In his Inaugural Speech President Biden called for unity. To his credit, he did not ask us to sweep our significant social and political differences under the rug. On the contrary, he recognized that disagreement can and should be the engine of democracy.
Disagreeing with each other is not our chief problem. It’s how we disagree that has been producing cracks in our national foundation. Instead of genuinely talking to each other about our differences, we shout over each other.
We use inflammatory rhetoric to win points with those who already agree with us and spend very little energy on listening to those with a different perspective. As a result, we rarely devise innovative solutions to our persistent problems.
You won’t find an era in US history, or in world history for that matter, during which everybody was of one mind about important issues. What marks our own time as especially perilous is the contempt and even the hatred we feel for those with whom we disagree.
Many of us are so entrenched in our own point of view—and in our loyalty to a political affinity group—that we can no longer listen to and learn from voices different from our own.
For some time now, left and right, rural and urban haven’t just seen things differently. They have grown to despise each other. Contempt-laden conflict leaves only winners and losers. To borrow a phrase from the nuclear arms race of the previous century, it leads to mutual assured destruction.
Any hope of moving toward a more perfect union includes committing ourselves to a path of reasoning together. That path is paved with the hard and patient work of give and take, back and forth, and mutual edification.
To really talk to each other, we have to believe in our heart of hearts that other people have something to tell us and to teach us. We have to be willing to listen.
Our own perspectives are limited. We may be wrong or our understanding may be lacking. In other words, really talking to each other requires humility.
And as it turns out, this point in our history is a juncture where those who have taken up the call to follow the example of Jesus may just have something especially helpful to offer.
Mind you, America is not a Christian nation. And you don’t have to be a Christian—you don’t have to be religious at all—to be fully American.
Nevertheless, the Christian concept of humility—a concept that we share with other faith traditions—reinforces the American notion that we are all equal. Equal in a way even deeper than the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. And our ability to talk together requires that we acknowledge that equality.
All of us share in the same human condition. We are all equal in our fragility, our imperfection, and our finitude. No matter how rich, smart, good looking, or talented you are, you never know what hand life is going to deal you next.
Whether you have a PhD or, like my maternal grandfather, you finished only the third grade, there will always be something you don’t know. Probably more than you know right now. And you will always have something vital to offer all the rest of us.
Nobody chooses their family of origin, and the Grim Reaper eventually knocks on every door.
Our finitude means that each of us always has a limited perspective and that we’ll make flawed decisions from time to time. None of us knows the whole story and everybody screws up in ways known and unknown.
Nobody’s point of view is complete. No one is perfect in character or conduct. We are equal in weakness and in the short-sightedness of our mind’s eye.
And so we need each other. Sometimes we need a helping hand. Sometimes we’ll be the one who lends a hand, to echo the new President.
And this is especially so when it comes to figuring out how to confront our common challenges. We do our best social and political work when we humbly learn from and interact with each other’s perspective and insight.
Humility makes it possible for us to hear and learn from each other. And that is how we shape a better future. Together.
Or, to borrow Ram Dass’ oft-cited phrase, we are at our best when we remember that we’re all just walking each other home.
Thank you Jake. God s peace.
So agree with what you’ve said. But just last night I saw a twitter account of a mega-church pastor who’s still tweeting about the election being stolen plus nasty stuff about KHarris. I also saw a woman with a Jesus Saves sign being interviewed as Biden took his oath. As people applauded Biden, she staunchly maintained there’d been a landslide win to Trump and that he’s ‘God’s president’. Here in NZ it’s hard to comprehend what you face in the US. I find myself confused, conflicted, appalled at the divisions in the church, and finally I retreat like a turtle under its shell, barely able to process this stuff. Maybe the top US church leaders need to come together with a strong joint statement to condemn the lies about the election for what they are – have they already done this? Something needs to be done to combat the false beliefs.
The work will take a long time. Many of us have been doing it for a while. Try not to let the size of the challenge discourage you. Or, as Bishop Michael likes to quote from Spirituals, don’t grow weary. BTW, got your earlier email about promoting conversations. We’ve been doing a version of that for a while. Again, step by step. Just don’t quit.
Ms. Liz, it is difficult for me, too, to understand how many people believe such outrageous lies about our election. Please continue to pray for us.
Madeline, hi! Yesterday I read about a Republican report that clearly pinned the blame for their loss on many people not seeing T***p as honest or trustworthy, and also because of his terrible handling of the pandemic. As you rightly said, the lies are outrageous. Also yesterday.. I watched AOC personally recount what she experienced during the attack on the Capitol – she literally feared for her life and it was incredibly traumatic for her. I’ve been confused about *how* to pray but I’m thinking it should be for courage, strength and safety for all US leaders whose top priority is the welfare of the poor and oppressed, and also that they’ll remain calm and clear-thinking even while facing hatred, aggression and scorn. But I’m far away in NZ. Any ideas from you and/or +Jake on what to pray for would be welcome, and I’m also keeping in mind the next four years are crucial! I’m guilty of a long response, my apologies to you and Jake. Take care folks. God bless. [and I’d welcome any ideas you or Jake might offer on how to pray for the US]
Like Roderick, I remember a time when I could talk politics with people who held different beliefs with an honest “we agree to disagree” attitude. That seems to be gone. I pray for civility and understanding–for myself and those who hold different views from me. I also pray for the courage to say, “I don’t see things that way,” without becoming defensive or aggressive. I can look back at my life and see how my views changed because someone (or many someones) stated their beliefs without attacking me or judging me. On my own, I was able to see a different viewpoint and come to a deeper understanding of an issue. I think we all need to pause and take a deep breath (and I definitely include myself in that because I can see how judgmental and impatient I can be). I am grateful for prayers of people around the world for us and our country.
Your heart spoke to mine, very helpful ~many thanks and a virtual hug from me in NZ 🙂
Thanks! I admire the Episcopal church and how ready y’all are to do the work, and it gives me hope! God bless.
Thanks B. Jake, we need to embrace our differences and learn from each other, and it’s alright not to agree. Simply agree to disagree humbly, without prejudice. Short story- my Yenta, who lives in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She would have a dinner party once a mont with her husband ( both Jewish) and liberal, one couple republican, and on couple independent. They would be be engrossed in politics in the 60s and 70s. They shared their views and had heated debates, they learned what made the others tick. At the end sometimes they may see the others point of view, but more importantly often they agreed to disagree. Shake hands and hug and say see you next month. You see we all don’t have the same values, and that’s ok, as long as we can share them and have our voices heard. She also gave me one piece of advice that I try to live by: be good to yourself, be good to others and be good to the planet; everything else will take care of itself. Thanks Jake for bringing me down memory lane of a different sort. Amen
What a lovely memory. And terrific advice! Blessings Roderick
In my reading for my class (Exploring Theologies of Religion) the discussions around division and exclusivism within Christianity and Christianity’s approach to other religions has been good.
The focus on Jesus and his prophetic message (as summarized in Micah 6:8 and the commandments to love God and all neighbors) calls us to listen to the voices of the suffering (humankind and the earth itself) and co-labor in bringing about real change for the suffering in this world.
Suffering is broken down by Paul Knitter (the author I have been reading for this week and next week’s classes) into these categories: poverty, victimization, violence, and patriarchy.
Oops, didn’t mean to ramble on… thank you for helping to bring the readings alive for me, Jake!
Not rambling at all :D, I enjoyed what you shared especially “calls us to listen to the voices of the suffering (humankind and the earth itself)” – I really like how you put that. I was bought up in a conservative form of Christianity which didn’t put much emphasis on social and environmental justice, and I’m really sad for that. I think it should go hand-in-hand with the gospel of Jesus. Thank you! And… all the best for your studies. God bless.
Thank you, Ms. Liz!!
What a cool class! And you’re not rambling, my friend. Good stuff
It is a cool class! It is so good to be back in seminary a few decades after I graduates!
This is not really a disagreement, but more of a request. I was born and then baptized as an Episcopalian. In my mid-teens I had a born-again experience, and went Evangelical for several decades. Then began pulling away not only because I saw some inconsistencies that were not adequately explained but became alarmed at the increasing politicization of the faith. In all the current events of these days, I have never seen so much polarization and division. I do believe in unity, agreeing to disagree, and approaching others with humility. But, and this is my point, the OTHER SIDE, is not listening but entrenching in their viewpoint more than ever, and yelling more loudly than ever. I’ve only read two Christian articles that have addressed the idea that these divisions may not be reconcilable. Bishop Jake, care to comment? Any further suggestions on approaching other Christians who insist their viewpoint is the only correct viewpoint?
Thank you for bringing this up, Pastor Steven. You’re not alone in wondering how to encourage dialogue when some seem set only on proving their point and silencing opposition. I’ll be writing about this from time to time. At the moment I can just tell you that I think when I get the opportunity to participate in authentic dialogue I’m acting as leaven. Such conversations make the world a better place even when others won’t participate in them. I don’t accept invitations to shouting matches.
Thank you, +Jake!
Thank you for this post, Jake. I am convicted! Yesterday, talking to my brother (who tends toward conspiracy theories), I dismissed him out of hand instead of listening and trying to understand. I will try harder to be a better listener, more compassionate and kinder. (Maybe I will engage in a Lenten journey of seeking out those who hold different views listening and trying to understand or at least stay above name-calling).
I completely understand. It’s difficult to listen to the deep stuff that motivates a person to believe in conspiracy theories without directly engaging the falsehood of those theories and also without seeming to accept them as a reasonable alternative. Arlie Russell Hochschild is my hero in that regard. In her book Strangers in their Own Land she details how she befriended people committed to the Tea Party (living in my Diocese, by the way) to hear their deep story. This is all my way of saying that I’m working on it too!
fascinating.. when searching for the book details I found her talking about her experience at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RywaAeWbXjo ~so far I’ve just heard how she planned going “super south” intending to meet with “whites, hopefully evangelicals” and I’m planning on listening to more when time allows!
ps. watched all the youtube interview and was rapt to listen to her. Btw right at the end she relates how a woman she wrote about, visited her at her home and one day they had a left/right ‘living room conversation’ re the environment – and found common ground. The woman enjoyed it and was keen try initiating such conversations herself when she returned home to Lake Charles. Seems a great concept! and now I’m keen to read the book 🙂