By Rev. Linda Taylor. Reprinted from The Huffington Post.
There’s a Bible story that speaks to me about our current national situation. It’s the story of a rich man who for many years walked right past Lazarus, a poor man who sat begging at the rich man’s gate. He walked past him to all the goodness of his life and never gave a thought to the man he saw—or perhaps never noticed—every day of his life. Well, as it happens to all of us, both these men die. Lazarus dies and is taken up to Abraham—into the bosom of Abraham—and the rich man dies and goes in another direction. He gets there, and he’s thirsty. He can see Abraham and Lazarus sitting together. He says, Father Abraham, please send Lazarus with a little sip of water to wet my tongue. And Abraham says, No, the chasm is too wide between us. It’s too broad. We can’t go there, and you can’t come here. So the rich man says, Well, then, send Lazarus to tell my brothers what happened to me, so that maybe the same thing won’t happen to them. And Father Abraham says, No, the chasm is too wide.
This rich man finds himself in a condition he never anticipated, and nothing has changed about him, has it? He still thinks he’s got people. He still thinks he’s got the people who have always been in his life—people who will do his bidding—who will bring him what he needs—who will go wherever he wants them to go. He’s surprised, I imagine, at this change in response to his demands, but this chasm has always been there. It was there before his death, and it’s still there—the chasm between him and the rest of creation. This chasm of pride and privilege, the chasm of poverty and greed, the chasm of ignorance and indifference. It’s always been in his life, and his death has not shifted his understanding of the world.
The chasms that separate us still exist in our world. Every day, there’s another shooting. Every day, we see grief and suffering. And every day, we hear diatribes, we hear accusations, we hear people at the political poles yelling in print and on the air. The chasm is here with us, and sometimes it’s hard to even imagine if we’ll ever be on the other side of it.
Our national election will happen in a few short days, and most of us are wishing our way there, hoping that the yelling will cease when the campaigning is over. There’s a part of us that believes that on November 9th, when the election has been completed and we know what the next four years hold, we’ll be able to get back to business as usual—that we’ll be able to talk with one another again—but I think that’s unlikely. The division in our country is so deep right now. The chasm is so deep and we are so far apart from one another.
I remember elections when I was a child. We all had our favorites, and some of them were elected, and some were not. I can remember my mother and father saying, Well, I guess it’ll be okay. We’ll see what happens. And it was okay, and we got back together in one way or another. But the division in our country right now makes that unlikely, because we don’t talk to each other anymore. We’re afraid that our words won’t land in good ways. We’re afraid that we’re going to offend someone or be attacked by someone. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of what November 9th is going to look like. We’re afraid that our divisions are with us forever.
So what are we going to do on November 9th? As a Christian, I believe the mission of the Church is reconciliation. That’s our job. So, how do we do that? On November 9th, what are we going to do to help bring reconciliation to pass? What are we going to do?
I have a suggestion for you. You may have heard about Living Room Conversations. It’s a process that’s designed and structured to help us listen to each other and to help us say our truth about what an issue means to us. This structure, this Living Room Conversation format, came about because there were some liberals and some conservatives who actually talked to each other. They found they had common ground in their concerns about the divisiveness they were experiencing in our country, and they wanted to do something about it. So they created this format. The idea is that if you and I disagree about something, we will each get two friends who agree with us and the six of us will sit down in somebody’s living room, and we’ll answer questions about the issue. There are five sets of questions. The first set is about what drew us to this conversation. The second set of questions is about our deeper values and our hopes or concerns for our community. The third set is what this issue means to us today. The fourth set is about what we’ve learned today during this conversation. The fifth asks what we are going to do now that we’ve got this new learning.
The rules are simple. People talk, and when they talk, everybody else is quiet. There’s no debate. There are clarifying questions, but there’s no debate. What happens is miraculous. It’s transformative. When we feel listened to, and when we’re talking about what brings us to a particular issue and what that issue means to us, we feel heard. When we feel heard, and when we actually hear someone, transformation happens. At St. Andrew’s, we’ve been doing these Living Room Conversations all summer. Last week was our fourth gathering, and we have another one scheduled post-election on November 19. I’ve noticed that people keep coming back. There’s a different set of questions for each topic, and people keep coming back because they want to do another topic. They want to explore another topic because what they’ve learned is that being in this conversation teaches us a new way of multitasking. We have learned to love our neighbor and disagree, all at the same time. We have gotten to the point in this country—in our lives—where disagreement means we don’t love anymore. We just want to stay apart when we disagree. And we’re learning in Living Room Conversations that we can truly love and disagree at the same time. I can love you deeply and not agree with a word you’re saying. But when we talk together—when I listen to you and you listen to me—we can find common ground. We can find a place where we both can stand. It’s a breath-taking experience. I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it right now, so just imagine what happens to us in that room.
So I have a suggestion for you for November 9th. Between now and then, I hope you’re seeking discernment of what’s best for this country. And I hope you’re voting, because that’s part of our responsibility as people of faith and as citizens of this country. On November 9th, maybe you can think about having a Living Room Conversation. You can come to one at St. Andrew’s. That would be lovely—we’d love to have you—but even better, you can do it yourself. I’ll be glad to come and help, but you don’t need any help because it’s all on the website at livingroomconversations.org. It’s literally a turnkey program. So if there are six of you who want to do this, get a room and let people know. Divide people into groups of six and give them some space. And let this little miracle happen.
The good news is that there’s something we can do about the division in our country, and the really good news is that we don’t have to do it ourselves, because somebody has already put this thing in place. All we have to do is show up, speak our truth and listen. That’s all, and that’s just enough to change our lives together.
Linda Taylor is an Episcopal priest and spiritual director whose ministry focuses on helping people deepen relationships with themselves, each other and the Holy. This blog is adapted from a sermon on Luke 16:19-31 she preached Sept. 25, 2016 at Saint Francis Episcopal Church in San Jose, California. Linda currently serves at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga, California, and she would love to welcome you to a Living Room Conversation there on Nov. 19.