I talked to my Mom on the phone last week. "I don't know how we're going to get through Thanksgiving after this election," she sighed, "we're all so opinionated...and divided."
My family isn't the only one grappling with how to relate well to each other after a polarizing election where we're all either for something or against something and reduced to sound bites and Facebook posts and twitter quips sent from the toilet.
I thought hard about how to answer her. I'm still thinking hard about it.
I went to a small Catholic college my freshman year, before I moved South to get married. I'll never forget the inaugural address for all returning students, it was given by a serious-looking, bespectacled man whose name escapes me all these years later. He seemed small behind the large mahogany podium. He gripped the lectern's sides as he spoke deliberately. He talked about how Jesus taught his disciples table manners at the Last Supper: he flipped the entire human hierarchy on it's head, he gave of himself until he was broken, he poured himself out. He served and forgave so we could connect.
"These are the table manners of the Kingdom," he concluded as a Brazilian nun with a large smile took his place to dismiss us by class for the next orientation activity.
The heart of God is connection and relationship.
He is relational, three-in-one. Like him—for we are made in his image—we too are relational, our planet is relational, our very biology is relational. It's all dependent, interconnected eco-systems. It's not good for us to be alone; we need each other to function. We need to know that our soul-deep identities are accepted so we can experience authentic, healing connection.
Serving each other is central to this. As followers of Christ, we must walk in dependency on God and dependency on each other. When I imagine Jesus on his knees, removing the disciples' sandals and washing their feet before the Last Supper, two words come to me: the first—humble. The second—curious. How humble, to take on the role of the lowest servant. How curious it must have been, how loving and uncomfortable, to be on the receiving end of this act. "What does this mean?" the disciples must have wondered, as they did with everything he did.
The Pew Research Center reported "More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them 'afraid,' while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party." If this is true, my brother could be afraid of my sister. I could be afraid of my parents, my husband. Let alone the diverse members who make up the body of worshippers I gather with on any given weekend.
I refuse to be afraid of my brothers and sisters who sit beside me at the table. Instead, I must let Christ's perfect love shine through my actions and cast out fear. When we sit down at the Thanksgiving table, at the Lord's table on a Sunday, at any table, I must serve those next to me as he served his disciples; service is a forerunner to authentic connection. Having a service-mindest in a relationship means a few simple things, it means practicing what my sister calls "gracious communication":
I must take the position of a learner in every situation; humble and curious.
I must ask myself these questions, "how can I elevate this situation or person?" "How can I leave it better than I found it?" How can I wash their feet?
I must accept and value everyone's soul-identity as Christ has, without condemnation and with open arms. I am not suggesting that we accept and condone sin (and I should look more intently at my own heart then theirs), rather I must accept who they are, who they have the potential to be, in Christ. This acceptance makes true vulnerability, and therefore true relationship possible.
I must remember everyone has a right to their own opinions and self-hood, whether I like it or not. I must remember to hold space for them as they must hold space for me.
I must listen first. I will never know how someone else sees the world until I listen. Feelings fall in line as my world view shifts and enlarges. Listening and asking questions, imagining I'm in another's shoes; these are the first steps of empathy.
Listening is the grace that precedes sharing my truth.
And if there is an offense, I must offer forgiveness and repent.
I've heard pastor after pastor say that "Repent" was a military command, meaning "About Face," make a 180 degree turn. I almost always hear it in the context of turning from sin. But when you make that turn, you turn toward something and someone. You turn toward God, toward the humans you're in relationship with, who are sitting at the table beside you.
The heart of God is for restoration and reconciliation—for relational renewal.
We are part of a family, a large, messy, opinionated, big-hearted, deeply flawed human family. We love, we hurt. We will, without fail, hurt those we love most, the ones we are closest to.
Brené Brown, in her book Rising Strong, writes, "In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face into the pain. You simply have to hurt." Later she formulates this question: "What has to end or die so we can experience a rebirth in our relationships?"
Sometimes it's my sense of being right, my self-righteousness must die. Sometimes the idealized versions I have of my parents, teachers, or mentors must die. Other times it's the unrealistic expectations I have of those around me. I must grieve them, then bury them, forgive and let go, and ask "How can I come out on the other side of this a better person?" "How can I bless them?"
In his book entitled The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served as chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the downfall of apartheid, writes:
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: The depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.
Forgiveness is a transaction between us and God, it is not contingent on an admission of guilt from an offending party. It is a process of leaning into pain, it is hard and sad. It is a death. We will grieve, it will hurt. But it will also heal and transform us. We will also rise.
Before we break bread together this Thanksgiving, we must "examine our motives, and test our hearts" as 1 Corinthians 11 encourages us to.
When we come to the table, we need to come prepared to do as he did; to serve, forgive, and perhaps die to ourselves, so our relationships can have new life.
At the Blestnest, table-sitting is a way of life. We have multiple 16' diameter round dining room tables that everyone wants a seat at, we've been known to enlarge the table with a plastic folding table when everyone is in town. We bring in-laws, whoever's close by and needs a place, friends, strays to the table. We bump elbows, step on toes, chew loudly, irritate each other as only family members can. We fight and laugh, dream and scheme. And often we humbly lay our hurts out for others to see, stepping out in faith that we are loved and valued, so we can grieve, forgive, and be transformed.
Service, humble and curious, and forgiveness, painful and life-giving, make connection possible.