Torch Column: Reverendly Yours

11 April 2017

Reverendly Yours (Rev. Tom Goldsmith)

It was Veteran’s Day of 2016, just a few days after Trump became president. (I consciously did not write was “elected” president). Veteran’s Day fell on a Friday last year, and it was my first wedding under the new administration. Not that a president holds sway over my wedding ceremonies, but I knew the guests would be impacted by the surprise results. The groom’s family had barely enough commonsense to grudgingly vote for Hillary. The bride’s family was another matter. The peers of the bridal couple were all Democrats; the peers of the parents were Trump supporters. During the reception I was assigned a dinner seat with the older guests. I looked for ways to kind of slither towards where the younger ones gathered, but any movement in that direction would have been sorely conspicuous. I was held hostage.

Not even my wife was there to protect me. The wedding was in Phoenix. One of my son’s dearest friends imported me to do the job. I had to be on my best behavior. I planned to be fully absorbed by my plate of salmon, looking meekly downwards, and pretending I was wearing a “Do Not Disturb” sign. The gentleman to my left apparently took no notice of my demeanor, and asked for my impression of our new president. My son, who spied on me from afar, later said that I seemed quite animated in my dinner conversation. I commended him on his polite euphemism.

How do we talk civilly to those on the other side of this painful divide that tears our nation apart? Certainly not all who disagree with me politically can be tossed into the infamous “deplorable” basket. How can we expect behavior to change in government when a furor over different values and worldviews preclude an otherwise nice conversation at a wedding celebration? The wrenching divide is experienced in families, former friends, neighbors, and co-workers. If our pets could talk we would probably have discord there, too.

Our church’s Social Justice Council has made better communications across the divide a priority. (And none of them were even at my wedding in Phoenix). In an effort to (at least) begin dealing with the issue, which we all recognize as painful, yet somehow intractable, we will hold a discussion in Eliot Hall on Thursday, May 4th from 7:00p.m. -9:00p.m. Wazir Jefferson and I will co-facilitate what is bound to be a lively discussion. We will show two Ted Talks on the large screen that speak directly to this tough communication barrier, which ultimately ends up so disabling.

Who knows? By the end of the evening you may have an attitudinal adjustment to help you reconnect with all of civilization. It may take some of us a bit longer than one session. Our hope is that the evening will be fun and provocative. If there is any hope for change, we might as well start by looking at ourselves. See you on May 4th. TRG

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