In this week’s column I talk about the pain that comes when politics divides us from those we love and makes us forget the deeper common values that keep us bound to each other. Guns have become a hotly contested political issue in our country, one that will ruin a family Thanksgiving meal every year. But whether we hunt on the weekend or have never held a firearm, we should all agree that losing 30,000 people each year to gun violence is heartbreaking. Many of us don’t know what to do, but we need to start talking about gun violence in our country as an issue for people of faith. That’s why The Riverside Church in the City of New York, along with other partners like Baptist News Global, is hosting God and Guns, a one-day training event where faith leaders will learn how to talk with each other and with our communities about this difficult issue and explore how we might come together to find real solutions to ending gun violence. I hope to welcome you to New York in October! Register today.
Lately I’ve heard friends talking about how their Facebook feeds seem to be turning into echo chambers — that is, all the political posts they see are posts that reflect their own opinions. This has not happened to me, thanks solely to my online and real life relationship with my cousin Kevin.
This column is about Kevin. Even though he knows I’m writing about him, he might not even read the column; I’m pretty sure a lot of the stuff I write makes him mad. The thing is, Kevin and I have diametrically opposed political views. Usually this is just fine. We move over and make room for each other, rolling our eyes affectionately and maybe, if we’re feeling bold, click a sad face on a post we disagree with.
This political season, however, has changed everything. And it’s so hard.
When I think of my cousin Kevin I think of the older cousin who included the awkward teenager version of me during life’s uncoolest season. I remember sitting in church, holding his hand tight at his mother’s funeral mass. I can picture the time he volunteered to help a friend of mine move and spent most of the day on the roof of her garage cleaning out gutters. And I immediately recall the time he stayed a few days on my couch because he was “in town for work,” but I knew he made plans to stay because he knew I was having a hard time being alone after my divorce.
But when I read some of the things Kevin posts on Facebook these days I feel an urgent disconnect, almost a panic. I don’t understand how the person whose lavish love has touched my life in such profound ways can possibly hold the views he holds.
To be fair, I’m sure he thinks the same about me.
I suspect I am not alone in this dilemma, and as we move toward November in what is a truly bizarre political season, this situation is only bound to get worse.
Last week I saw something on my Facebook feed that made me so mad, I began to wonder whether Kevin and I could keep trying to navigate our differences. And the possibility of a broken relationship with my cousin felt like a grief I couldn’t bear.
I know from the painful/beautiful experience of trying to build Christian community in the church that the alternative to a breach like that is always hard conversation, messy and painful work, and most of all, love. And since I seem to always be preaching about the power of love to move us beyond ourselves toward healed relationship, I thought it might be time for the preacher to listen to herself for once.
So I sent Kevin a text: “Hey my dear one. Just felt like I needed to touch base. Political rhetoric in our country is going off the rails; I’m deeply worried about the state of mostly everything. I know that you and I probably couldn’t be more different in the political perspectives we hold, but I also know that you believe many of the same things I do: love God, love your neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. … To me, that makes us more fundamentally alike than different. So, I just wanted to take a minute today to tell you that I love you so much.”
When I sent that text to my cousin I felt a huge weight lift off my chest, a relief of the grief that had been keeping me close to tears since I’d read his post and felt like he was lost to me. I don’t know why my cousin Kevin thinks the way he does about political issues, but I do know that years and years of relationship surely have given us the reservoir of love we need to wade into hard conversations and make our way through to the other side together.
It’s risky to take a chance on love, though. And as I waited for his response I wondered if he thought the same about that reservoir of love.
The chime on my phone interrupted my thoughts as Kevin’s answering text landed in my inbox. He didn’t seem surprised by what I’d written, and he agreed that we would likely never think the same way about political issues. But he also agreed about the love. It’s what matters in the end, he said, and he thanked me for being there for him.
“That’s what we do,” I wrote back, with tears in my eyes. “You’ve been there for me, too. Love you.” His answering text volleyed back immediately:
I’m pretty sure it’s love, only love, that will get us through this political season.
And everything else, come to think of it.