Word of the Week

Do I really need to talk to people I disagree with?

It's been a couple of weeks but today, I want to offer another installment of "How do we live in these days?" If you missed the last post about privilege, you can read it here. 

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how easy it is for you and I to stop talking to one another when we don’t agree especially now in times like this.

And, I’m wondering- how many times in the past couple of months have you blocked or hid friends on Facebook after they posted that article or meme for the 40th time about a political idea you don't agree with? Or been leery of going home and sitting around a family dinner table because you know that ___ will be there and say something you find offensive?

I know this much is true: lively, respectful, conversation is an art form that has grown harder and harder to engage in by the day.

Sharp edges are everywhere.

We are all prone to shut down on arrival.

It just seems easier to keep our mouths shut and stick close to people like us.

When I was preparing to preach last Sunday at University Christian Church in Hyattsville, MD I sat close to the story of the Samaritan Woman for the week and felt convicted all over again about Jesus' example of what it means to be in conversation people for whom I might disagree.

In John chapter 4, we read that Jesus and his disciples were on the road and they’re running low on supplies. Verse 8 tells us that the disciples take a detour into town to buy food. But Jesus hangs back. It has been a busy couple of days. And he realizes that a moment of rest might do him some good. It’s around lunchtime. The sun is out. It’s the hottest time of the day. Jesus looks for some shade and finds it close to a well.

BUT then, a woman approaches fetching water. She has a bucket. Jesus does not. Jesus has been thirsty for quite some time. He asks the woman to get him a drink of water. A conversation between an unlikely pair begins!

I say unlikely because it would have been the cultural norm for Jesus just to ignore this woman. (Please note: John does not even give us her name!) Take a nap. Keep to himself. Save his energy for a larger scale teaching engagement. After all, he is a Jew from Galilee and she is a woman from Samaria. Men and women, non-related at this time did not converse in public places. Nor did Jews and Samaritans.

But it was time to talk. And as much as the woman wanted Jesus to focus on the literal, the substance of the water, Jesus carefully moved the conversation to the soul.

To get to this deeper place, Jesus speaks to her more personally.

I can imagine he looks her directly in the eyes and tells her that she’s had 5 husbands and the man she’s living with now is not her husband-- all to the amazement of the woman. It was true!

I read an article this week by John Piper, a conservative theologian for whom I usually disagree and his take on John 4 is no exception. He calls the woman in the passage a “worldly sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria” and later he refers to her in his sermon as a whore. He makes the point that Jesus is lavishly lowering himself to her level. And that in her sin, Jesus is calling her out and hoping she’ll accept his invitation of eternal life.

And even if you and I don’t use such strong language about her as Piper does, I believe we’re also prone to look down on her too? Many of us equate the Samaritan woman with a prostitute even though the language of the text does not contain this word.

Yet in our judgment, we overlook so much of the cultural context of this story.

Professor David Lose further explains: “She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced (which in the ancient world was pretty much the same thing for a woman). Five times would be heartbreaking, but not impossible. Further, she could now be living with someone that she was dependent on, or be in what’s called a Levirate marriage (where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife). There are any number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous, yet most preacher’s assume the latter.”

But Jesus shows the way of love. Jesus never calls her out as a sinner. Jesus never asks for her repentance. Jesus never focuses on the fact she’s had 5 husbands other than the fact that it’s just details in her story.

Jesus offers dignity.

We don’t hear him talking down to her, looking down on her or saying, “Well, I’m Jesus so I’m of course I'm better than you—so you stay over there while I stand here.”

No! Not at all.  Jesus sees her for her. What a powerful moment this!

A  bridge of relationship forms because a conversation is not just exchange of words between two people but a connection. An authentic connection.

My friends, isn’t this what our world needs more of from us as people of faith?

Conversations partners with willingness to put barriers aside and just listen.

Conversations partners who show up to listen and not judge

Conversation partners who love before we’re quick to condemn

Dan Kimbell in his book, Adventures in Church Land says this: “Many of us have so few friendships with others outside the church so that people see only the aggressive street evangelists or a pastor on the news who got caught in some scandal or who is being interviewed and saying some nutty things. If people don’t see normal, day-to-day examples of real-life Christianity, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the scandals and the extreme voices end up defining their view of the church.”

Or in other words, what are we doing to be conversation partners with those who most need to be seen, loved and understood (even if they're different from us)?

I believe keeping conversation alive IS the way we live in these days. Who do you need to talk to?