EXCHANGING STORIES TO BUILD COMMUNITY
Breaking Through Political Barriers Geoff Walsh
My earliest exposure to politics was talk radio. From car rides to school and afternoon rebroadcasts, to marathon channel hopping on long road trips, the venom of talk radio pulsed through my veins. Looking back, the influence on my young mind was undeniable. I recall one election offering up an “evil” candidate and I cried over his victory as if the end of the world was upon us.
Most significantly, however, was the animosity politics caused in our family relationships. A shouting match that ended with hurtful words is permanently written in my memory bank.
In addition to talk radio, TV news found its stride in our family. That brought a tremendous amount of fear into our vocabulary. I was warned incessantly about the most obscure reports. The language of politics was more hurtful than ever.
Oddly, a parent suddenly “switched teams” in support of the opposing party. They reasoned that their team actually hadn’t fulfilled the promises made year after year. It was a revelation. Politics was exposed as not only hurtful, but a truly impotent endeavor.
Ironically, my first job out of tech school was in talk radio. The curtain lifted again as I listened to a big-name host both on and off air. For two years I heard this man ignore his guests, bully the station owner and dictate which other shows were to be cancelled for not “fitting in.” The receptionist recalled being treated like a second-class citizen during his studio visits.
These experiences taught me that politics divides more than it conquers. Even when it does “conquer,” there is always a clear winner and a clear loser. Caesar will always be Caesar, no matter which ideology is dominant. That’s probably why Jesus emphasized simply bearing fruit for the poor, voiceless and hopeless. Against such things there is no law and should be no politics.
Breaking Through Judgement Barriers Darla Farrant
When I was growing up, I remember my parents joking during election seasons that they would just end up cancelling out each other’s vote. One parent voted a certain party because it was tradition/expected and the other voted based on their convictions, values and moral issues of the day. At some point, they did end up voting similarly. The important thing I remember is that their political differences didn’t negatively impact their marriage and relationship. Politics did not consume their lives during the election season.
The political divide seems to have gotten more and more volatile in recent years. Following the 2016 presidential election, my husband and I were in a conversation with other believers and one person (very emotional about the election results) questioned how people could vote a certain party and call themselves Christians. For someone to equate a person’s faith in Jesus with a certain political party was very eye-opening to me.
Philippians 3:20 says that as believers “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” If our citizenship is in heaven first, how does that impact the decisions we make in our every day lives and during the election season? I pray as a people set apart and chosen by a sovereign, loving God, we can practice our right to vote based on our convictions without judging others who may vote differently. Ultimately our God is sovereign over all things, including the election results.
Breaking Through Assumption Barriers Lisa Severson
Sometimes frugality leads me to act impulsively. Years ago, I accepted an amazing haircut deal. On the way to my appointment my more logical brain kicked in, leaving me slightly nervous about putting my hair in the hands of an unfamiliar hair salon. My concern doubled as I walked in. Every head turned—I definitely stood out.
Not one person in the salon looked a thing like me. The hairdressers were covered in piercings, leather and tattoos. Instantly, I wondered if my style, values or interests would be a good fit for this place. But I took a deep breath and thought, “This’ll be an adventure.” Saying a quick prayer, I asked the Holy Spirit to make me open to whatever conversation and connection He had in mind.
My new stylist and I quickly dove into trading get-to-know-you questions and stories as she washed, cut and styled. Within 15 minutes we were discovering how much we had in common. At 30 minutes, it was like we’d known one another for years. We shared ideas on recipes, books and health, and empathized with challenges we’d each faced in life. It was encouraging and inspiring. As she brushed off the loose hair, she said she couldn’t believe how alike we were and pleaded for me to return.
She was my hairstylist for six months until the salon closed. The truth is, we had different world views and didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but we didn’t allow those things to keep us from treating one another with respect, dignity and care. We genuinely liked and enjoyed each other.
I’m thankful for that experience that reminds me how deceiving appearances can be. Being misunderstood is painful, yet how often do we think we’ve got someone all figured out based on impressions or surface-level conversations? We miss out when we fill in the blanks with presumptions instead of truly listening to and engaging with someone’s story.
Breaking Through Stereotype & Poverty Barriers Ryan Fair
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the Englewood Community. It’s an area known for its poverty, violence and crime—but that wasn’t always the case. I recall a Chicago that was communal, hard-working and passionate about its sports and city. It was also very segregated—a byproduct of redlining. Other than some very committed teachers, I never had ongoing interaction with people of different races until my senior year in high school. I had taken a summer job in downtown Chicago and there I learned that white kids my age thought about and did some of the same things as me and my friends. It just looked and sounded different.
I left my impoverished community in Chicago to attend college in Morris, Minnesota. I went from urban to rural living, thrusting me into my first multi-cultural living environment. My college friends included white kids, seemingly from every small town in Minnesota, Mexicans from El Paso, Native Americans from the Dakotas and Hmong kids from the Twin Cities. This was an ethnic group I’d never heard of before coming to Minnesota. I also became friends with black kids from New Orleans. They had a unique culture and language all to themselves. I was in a mosaic of culture, race and ethnicity. I developed a great appreciation for being in an environment that had been denied to me in Chicago because of my family’s race and economic status.
The disparities between those who come from impoverished communities and those from higher economic statuses became crystal clear in my college years. I was underprepared for the rigors of college. Coming from a poor high school, we didn’t have advanced technology and only limited books. We weren’t allowed to take books home out of fear of them not being returned. Many of my college classmates were well-versed in technology with email, laptops and graphing calculators—all things foreign to me and those of my background. Thankfully, my college had a summer program that helped inner-city kids bridge the gap between high school and college.
As I reflect on the past 20 years since going to college, I’m reminded of John 1:46. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” How about Englewood? From initial blush, most people assume that I came from an environment unlike the one I grew up in because they have been conditioned to have a negative impression of people who come from low-income urban communities. I am not ashamed of my upbringing. God used it to help shape and mold me to be the man I am today. I’m encouraged that, in His eyes, neither my race nor my economic status, limit the things I am capable of accomplishing.
We're called to stand out in contrast to any who may be marked by critical, hate-filled and accusatory words and tone. Let's rise above allowing politics to divide us or become a false god in which we put our trust over Jesus. Scripture reminds us that, as citizens of a greater kingdom, we're called to a higher standard (Ephesians 2:19).