My husband Michael wrote the following poem describing his experience working within a group of bright software engineers.  In his Netscape management days, I frequently heard the term “herding cats” spoken with frustration. As he has grown older and wiser, Michael can now approach these issues with more patience, kindness and a lot of humor:

 

there will always be someone

 

there will always be someone

who thinks things are going too fast

and believes more attention to process

is the only way to win

 

there will always be someone

who thinks things are going too slow

and thinks that increased procedural precision

is killing us

 

there will always be someone

demanding to know

  who is in charge?

with the certainty that if the chain of command were clear

things would get done

 

there will always be someone

who wishes everyone would just get out of the way

and let the goodness emerge and grow

naturally

 

there will always be someone

describing the lack of regular, scheduled, communication

and the ensuing chaos,

as the root of all evil

 

there will always be someone

who starts to mime ritual suicide

at the suggestion of a meeting

just to make sure everyone is on the same page

 

for each person who believes in small incremental change

there exists a newtonian equal and opposite force

demanding that anything less than revolution

is a waste of time

 

i work with

and love

all of these crazy people

these dreamers who know

deep deep deep in their bones

that they are right

and i

am wrong

 

there will always be

great stuff happening

when we have these very arguments

because amazing things happen

when you are laughing

and when someone is really pissed off

they can be really, hilariously, funny

 

Except for the final two stanzas, Michael’s description sounds fairly similar to the political arguments I have witnessed this year.  Conservatives frustrated with feeling alienated or forced to concede issues they haven’t yet explored.  Progressives equally frustrated, feeling stymied by the lack of cooperation. Too fast, too slow, authoritarian, permissive, revelation, revolution….disagreements devolving into name-calling, entrenched politics exploding into violence.

The absence of those stanzas is key.  Even in moments of impasse, at the base of everything, Michael encounters his co-workers with respect and love…and the disarmament of shared humor.

 

As November 3 draws closer, the anxiety growing around us is nearly palpable.  No poll can predict what may engulf our country following this election.  Perhaps it will be like Y2K, all hype and little substance.  Perhaps not.  But as we hold our collective breath, as the intensity continues to build, it helps to remember we all have held as our ideal “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We the people hold the power of that indivisibility, no matter who is in the White House or Congress.

How we treat one another is more important than election results.

 

I love The Message translation of Michah 6:8 — “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.”

 

Take God seriously. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7 gives some clear direction on God’s expectations for our behavior and attitudes.  Reading these words, hearing them in a lifetime of sermons, means little if we are not truly humbled by them, if we are not desperate to work them into our lives.

 

I’m reminded of two incidents that occurred concurrently, almost four hundred years ago. Two interpretations of Scripture, gripped and preached with iron certainty, sometimes with lethal consequences:

In 1616, Galileo was ordered to desist from teaching the “heresy” of heliocentrism (the theory that the Earth orbits the Sun). An Inquisition council insisted the theory contradicted Scripture which they believed clearly taught geocentrism (the theory that the Earth is the center of the universe, that the Sun and other planets orbit us.) Galileo wasn’t the first person to suggest heliocentrism. Nearly a century before Copernicus’ mathematical model, expanding upon an ancient Greek theory, brought the theory forward into the Renaissance.  Kepler, Newton and a host of other scientists continued to add further proof, despite the consequences – a very real precedent of dissenters being beheaded or burned at the stake. 

Because of the church’s (both Protestant and Catholic) insistence on geocentrism, both theories were taught in schools throughout the 1700’s.  With massive evidence piled upon the side of heliocentrism, however, most schools had already dropped geocentric teaching by 1800. Except in the church. In 1822, the Catholic church finally permitted the inclusion of heliocentric teaching in their college of cardinals. In 1835, the ban on Copernicus’ and Galileo’s books was lifted, but it wasn’t until 1992 that Pope John Paul II officially acknowledged Galileo’s contribution to the scientific world. 

 

It’s difficult to admit that our opinions may be wrong.  It seems especially difficult for us as Christians, perhaps because our opinions are interwoven with our faith.  For some Christians in my generation, the call to arms against secular humanism has sometimes superseded the words of Jesus. It has been ingrained in our theology and our psyches. “Worldliness” is our enemy and “churchiness” is our comfort zone.

 

Four hundred years ago, in 1619, a group of Africans were sold to some Virginia colonists.  Thus began a series of atrocities that have continued throughout four centuries into this year’s headlines. From colonial slavery to George Floyd’s murder, white people who name themselves as Christian continue to use the Bible and the American legal system to justify outright persecution and apathy toward our black and brown brothers and sisters.  In my youth, I can remember hearing both Nixon and Reagan speeches about our desperate need for law and order. I didn’t see the Wild West outside my door but I did hear my dad and uncles talking about how awful it would be if colored people moved into our neighborhood, destroying property values and bringing in crime and drugs.

A couple states away, in Chicago, Michelle Obama was growing up at the same time. In her book, Becoming, Michelle talks about visiting older white people’s homes during campaigns and noticing familiar cotton-lace doilies on Midwest tables. The same kind of doilies that used to cover tables in her own relatives’ homes. The connection she recognized in that moment was about what we all share as Americans, as humans.

My family had those doilies, too. 

Michelle probably heard frightening things about white people at her family gatherings, too.

 

Conservative and progressive politics often involve two sides of the same coin. We all want safe environments and good education for our children. We all want reliable healthcare and financial security. We all want the freedom to walk our streets without fear. We all want access to nutritious food, clean air and water that is safe to drink.  Some Americans have never felt a lack of these “basics.”  Some of these privileged ones have believed lies designed by those in power – that the people who don’t enjoy these basics have only themselves to blame. Lies designed to separate, so the haves can congratulate themselves on their own virtuousness and distance themselves from the have-not’s.  So the roots of the lies are never exposed. Racism, greed, exploitation for political and economic gain have lain hidden for decades, for centuries. But God has always seen. Luke 8: 17 claims, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

2020 has been a year of revelation. Not just the political and societal cracks. The pandemic has leveled us to our shared vulnerabilities. How will we respond to what has been revealed?  When the threat of Covid-19 is lessened, will we all return to the same prejudices and platitudes? Have we learned anything about compassion? About our shared humanity?

 

Michael says the manager’s job is to get out of the way, to provide what the engineers need to accomplish the job –  the communication, tools and resources, environment and encouragement to be successful.  Michael sincerely believes most people want to do a good job; if they’re not, it’s usually because the manager hasn’t provided what they need.  

What do our elected officials need to do a good job? Do they have a co-operative work environment? Are we encouraging them to be successful in meeting the needs of all Americans or just the ones who share our opinions? Are they more concerned about keeping their jobs or doing them? 

 

If we, as Americans, continue our in-fighting on social media, if we continue to click on inflammatory headlines and listen to provocative podcasts designed to fuel our outrage at each other, we are merely inviting more of the same.  News media and advertising rates are based on market share.  The more we gobble up, the more there will be.

I, for one, am tired of arguments that do little more than entrench both sides.  We are not victims of marketing, we are consumers.  If we stop eating, they will stop cooking.  

 

There is a place for reasoned discourse.  We face serious issues that need serious contemplation. Listening to each other, working together to find acceptable solutions, can lead to (in Michael’s words) “great stuff happening.”  If we can laugh together as we do it, even better.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were a Supreme example of close friends who did not allow their disagreements to affect their relationship.

 

Whatever the election results, I don’t anticipate any of the current rancor to suddenly cease.  While we can hope that those we elect will lead us toward greater cooperation, this has not been true in recent years.  Perhaps you, like me, now regret having abdicated civic responsibility in previous years, leaving politics to the politicians.  Common decency has been hijacked, turned into wedge issues that are held hostage for political gain. Things are a mess right now, and the fractious obstinance displayed by our leaders (on both sides of the aisle) is a reflection of us. 

We must stop treating one another as enemies.   

Jesus said “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17)  Patrick Henry echoed these words, as did Abraham Lincoln.  It’s time to be reminded again that only American enemies gain anything by our division. There are those who advocate for another American civil war, who want to tear it all down and remake a country in their own image. Like before, they use inflammatory rhetoric, fear, even Scripture to justify their hatred for those whose differences offend them.

Did we learn nothing from the Crusades? from the Spanish Inquisition? These dark periods in church history emphasize a lesson we seem doomed to repeat – it’s not our job to force others to submit to our own convictions.  

Jesus taught us a better way. Love can conquer fear. Kindness can conquer hate. True spiritual fruit evokes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Obvious, perhaps, but not easy.  It feels risky to trust a person who you’ve been told wants to take advantage of you.  It feels riskier to trust someone who looks and sounds like the people who want to kill you.

 

We can make our country stronger together. Systemic change is not nearly as complicated as those in power want us to believe. Let’s follow Jesus’ lead.  He spoke the “house divided” words to religious leaders who accused Him of working with Satan. Instead of constantly trying to name the Antichrist and determine who’s in and who’s outside of God’s kingdom, what if we Christians worked together to do what Jesus did? What if we were encouragers instead of accusers?  What if we actually were known for our love, instead of for our judgmentalism and hypocrisy? 

We the people can choose to lead from behind.  We can show our elected officials that we will not support them with our votes until they prioritize the people Jesus prioritized. The people pushed to the margins of our society – the poor, the stranger, born and unborn children. If you identify as pro-life, your Congressional representatives need to understand we can’t make a society safe for babies until it is safe for the women who carry them. (thank you, Vanessa RyerseToo many of those representatives spout Bible verses to win your vote, and then endorse policies that are the opposite of what Jesus advocated.  

If you have not already voted, pray for God’s Spirit to give you discernment. Don’t assume ticking all Republican boxes is affirming God’s team.  Are you voting for your own security at the expense of others’? Are you voting for corporations to be enriched and single mothers to struggle, unable to afford childcare or healthcare? Do you fear corrections of social and racial inequality will mean you will have less?

Do you cross the Jericho road to avoid the victim, fearing inconvenience or being robbed yourself? Or are you the good Samaritan, taking care of a fellow human even if you disagree on religious issues?

If we only vote to protect people like us, as Jesus said , what credit is that to us? What will it cost us to give others what we want for ourselves? To give generously and graciously, trusting God to be our provider?

Do your elected representatives truly represent your values?   Do you represent Jesus’ values?

Daniel Dietrich sings it best in his “Hymn for the 81%”.

Come home.

 

 

6 thoughts on “Conservative AND Progressive

    • Thanks, Lisa! I so appreciate your response! To be honest, it has been my own self-critique that resisted advertising. Writing has always been cathartic for me, my way of processing. Only the encouragement of good friends and family (and the Spirit’s urging) emboldens me to let those words stand for others to see. I’m praying that the Spirit will guide them to whomever they will benefit.

  1. Linda, I love this post. We’ve been talking in my American Lit class about how to have a civil discussion. Have respect for one another. Don’t reduce people to cardboard cutouts of their political stances; people are more complicated than that. As you say here, seek common ground. When we listen to one another apart from our news sources, it’s funny how much bigger that common ground gets.

    Ah, the selfishness…I feel the whole mask-wearing thing is a symbol right now. Do we wear a mask to protect ourselves–or others? Do we not wear a mask at all, demanding our “rights?”

  2. Thanks, Vickey! Did you happen to follow the link to Vanessa Ryerse’s speech? https://www.facebook.com/vryerse/videos/10164249616215640
    She presents a great example of someone who searched for the truth beyond the headlines.
    I also know Trump supporters who are adamant about wearing masks and encouraging others to do so as well. What unites us is so much greater than what divides us. And you’re right, to define an individual by what their political party (or church) is purported to believe discounts that person’s own identity. You’re a great teacher, btw.

  3. Shelley Waia’u says:

    I was determined to take a chunk of time today dedicated to reading your thoughts on life in this season of decision and discussion.
    Why were you ever nervous about posting these well crafted words?
    Loved reading it and will carve out some more time tomorrow! Thank you for being brave and sharing your heart and intelligence!

  4. thank you, Shelley! i appreciate you taking the time (i know that’s a precious resource in your household!) also encouraging to have support from a fellow history-lover.

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