God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
I’m nowhere near letting go of my assertion that we need to practice more civility in civil discourse. Last week’s post – If You’re Rude and Hateful, You’re Not Following Jesus – generated a helpful exchange of viewpoints around the need for passion and direct action when it comes to social justice. Some valid counterpoints were made, but there is no argument that can ever justify hate in the context of Christian witness. Hate is 100% incompatible with a life of discipleship.
So I was excited when our church (WFPC) hosted a PC(USA) missionary to Northern Ireland Tuesday evening. Rev. Doug Baker worked in Belfast 37 years, being “the presence of Christ” as a peacemaker and an agent of reconciliation.
Listening to Doug, and paying attention to my own massive potential for prejudice (just below the surface), I realized that the very first thing we must question is our own assumptions – at the entry point to any exchange of views, conversation, or potential conflict.
Most of the time when we disagree, we spend the beginning of the exchange fine-tuning our opening salvo rather than listening to the other. Consequently, the moment we launch our first thought we instantaneously demonstrate both ignorance and a lack of empathy.
50%… or maybe 100%
I often joke that I’m probably wrong at least 50% of the time. But really, that doesn’t go far enough. I will grow in learning and understanding and compassion 100% of the time when I value the views, the concerns, and the passion of others.
Let me rephrase that (because I don’t want the impact of this idea to be lost). Every single person I value and listen to enriches and expands my understanding. Even when I am convinced that I am dead right, or that my position cannot be compromised, there is something the other person can contribute that I do not already understand.
Add to that the undeniable truth that none of us are infallible, and it becomes apparent that conversation, dialogue, debate, the exchange of views, actively listening, and – most importantly – humility are far more than important, they are essential.
The “feature” photograph with today’s post is of me, holding a cut-out. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Flat Stanley” project? Well, this is “Flat Jesus.” One of the women’s Bible-study group members has been taking him around to various mission events.
Flat Jesus showed up the afternoon we fed hungry people in downtown Raleigh, and his presence made me think about how Jesus always meets me through the people I interact with. There’s not a single person I have had a conversation with – the woman on the Greyhound in Georgia, the angry Armenian cleric in Bethlehem, the homeless guy in Raleigh, the Secret Service agent in Pensacola, the racist in Virginia, the right-wing bully in Florida – who does not in some respect bear the image of Jesus, and have something important that I can learn.
So today’s post is about taking “Flat Jesus” with us, everywhere we go. No, we don’t need the cardboard cut-out. But we would benefit from visualizing Jesus in, with, and for the “other.” Open spirits, open minds.
Jesus wants to teach us; maybe we can learn – DEREK