Thanksgiving is this coming week, and election results are still fresh. Some may be concerned about emerging conflicts when our families are gathered and issues discussed.
I read on a friend’s Facebook page that we should be prepared to take a firm stand on the divisive issues in our country, and that if we do not speak up, we are cowards. I think that how we speak and listen is much more significant than simply boldly taking our stand.
The first thing we need to remember is the humanity of the person in front of us.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that I must speak the truth, but always in love. (Ephesians 4:15). Having said that, Jesus did offer some challenging words for those who take advantage of people in weak positions — the poor, the marginalized, the foreigner.
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So as a follower of Christ, I hear a call to defend the needs of those who are in difficult circumstances. There could be tension between my defense of the weak and my respectful conversation with the person who does not agreement with me about this mandate of compassion.
To have a fruitful conversation is less about winning debate points and more about listening, learning and looking for common ground.
Sometimes that means biting the tongue to avoid diving in the deep water of division. Other times it means finding a creative way to ask a question or make a statement, so that the other has an invitation (not a demand) to consider another perspective.
This is where careful word choice and tone of voice make a huge difference.
When Jesus was tested by a lawyer, who wanted to know whom he must love as neighbor, Jesus did not debate the point but told a story in which the “dangerous” person is the hero and the “safe” religious people are not dependable. Jesus often used stories or parables to teach challenging lessons (Luke 10).
By the time you read this piece, I will be with a dozen youth and adults from Peace Church building a house with Life Connection Mission. More important than any assistance we are providing is the opportunity we will have to love neighbors in Haiti and to receive their love in return.
We will return to the U.S. more aware of our blessings and more appreciative of neighbors, whose lives are different from ours.
All of us are shaped by our life experiences which teach us to either to trust or fear others. Those who fear find it difficult to love.
I wonder if you might seek out some experiences and perspectives that are different from your own — whether by watching a different channel on cable news or talking to a person on your street or in your family, whose perspective is different from yours.
Speak the truth in love, show compassion to those in need, and listen with respect to differences.
This is the only way we humans can live together in harmony.
The Rev. Elizabeth Deibert is the pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church, 12705 State Road 64, Lakewood Ranch. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald, written by local clergy members.