Time out! Flag on the play! Off-sides! Get your hot-dogs!
I have now exhausted all my sports knowledge. I may not know a whole lot about sports, but I do know this: America needs one, big, collective time out. For real.
There seems to be wholesale inability to have any type of conversation at all without resorting to personal attacks, bullying, or posturing. Political differences are no longer a matter of a difference of opinion or perspective; rather, they represent either moral depravity or superiority depending on the side we find ourselves. We can no longer exchange ideas, engage in constructive dialogue, and move forward together. Nope. We have to attack. And we can fight dirty.
I fall into the trap too. It is in the air we breathe now, framed my media outlets who make big money creating conflicts, drama, and scandals that do not actually exist. That’s why I am saying we ALL need a time out.
Take a breath.
Now take another.
Now realize this: we are not one another’s enemies. We might disagree on some key political issues or represent opposing views on the political spectrum. Hell, we might even have a “deeply held” religious conviction, but we are not one another’s enemies.
Black people are not our enemies.
White people are not our enemies.
Queer people. Straight people.
Rich poor. Poor people.
And every other possible way of being in the world.
We are not one another’s enemies. In the words of Jeremiah Wright, “different does not mean deficient!” Anyone telling us otherwise is using fear as a tool to manipulate. We can be different and that can be okay. In fact our difference is what makes us complex and beautiful.
Instead of attacking someone or someones we do not understand, what might change if we engaged them in conversation? They will say something stupid. We will say something stupid. And the sun will rise and fall, and there will be morning and evening the next day. Get over it. Stupidity, no matter how embarrassing, is not the end of the world.
We are not one another’s enemies. We are one another’s neighbors. Part of the work we need to do in our collective time out is work to fundamentally undo the paradigm of fear that accompanies the labeling of our neighbors as enemies. If you are my enemy, I have to fear you and even if I “love” you, I hold you at a distance. If you are my neighbor I not only love you, but I invite you closer and bother of us are changed by the encounter. Enemies favor security. Neighbors favor vulnerability.
If we are going to be the people we say we strive to be as Americans, we have to dismantle the damaging paradigm of the enemy and embrace the life-giving narrative of neighbors.
I have always been challenged by Howard Thurman’s words in Jesus and the Disinherited, where he writes that “Love of the enemy means that a fundamental attack must first be made on the enemy status.” Enemies cannot build a future together, only apart. They are forever bound to endless conflict, not mutual progress. Neighbors can build a future together, a space yet to be created where the powerless and the powerful can be, and live, and thrive together. Neighbors are equally invested in a common destiny. We need less enemies and more neighbors.
I do struggle with believing that we can be who we say we strive to be. Our aspirations are just too lofty and there is simply too much blood on our hands as a country. Too many native people died while we took their land and built cities and suburbs. Too many enslaved Africans died while we used their bodies to feed an insatiable economic machine that made America “great” (whatever that even means). Too many of our poor continue to languish in poverty, detained in under-performing schools, and warehoused in prisons where their bodies are turned into profit. The list of victims of the great American experiment can go on. Whatever myths we tell ourselves so that we can sleep at night, we can never allow ourselves to disremember our painful truth.
But we have also had moments of hope in our history. We have seen a black woman challenge the most well-orchestrated system of slavery the world had ever seen to free hundreds of her people. We have witnessed Native peoples continue to be in defiance of every method to wipe them out. We have seen a black woman climb a flag pole in order to remove a symbol of hatred. We have seen the working poor around our nation stand up to demand dignity and fair wages. We have seen the powerful, realizing that power is greater when it shared, open spaces for dispossessed people to step into the process. It is not perfect and Lord knows we have a way to go, but let us not paint such a grim picture that we erase the heroic tenacity of countless women, men, and communities in our history.
But these are all examples of resistance to the status quo. There is something deeply embedded in who we are that seems stuck.
Maybe it is time to try something new.
Maybe it is trying to see the world through rose colored glasses. I’ll grant you that possibility. But seeing the world as fiercely divided between warring factions is exhausting as hell.
I need nuance and beauty.
I think we all need a time in order to take a breath, sort through the manifold barriers that seem to separate us, and see one another as human.
I was struck by a tweet from John Pavlovitz (@johnpavlovitz) that he tweeted this morning. Here it is:
Maybe we start “altering” by beginning with the small portion of the world we carry with us everywhere we go – our own hearts – and honestly name who we see as our enemy in order to start seeing them as neighbors.