My grandson Jace and I had finished our shopping and were walking to the car. Close to where my car was parked there were two men talking, as we approached them their conversation turned into shouting and finger pointing and arm waving I have no idea what it was about. Jace grabbed my leg and said, "Papa, I scared."
There is a lot of shouting going on in our society, verbally and symbolically. Churches across our country have had meetings and worship services interrupted by groups from the "right" and groups from the "left." College graduations are interrupted by people shouting their particular position on everything from the ethical treatment of farm animals to the abomination of homosexuality. Funerals of US soldiers are picketed by protesters proclaiming the sinfulness of the nation. We have become a nation of "in your face" shouters.
I was recently involved with a group that had received a report of information about the issue we were addressing. A member of the group gave their interpretation of the report and I said, "Well, that is one way to understand the information."
They responded with an aggressive tone, "That is the right way to understand it." In that moment there was no longer any space that would allow us to have a conversation. As soon as any individual, church, organization, or political party believes there is only one way to understand something there is no longer any space for productive engagement. I refer to this as the "righteousness of rightness." I hold to the old proverb, "Align yourself with the person who seeks the truth, but flee from the person who claims to have found it." I am wary of groups that are speaking as if they have the whole truth and nothing but the truth no matter what the issue is. My experience is that truth is complex and needs to be approached with much humility if truth is to reveal itself to me. Truth is much more present when I am humble and truth seems to disappear when I am arrogant and righteous.
We are headed into our next presidential election. I hope I am wrong but I am anticipating this to be a very ugly brawl. My guess is that both President Obama and Governor Romney are going to paint each other with a broad brush, that they will quote each other out of context, they won't lie but they will not tell the whole story, and they will give us the impression that if you really care about America your choice is clear. Well, things are rarely clear there are many ways to understand and address an issue. We face many challenging and complex issues and I want the candidates for president to reflect that challenge and complexity by seriously defining and articulating their views and not to shout at each other. I am tired of all the shouting in our society. There are very few moderate voices these days. I am to the point where it doesn't matter if I agree with your position or not, if you are going to "SHOUT AT ME OR OTHERS" or be "RIGHTEOUSLY RIGHT" I will be hesitant to get on board.
Here are some values that I think we should lift up as followers of Christ. I have adapted these from the Sojourners Community Covenant.
I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)
I will express my disagreements with other's without insulting, mocking, or slandering them. (Matthew 5:22)
I will not exaggerate others' beliefs and positions nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)
So, why all the shouting? There are various reasons. People are angry. People are frightened. People are frustrated. Things aren't fair. The economy has made some incredibly rich and others have lost life savings. Somebody needs to be blamed. The shouting may get peoples attention but it isn't empowering us to constructive action. I don't claim to have the answer to this chasm that has developed among us but it seems to me that the current "in your face style" of addressing issues isn't working for individuals, churches, organizations, or political parties, and it infrequently brings about the sought after change, and often it just entrenches people even more deeply in their position.
I don't want to give the impression that we shouldn't stand up for our conviction, our faith, and our values indeed we should. I think one of the most important things I did as a father was to model my convictions to my children. But we can stand for our convictions, faith, and values without shouting at each other, without being in each other's face, and without being "righteously right" we can stand firmly but respectfully, and we can do it with a measure of humility.
When Jace heard the shouting in the parking lot he grabbed my leg and said, "Papa, I scared." Sometimes I am scared about all the shouting we have in our society. I want to be a person who stands firm for my convictions, my faith, and my values without needing to shout at others. In closing I share a passage from 1 Corinthians that is a popular reading for weddings in its original context the reading had nothing to do with marriage but it was about how we live together in community.
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong of clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the right."