My friend Jerry unfriends everyone who disagrees with him. Jerry’s Facebook wall is for Jerry’s truth. Post your own obviously false truth on your own wall, if you must. But, post it on Jerry’s wall and you’re gone.
To be fair to Jerry, he’s put his time and his energy and his money where his mouth is. He’s studied the issues, read widely, sought out the silenced and listened to their stories. He has a right to his passion.
Given how much Jerry cares, you might think he would actively seek out conversation with those who weren’t yet on the same page. You might think that he would look for opportunities to persuade, to teach, to open someone’s foolishly closed mind.
But Jerry’s tired of all that. Fair enough. It’s Jerry’s wall.
David Brooks, in a recent New York Times editorial (11/13/17), says that Jerry, like a whole lot of us, is held in the grip of a siege mentality where the culture is seen as irredeemably hostile to one’s deepest held convictions. Everyone else is wrong. It’s us against the world.
Useful, Brooks admits, as a way to motivate people to get with the team, but in the end, self-destructive. “Groups smitten with the siege mentality filter out discordant facts and become more extreme versions of themselves…displacing whatever creed they started with.” Including servant leadership, Brooks says. Including, I would add, any kind of a Sermon on the Mount Christian ethos of humility, righteousness, mercy, and compassion.
And the ironic piece of all this is that the social media that the culture at large and the church, too, have wholeheartedly embraced, Facebook, Twitter and the like, tools designed ostensibly to increase communication, facilitate far-flung conversations, and, in the church’s case, to proclaim gospel truth to those who might otherwise never hear it, make it so easy to be viciously partisan, to dig in to our bubbles and filter out discordant facts and uncomfortable people. Disagree with Jerry—and you’re gone.
Two Jews, an Amishman, and an atheist walk into a bar.
Sounds like the beginning of a bad Henny Youngman joke.
But somewhere across the high plains of eastern Montana aboard Amtrak’s signature train, The Empire Builder, this happened. Two college age Jewish kids mysteriously wearing corn on the cob costumes on the day after Halloween, an young Amishman bound with his family of ten for East Glacier, Montana, and a new future, and an atheist Ph.D. in Economics biker dude heading for Seattle and a job as a barista sat down in the lounge car over three beers and a cup of tea.
And they talked.
About religion and the Bible and the end times and why Amish people drive buggies and don’t drink beer. About secular Jews and what they believe and don’t believe and why atheists and conservative Christians can’t seem to get along. About good coffee and bad college and horse ranching in Montana. About the possibility or not that the Amish guy and his family could build a house in three weeks like they planned. (That conversation included a phone-in with the atheist biker dude’s African-American carpenter buddy in Chicago.)
We can do this, too, you know. Maybe it takes being locked in a confined space for three days with no internet, no cable, no decent food, and nothing to do but look out the window. But we can do this. We can talk to each and more importantly we can listen. We can sit down with people face to face, people who are visibly different than we are. We can listen to their stories.
Will it challenge us? Will it be deeply uncomfortable? Will we agree with everything we hear—or anything? Yes, yes, and no, most likely.
But we can do this. If two guys wearing corn cob costumes can do it, surely we can, too, we who claim to follow a savior who went to the far country to hang out with outcasts and oddballs and people no one else wanted to bother with. We can seek out the other, the stranger, the alien, the one who we disagree with completely, and we can talk. We can listen like it’s our job.
Because we might learn something. Because we might share something worthwhile. Because we might grow as human beings, as neighbors, as persons of faith. Because it’s what Jesus asked us to do.
Two Jews, an Amishman, and an atheist walked into a bar. And they walked out friends.
What a concept.