A number of years ago, I saw this poster in our school dining hall. While I was not from an Anabaptist background, I recognized the sentiment as being true to the words and desire of Jesus that his people be one and be willing to extend grace generously to each other.
I mentioned in a previous blog that a group in our community wanted to explore courageous conversation, where people coming from different and often opposing views learn to have a good and civil conversation over hard issues. A group of us met today to start that process and it is clear that we are all feeling our way forward. There is a real sense that this just has not been done and we really do not know what we are doing!
But I guess that is part of the process in these polarized times. We are trying to do something that is not done or done well in our experience. We are trying to do it in the midst of bitter social and political discourse. We even wonder if we can do it and if it will be of any value or have any good outcome.
As we spoke today about getting this off the ground, the word that kept going through my mind was generosity. If this is going to work, there will need to be a spirit of generosity among those who partake. This is not the generosity of finance or material goods. It is a generosity of grace towards one another, even as we disagree.
This seems to be the hardest thing to find in conversations. Strong and emotional opinions seem to justify communicating, “I am right and you are wrong.” I do believe removing emotion only blunts arguments and turns them into philosophical trysts. The emotion we feel is part of the package of our understanding. The emotions express the feeling of the matter that the words alone cannot carry.
Leading with emotions, however, brings an open justification to stand the ground. Emotions lead us to see the other person as the argument we disagree with rather than one who holds a different opinion or point of view. If the person is the argument and I disagree with the argument, then I can treat the person with less grace.
And so even devoted followers of Jesus stop seeing brothers and sisters in each other and see someone who is somehow less deserving of grace, maybe even an enemy.
In the least, Jesus was very clear that we needed to love our enemies. Is our conversation representing Christ or our own inner desire to be heard? To further this, Paul reminded the Colossian believers to bear with each other and forgive one another even as God in Christ had forgiven them. Does our current crisis of civility give us the opening to set aside the words of Christ that are to live in us so that we can say what we want and speak as we will?
To speak with those with whom I disagree – and who disagree with me – takes generosity of spirit and grace. It means I see the person in front of me and believe that this person also wants what is good and right even if we do not see all issues or outcomes the same. To seek to be generous is to extend graciousness in my words and tone and measure, knowing my limits and owning my emotions as part of the conversation while not putting the listener on the defensive.
Our work is just getting started here in Pennsylvania. I believe what we are doing in my home area is learning to practice grace, the first grace being that we are willing to know each other and tackle hard issues together in generous grace. As it moves along, I trust I will be as generous towards others as I desire for them to be generous towards me.