November 11, 2016
To The Church Lab (TCL) community, supporters and interested friends:
We have been reminded this week of the deep divisions in our country. Your very family may be split politically, or you may not have met anyone from “the other side.” You may marvel at how the count of our votes can be so evenly split, or how there are millions that stay silent. Some of you are relieved, even excited at the results. Some of you are neutral or numb. Some of you are in distress and scared. Some of you are concerned for your safety and the well-being of your children. You might be irritated and puzzled that I would stoke the fire of the issue by writing this at all. Or you might be angry that the tone of this letter is less than furious. Please do be as you are, how you are, which will indeed vary from American to American. Your response is valid and representative of the multiple paradigms of concern we are living out with incredible synchronicity in this our shared land, the home of the free and the brave. Some of you are rolling your eyes at this, and some of your are weepy. Please read on with an open mind and heart if possible.
If anything, what we have in common is that we are all (and have been) living in a strikingly divided country. For a wide and deep variety of reasons, most of us have felt or do feel unheard and invisible in ways that have influenced our choices and behaviors. Becoming heard in this country may feel like a do-or-die competition...against your fellow American neighbors, whether they live on a farm or in a town or up in a high rise (or any other number of demographic ways to pit our identities against one another).
We all have a timely opportunity -- if not a call as citizens -- to begin the work of mending divides in our families, our neighborhoods, our places of work, our neighbors living on those farms all the way to those high rises. Dialogue is more important than ever. There is no need for agreement. Disagreement keeps us on our toes and grows us. But what if we learn to be intentional neighbors such that, over time, it results in mutual trust that we’re here to invest in a common good, rather than solely our subculture’s self-interest? How striking it would be to rely on each other to look out for each other’s well-being, such that disagreements feel feasibly civil and sharpening. Disagreements -- or any words or behavior -- sped by fear and spurred on by resentment will win no battles or wars, for the right or left or beyond. It certainly will not build one another up, as our faiths and humanitarian impulses ask us to do. As such, I challenge you to step up and do the important work of spending time with people unlike you, for our collective future’s sake. You may feel grief-stricken, fearful, elated, relieved; your feelings are welcome as they are. Accompany your experience with dialogue and see what unfolds over time.
It will be uncomfortable. We all have great reasons to get uncomfortable. As a wide community of neighbors, we are invited to dare to advocate for ourselves and for each other. When you throw away your need for comfort, you also throw away your helplessness. There is agency here. Dare I say, our hearts grow when we ask what we can learn from each other.
It is a tempting road to villainize and caricaturize. It puts a temporary bandaid on our hurts when we blame and let that be the extent of our legacy. Such inaction has a festering side effect. When we credit others’ choices as so-called craziness, ignorance or stupidity, we opt out of a less convenient reality where people you might otherwise trust and laugh with have drawn conclusions that are difficult for you to understand or even bear. It is a harder and higher road to imagine your disagreements are not because others are inferior human beings. It is challenging to imagine "they" aren't crazy, to do the tough work of understanding where our divides come from and to commit to lifelong postures of mending with integrity. Mending division and distrust is not fast work; it is a vital and bumpy commitment. It is a refining type of fire, you might say. It makes life more complicated and richer; it makes growth inevitable. Sustained, sincere dialogue is a paver of peace.
The Church Lab’s shorthand for dialogue is learning to “make friends.” Loving our neighbor is not meant to stop at being a phrase on a cross stitch pillow. It is work, but what distinct riches it can bring to our lives!
Want to do that hard work of peace-building? Come be uncomfortable for the sake of advocating for all neighbors’ safety and security. Come not to be congratulated but to be sharpened. Come to develop an effective voice -- by way of your ears -- to a complex landscape that is our home, that is our country. Don't understand why such division? Don't understand the results of the election? Don’t see what the big deal is? It is time to listen deeply. Want to make it better?
Listening against your own convenience is a call, and a timely one. We can do this together. We need each other - we need the people that might make you the most frustrated - to join the same team for all our sakes. Division has become old among us; it has not made us better people. It is time to bravely dig into the conversations that are desperately begging to take place among us. I urge you, however you have voted, to commit to healing divisions by building community with those different than you as a prioritized practice.
A word of caution: If you carry a need to be right above all else, if your greatest impulse is to make a point, you are not ready yet. If you are prepared to bravely build up others and yourself in a vulnerable fashion, if you recognize (or are even curious about) the vitality of listening and connecting with a diverse group of people, now more than ever, come...and come very welcome as you are, how you are feeling, broken or whole, fearful or relieved. If you do not regularly spend time with someone from “the other side,” this commitment is of particular importance for you and for all of us.
Come and be safe. Come and be assured by advocates. Come step up and be that advocate. Come and claim your privilege's consequential responsibility to listen deeply and act empathically. Come and claim your need for each other. Come confront fear of change, so the hard work of love can overcome fear's power over our choices. Come and claim your integrity. Come sow love and over time, witness the goodness of what is reaped.
With gratitude for you,
How? What's next? Join our next Dialogue. We meet in Austin and have regulars that join via google hangout from other states.
If you are a regular, please send me your RSVP if you're able to join. Jumpstart questions will go out in advance. Same place, same time as usual. If you are new and want to join, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any question you have. I am happy to give you info on time, place, what to expect, etc.