This photo is a visual representation of the polarizing tension that most of us are living in right now.
This is a political sign for Trump, with a not-so-subtle protest affixed to it. The sign probably represents the tension in your Facebook news feeds, and in your own communities.
This sign also represent the tension in my own home. Because this sign is sitting in my garage.
The Story Behind the Sign
It was the week before the election. My husband, a life-long Republican and an Iowa farmer, brought his Trump sign home. The folks at the county GOP office hoped he might put it up in the yard. To my husband, the sign represented the promise of a better America. He wanted to plant that sign out front, but he knew what I would say before he even asked:
There we stood in the kitchen. It was a standoff between a husband who would vote for Trump — and the wife who wouldn’t.
The sign didn’t go in the yard. Scott set it against the wall in the garage. A day later, our 12-year-old daughter Anna quietly went outside and affixed a Post-It note to the sign with a single word:
This is the state of things in our house right now. This is the very real tension that we are living in, day after day.
In a weird way, the tension in my home is a gift. It’s a hard and painful gift, but I choose to call it a gift anyway. Because it is teaching us something very important about what it means to find unity in the midst of a sharp divide.
Which is why my husband and I invited you into our home today.
We want you to know that if you are experiencing deep tension, you are neither alone nor powerless. We invite you — not for a fight, but in the name of unity. Scott and I are learning how to navigate this, and we hope what we’ve learned helps you, wherever you are, however you voted, whomever you support.
Chances are, you are dealing with tension too. This post is for anyone who can’t see eye-to-eye with the people they love dearly, yet don’t have the option of unfriending their spouse, best friend, sister-in-law, or their own kid. These are your people. And you just want to figure out how to live in peace with them.
First of all, our divisions should not shock us. Neither Scott nor I is shocked by what’s happening in our own home. When we married, we knew we didn’t see eye to eye on everything. We jokingly referred to ourselves as Carville and Matalin, a political couple famously known for their opposing views.
But we got married. Here’s why:
Because we loved “us,” more than we hated what was different.
That conviction brought Scott and I to the altar, and it’s what keeps us together all these years later. Maybe that’s a starting place for each of us today:
We can love “us,” more than we hate what is different.
Statistically speaking, we are collectively “different.” If you had to pick sides, half of you would be standing next my husband, and half of you would be standing near me.
But it’s not that black-and-white, is it? This is way more nuanced than two “sides.”
Imagine three cardboard boxes.
People are putting everyone into one of three boxes.
The first box is labeled: “heartless, bigoted conservative.”
The second box is labeled: “whiny, bleeding-heart liberal.”
The third box sits in the middle, a little higher than the other two, and it is labeled: “I’m right.”
The funny thing is, everybody thinks he himself is sitting in the “I’m right” box, and anyone who is “other” is assigned to one of the other two boxes.
Here’s where Scott and I began long ago, back when we decided to “love us, more than to hate what was different.” We looked at the stupid boxes. And then we threw them all away.
Step One: Throw Away the Stupid Boxes
Putting people in boxes is easy. We do it because we’re lazy and stubborn. We don’t have to think as much when we have boxes. We get terribly frustrated when we can’t find a box to put someone in. It’s easier to label someone, than to do the harder, nuanced work of trying to see that someone else might have a point.
Harder still is this:
To believe that your deepest convictions and “their” deepest convictions are both born out of a deep love for God and/or humankind.
Because I live with someone who thinks differently than I do, it would be tempting to put him in a box. But I don’t get to put Scott in a box.
Why? Because I live with him. I see who he really is.
Every morning, I find my husband wide awake in his recliner, reading the Bible.
Every night, I see him kneeling at the side of the bed, praying with our daughters.
I watch how he is generous with his finances — giving to causes that might surprise the most left-leaning liberal.
I watch how he spends hundreds of hours every year devoted to prison ministry.
And I have observed his dedication as school board president for our public school.
I don’t fit in a box either. Statistically speaking, I might have fit in the Trump box: I am a white evangelical Christian woman and a registered Republican. But I didn’t vote for Trump, and I have never once voted straight-ticket.
Since I didn’t vote Trump, some of you might have put me in a “Hillary Clinton box.” But I don’t belong there, either. I am pro-Life, and because of that, I am also pro-refugee. I voted for a third-party candidate named Evan McMullin.
There’s always more than what we first choose to see.
Humans are too complicated for stupid boxes.
Step Two: Resist the Urge to Be Right
Scott is not a simple man, but he has a simple approach to dealing with conflict. Every day at lunch, we talk about politics, the Supreme Court, the latest with the refugee crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the farm economy, and more. Which means, every single day, we are entering a potential minefield. Sometimes, there are tears.
If it gets hot in the kitchen, Scott steps out of the room. He doesn’t make a big scene. It’s his way of saying, “I’m not going to tell you how right I am, and I’m not to listen to you explain how right you are.”
Scott loves “us,” more than he hates what’s different.
Also? He loves “us,” more than he loves being right.
Step Three: Before you speak, THINK.
In our home, we adopted this saying:
“Before you speak, THINK.”
T – Is it True?
H – Is it Helpful?
I – Is it Inspiring?
N – Is it Necessary?
K – Is it Kind?
I know there are times when corrective words are needed. We all need to stand up for justice. (That’s part of the “N” up there.) But what’s in short supply these days? Is THINKING.
Let’s take an extra 10 seconds to really consider what we’re going to say, instead of dropping verbal grenades on each other.
Too often, we start to formulate a response, before the other person has finished speaking. Words spill from us that we can’t take back.
Let’s choose wisely. Before we speak, let’s THINK.
Step Four: Use the Micah Filter
Recently, on a Sunday, Scott and I sat shoulder-to-shoulder in church, reading out of the same Bible. We recited Micah 6:8.
“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The verses spoke to us deeply on so many levels, with regard to how we respond to a lot of people, including:
- Refugees, as well as any Americans concerned about our border
- Friends in our Facebook feeds who agree with us, and friends who absolutely don't.
What does the Lord require of us in times like these? The lesson from Micah offers us all a really great place to start. Let’s run all that we say through that three-layered filter: Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.
Let The Hard Work Begin
This is going to take work, isn’t it? As a Christian woman, I believe this kind of work is a mandate for the body of Christ. We are one body, regardless of political party, religious affiliation, whether we marched or didn’t march.
Over the years, in the church alone, we’ve divided ourselves along so many lines that we don’t even worship under the same steeples anymore.
Grape juice or wine?
Chris Tomlin or Charles Wesley?
Sprinkle or dunk?
Tongues or “that’s just weird.”
KJV or NIV. (Or, gasp! "The Message"!)
Disagreement is nothing in the church.
We are faced with division with each new era, each social issue that moves to the front of the line, each new pressing crisis.
We are one body of Christ, but we have rarely been one unified voice. How, then, can we live peaceably together?
Scott and I have had years to practice, and in some ways, it never gets easier. But we keep coming back to this: Practice kindness.
You might say: In times like these, practicing kindness is not easy. Well, this is our chance to show the world that it’s possible to do the thing that isn’t easy.
This is our chance, as the people of God, to show what it looks like to be civil in tone, humble in posture, and gracious in attitude.
I’m not saying we have to be so “open-minded” that our brains fall out. Goodness, each of us can stand for whatever we stand for, and do what we believe is right!
But, please, be kind.
Our words always fold into the souls of other human beings. That’s no small thing.
Be kind to the person who marches differently from you.
Be kind to the person who posts about puppies instead of politics.
Be kind to the person on the other side of the political aisle.
Be kind to the person on the other side of the street.
Be kind to the person who chooses to be silent.
Be kind to the person who raises her voice daily.
Be kind to your friends, and as hard as it is, be kind to your enemies.
When we exit earth for heaven, Scott and I might not have a lot of money or pretty things to leave the people we love. But we can always be rich in the words we left behind. We can leave an inheritance of kindness.
It is easy to hate. It takes strength to be kind.
And you, my friend, have the opportunity to show the world where your strength comes from.
Let’s do this.