When we stop listening to their stories

BernieSanders_DonaldTrumpAs of this writing, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are both serious contenders for their respective political parties.

Whether their popularity continues or not, what’s interesting to me is that you could not get a starker contrast in candidates.

Sanders is an unapologetic Socialist liberal, while Donald Trump is a swaggering Capitalist conservative. It really illustrates just how polarized American politics has become.

But my point is not really about politics at all; it’s about how we communicate in our relationships with one other on this planet. Or should I say, borrowing a quote from the 1967 classic movie, Cool Hand Luke…

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

How so?

From what I understand, voters on both sides find these two candidates compelling, not so much because their position resonates with deeply held beliefs, but because they are angry.

Regardless of the reasons for the anger, this is actually pretty scary when you consider that we are considering someone who we think is most qualified to not only lead our country but also represent us in world affairs over the next four years, possibly the next eight years.

Unfortunately, just like what seems to be the focus of a lot of the evangelical Christian message of late, it’s a statement on what we’re against instead of what we’re for.

Speak_NishWeisethI agree with Nish Weiseth, in her book, Speak:How Your Story Can Change the World. I think we will find that the larger problem is that we’ve stopped listening to each other’s stories.

Weiseth says, “Sharing your story allows others to glimpse how you’ve been shaped, what matters to you, and why it matters.”

But we seem content to sit hypnotized by the droning on of the vitriolic-speak coming from talking heads on 24-hour news channels, talk radio, social media, and the Internet instead. We let them define what we think, dividing us into factions, but never bothering to hear the hearts of those we may actually have something in common with.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Phil.4:8-9 MSG)

We watch tragic events like Ferguson, MO and San Bernardino, CA and shake our heads. We form opinions from soundbites, compartmentalize, categorize, and then demonize anyone who is not with us, who thinks differently than us…because then we can feel safe.

But do we know the truth? Do we know who they are? Do we even see them at all?

And if we keep them all out and build our walls high enough, will we feel safe enough?

Again, I want to echo what Weiseth says about this…

“Real people stand behind the issues that face our culture and government, but their faces are fading into grey. We’re losing sight of them. The only way to bring them back into the forefront of the conversation is to know their stories and be brave enough to tell them. Their stories matter.”

Continuing on, she offers a solution that’s right in front of us (or should I say, right inside of us!)…

“I can see Jesus’ Kingdom breaking in, in big and small ways, right here, right now. And part of that transformation is looking past the issue and into the heart of the person.
Jesus cared far more about people than policy.” (p.41- 42)

Hope-flowerIf what she is seeing is true, then I am hopeful.

Beloved, when we start following Jesus instead of what the pundits tell us, we will find His heart. We, too, will value people over ideologies and avoid what Einstein called “the optical delusion of our separateness.”

Jesus had the amazing ability to know people’s stories and personally connect with them. The Pharisees held to their principles and separated themselves from these same people…after all, they were prostitutes, tax-collectors, despicable sinners of every sort. And they accused Jesus of being a false prophet…I heard He even talked to that feminist from the liberal “Samaritan” party! (John 4:1-42). We don’t have dealings with them; don’t you know we’re trying to keep the world safe from these people!

I ask myself the question, am I acting more like Jesus…or the Pharisees? Selah.

I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago with a couple at our church. I had made a comment that I thought Scott Walker (governor of Wisconsin) was doing a good thing by “cutting some of the fat” in our state spending. While what I said might’ve been technically true, I offended this couple. I hurt them because I was insensitive to how this “fat” impacted their personal lives. I hadn’t taken the time to hear their story.

When we talked later and they pointed this out to me, I repented for being such an uncaring ogre! We loved each other through this situation, all is forgiven, and I gained a greater appreciation for hearing people’s stories before I open my ignorant mouth. 🙂

 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19 NIV)

You see, our opinions might be cut and dried from the safe but isolated lofty tower of our ideology, but they soon fail in the messy and complicated real people world we actually live in.

And if it doesn’t lead us to love, we really have nothing at all (See 1 Cor.13:1-3).

Nish Weiseth shares a story about a former college classmate named Janelle. She was caught in the middle of a gang feud when she was seven years old that resulted in her brother being gunned down right in front of her. Yet, in a classroom discussion on gun control, she hesitantly shared her ambivalence on the issue. When asked why, she reflected that while the abuse of the perpetrator’s right to bear arms killed her brother, her brother’s right to have a gun saved her life. Her concluding thought succinctly summarizes what I’m trying to say here…

“It’s never as black-and-white as we want it to be,” she continued. “Especially when someone’s story gets injected into the conversation. All of a sudden, it gets messy. But it’s better if it’s messy, I think.” (p. 39)

Before we decide who’s right and who’s wrong, let’s leave our idealistic ivory towers and hear their story. Messy is better than safe but unloving, don’t you think?

Let’s be like Jesus and value people over the issues that face us, for we are all in this together. There is no “us” against “them” looking through the lens of Love. Let’s not be afraid to have it all get a little messy in the context of real life.

Photo credit (top): Bernie Sanders (Wikipedia); Donald Trump photo by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons. Bottom photo: licensed through Dreamstime.com.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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6 Responses to When we stop listening to their stories

  1. Agreed, Mel. Messy and compassionate is always better than safe and unloving. A little gray and personal is always better than black-and-white and impersonal. A little love of Jesus is always better than the alternative.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Susan. Allowing it to be messy does take courage, but the only way we’re going to find one another is to not be afraid of the issues that might otherwise divide us. Hearing someone’s story is the bridge to that connection. Otherwise, we get polarization and division, which is really a sad commentary on our inability to have healthy relationships as human beings. As followers of Jesus, that should not be said of us.
      We just need to remember that we live in a messy world but also have faith that love is much bigger than any mess! 🙂
      Blessings.

    • Right again, Mel. And we have a choice to make; we can either build bridges or walls.

  2. Pingback: What atheists wish Christians knew about them | In My Father's House

  3. Pingback: Love trumps politics | In My Father's House

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