“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” - Thomas Merton
One of my best friends and I disagree politically, and it makes our friendship stronger.
This friend of mine — we’ve been friends for more than ten years. We also happen to work together. We eat lunch together nearly every day. She’s been to my house and my family has been to hers. We hosted a fundraiser for her, following a breast cancer diagnosis. She hired me back after my suicide attempt. We have been there for each other through some really tough times over the past decade.
We have countless things in common, but politics isn’t one of them.
My friend and I have talked in detail (countless times) about the differences in our political leanings. This became more evident during the 2016 political season. If you’ve followed my blog or social media accounts, you know that I am very clear on my feelings toward the current administration.
And that’s where the problem begins.
This friend of mine is barely active on social media. She’ll tell you she logs in to check on her children and grandchildren, and to see what kind of trouble I’ve started. That’s about it for her.
I’ve had a chip on my shoulder for a little while now. The story I’ve been telling myself is that she only has something to say about my social media if she deems something I’ve written or shared as political. I’d almost reached the point of resentment with the whole thing, because I felt like my friend was trying to censor me.
But I know that’s not at all the kind of person she is — at all.
This lady has proven herself again and again as a faithful friend, an encourager, and one of my biggest “fans” (sounds weird, but it’s true). She believes in me, supports what I do outside the office, and is genuinely invested in my personal and spiritual growth.
So why doesn’t she shut the hell up about my politics, I found myself thinking more than once lately.
When I realized I was feeling resentful, I knew we had to talk. I treasure this friendship too much to allow the freak-show that is U.S. politics to be the breaking point for us. On Sunday, I made plans for what I was going to say to her on Monday. I even wrote it out. I arrived at the office, nervous as could be.
I was dreading this confrontation.
“Confrontation” feels like such a nasty word choice here, stupid even.This friend and I have never had a confrontation. Ever. Only conversation. Fruitful, challenging conversation rooted in love and desiring only the best for each other.
One of my favorite things about this particular friendship is the fact that we dodisagree, but our friendship always trumps (see what I did there?) our differences.
So why would I even begin to doubt or resent my friend, considering our long-running history of choosing friendship over everything else?
One word: fear.
Fear of being dismissed. Fear of not being “good enough.” Fear of my political leanings exhausting this precious friend of mine and us fading into “just co-workers” (what a horrifying thought).
I let fear get in the way of the truth. Have you ever been there?
Fear is like Vaseline on a clean window. It smears everything over and makes you wonder if you should get your eyes checked. The shapes are there. The colors haven’t changed. But you just can’t quite make out what is actually going on.
I think fear must be like cataracts; it alters our perception of reality.
Last week, I posted this on social media:
“…as cold and dark as this old world (and the people who run it) seem at times, you have been made in the very image of a God who loves you without condition. There is NOTHING you can do or fail to do — nothing that can be done to you — NOTHING that can separate you from the Love of God. Nothing. You are loved by God & as hard as you may try & as many lies as fear-filled people may tell you, there ain’t NOTHING you can do to remove yourself from the patient, gracious, compassionate, and merciful arms of Love Made Tangible. You are loved because God is Love.”
My friend read the above Facebook post and sent me a private message, saying, “And God loves the people who run it. Too. It’s not us and them. It is only US. Love you too.”
I became immediately defensive (a sure sign that the issue was with me.) My dear friend’s message frustrated the hell out of me. I was ready to scream, “Stop picking on me!”
But again, this is one of my inner circle people and I knew this frustration deserved a conversation based on candor and love. (After all, candor is one of Ed Bacon’s 8 Habits of Love).
I just knew when my friend arrived to work on Monday, she’d want to talk with me, too. Sure enough, I sent her an IM to say, “Happy Monday,” and a few lines later, she was asking if I could come to her office when I had a few minutes.
As most conversations do, it started superficial. Work talk. Numbers and reports and oh-my-gosh-would-somebody-poke-my-eyes-out-I-just-want-to-talk-about-what’s-beneath-the-surface!?!
Then she said it.
“Hey, I hope I didn’t piss you off yesterday with my message.”
Whew. Let’s get this handled so we can move on!
Once I confessed my feelings of frustration, my friend patiently and honestly walked me through where she gets stuck. Look at my Facebook post from a few lines up once more. Notice anything? I didn’t either at first glance. But for my friend, the conflict is with me posting a message that is dripping with God’s love and acceptance of all people, with a caveat that singles out a small group of people, whom I deem “evil” or “bad.”
For the next forty-five minutes, my friend and I hashed it out. “You know I love you with all my heart,” I said. “And you’re one of my most favorite humans on the whole damn planet.”
Most of the details of our conversation are less-than-necessary for the purpose of this article, but the takeaway is VITAL for much of today’s political and social discourse.
I learned that my friend was far less concerned with defending her political views (which is exactly what I was feeling) and far more interested in the heart behind my words and posts. Because she cares about me, and knows that deep down, I’m not a Republican hater or any other kind of hater. But sometimes I don’t think before I speak or share something online.
“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
No, my friend didn’t cherry-pick a Scripture to throw at me. She’d never do that. But that’s the Scripture that came to mind at the conclusion of our talk. We can’t bless with one side of our mouth and curse some other group with the other. The Scripture is clear, and my friend is right. If we believe that God is Love, that Love must include all of creation. The place where I keep going off the rails is that I preach a message of inclusivity, but I’ve mostly only meant it for my friends.
Well, that’s not love: it’s favoritism.
Before you click that “X” in the top corner of the screen and write me off, hear me out: God is either Love for all people (even the ones we’re pretty sure are assholes), or God isn’t. Either ALL humans were made in the image of a God who loves us without condition…or not.
To put it simply: how can I say that I was made in the image of God but certain politicians, dictators, and criminals weren’t?
“Let the one without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said.
Maybe I should say it another way, “How can I say I love God, but hate my brother?”
My friend Ed Bacon says it like this, “The Christ is heavily disguised in some people.” Ed’s right. There are people who cause us to struggle to find God’s Divine nature, but that only proves how human we are.
My friend is right. Even when it makes me want to scream and cuss and throw things. There is no other; there is only us.
Jesus was perfectly clear when he said, “Love your enemies.” There were no caveats. Loving our enemies includes political enemies, those with a different theology than us, those who vote, dress, worship, and have sex different than us. Yes — even those in power over us.
This doesn’t mean I’ll stop promoting liberal ideas or ever quit preaching a message of inclusivity. But I’m learning that true inclusivity makes room for everyone. Yes, even “them.”
So, my friends. This is a long-winded apology, but I’m sorry. I’ve been less-than a great example of God’s love. I’ve been less-than a great example of God’s love. I was ready to exclude an entire political party. And I was wrong. After all: there is no other; there is only us.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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It was Really Quiet the Day I Decided to Die
You are not the worst mistake you’ve ever made.
God is Love. No, really.
I Need You to Help Me See God Clearly
Hope for the Forsaken: A Doxology in Darkness
How Should Pastors Respond to People with Mental Illness?
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