We Have to Stop the Hate

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There is No Way to Peace – Peace is the Way – Outside the Quaker – Friends Meeting Hall – Philadelphia June 26, 2005

I suppose it was inevitable really . . . that there would be a shooting. That someone or some political party would be targeted. With the hate speech and intolerance spewing through our air waves and with legislation being put together in secret, someone was going to snap. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.  When the shooting occurred as  GOP Congressmen were practicing for the annual Democrats verses Republican baseball game this morning,  it came as the climax of vitriol which has been going on for years . . .  inflamed by  last  years election.

We have to stop the hate. We have to stop the way we have been treating each other. We have to change the way we talk to each other and about each other. We have to stop assuming that anyone who disagrees with us politically or on social issues is our enemy. We have to start listening to each other and hearing why people believe and feel as they do.

A few weeks back, I ate at a Mexican Restaurant in LaCrosse WI. There was no internet service.  I don’t have a phone with a data plan. Although there was a TV on  it was set to a Spanish-speaking station. I could not understand a word.  Then, I realized what a gift it was. For the next hour or so I would be unable to hear or see any negative news coming from Washington. I would be free, if only temporarily, from the ongoing cycle of scandal, intrigue, and “awfulizing” being broadcast. I would be able to rest from the 24 hour news cycle that tells me everything is wrong with the world and  (depending on which station I tuned into)  whose fault it is. For the next hour and a half, eating with my family, I would be free of it all.

But, I am an avid news junkie. I would soon be going back into the spewing and the hating – reading angry tweets and angry responses. That place where there is no middle ground. In the midst of today’s shooting, in the trauma and tragedy of it, may there be honest reflection on the why of the shooting. How did we get to this place? How can we change the way we do politics?  Do we always have to disparage the person who opposes us? Can there be reason and honest dialogue about what is best for the country? Does whatever party that is in power have to flagrantly bypass honest dialogue with the other side? Does the party not in power have to demonize the party in power?    Can we start looking for the best and not the worst in each other? Can we all tone down the conversation, take a deep breath and use our minds and our hearts the way God intended?  Can we get back to loving our neighbor as ourselves, even in our politics?

Echo Chambers in the Church

The problem we have in communicating with each other is that so many of us live in echo chambers. We choose friends who think like us and believe what we believe. We listen to and read the media which reinforces our world view. Sometimes, in order to simply ignore what other people believe, we avoid the subjects we disagree on. We often do that so no one gets upset. It may make peace for the moment, but it sure is hard to understand where another person is coming from, when we never talk about the subjects we disagree about.

The trouble with echo chambers is that the echo only responds with what we have already said. “Hello” shouted into a canyon may return multiple times – but it doesn’t challenge our thoughts, beliefs or values. It gives no opinion other than our own. It doesn’t cause us to do that walk in “another person’s shoes” that can be so enlightening. Instead it only reinforces what we already believe.

My denomination, The United Methodist Church, has spent the entire period of my ministry trying to come up with common language that all of us can live with related to the GLBT community. We agonize over whether clergy will be allowed to marry gay and lesbian couples. We put language in our church rule book, The Discipline, that disallows any person in a homosexual relationship from serving as clergy in our Conferences. Since my ordination in 1985, many denominations have come to terms with a changing world view on sexuality as genetic factors have been linked to sexual orientation. Others, like my own, are frozen in a different time span. What makes it even more difficult is that the United Methodist Church has a growing number of members in Africa, where in some countries, homosexuality is not only frowned on, but outlawed. A church that has positive statements related to the issue can also be outlawed in those countries.

Some days, I am completely frustrated with my denominations inability to find a way where we can all live together. Yet, I realize that what is frustrating for me, is incredibly painful for my colleagues in ministry whose sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters are among those who feel the sting of rejection by the church. As do our members in local churches who carry that same sting of rejection for themselves or their cherished family members.

Many of us would just like all references to homosexuality taken out of the Discipline, allowing each Conference (Local body giving oversight in a certain area) to make decisions about these matters. Others are terrified of that direction. Last year, in 2016, my denomination almost reached the point of splitting. My bishop is asking all of the clergy in my Conference to pray for an upcoming meeting of Clergy in looking for a way forward – a way to move beyond our impasse.

Of one thing I am sure . . . if there were easy answers, we would have found them already. In preparation for our upcoming meeting, our bishop has asked us to spend time meditating and Journaling around the first chapter in the book of Acts. It is that point when Jesus leaves his disciples, asking them to remain in Jerusalem. He promises that they will receive power as the Holy Spirit comes upon them. I think what my denomination needs, what my church needs,  is that in our listening and praying, we open ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit. In doing so, God may just give us the wisdom to move beyond our entrenched positions. God might surprise us by taking our divided house and making us whole.

What is a Christian to do in this World of Alternative Facts, Values, Assumptions and Differing News Sources?

     What is a Christian to do in this world of alternative facts, values, assumptions and differing news sources? How do we stand as people of faith, living our lives with the hope of Christ? Does it matter what our neighbors think? If it does, then is social media the best transmitter of transformation? Has anyone’s view of the world changed because of someone’s political post, or has it only reinforced one’s own view?

My younger brother is using humor to cope with the barrage of political differences on social media. His Facebook posts have sported a variety of comics which lighten the spirit. Last Friday night was an especially potent day of competing views of the new President and the series of executive orders that have been signed. Some posters were asking for tolerance in the expression of their view point. One wrote with dismay about people who had defriended her after she had posted a political post. She said that she didn’t want to lose friends who disagreed with her position. She would much rather have a conversation and hear what her friends believed.

In the midst of the Friday barrage an old friend had posted these words of Madeline L’Engle. “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” The definition of a Christian is still, to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus had a lot to say about the way we treat each other. He was heavy on the bit about loving one another. He didn’t limit that to people who shared our particular expression of faith or our politics. In fact, he directed us in an entirely different direction. “Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus never said that this would be easy. What he said, was to love.

So, in that light, can we be gentle with the people we disagree with? Can we show God’s love to each person and not just those in our political camp? Do we have to agree with each other politically, to be friends in this new era? Are the people we disagree with, really our enemies? Or are they simply people who view the world differently? Can we respectfully disagree with one another, have a conversation and not slam those who don’t believe like us? Can we pray for people on the other side of the political divide? Certainly, those misguided souls need somebody’s prayers. Does that mean that we can’t find a way to fight for our values and beliefs? Of course not. But do we really need to leave that divisive mean-spirited post in the comment section of our newspaper? Or the equally nasty one on social media? Or would we be far more effective communicating our concerns by contacting our elected leaders, through phone, email, actual letter or a visit to their local office? And doing all of that with respect.

The late Madeline L’Engle was wise. We are drawn to those whose expression of Christian love radiates out of them. We bask in their light, in the loveliness of it. When I think of people who have altered my view of the world, it has been those who were shedding kindness and light who have had the greatest influence. In this seriously divided time, may we be the people who spread kindness, compassion and love.

For you see, as Christians we do have a common news source.  We call it the Bible.  We have the words of Jesus to guide us.   We have the truths of Scripture to reflect on.   We have reminders of how we are to live and speak and be with each other.  Jesus said it best, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”    John 13:34 

Finding Unity – Can We Listen to our Neighbor’s Story?

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Every four years the United Methodist Church holds a General Conference with delegates from around the world. Because we are a global church, concerns which one part of the church sees as vital and needing immediate action, the other part resists. With viewpoints and ideologies entrenched, progress on resolving differences became impossible this year. A rule that would have set aside time for people to simply have table discussion around controversial issues was voted down. Eventually, a day or so later, our bishops called a halt to proceedings and set aside a two-hour period of prayer instead of doing battle over divisive legislation.

In many ways the arguments have mirrored the division in the US. One group is so certain they have the truth, they are unwilling to listen and even begin to understand the other. Neither is willing to view the issues from the other’s world view. We have been so convinced of our truth, we have no room to hear of another’s experience, even of God. We have stopped talking to each other, instead we talk about each other.

A wise woman once told of asking God to help her cope with a difficult person in her life. In a vision she was given to see that person’s soul as made of a beautiful crystal. When she began to look at the person, not as her great enemy, but through the lens God had given her to see him, the bitterness she had harbored fell away. Seeing the people we vehemently disagree with and have said harsh words about, through the eyes of God’s love can change a heart. I think that is why the writer of scripture told us “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. ” I John 4:20-21

The great issues of our day, both within Christianity and the world, will not be resolved by one group of people shouting at the other. We will not find common ground with others, until we allow ourselves to hear the stories of our neighbors. Only when we understand the painful realities of those we oppose, will we be able to look for solutions that meet the universal need for acceptance, love and compassion. I am by nature an optimist. I believe in the world of possibilities. I’m convinced that God is working in our world and in our lives, moving the mountains of resentment and perhaps greatest of all – distrust. I know this, because God continues to work in my life, urging me to listen and to hear the stories of my neighbors . . . Then to open my heart, just a little wider.

Grief’s Expression

Grief’s Expression

Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family has left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.

Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. Last fall I co-led a grief class. I feel a need to reread the text for the class, to remind myself that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.

Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. They may say words meant to console which do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.

As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.