This week, I got a message from someone I knew growing up. He was one of the “grown ups” at church when we started going there. I had sent him a friend request on Facebook. His message sounded a little ominous. “I’m politically conservative and state my opinions respectfully. Do you still want to be friends?”
Um . . . what? Somehow I felt like I was getting a warning. Look out!
But then it hit me. He’s was wondering if I was going to be an unholy brat if he disagreed with me. Frankly, I understood why he felt the need to ask. Let’s face it. It’s pretty obvious that I’m an unapologetic liberal. And liberals are not looking like a kinder, gentler people lately. We’ve been engaging in a lot of name calling like when CNN reporter Marc Lamont Hill called Bruce LeVell, a member of Trump’s diversity team, one of a group of mediocre Negroes.
This kind of name calling isn’t meant to start a dialogue. It isn’t going to solve a problem. It is simply designed to shut . . . someone . . . down.
For another example, have you heard about the controversy surrounding Veronica Roth’s latest young adult novel, Carve the Mark? One group of people in this fantasy is described as savage, brown and nomadic. I haven’t read the book so I’m taking someone else’s word for that. Those criticizing Roth claim these baddies are another example of demonizing brown people.
Not everyone agrees. Some of her fellow authors believe that Roth has a diverse population of characters and not all “bad guys” are brown, not all “good guys” are white. One of these authors is Sabaa Tahir who was criticized for not falling in line. One commenter berated Tahir questioning whether or not she knows what racism is. Tahir kindly explained just how completely she understands racism, citing numerous racist acts perpetrated against her. She also challenged the notion that minority authors must speak as one, that they cannot have their own opinions, and that there cannot be a dialogue.
Dialogue is a rare commodity in our society. It is almost like we are creating our own Tower of Babel. How? We seem to have the notion that if someone doesn’t agree with you 100%, you don’t need to listen to them, you don’t need to talk to them, and you can get by with calling them every name in the book.
We support this behavior although name calling creates a divide. We condone this kind of public criticism although it doesn’t solve any problem. It is just an attempt to beat someone down.
Seriously, people. We cannot solve problems as Christians as until we are willing to discuss things with people who don’t think exactly like we think. We have to be willing to listen to people who disagree with us. And it isn’t going to be easy. Bad habits are hard to break.
But I saw an interview today about how to get it done. Rev. William Barber challenges people to quit using the labels that commonly color our political discourse. We aren’t left and right, black and white, Republican and Democrat, or liberal and conservative. We are people coming together to address an issue.
The issue takes the floor.
But for this to happen, we have to be willing to step away from the Tower of Babel. We have to be willing to stop the name calling even if we’re just labeling ourselves liberal or conservative. We have to want to renew our ability to communicate. And to do that, we have to listen.
Can you hear me?
Have hope. It is how all good things are accomplished.
There’s an old children’s rhyme (quoted famously in “Singing in the Rain”) that goes like this: “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously.” It’s a bit of doggerel that keeps popping into my mind as I reflect further on the subject of forgiveness. For aren’t we all a little like Moses in this way?
We are quick to excuse, expunge, understand and let slide our own sins because they are ours. We know our own motivation. We think ourselves to be, at heart, good people. We cut ourselves slack. We suppose our toes — or our sins, in this case — are roses. But we suppose erroneously. All sins stink.
Imagine extending the kind of compassion we show ourselves to others! Instead of mentally berating the mother who is shrieking at her children at Walmart, perhaps we could recall the last time our own tone was harsh — understandably so, because of the day we were having! What has that mother’s day been like? Or among our own families: Do we not sometimes take for granted that our families will love us no matter what? And does this assumption sometimes carry with it the further assumption that we need not try as hard with our own kin as we do, say, with outsiders? Again, we suppose erroneously. Our families deserve our first fruits, not our leftover scraps.
I’m not advocating beating yourself up for every error you make. Rather, loosen the purse strings on your bag of mercy in the same way you would for yourself. You remember that you are only human. You know you get tired, frustrated, out of sorts. But you forget that other people do, too. You want your own opinions to be accepted and understood, but you’d rather others not express opinions counter to your own. If your own toeses need a little compassion, so do everybody else’s — whether or not they smell much like roses.
I am feeling my way around the subject of forgiveness because it seems to be a prominent need in my life. But it’s prominent for all of us. Forgiveness is not only a gift we give others, it is a gift for ourselves, a letting go of pain and anger that can drag us down and make us stink just as bad as the person who sinned against us. For the health of our own toeses — as well as the toeses of others — maybe we should remember: We are all sinners, and we all smell. Mercy, grace and compassion are just what we need to cover up the stench.
When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the news lately, we’ve been hearing about people committing awful acts of terror, and this term seems to come up more often than not: “self-radicalized.”
It might be more accurate to call it “metastasized.” Something incompatible to life taking root at the cellular level.
I’ve noticed that this word isn’t applied to everyone equally.
We don’t call these two grandmas in a shoot-out at Wal-Mart “radicalized.”
In most cases, the term is used when speaking of Muslims involved in violent acts, but I think it could be applied to people of any race, gender or religion who feel disenfranchised.
That being said, I still believe that most of the world’s population is comprised of peaceful, law-abiding people. Of course, there are some exceptions, but there are still many reasons to be hopeful about life.
God’s grace is still the oxygen of the universe.
Here’s what buoys my spirits.
To know that there are people like this four-year-old who read a thousand books and was made Librarian for a Day at the Library of Congress is like a vitamin for the soul.
To know that this elderly lady in distress dialed a wrong number and it turned out to be a police detective who stayed on the line to help her is evidence of Providence at work.
To know that these stray dogs in Turkey were given shelter at a mall by kind-hearted locals during a snowstorm warmed my heart.
To know that young and old can connect, as this 82 year old man found out when a 4 year old said, “hi, old person, can I have a hug?” brought a tear to my eye.
What if we took back ownership of the word, “radicalized,” and used it in the spirit spoken of by Dr. King?
We might self-radicalize toward full-scale compassion. Mobilize in the direction of brazen kindness. Maybe if we open our hearts and reach out our arms, we’d find we could embrace the whole world.