Democracy can get messy—very messy. The rancor of the Presidential election is becoming more embroiled and conflicted, in spite of our hopes that things might calm down a bit after this year’s bitterly contested primaries. Those on the right can seem too convinced of their rightness, the left too idealistic, the centrists too connected to the systems of power. The volume of the far from civil discourse seems increasingly loud and harsh.
The “them” with whom we disagree seem increasingly unreachable. Some of us have taken to avoiding watching the news and unfriending folks on Facebook whose opinions seem too harsh and divisive. No doubt many families’ summer reunions will have big gaps in the conversation, as some just choose to not talk about “it.” It is messy, yet being in the midst of such messiness is necessary. That “it” we call democracy needs us to stay engaged.
It would be easier to ignore it all and step aside if the level of discord were limited to the national scene. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Contests on down the ticket are being categorized in the context of the presidential debates, and the rancor at that level seems to some to give license to increasing verbal hostility.
Discord surfaces at those family reunions, some of it coming from political differences and some from within the family itself. Initially small conflicts can lead people who truly care for each other to become estranged and distant.
It happened in my family when two of my three kids had not talked to each other for over six years. It took the shared grief over the loss of their beloved grandmother to get them in the same room together and for them to remember that the bond of love that connected them was so much greater than the dispute that had divided them.
Sometimes differences surface here in our family of choice we call “a congregation.” That was the case last spring when differences arose about if and how to plan for our future. It happens from time to time, too, over how best to honor the beauty of our building and sacred grounds, and how both might be used. It surfaces periodically as we explore how individual initiative is integrated with our desire to speak with one voice.
This gathered community of “like-minded people” is seldom of one mind, and things are “not neat, orderly, or quiet.” It does indeed get confusing.
Yet, this discord—this disagreement—means we are actually listening to the voices of one another. Honest disagreement, when expressed with love and sensitivity, is the antidote to acquiescence and isolation. It is the core work of community and a sign of health and vitality. It is making the “spirit of love” we affirm here each Sunday real. Sometimes it does require a bit of relish for, or at least acceptance of, confusion.
Such is the work of a beloved community.