Talking to our Neighbors (December 5, 2018)
Dear VICC family,
This week I have the unusual (for me) opportunity to be part of a panel discussion here on the island revolving around the topic of politics ( I know, a subject I am clearly an expert in!). The event is called “Let’s Talk: Engaging the Other.” It is this Thursday night, 7-9pm at the Vashon Library, and will be the last of three such monthly events. The events have been designed to address the increasing division in our culture, particularly in the political arena. Pastor Paul Mitchell of the Vashon Methodist Church and others from his congregation have been the designers, but the events themselves have been orchestrated thus far to be “secular” events (previous panels included a political scientist among other experts). This last panel, however, will be made up entirely of religious leaders. The panelists will be myself, my friend Koshin Christopher Cain of the Puget Sound Zen Center, and Pastor Leigh Farmer-Weber of Vashon Presbyterian Church. We will be asked to speak mainly for ourselves, but also as representatives of our religious traditions.
Choosing to participate in this event has been, for me, an exercise in dealing with “the other.” Political-themed events are usually things I would avoid like the plague. Participation in a “secular” or “liberal” event is also pretty new ground for me, and not one I am entirely comfortable with. And while I cherish my friendship with Koshin, being a co-presenter with a Zen Buddhist at a public gathering raises for me all kinds of questions about whether I risk betraying the gospel message in some way by “mixing” the Christian message with that of another religion. Not only that, but I can’t help wondering what kinds of feelings arise in some of you now that you know what I will be doing. Some of you perhaps share my concerns that the message of Jesus could become relativized by my participation. Others may fear for me that I am being drawn away from the purity of the gospel by participation in an “interfaith” group. I know many of you see this as a chance to share the gospel message, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, and so do I. But I am not sure I see it as a gospel opportunity the same way some of you might.
I believe that my calling to participate in this panel is an opportunity to genuinely engage in the topic they are raising. Even just the cursory participation I have engaged in so far, that of planning the discussion questions for the evening, raised for me all kinds of feelings about community and alienation. Sitting in a room with educated and well-to-do progressives made me feel, despite my own education and the fact that I was there as an “expert” in my field, like the local hick (not a feeling they imposed on me but one I imposed upon myself). Talking about previous panels made me realize how honestly disconnected I am from the average Vashon islander and how they think, despite the fact that I have lived all but about five of my adult years on the island (and the vast majority of my childhood). It caused me to think about how really very isolated we Christians can become from our neighbors, especially our neighbors who don’t think like us and whom we perceive as full of “dangerous ideas.”
So tomorrow evening I hope and pray to be a faithful representative of my Savior Jesus Christ, and of our Christian faith in him. I hope to be able to say how I believe the Bible, God’s Word written, addresses the issue of “the other” in our lives and the world at large. I even hope to explain how what happened to Jesus on the cross addresses every issue, including this one, at its very core. But I also hope to get a lot better at listening, and at making friends with those who are not like me. Because how else will I ever get to talk about what really matters in life with my neighbors if I don’t even talk to them at all?
Your partner on the journey,