Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thing of the Week

It's difficult keeping up with the current issue/debate in the world. As a person and a citizen, I tend to have an opinion early on. However, as a pastor, I desire to listen, to understand, to have a conversation, and to help move others (and often myself) to a Biblical understanding of the current issue.

Here's the problem...

For the past couple of years, there has been a phenomenon that I'm calling Thing of the Week (trademark pending).  The Thing of the Week is the current national or global debate that has dominated news cycles, filled Facebook feeds, and topped the trending hashtags on Twitter. The Thing of the Week is what the majority of people are currently talking about. We've always had a Thing that everybody is talking about. However, it seems that there is less and less time to focus on a topic, and to engage in real discussion regarding that topic. Societally, we seem not to be able to focus on a topic longer than a week. Hence, a debate or discussion becomes the Thing of the Week. A week goes by, and we're on to another topic.
Some of these topics bleed over from week to week, but there seems to be about a week where everybody is discussing one particular item.

Last week, everybody was talking about gun control. Before that, it was the Trump administration's response to the three recent hurricanes; specifically, Puerto Rico. There was the week or so that we were discussing the NFL and racial tension. Before that it was the third attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act. The DACA debate was the week prior. Before DACA was Confederate statues. The white supremacist rally and Trump's response happened the week before.

And we're only back to mid-August.

That was exhausting, and it's only two months worth of material. So yes, part of the reason for the Thing of the Week phenomenon has to be the sheer amount of talked-about stories in the news. Part of this probably results from the 24-hour news cycle and the fact that if something happens in the world, everyone everywhere finds out about it simultaneously. This allows for every person to vent their immediate opinion. Once everyone has done so, we move on. Another bombshell news report; a new Thing of the Week.

Another possibility for the spread of Thing of the Weekism into the modern world may be our unwillingness to hear another's perspective. A couple of days ago, I attended a ministry conference in Seattle. One of the later sessions found twelve people (pre-selected) sitting in a circle in the middle of the room, with the rest of us silently looking on from the outside. The twelve people were of different backgrounds and beliefs racially, politically, religiously, etc.

Jim Henderson, the emcee for the conference, began by asking the twelve people in the center circle, "Are you happy with the Trump administration or with how Donald Trump is doing as president? Or are you terrified with how the current administration is leading, and how Donald Trump is doing as president? What makes you feel either way?"

You could have heard a pin drop.

I knew there was going to be some interesting and potentially divisive conversation during this session, but a part of me was thinking, "Are we really doing this?"

Jim Henderson has done a lot of work in ordinary evangelism and bridge building over the past couple of decades. He has been training people to work on three practices of 'otherlyness': 1. Be unusually interested in others, 2. Stay in the room with difference, and 3. Refuse to compare my best with your worst.

This session was an attempt to watch these three practices played out in real time. One person would take three minutes to give their opinion, and then others could take a minute each to ask a clarifying question; NOT to attack, but to really, truly understand a person's thought process and perspective.  It was fascinating to watch an avid supporter of the Trump administration who was especially positive about the travel ban and immigration efforts pushed by this administration talking civilly with a Muslim attorney, who was speaking with an immigrant, who was speaking with a political opposition researcher, who was speaking with a long time minister to youth in the inner city.

This was a powder keg, but nobody allowed fire to be thrown on it.

The mixture of honesty and humility was refreshing and encouraging. I think this is missing in our current Thing of the Week dialogue.

When we communicate as we normally do about each Thing of the Week that comes along, we appear to rarely be interested in the thoughts and opinions of others. If we agree with them, we retweet. If not, we write a scathing rebuttal. There is little room in our modern dialogue for clarifying questions.
We almost never stay in the room with difference. Yes, much of our dialogue in modern day is done online, not in a room. But even online, it is rare that we will give time to a conversation that requires time.

A Thing of the Week may require a conversation that takes a month. Or a year. Or a few years. I am working through some thoughts and conversations with some people that have been years in the making. I wouldn't be able to learn from other people if I hadn't taken the time to hear from them.

Bridge building requires a posture of hearing the perspective of others. I confess to often being terrible at this. But we have to try. We have to work at it. We can't continue to let our conversation devolve into saying our part about the current Thing of the Week and then moving on to the next thing. The debate around DACA is a big deal. It requires more than a soundbyte or a tweet. Those things are fine and good, but they can't be the beginning, middle, and end of the conversation.
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville required an immediate response (This was mine, for what it's worth). But there are deeper conversations about individual and systemic racism in America that need to be addressed. These take longer conversations. Saying "Nazis are bad" is great. But there's more work to be done.
Months ago, the Thing of the Week was the global refugee crisis. I missed speaking about the crisis during the week when everybody was talking about it. When I finally did write about it, we were pretty much done talking about it publicly. The refugee crisis is of utmost importance for Christians to discuss, as scripture continues to point toward God's care and concern for the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, and the refugee. We owe it to the people God cares about to work through a Christian response to the crisis. We owe it to take longer than a week.

We gave it a week.

We need to do better at learning from one another. We need to do better at giving time, honesty, and grace to conversations that divide people.

If our posture is, "I'm right and you're stupid," we're not going to get anywhere.

Let's work on extending our conversations beyond a week.
Let's listen to opposing viewpoints.
Let's engage in honest dialogue.