“Defeat Obamacare” was the last message on a huge homemade sign on the side of a house just a half mile from where I live. That sign once spelled out “Bush-Cheney” and “Elect John McCain.” No confusing this household’s political loyalties! When my wife and I received an invitation to a party at this very house, it came from a woman who wanted her daughter-in-law and my wife to meet since they are both from Latin American countries. We agreed to go.
Mary and John were the first people in our new community of Oak Park outside my congregation that had us over. It was a St Patrick’s Day party. That evening, I became acquainted with their extended family, an Irish Catholic clan with a broad range of political views, some as far left as Mary is right! I ventured to articulate my own core values and positions, and though many majorly differed from the hosts, the colorful conversation unfolded in the spirit of engaged and respectful dialog. I was welcome.
Five years later, Mary’s baby brother, Tom, died--much too young. Mary asked me to officiate the memorial service. Tom was a political and religious liberal, committed to serving others. This experience bonded me even closer with them. Grief and sorrow--just as kindness and compassion--transcend political ideology. Connecting with people around universal human themes transcends all divisions: political, religious, cultural. I witnessed the love that threads throughout this family.
To get to know people who are different than us--different political views, different theology and religious practices, different cultures--is a counterculture activity. And a crucial one if we want to strengthen the tapestry of community. Personal acquaintance of people who come from different backgrounds is what cultivates civility, respect, and a community strengthened by real relationships. It is not only personally edifying to know people from a broad range of backgrounds, it also makes for a healthier society.
When I learned that their sign and house were vandalized, I was saddened that people in my community would bend so low. Such vandalism is cowardly. And such cowardly actions don't come only from the left.
I recently was talking with a friend of mine who will strike up a conversation with anyone, regardless whether he suspects there may be disagreement. For he shows curiosity for why people hold views different from his and then seeks to drill down towards common values, asserting his own perspective all the while. Over the last year he has encountered a disturbing trend. Rather than reaching a place of finding common ground, three separate conversations ended abruptly when the other person showed him that they were carrying a gun. Each of these three were successful businessmen and in one case a public official. My friend was speechless, angered and frustrated. These people seemed articulate and thoughtful and then demonstrated that a culture shift is occurring, as more people carry guns. Why would someone resort to actually sharing that they are packing heat, than to make an implicit threat? to suggest that they have firepower that they don’t need to listen to people with whom they disagree?
There is a trend for people to carry guns wherever they go in some states. It seems to me that guns brought into and shown within the public square destroys the public square. It is a form of bullying. To reveal one’s gun in a heated conversation is an act of cowardice--as well as disrespect and distrust. How do we counter the effects of these values? How do we live out our shared values of inclusion, dialog and respect?
I share these stories and questions because we, in this country, need to bridge the divide. The divisions between us seem to be widening, so all the more important for ordinary people to become ambassadors of love and nonviolence. Love with Courage calls us all to cultivate relationships that acknowledge our differences while finding common ground. I will share more soon about these “public” relationships that connect us to others.