I batted heads with James in the first weeks I pastored a small church in rural Minnesota. The argument started over a family that was renting our unused parsonage. The summer was hot and humid. Our renter had a large family which meant frequent baths and showers, all adding to the humidity in the house. Years had passed since the last family had lived there. With the building now in use and all that extra humidity, its weak places began to show. Plaster started falling from the ceiling in upstairs bedrooms and the stairway. Without major repairs the building was not fit for anyone to live in. We all agreed on that.
The problem started when it was time to hand back the rent deposit. Our renter had violated no rules. She was simply in a home that was falling apart and had to move. James wanted the deposit money returned to the county because the woman had tapped into emergency assistance funds. Our world views were vastly different. He saw a woman using the system. I saw a woman who desperately needed her rent deposit back, so she could rent a more livable space elsewhere.
He was opinionated and a member of the John Birch Society. From those early weeks, I assumed that there would be many moments of distress and disagreements up ahead. So, I was truly surprised when James was among the 3-5 people who joined a Bible study. It seemed so completely out of character for him. I discovered the person who came across as aloof, distant and somewhat grumpy, had a soft spot for children and was deeply concerned about the abuse of so many children in that community.
One day he talked about serving in Germany when WWII ended and being among the first people to arrive at one of the many Concentration Camps. There he came face to face with the effects of Hitler’s genocide. Seeing the camps and people who looked like walking skeletons grieved him. His heart went out to them. Even in the 1990’s there were Holocaust deniers. James was downright angry with them. Having seen the heartache he’d witnessed, he didn’t understand how anyone could deny that reality.
I learned from James that people can be far more complex than first impressions assume. Pigeonholing a person as one way or the other, based on some outward expression, never allows us to truly know who that person is. In today’s world of divisive politics, where each side labels the other as haters, we need to relearn how to talk to each other. We will never know what is going on in another person’s heart until we do. Without heart talk there is no way to understand the other. Living in our own “bubbles of truth” leaves little space to experience or know the other’s reality . . . the other’s truth. When we leave our bubbles behind, we are surprised to discover that we are far more alike, than we are different.
“Humility comes before honor.
To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18: 12-13
“In humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4