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Responding to events with people of different perspectives.

Question & Answer

 

Q: By Jim

This is a request for ideas on how to respond to an event scheduled for April, 2020, in our medium-sized city. The event is sure to attract bus-loads of people from around the tri-state region, as we live in a pocket of conservative theology and politics. The event will feature the grandson of the founder of an international evangelical association, which in the past has proliferated harsh denunciation of those with differing understandings, appearances, and approaches to life. This association is also strongly aligned with the current Presidential administration. I am certain that the event will generate demonstrations in opposition to the presence of the featured guest and his association, as our region includes two major universities, a college, and a minority of citizens who are more progressive in their thought and practice. The question is, how can we respond and encourage others to respond (not react) in ways that will exhibit respect for all persons and, at least, leave the many who will be ardent supporters of the Spring Rally with an image that cannot as easily be discredited?

A: By Joran Slane Oppelt

Dear Jim,

When facing the behemoth that is the conservative majority, it is tempting to believe they are a monolithic entity that is descending on your town, hell-bent on conversion. What is true, however, when we encounter them as individuals, is that they hold life (and their beliefs about it) very dearly. In most cases, they are afraid of the government stepping in and telling them what they can and can’t believe. In most cases, they are afraid of secret agendas (by politicians or the media) that would steer our country away from long-held ideals of liberty and freedom. And, in most cases they have made certain concessions about who they trust (and what they believe) because of this deep-seated and unspoken fear. What neither side of this encounter (left or right, liberal or conservative) will admit is that they are both experiencing this fear. They are sharing fabrications and untruths on social media. They have neglected to verify and triangulate their sources. They have spread propaganda. When this happens, we have entered the world of post-truth, and a post-truth America is a dangerous place for everyone. On the liberal side, this shadow of post-modernism rears its head as, “every voice (perspective) is equal and deserves to be included” and on the conservative side, this shadow sounds like, “every voice has the potential to be politicized.”

There is no retreating from a post-truth America. We live there now. Together. Thanks to the internet and Moore’s Law and the fact that we are cyborgs, blurring the lines between men and machines. It’s OK. We’ll survive.

I bring all of this up because what I want to remind you to do — when you encounter those brothers and sisters in the streets of your town — is to love them. They are passionate, just like you. They hold strong beliefs and values, just like you. And they are afraid of losing something, just like you.

Personally, I believe we would all be better served ignoring the rallies and protests, taking our focus off of what is happening in the stadiums and town squares, and putting our attention on our own neighborhoods. If our children played in the backyards of other children and adults gathered in parks and on front lawns to picnic and watch the sunset together, we would have the conversations necessary to build empathy and trust. If we broke more bread together as communities (actual neighbors, not friends from the greener neighborhoods), the separation between us would dissolve and respect would grow in its place.

So, how to respond? With love (a handshake or a hug).

What image to leave them with? One of open arms, readiness and understanding.

~ Joran Slane Oppelt

About the Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author, interfaith minister and award-winning producer and singer/songwriter. He is the founder of the Metta Center of St. Petersburg and Integral Church – an interfaith and interspiritual organization in Tampa Bay. Joran is the author of Integral Church: A Handbook for New Spiritual CommunitiesSentences, The Mountain and the Snow and co-author of Order of the Sacred Earth (with Matthew Fox) and Transform Your Life: Expert Advice, Practical Tools, and Personal Stories. He currently serves on the board of Creation Spirituality Communities and has spoken around the world about spirituality and the innovation of religion.

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