Loyal opposition…faithful disagreement

I spent a few of my early years in England, and I seemed to have learned through osmosis the idea of loyal opposition, a concept that may sound like an oxymoron in this day and age. More recently, my faith tradition has grappled with the concept of faithful disagreement, another concept that sounds like an oxymoron. But I believe they are important concepts that we have lost…and need to regain.

Both of those concepts acknowledge that we are not going to agree on everything…and that’s okay. We have different life experiences…different upbringings…different friends…different educations…

However, these concepts also acknowledge that we can disagree while still working toward the same goal. Listening to someone else who has the same goal–but a different way of approaching it–creates the opportunity for synergy…an increased effectiveness greater than any single individual can have. That kind of listening–and working together–can spark new ideas, new possibilities.

I remember as a young person listening to members of Congress having harsh disagreements with each other on the floor–and then leaving together to go to supper together as friends. They understood that someone with a different idea isn’t an enemy to be demonized.

Unfortunately–and I’m not sure why–we’ve had a major shift, both in our politics and, so also in many of our faith traditions. Instead of disagreeing with an idea, we’ve begun saying that the person we disagree with is evil…is someone who should be cut out by whatever means necessary. And we’ve become so polarized that it now seems almost impossible to regain an understanding of these concepts.

But we have to.

Otherwise I’m afraid we will go in one of two directions: (1) remain mired in a situation where nothing gets accomplished, or (2) find ourselves in a situation where one perspective has enough “authority” to run rough-shod over any other one, and we lose the effective functioning of democracy.

Is it possible? I believe so.

A few years ago, at a hymn sing at a major international event in my faith tradition, we celebrated the Christmas truce of 1914 when enemy troops in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce and exchanged seasonal greetings and talk. At that hymn sing, we sang “Silent Night/Stille Nacht”–and we heard the story shared by two individuals in leadership roles in my faith…one German and one English.

Can we not find a way back to civil discourse with each other? to allow for loyal opposition and faithful disagreement with each other?


Thanksgiving Blessings

On this day of thanks,
may you be blessed
with the love of family–
family of birth
or family of choice…
with shelter and food…
with clothing to keep warm…

On this day of thanks,
may we remember
those not so blessed…
and not turn our eyes
or our backs
in fear or anger…

On this day of thanks,
may we be reminded
we are all children of one God
who created us all…
may we be reminded
we all have the same needs…
may we be reminded
that in blessing
we are blessed.

Each one counts

It is terribly easy to get overwhelmed with numbers…and we hear so many of them in the news.

In Paris, 129 killed and another 350 injured…the plane apparently brought down by a bomb in Egypt, killing 224…at least 46 killed in two bomb attacks in Nigeria, with another 120 injured…41 killed and over 200 wounded in Lebanon…and it seems to go on and on.

They are just numbers. We may shudder at them…and we may worry if it touches too close to home…but they are abstract numbers. That is, until we are directly touched.

I have not been directly touched by these recent events, but I have been touched by a tragedy that has changed these numbers from abstractions to realities. A friend of mine was killed yesterday in a tragic accident while he was walking his dog. He was doing a normal, everyday activity–as were so many of the people involved in these terrorist attacks. There was no inkling that he would go out and not come home safely.

And it helped me realize–each one of these numbers represents a unique individual. Each one has someone who is in mourning…who now has a hole in their heart that will never totally close. Each one counts.

And yes, that means even the ones who initiated the attacks. They also have families. Some of those families might have had an idea of what their loved one was up to…but others did not. And even if they knew, that doesn’t mean that there is not a sense of loss.

We hear so many numbers, and because we do, we can shut ourselves off from them. We can consider them only as abstractions, or we can realize they are just like us. They are people who loved…who were often doing their best to make the world a better place…who were artists, business people, athletes…adults, children…

We also hear other numbers–of people who are trying to find places to live to avoid these terrors. And those numbers are mind-numbing.

We see pictures–and while the pictures may tug at our hearts, we shut ourselves down…out of fear. Justified fear? Perhaps…in a small way.

We can seem them as “other”…not understandable, and so we don’t even try. We fear who they might be…what they might bring to us. And so we turn them away.

We’ve been there before.

In June 1939, a German ship anchored so close to Florida that they could see the Miami lights. There were 900 people on board, seeking refuge from terror, but they were turned away…and many of them died in concentration camps. We were afraid…afraid of losing jobs…afraid that some of them might by Nazi spies.

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed an order requiring all Japanese Americans to be interned for the duration of the war…even those who had fought for the United States during the previous war. Again, we were afraid…afraid of espionage…afraid they might be a fifth column.

And now…

We look at pictures of people…people who have been terrorized and victimized, whether in the attacks identified above, or whether they are among those fleeing countries where those attacks are more prevalent than they have been for many of us. And we fear again…

There are valid concerns. I understand that. But I also look at the eyes of the children who are haunted by what they have experienced. I look at the eyes of the parents who want nothing more than a place where they can bring up their children in hope.

And I am reminded of what we can be and do in our better moments.

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What if…?

In many cultures there is a saying that goes something like this: “Don’t judge someone else until you have walked in their shoes for a significant amount of time.”

If you’re like me, we give that saying lip service, but I’m not sure any of us really do that. So…

I wonder what would happen if we weren’t given a choice about it. What would happen if we woke up one morning and found ourselves walking the path of someone we had made judgments about?

I think it would be very uncomfortable–and we would be shocked at what we would discover.

What if I–as a white female–woke up and everyone saw me as a female of color? How would I be perceived? Would I be seen as someone who is obviously dependent on food stamps? who spends her day “gaming” the system? Would I be seen as someone who is sexually active and who doesn’t bother with birth control…because the government will pay for any kids I have? Or would I still be respected for my education and my abilities? Would people hear my words as being of value? or would they be dismissed because “they all say that”? Would my concerns about my children be heard? or would I hear “Just obey the law and there won’t be any problems”?

What if I–as a straight woman–woke up and realized I loved another woman? How many times would I be told that my love wasn’t real? How much trouble would I have finding a place to live? or even a job? And if I had a job, would I be able to put pictures of the one I love on my desk without fear of being harassed? or fired? Could I walk down the streets holding hands with the one I love? or would I be afraid of the looks I would get? or whether or not I might be attacked?

What if I–without a criminal record–woke up behind bars? How would I be treated…by the guards? the court system? others who knew of my record and judged me without knowing how I found myself there? And what would happen when (if?) I got out? Would that record keep me from ever being able to make the changes I would want to?

What if I–a follower of Christ–woke up and others saw me as a Muslim? Would they be willing to be friends with me? Would they be interested in trying to understand my religion? Or would I be judged by the actions of a few who misrepresent my faith? Would they turn away from me in fear? or tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about when I try to explain the path to peace in my faith tradition?

Obviously I’m not going to be able to totally walk the path of someone else. But if I’m not even willing to try, then how can I expect someone else to be sympathetic to my own path? How can I expect them to listen to my own story?

The video below deals with patient care–but the message is true in whatever situation we find ourselves. Let’s be willing to take the time to walk in someone else’s shoes before we judge.


A Prayer for Peace

Creator of all that is–
We call different names…
we use different languages.
We have different sacred books…
we worship in different buildings.

Yet there are so many of us who wish nothing more
than to live in peace
with each other…

There are many forces
that pull us apart…
that try to divide us…

Help us to seek to understand each other,
to look for the things that unite
rather than divide.

Help us support the peacemakers…
help us to be peacemakers.

In a world so divided,
may we find ways to see as you see–

One world…
one people…
your peace.

Seek first to understand…

While I was working, I was involved in some time-management and leadership training from Stephen Covey a couple of different times. Since I’ve retired, I no longer use that particular calendar material, but there is still one item from the training that remains with me. That is one of the steps from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People…”Seek first to understand.”

I’ve been particularly aware of the value of that statement the last couple of weeks as the news in my faith community and my state (as well as in the national news) has been full of responses to a couple of very difficult situations.

The first is the LDS decision to deny sacraments to the children of same-sex couples until they are 18 and deny the behavior of the parents. I have to confess that as I have sought to understand the rationale behind that decision, I find it very difficult. I have read a number of comments and stories from both sides of the issue and–again, quite honestly–I am grateful not to be a member of a faith community where I would have to make that kind of choice. Seeking to understand is a challenge, but unless I am willing to try to do that, I cannot effectively reach out to those who have been wounded, regardless of their faith stance.

The other is the situation that has been playing out in the university in Columbia, Missouri which has culminated in the ouster of the university president and chancellor. Concerns and issues dealing with racism are apparently behind that situation and, again, there are widely different perspectives.

In reading comments and stories from those differing perspectives–as with those dealing with the LDS situation–it is clear that our backgrounds (i.e., faith understandings and race) have a significant impact on what we see. And I have to confess that I’ve heard some comments from people I consider friends that have disturbed me…

Some of those comments imply that there is only one way to look at a situation–and that is the way that person sees it. If they have not experienced bias–as expressed by those of a different color or faith–then surely that bias does not exist.

Other comments have downplayed the significance of the triggering event as being too trivial to cause someone to go on a hunger strike or to spark a protest. Perhaps…but that ignores what happens when those “trivial” events occur over and over again, building up a climate of fear…of anger…of resentment. I think about the event that sparked the fight over civil rights–a black woman who was tired refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Trivial…perhaps…but when one’s worth is negated time and time again, there comes a point when one will finally say, “Enough is enough.”

Still other comments have implied that because the individual who went on a hunger strike in Columbia comes from a wealthy family, then he had no right to claim bias. Wealth does not necessarily protect one from slights and insults.

When I read the news…or listen to news stories…or hear statements from those who are running for political office that negate the life experiences of others, then I fear that we are building higher walls that will continue to divide us. We are never going to experience life the same way, but we have to start figuring out how to really listen to each other or we will never be able to make the kind of change that will allow us to value each other and live in peace.

“Seek first to understand…”–a good lesson to live by.

War? What war?

Over this past weekend, I’ve seen social media go crazy…again. Around this time of year especially, someone gets upset over someone’s corporate decision and declares that there is “a war on Christmas/Christianity.” Really? Just because one company (which I don’t patronize, by the way, because I don’t care for coffee) has changed the design of their cup, somehow that’s negating the Christmas season…

Let’s get over it, folks.

In the first place, companies that have locations worldwide have different seasons to deal with. Yes, in America there are snowflakes and snowmen in December. But in Australia, there is sunshine and time at the beaches!

In the second place, there are real wars that affect real people in much more significant ways than simply being handed a cup whose design and/or color you disagree with.

Yes, there are places in the world where those who are Christian are suffering for their faith…facing torture or death.

There are places where people struggle every day just to survive…who are desperate to create a better future for their children.

There are people struggling every day to break free of the bondage of addictions of various types…and sometimes–when they most need the support of a faith community–they find themselves unwelcome.

There are people whose sexual orientation or sexual identity make others uncomfortable–and far too often they are kicked out of their families or their faith communities…forced out and left alone.

If there is a war on Christianity, unfortunately it often seems to be waged by those who call themselves Christian. The One who led the way met with those who were on the fringes…broke bread with them…welcomed children…healed those who were sick…offered love to those who were rejected…challenged the status quo.

Let’s stop getting so upset about things that don’t really matter–like the color of a coffee cup–and…for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus the Christ…let’s spend time feeding the sick…visiting the sick and imprisoned…providing support for those who are trying to break free of addictions…

Matthew 25:31-45

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’