Sunday, September 20, 2009

Part II of missing the point: "I hope you come back in a body bag!"

It seems like everyone is getting a word in on the question of civility, or lack thereof, in the likes of incidents in Serena Williams threatening words to a line judge at the U.S. Open, Kanye West ego-drive to the stage of the MTV awards and grabbing Taylor Swift's mike, or Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst smack dab in the middle of President Obama's speech. I chose to say something about Wilson's outburst in my last post.

To say it again: I'm appalled by Wilson's disrespectful outburst. But, this is not about partisan political or philosophical viewpoint. It has to do with character, how we treat one another, whether we listen to each other, and how we talk to each other when we have disagreements.

Story #2: during the first Gulf war, I felt compelled to join some people to express our sadness, as well as our opinion that we disapproved of going to war and advocated a different approach to dealing with this conflict. So, one very cold January morning, on the corner of the busiest intersection in Toledo, I joined 25 people or so with signs and standing together in solidarity with our desire for another way. I'll have to admit, I was nervous yet felt this is something I needed to do.

I was with some people I knew and others I did not know. At this one moment, I was standing next to a woman who I did not know when the light turned red and a man in a white pick-up truck rolled down his passenger window. He was wearing fatigues and started yelling at us. Cussing. Calling us cowards. The woman next to me decided to take him on.

He said things like you guys are cowards, that we should be happy that we'll start killing crazy people in Iraq, that we should have something better to do than this.

She yelled back things like you don't know what you're talking about, we are the ones with true courage, the problem is with people like you, etc.

He: "Well, I wish I could be over there right now fighting for the U.S.!"

She: "If you went, you might end up in a body bag!"

He: "Well, I'd rather come back in a body bag than to stand there doing what you idiots are doing!"

And then...her line. The peace activist. She said, angrily: "Then, I hope you come back in a body bag!"

What?? What did I hear? That you hope he comes back in a body bag??

At that moment, after being stunned, I decided to leave. I shook my head and said "No. No." to her, and I left. We, who were advocating for peace and non-violent solutions, cannot take that approach, for it completely nullifies the message we want to communicate. I want no part of this. One bad apple was spoiling the whole bunch of us gathered that day.

What we say and how we say it is part of the message.

Now, I did not agree with the particular viewpoint of the man in the pick-up, but I'm called to love, not just those I agree with, but even my enemies.

For those who take up the name "Christian," and say we are followers of Jesus, must show a different way in our discourse and actions. Part of that is cultivating a character that is open to questions, will ask questions, and enter into respectful dialogue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Part I of missing the point: "You lie!"

A heads-up from the beginning: this is not about partisan politics. In fact, far from it.

It appears, far too often, in the arena of politics that a game is being played and you toss out the rules that guide behavior in other walks of life. (I'm referring to "politics" in a specific sense- that of the halls of Washington, state capitals and local municipalities.) It gets nasty. It's increasingly partisan. A game. Posturing.

If you've been around this blog some you will know that I don't place my emphasis, hope or focus in this sphere. My focus is on the call of Jesus of what life as a transnational citizen of the kingdom of God looks like, and seek to embody that in the world. But, there are times when you just have to "name" things out there.

What Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina did during President Obama's speech last week was appalling, in my mind. Reprehensible. To call out, "You lie!" to the President, during his speech, is stunning. This is one who is elected to serve in congress?

Flat-out rude.

This is not about the issues at stake in a discussion about health care; there is a setting for that discussion. (And, you can argue, well, in fact, that there's a great deal of more maturity needed in the halls of congress when issues get debated in this or any issue!) You can totally disagree with the President's viewpoint and direction, and there should be informed and compassionate debate about the issues. But...but, you don't yell out in the middle of a speech the President is giving.

I know there was a small slap on the wrist that the House of Representatives gave yesterday, but I'm still shocked that there would not be overwhelming rejection of this type of action from all political parties. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be shocked.

So, I'll call it from my end: rude, disrespectful, immature. This is not how you engage the issues.

Is it a surprise, then, that lack of decorum and respect will be accepted by others in society if this is not denounced?

This does lead me to the fact that in our communities seeking to follow Jesus, we must be good models of how we talk to one another, discuss issues with which we disagree, and dialogue about tough issues. "Agreeing and disagreeing in love," as we say in some circles.

Perhaps that's the main point: that we must model this in our churches and communities of faith. We say "yes" to this way of dealing with our differences; and we say "no" to the "You lie!" outbursts and ways of engagement.

It applies to wherever one is along the continuum of beliefs, politics, philosophy, etc. That's why this is Part I. Part II is another story to follow...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Safe place to ask hard questions

I had lunch recently with a 29 year old guy in a Thai restaurant on a fun street in a popular neighborhood. A good Thai restaurant and my first time there. Great yellow curry dish. Have you had a yellow curry chicken meal recently?! Ok, that’s beside the point…

In the course of the conversation we talked about The Bridge, this church that is a year old today. He asked me about the church, how it started, the vision, and where I see it going. Does he know what he’s doing by asking that question? For one, it means he’ll finish his food and mine will get cold while I relish the opportunity to talk about this stuff!

And I did. Imagine that.

And I asked him about life and what he’s looking for and church and community. Those things. It was a great conversation. I learned as I listened. I plopped down my jotter on the table and took notes on my 3X5 cards. Is there ever a time when one doesn’t learn from a meaningful conversation?

In response to my question of what ideas he would have for our church, he said: “One of the most important things you might offer is a safe place for younger adults to ask the hard questions.” And then he went on to talk about that a bit.

A safe place to ask the hard questions.

I’m with you! A safe place to ask hard questions, and to engage and have dialogue around those questions; that is built into the intent of The Bridge as it began.

I pick up this polarization that is floating around. On the one hand, questions are encouraged but there is a notion, whether implicit or explicit, that there are no answers. Only questions. On the extreme other end, answers are given for everything and you might as well not ask questions. For, either there is no point to asking questions or you might be judged and looked down upon for your question or doubt.

There is a third way. As I find to be the case with rising frequency, we don’t have to choose between these two poles. One of the things I hope that we can convey in our church community, is that we believe there are some answers. Some important answers to significant issues related to meaning, life, the quest for truth, about loving God and loving others (enemies included). We are not left with only questions.

And right on the tail of that…we also do not have answers. No one person or group has answers to all questions, dilemmas and doubts. There is a ton of, to use a well-worn word these days, mystery.

So, bring on the doubts, questions and search for truth and God. We will not come out on the same page when wrestling with these questions. We do believe there are some key beliefs and ways of living that we believe to be true, and centered in Jesus as the fullness of God revealed to humanity. But, there are many questions that will keep us searching and in dialogue as a community.

Come to think of it, that yellow curry dish is not beside the point. Enjoying great conversation over great food in a fun neighborhood is part of life. Part of this search for joy, life, truth and meaning.