We do a lot of waiting at this time of year: in traffic, in lines to pay for purchases, at the Post Office mailing packages, to hear whether we will plunge off the fiscal cliff. We wait with anxiety, wondering how things can possibly come out right.
We also possibly spend a lot of time waiting to be faked out. After several months of watching the news avidly, I’ve mostly turned it off. I know what’s going to happen. No Republican will want to be the one who drove the family car of the United States over the fiscal cliff. No Democrat will want to be remembered that way either. They will reach an agreement, I predict, and it will be ugly and ungracious. I refuse to let them drive me off the anxiety cliff in the process, in service of a conspiracy — one I hope is unplanned, but who knows? — a conspiracy to keep us turning on the TV and buying the newspaper. What next? What next?
More of the same, I fear.
I grew up in a political family, wearing my father’s campaign buttons. (You can read more about him on Wikipedia.) Here’s a thing he understood and passed along to me: people have to work together to accomplish anything good for anyone. They may not agree on the specifics, but somewhere in the magnificent middle, they can figure out what’s best and what will work. When he had a problem with someone, he didn’t go on the news and say that person was a liar or a cheat or an idiot. He looked for another way around the disagreement.
In recent years, we’ve seen absolute brutality in national politics, with people publicly imputing the worst possible motives to their opponents. It’s a direct ticket to the edge of every kind of cliff, where a crowd gathers, waiting to see who will be pushed off first.
It’s as if we can no longer afford to give “the other side” the benefit of the doubt.
We’re seeing this in the hearings about Benghazi. One side assumes the worst about the other, and everyone is happy to go on TV and say so.
So what happens when we’ve been listening to discussions of inhumane tone, and then we need to have a conversation at church? I’ve watched it happen in churches I serve. In the United Church of Christ, my denomination, we have a designation for churches who declare their welcome to LGBT people. To become Open and Affirming, a church needs to have a study process first. I’ve seen it happen that a church can’t get to the process because the loudest voice “wins” by shutting down a conversation about talking about becoming Open and Affirming. Yes, I built in the apparent redundancy on purpose. The loudest voice shut down the possibility of talking about talking about doing the process.
We don’t know how to disagree without getting into a fight, because that’s all we see portrayed before us. We shut down to avoid the conflict. We tell ourselves there will be a better time later, sometime in the future.
What are we waiting for?
How long, O Lord, how long?
I want to tell you I’ve been willing to show courage and take on tough issues, but I’m not good at it. I get wound up. My heart beats uncomfortably hard and fast. It’s one thing to disagree where there is trust and love. It’s another thing to do it in the face of hostility. How sad is it that the place I’m afraid to face disagreement is the church, a place where we expect to have love and trust?
We end up waiting things out, clinging to the edges of community where the like-minded people also situate themselves. It’s true for most of us, at either end of the spectrum.
Somewhere in the middle is a place, maybe, where that same most of us, maybe, can muddle through the differences of belief and understanding together. I don’t mean doing it the way the politicians will to avoid the famous cliff; I’m not speaking of expediency followed by diatribes. Making our way to that muddled middle requires tuning out the extreme voices, the ones spewing anger as a weapon. In politics, turn them off. Don’t vote for them. Easy enough. On the internet, on your blog, on mine, ignore the comments.
But in church it’s harder. The same voice that was loudest, closing off discussion, may be the voice of the person who needs you to visit a dying mother in the hospital. The same voice that was loudest, raising the blood pressure of everyone else in the room, may be the voice of the person who works all day to cook a meal for the hungry. That same voice that was the loudest, making you wonder if you might lose your job if the conversation didn’t stop right there, may be the voice of the person saying “Thanks be to God” when you offer the bread and the cup.
You can’t change that channel.
You can only change yourself.
(Yes, that means me, too.)
I’ve been waiting for it to be easy, but I can’t wait anymore. In the muddled middle, I’m trying to practice saying what I believe matter-of-factly, kindly and openly. I’m trying not to be apologetic or aggressive. I’m trying not to wait anymore and speak the words God is calling out of me, the words God is calling me to say.
I’m trying to trust God in the middle of it.
What are you waiting for?
(Cross-posted at Political Theology.)