We did it. This morning at Ascension, about 30 of us pulled our chairs into a circle and we listened to one another. It wasn’t easy. For some, it took every ounce of courage they could muster just to be there. And I’m thankful that our Christian community meant so much to them that they felt called to show up.
Last Sunday I challenged the congregation in a sermon to put Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about reconciling with one another into action. I talked about the elephant in the room since early November when our President was elected. Despite strong feelings, we have avoided talking about it. We have been polite, but we have avoided looking one another in the eye, and that is not what the life of reconciliation looks like.
And so, this morning we gathered to listen to one another, for the purpose of understanding. We didn’t gather to argue, or to convince one another that we’re right and they’re wrong. As we shared with one another, we were reminded of all that we have in common as God’s people. And because of that, we were able to listen to our differences and acknowledged them, forbearing with one another in love.
The morning was not without discomfort. We began with prayer and a reading of Ephesians 4:1-6. Then we went over some basic ground rules for our time together before splitting into two groups. This was the most difficult part of the morning. For some, it meant “outing” themselves among those who had no idea how they had voted in the presidential election. I had been concerned that there might have been only a few who had voted for DJT at our meeting. It turns out that was not the case. The group was close to evenly divided.
The two groups separated. Each was assigned the task of compiling a list of 5-10 things they wanted the other group to understand about them. As I floated back and forth between the two, I was taken aback by the raw emotion within both groups. Had this really been such a good idea, after all? I had to keep reminding myself that, without openness and honesty, there is no genuine community. Yes, it’s painful, but it’s the only way to go.
After they compiled their lists of things they wanted the other group to understand about them, I asked them to get inside the heads of the people in the other room and come up with what they imagined the other group would say about themselves on their list. That seemed to be easier for them, although I could see that this process could have taken all day. They had plenty to say among themselves, where they felt safe.
Then came the scary part. We got back together and we compared lists. Those who didn’t vote for President Trump had a list of things they wanted those who did vote for President Trump to understand about them, and vice versa. The telling part of the exercise was the second part where each group had done a pretty good job of guessing what the other group would be saying.
At the top of both their lists, there was a clear statement about how much it means to them to be people of faith. And that, of course, was the point. We’re all people of faith.
This is what it looks like to be in Christian community. Ascension gathers under a wide, wide tent. Our diversity isn’t obvious to the naked eye, but we are certainly diverse. No one is denied a place under that tent. This isn’t easy to accomplish in our divided society, but by the grace of God, we do it. I hope the people of Ascension can appreciate how extraordinary they are.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to end the morning. I thought of praying, or going back to the text from Ephesians. But when the time came, I knew exactly how we needed to conclude our time together. We gathered about the altar and communed one another with the bread and wine. And then we offered God’s peace to one another. When we said, “Peace be with you” we looked one another in the eye, and we meant it.