The highly charged racial implications around the event that prompted the arrest of Professor Gates, together with the public debate that followed, showed how quickly each of us can relate to our own life-experiences and prior assumptions.
Then comes what the press tags as “the Beer Summit” at the “Rose Garden,” and at least one follow-up opinion that our President acted more like a bartender in this conversation than a mediator.
At this point I’m reminded of something I read years ago about a well known Christian leader and social advocate who, while pressing the issue of poverty, said in the course of a church sermon something like, “A lot of you don’t give a [blank] about children dying in Africa, and now you are far more concerned about the fact that I just said [blank] than you are about those kids.”
Reminded me that we all probably have a our own favorite ways of making sure that we don’t have to really listen to those we disagree with. Sometimes we hit the off or mute button when the other person’s emotions become a bit too hot, or if the volume goes up a bit too high in their voice, or if they use inappropriate language or ask to talk over a beer rather than a coke or a cup of tea or coffee.
The point here is not the alcohol. Vice-President Biden, who was also at the table, represents those of us who choose not to indulge by asking for a non-alcoholic beverage. When discussing such important issues as racial bias and appropriate law enforcement policy “the beer” is a non-issue.
Jesus showed as much when he was criticized for eating and drinking with “the enemy”. He was far more concerned about issues of reconciliation with God and one another and was willing to take some risks to get there.
Just this week I participated in some “team building exercises” with some co-workers that brought us to the table to listen to one another. The facilitator didn’t try to solve our problems. Neither did he act as a judge or even a mediator. But he did help us to talk. He helped us to listen. And in the process we came away with a better understanding and deeper appreciation of one another that help to put in perspective the issues we tend to disagree about.
Jesus entered the conversation of his day about racial issues. It was a big issue with him. By taking risks he listened and was listened to.
Admittedly, it doesn’t take being a follower of Jesus to see the value of listening. But from where I sit, sometimes I think that no one needs to be reminded to “come to the table” and “listen” to our enemies– than those of us who have taken the name of “Christ’s-people”.
It was James, a servant of Jesus, who wrote, “My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19).
My guess is that we’ve all learned the hard way on this one. Thankfully, the point of our faith is not so much the moral standard– as the forgiveness we have been offered, and the spiritual help we’ve been given to move past our natural instincts– to not listen.