Take away some labels

This month’s Perspectives on Hope explores ways to build bridges in times of distrust and division.

REV. DR. JEROME “Jerry” DEVINE
Director of Connectional Ministry, Detroit Conference

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48, NRSV 

… if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? 

It has been a difficult past week for many people and countries on the planet. For example, in our internal focus on our own conflicting views of the shift of leadership here in the U.S. we likely failed to be aware of the monumental historic shift of power in the small country of Gambia in West Africa. A new president had been elected but the old one would not leave, setting up a potential crisis. By early Monday morning the 22-year reign of the outgoing leader ended and he finally departed, avoiding the need for military intervention. It is the first peaceful transition of power in their modern history as a post-colonial nation. No matter who you voted for in our election, we all owe gratitude to President and Mrs. Obama for the gracious manner they handled this transition in the midst of such a heated national environment. For me it is an example of the Matthew 5 text.

In our intense obsession with how big a crowd was on Friday, and the dismissal and argument over facts related to that, we likely will have missed the news that on Sunday the Israeli government quickly approved the building of 2,500 more illegal housing units in the Occupied West Bank, historic Palestinian land. What kind of “greeting” of the other does this convey? The permission to build these additional illegal settlements had been postponed until there was a transition of power here in the U.S. No crowd or media had gathered when that action took place.

What we have wrestled with over the past week has been seismic and historic here in the U.S. The gatherings on Saturday across this country and around the world are an example of the tremors. I am not going to write about who now occupies the White House or the immediate and long-term implications it may have. Rather, I would simply say that the political climate for the past year has been rough for relationships, conversations, emotions and the future for many who may be most impacted by these shifts in leadership and power. In my own household we came to a split-decision on Friday. My wife decided to watch all of the coverage of the shift of leadership so that she could assess and react in real time. I chose to go to work and avoid all contact through most of the day so that I could later on read and review and wrestle with my own reactions to the changes we are going through. Ruth and I are both in sync in terms of who we had supported, and now have been having considerable dialogue around the kinds of responses we are seeing from extended family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, mostly through social media. The current shifts are bringing many changes.

The changes are not only of those in leadership who wield immense power, influence and control. The changes are not only in policies, values and actions. The changes are also within each of us individually, between members of our own families and friendship circles, and changes within how we choose to be in community or in organizations for action. This is true no matter who you voted for. And it is difficult.

Late Friday evening and continuing into Saturday the social media flurries were an endless stream, sometimes in polar opposite perspectives. Where it hit home the closest for me was when I read a forwarded news video clip on the social media page of one of my nephews. It was of a small group that had chosen to destroy property during the protest marches on Friday. All indicators were that this was a small fringe group, and not a part of the general protest movements. Yet, it was all that my nephew needed to release pent up energy. What particularly disturbed me was his preface in which he wrote angrily of “Liberals, you …” and then sharing a litany of what was frustrating him about those who were concerned about the transition of national leaders. Those words of Jesus kept playing in the back of my head, But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”  So, I risked entering into the conversation with him. I love him. I have known him since he was a newborn child. If I cannot find a pathway to a common future with him, who will I reach out to? I know that I am not the only one seeking to build a bridge in a time of deep distrust and division. I follow the postings of many of my colleagues across Michigan who are trying to do the same.

Before I began my response on social media, I had to try to grasp why he was where he was, even if I could not agree with him. I found one point to affirm, which was his desire for change, and that became the starting point. Shortly after I posted my attempt at balance, my nephew’s nephew (my great-nephew) offered another powerful and gracious counter view, which surpassed anything I had written. He owned that he was the “liberal” his uncle was railing about, not one doing violence, but one taking a stand against what he saw as hate and discrimination. He affirmed his deep love for his uncle (my nephew) and shared his hope that his words would help “take away some labels”. To my knowledge my great-nephew is not connected to any formal religion. Perhaps he is a part of the “spiritual but not religious” majority. Yet his gentleness, strength, honesty and clarity were among some of the best postings I have read on social media for days. In my estimation he embodied Jesus’ words quite well, even if he has never read them.

So here is the next degree of difficulty. If we who have read those words in the Gospel of Matthew are going to be relevant and an expression of the Light that illuminates the darkness, how will each of us build bridges of understanding in a time of deep distrust and division? One of the old laws of physics, perhaps the only one I remember from my high school class, is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. How do you anticipate that playing out in your life and faith journey? How does this law of physics interface with Jesus’ tough sayings from Matthew 5?

 

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