with us, or think, look, and live like we do. Not only is this unbiblical, but it erases the fact that much of the Bible is written through the lens of marginalized people lamenting and pursuing freedom, while they resist the cultural norms to cultivate the Kingdom of heaven on the Earth. Context matters to the stories and narratives we read, hear and tell, especially concerning scripture.
We need truth through research and education; candid conversations that change us; direct action that resists the status quo; selfless focus on understanding and friendship for the sake of the greater good.
We don’t have to do everything; we just have to do our part, wherever we are right now. Home with babies? Engage them in building community. Making moves in college? Start conversations with other students and teachers about relevant topics of our day. Building a business? Use your network to cultivate connection and camaraderie. Close to retirement? Tell us all the things! We need your wisdom, experiences and expertise. Feeling lonely and overwhelmed? Reach out to someone friend – we need you. You matter. You’re not alone.
And let’s remember, some people just can’t be fooled with… Cause, #mentalhealth.
2019 is not the year to waste time convincing nobody of no doggone thing. But for those who are willing to build a bridge, let’s put in the work.
You’re incredible, and we love what you contribute to the world. Your life matters, and we are building something beautiful on this side of heaven, in the midst of it all. Grateful we get to do that together.
Cheering you on, and sending you lots of love from New York.