The man in the picture above is Ken. Ken is the pastor of an independent Baptist Church in New York. He also performed my wedding a few months ago.
I went to Ken’s church for many years before I began my work at Rupert. I did a lot of healing there, a lot of soul-searching. Ken became not just a pastor, but a friend. Years after I left there to work at my little Methodist church in Vermont, we remain friends, trying to have coffee, or meals together on a regular basis.
I had coffee with Ken Friday. Our conversation wandered for an hour and a half as we talked about family, about our churches, our way of doing ministry, about politics, about faith and friendship.
We sit on different sides of a lot of things. His faith and church is far more conservative than mine. Our politics are different. We approach what we do differently. But in a world that demonizes differences, we remain close friends. We can discuss most anything thoughtfully and without rancor.
That is not the world we live in anymore. Today, a disagreement turns into a war of words, into personalizing and demonizing the other guy. No one seems satisfied unless the other person is devalued and left as road kill on the social media road of life.
How did Ken and I get where we are? And what’s happened that as a society, you are either “with me” or vile?
Ken and became friends because we talked. And listened. In talking we came to realize that each of us, for all our differences, had value. We learned from each other. I doubt either of us will ever change to be in each other’s camp on all things, but we learned, and we took the wisdom each other had and let it fold into our lives.
That’s really all. We talked. We listened. We recognized the value of the other. That’s the same way I have managed to have deep friendships with other faiths and other political sides for decades. (Ken and I are about a decade into our friendship.).
Tearing down is easy. Recognizing value and allowing people to find their own way is harder. It means swallowing the idea that we have the only truth. It means understanding different is not always against. It’s just different.
I see myself in a world where everyone and every (OK, not every, but many) nation and people are busy trying to destroy the other, verbally and physically. All in the name of building a better life, a better way.
But what history tells us is that nations and peoples and societies and faiths and creativity flourished when societies are open and accepting of others. Look at the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Look at the rise and fall of Islam in the years before and immediately after the Crusades. Look at the rise of a mighty United States.
When we accept and listen and learn, we become great. When we don’t, we begin our fall.
Is it really that simple? I believe so. The simple recognition and treating people as valuable is life changing, nation changing, faith changing.
There has been a series of internet Meme out there talking about a mythical stick figure called Bill. Bill does good things instead of bad things. Bill is kind instead of mean. Smart instead of dumb. The end meme is always the same: “Be like Bill.”
Well, I know people of Ken’s faith and political persuasion that would label me as all sorts of horrible things because I happen to live on the more liberal side of faith and politics. But Ken knows that grace is larger than religion or politics. He understands that all people have value, rich and poor, whatever faith, whatever politics. And he lives that way. Talking and listening and always treating people with respect.
Be like Ken. My friend.