Getting to Know You

Wow, how did that happen? The president was reelected, and relatively easily, at that. And a lot of people were sure it couldn’t happen, either because their fellow citizens would finally see the light and vote for Mitt Romney, or because God would intervene on behalf of America, if not for the sake of the world as a whole. Didn’t work out that way.

I’m not a political analyst, but I suspect many undecided voters, or voters who were only tentatively on the side of Mr. Romney, decided that the known was better than the unknown when it came time to touch the screen. We didn’t really know what to expect from a Romney administration, especially by way of tax policy; and even if we didn’t like Pres. Obama, at least we knew what to expect. It’s something rather short of the mandate the victorious party unfailingly claims. Be that as it may, conservative Christians in great numbers have fallen into the trap of investing their political capital into a failed endeavor; along with it they have used up much of the apocalyptic language available, deeming this the most important, crucial, defining, etc., election in our national history. Just how would we know that, anyway? And what happens now that it has been lost? Is Armageddon inevitable?

Perhaps I exaggerate just a bit–but not much (remember, I read facebook posts). Many are left to wonder who in their right minds would vote for Mr. Obama. And maybe that wondering reveals a couple of things about the wonderers. First, it reveals that many of them travel and discuss things within a very narrow circle of like-minded people, leading to the conclusion that they are among the majority who think rightly (no pun intended) about things. Related to whom we do know and with whom we do not associate comes the other tendency we have in evangelicalism–we don’t know our neighbors.

We tend to forget that it is not some foreign power or alien race that has elected a president for a second term; it is our neighbors, co-workers, fellow citizens. And if we are wondering what they were thinking when they did so, maybe we should do the novel thing and ask them. The fact is that if we are willing to actually listen to them rather than to immediately refute their ideas we might make significant progress in getting to know them. We might hear their hearts, their hurts, their dreams, aspirations, misgivings, fears, anxieties, etc. And as we do we might give them enough of an open door to continue talking and then, only then, listening to an answer we might suggest. That, of course, is not a political answer at all.

May I suggest that Christians of all stripes vow to spend the next four years not in identifying the next crusader for conservatism, but in getting to know the people with whom we share this country, this state, our neighborhood? And it wouldn’t hurt a bit to offer to pray for the ones we begin listening to as well. That would give much more credence to the calls for prayer for the president we–the nation–have elected.

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17 thoughts on “Getting to Know You

  1. Perhaps some of you read my post on The Deeper Leader blog earlier this week here… in which I said many of the same things. No, I’m not claiming I had the idea first! Rather, I’m simply agreeing with Ken: let’s listen twice as much as we speak; let’s respond to questions rather than trying to convince anyone of the rightness of “our” position–no matter which side of the proverbial aisle we prefer. Remember that Jesus spoke to those who came out to hear him, for the most part. Let’s love one another deeply enough to earn a hearing by listening closely to the concerns of others, and by doing all we can to speak their language in our responses.

    • Yes you are dreaming. While there is no armageddon in eschatological suspense at the moment, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a turn over the past 10 years. What I would propose is that the church (in the sense of 1 Peter) can no longer deceive itself that it can FULLY participate in the civil and cultural practices, and still be a recongnizable church. Dr. Miller’s dream is that PSU and its embrace of the elite sport meme doesn’t have dramatic negative consequences now and forever. 25% of the people of my church believe that dedicating themselves to the NFL elite sports meme on Sundays, Monday nights, and thursday nights doesn’t have negative consequences. Some might say that my making wine has them as well.

      My guess is that characteristics of the deity are simply not found in what is celebrated, take my least favorite one – humility. Where would I find that in the civil and cultural practices. Self-sacrifice? The trifecta of Micah?

      Moving to a Platonic front: true, good, beautiful. Do I really believe that they will be piped into my house for $79/month? And all I have to do is put my derriere on some seat cushions to have them? Maybe if I’m soused enough on beer and the American experience.

      Sunday afternoon I went with a number of other people to a children’s dedication service, the second time i’ve been to this church’s tradition service. I got the full platonic effect. Many stories there, but one couple with two children talking about the death of their 42 week old daughter of a year ago while dedicating their little one was as true as one could get. I had to cry while experiencing real unmanaged emotion, no slowmo there, no camera angles, no pre-game.

      I doubt there is any managed pre-game to real experience of the platonic front.

      • not a rant yet, but i’ll get there. I simply don’t think that getting to know you r neighbor is the starting point. I’d recommend a more fundamental change (to ourselves) as above, I think there is even a classically quote scripture for this. this weekend when i cleanup the backyard of the old widow lady i met in the coffeeshop i’ll ask her opinion. would she rather goto the game with and talk about Tebow or remove the quintessential american experiences by people to have time for her. Should I listen to her about the death of her son by three drunks coming back from a football game, or talk to her about the upcoming game between Vtech and UVA?

        What are the fulcrums of Turner’s Communitas (finding each other through common experience) for the Evangelicals? They are either exactly the same or very close to the same of those who we might believe we are in opposition to.

  2. This hits at the heart of what I’m feeling today. I’ve read so many negative things JUST TODAY on Facebook about how the nation’s poor (i.e. anyone on welfare) can celebrate at 4 more years of hand-outs. I want to cry. Having walked the welfare road while Phil was in seminary, I can say that if the ones who post these kinds of blanket generalizations knew anyone on welfare, they’d be surprised to find people who are hard at work raising children, working one or more jobs to barely make ends meet, who are educated, intelligent and yes, dependent on the government for a little (or a lot) of help. Knowing people, putting a face to an issue, makes a ton of difference. Thanks for the reminder to stop stereotyping and start understanding.

  3. After growing up in the shelter of PA Dutch culture in the Lehigh Valley and the conservative church my parents faithfully partipated in, I was blessed with the chance to grow well beyond my roots. I was given the life-altering opportunity to live in “New York’s 6th borough”, the Pocono Mountains. For the last 16 years I have met some great people, (and some not so great ones), that have exposed me to ways of life and thought that have stretched my mind, challenged my faith, and transformed my politics.
    The church I pastor in Bushkill is a beautiful melting pot of African Americans, Hispanics, Pocono natives, and transplants from New York and New Jersey, just to name a few. This variety of cultures, faith traditions, and world views have produced just about every possible shade of both “red” and “blue” politics imaginable. These are my neighbors. I have invited them to participate in our fellowship and to consider who Jesus is.
    I remember one particular visit to an African American home. This family already knew Christ and was looking for a church. I was taken back a bit to see a copy of Hillary Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” on a living room shelf. My formerly-right-wing self screamed inside about that liberal plan to brain-wash our children. Clinton? I thought they were Christians? They should know better!
    Thankfully, I was wise enough to leave those thoughts unspoken. I glady listened to their story, and then they listened to mine. We never even talked about politics. We talked about our common struggles and how our faith fits into our lives in meaningful ways. To this day they will vote Democrat every time. Others in our church are just as vigilant about voting conservative. And we still manage to worship together every Sunday! We sometimes talk about political issues and candidates, but we give one another the space to disagree with civility and respect. (most of the time, anyway)
    As Ken said so well, let’s get to know the people we share this world with. Once we do so, our politics will become much less important. If you find the courage to listen to their stories, much of the angst felt by so many of my conservative friends today will fade very quickly.

  4. In Christianity there is a foundational truth(absolute). The same is true for America. Men will always fail eventually. This was known by the founders. We have the constitution as the foundational “truth” to go back to and ensure the directions being chosen are the right ones. Created by the States to both give the Federal Government powers and also protect against them. The goal for the States to govern themselves and still be accountable to the whole to protect the whole. Conservatives have been screaming at the top of our lungs for some time now about uneducated and uninformed people. The problem is I don’t think that is the case, I think we are now at a place where a vast majority of people actually feel a socialistic style(though the implications that word brings cause its denial) is a better form of government.

    We can’t simply “just go back to the way it was” it is not possible, it requires some back tracking, we have gone astray so to speak. The problem is the right is too impatient and blind to the fact that we can’t just do a reboot but need to remove some viruses first. While the left seems to think in a way that would be like a prodigal son deciding he’s gone so far astray the best course of action is to now worship Buddha.

    • I rabbit trailed a bit. The point was discussing political things is very much like discussing our Christian beliefs. Some things can be compromised others cannot because there is an absolute truth, if one side refuses or denies that absolute there is no basis for a conversation.

      • Do you really mean to suggest that unless one shares your understanding of truth there is no point in listening to them? Our truth is a person, not a set of propositions. Though we must say something about the truth, we should not confuse our propostions with the Truth itself (John 14:6 might speak to that).

  5. Not at all. I have had many civil conversations with people who were willing to understand what I was rooted in, and though they may not hold to the same foundation, which I too acknowledged, we were able to find a common ground and realize one or the other did not in fact hate America but did believe very different things about it. The problem is agreeing to disagree does not solve the problem. There needs to be a foundation, whether we are firmly on it or need to get back to it, it needs to exist. Then a fruitful and beneficial conversation can take place, a conversation on how we get back to the foundation not on who gets to throw the dart at the idea board this time.

    • And no I did not mean to imply that much of a similarity between the Truth of Christ and the fundamental “truth” of America.

      • Actually the difference is why I get so worked up( “passionate”) about politics. The Truth of Christ is an Absolute He is unchanging, I can have as many conversation with people on it civil or not, and no matter what they do or do not believe, say or don’t say it will never change I am still planted in that Truth and He will always be. America on the other hand was founded on fundamental truths, a lot of which came from men based in the Truth. But it is not an absolute, what others believe or don’t believe can and do have a very real impact on it.

  6. Thanks, Ken. I agree so very much.

    A lot of the things that people think are failings of our country are really ways that the Church in this country has failed. Marriages failing? People making foolish financial decisions? Individuals abusing themselves in various ways? Those are things that we should be stopping – but not through legislation. Through actually talking with our neighbors, becoming friends with people who have different histories than ours, offering them the wisdom that we have and pointing them to the God who makes all things whole.

  7. Fully agree, and thank you for the post, Ken. I have been feeling for a long time that we (Disciples of Jesus) need to be spending far more of our time coming alongside of our neighbors and friends, and listening to them, and seeking paths to understanding (rather than what we have been mostly doing in recent years, which has been building walls of separation and instigating unproductive conflict). I would further suggest that if we could get our elected officials to take this same advice, America might just be able to begin again to move forward toward actually getting problems solved.

    The follower of Jesus ought not be the person with his heels dug in, on either side of the political aisle, refusing to talk or listen. The Christian ought to be the minister of reconciliation, the one standing in the aisle, holding out his hands in both directions and encouraging those on both sides to “come, let us reason together.”

    I used to think, myself, that I knew the “absolute truth” on certain issues, and as a result those issues were non-negotiable for me. I could not discuss them unemotionally or sensibly. And those issues dictated how I voted, for many years. Many of my believing friends still are this way. I still have along way to go myself, but by listening and learning from fellow believers whose views or perspectives differ from mine, I believe my faith has grown deeper as my compassion has grown wider.

    We cannot truly love our neighbors until we listen to them and understand where they are coming from. And loving our neighbors was one of our Lord’s top commands.

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