A few days ago I had a conversation with a young lady, a daughter of our family’s friends. She wanted to stop by to get a couple of pics and a short story for her school project. My wife and I decided to make it a dinner occasion at our place. That young lady is a follower of Jesus. She is also passionately political, and you could peg her fairly solidly on the left side of the political spectrum. (If you want to use that cumbersome and unflavorful measuring stick on a human being, that is. If you try to ever use it on me, by the way – I guarantee you will make a mistake every time you do, regardless of whether you try to place me right, left, or even center. That measuring stick simply doesn’t know what to do with people like me.)
I remember a time when she stopped by a church event where I happened to be a year ago. She and her similarly-minded sister were surrounded by a small group of older piously indignant evangelicals. The two of them pretty much had to endure an hour-and-a-half-long “straightening out” session from the group. They valiantly defended themselves. I wasn’t part of that strange circus, but I was close enough to hear what was going on. In the year that followed, I’ve rarely seen those two young ladies come back to church. (If I were them, I wouldn’t have come back after that, either.)
I do take interest in politics. But I have grown wise enough over the years to discuss my political views mostly in private conversations with even-keeled people who have learned to think for themselves. I could never compress my mind on complex issues into tweet-size slogans anyway, which is what a lot of people seem to prefer these days.
That night we talked about a few things at our dinner table. I was keen to observe how the young lady processed data and events from an even-keeled standpoint, and the way she registered her disagreements with several conservative ideas. And here’s what was going through my mind. Instead of finding reasons to disagree with her – and I could have found a few – I found good things to notice and commend her on. For instance, I was fascinated that she knew even the things about Reagan’s administration that were quite peripheral to his overall legacy. I learned a few things from the way she defended her positions on several social issues. I was very impressed that she was planning to spend her hard-earned money which she needs to cover her college tuition to attend a political event in the nation’s capital. That shows real integrity – putting her money where her mouth was.
You see, I was interested in discussing the things that were common ground with her. And it took a different set of eyes to find those. I validated her passion, courage, and the right to pursue her own way with Jesus, and to apply his teachings to light up the path of truth and justice the way she construed them. I didn’t have any problem not giving her the “right answers”. Plus, believing that I have the right answers would be very presumptuous of me. I am walking a path in this life, and all I can do is share my progress on it without universalizing my experience. And as far as God is concerned – I only have the authority to share what I’ve personally experienced. All else would just be empty words that wouldn’t have any real-life referent. And as far as politics goes – it never saved anyone. But Jesus has! And yet he never turned political, even when his hand was forced, which happened more than a few times.
So I simply listened, and talked with her – but I didn’t talk AT her. I didn’t have any need to be right about anything. I simply wanted to listen and observe, and to notice deeper things beneath the surface. I wanted to see her as God sees her. I asked God for a word for her, and gave it to her. It was a good word – encouragement, edification, comfort. It had a couple of details that I couldn’t have known beforehand, which she acknowledged as accurate.
After the conversation, she set up a photo studio in our living room – with a very large gray screen and three lights. She then spent 1.5 hours taking photos of my family, and explaining me how to set up a studio, how to do set up lighting, how to use a pro camera with manual controls, etc. I will be setting up a home studio for my up-and-coming YouTube channel, which I mentioned to her. She then proceeded to give me a good, solid, very comprehensive lesson. I was amazed at her intelligence, industry, and tenaciousness. All she really needed from us was a couple of pictures for her school project. She was already tired after a long day of school, part-time work, and commute. But she didn’t look at my family as her next project. She looked at us as human beings, and she saw something in us that she found worthy to take photographs for over one hour. My wife and I had a wonderful time with her that evening.
Any other year, this wouldn’t have been a story. But this year – it is a story. It’s a story of human beings, followers of Jesus, transcending their differences, listening to each other with an open mind, and seeing an image of God with each other. We did it with our minds and with our words. She added her professional camera into the mix. In the end, instead of more separation, there was more unity in the world. And Jesus, his love, and his respect prevailed once again, in a suburban living room, without anyone needing to be right about anything.
And I do believe that this is a story worth writing about.