For anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant as the wait staff or as a busboy or busgirl, there are times when you go to the table after the diners have left to find a mess. Now there will always be dirty dishes and the like, but sometimes the table is a disaster. Remnants of the meal are spread around the table, on the seats, and on the floor. Everything is in disarray. At other times you can tell that the diners intentionally left the table in nice shape, stacking dishes, collecting trash, and the like, because they know someone will have to clean up things. Having waited on tables before in my life, I try hard now not to leave a mess behind for others to clean up.
As an American citizen, I am concerned about the mess we are leaving behind for future generations. Our table fellowship has gotten awful messy. While political disagreements have always been part of our American family, it has in recent years turned into a free-for-all of insults, sarcasm, ugliness, and hatefulness. Civic conversations have given way to Jerry Springer Show like theatrics where the goal is not to discuss issues but to seek ways to destroy one another. It has not helped that our national leaders have modeled this way of exchange for us. When our leaders are unable to conduct themselves with honesty, integrity, and respect, then it filters down to the rest of us. It shows up among circles of friends, families, workplaces, and churches.
The widespread use of social media has only exasperated the problem. The daily barrage of comments, sarcastic posts, and mean-spirited words are all over the place from all sides of politics. We are quick to point the finger at our political opponent while failing to see our own shortcomings. In fact, political opponents are now better described as political enemies. The lines have been drawn and compromise is forgotten as an option. Yes, we are creating quite a mess, but at what price?
Our children and grandchildren are watching us and taking it in. If we continue to model this way of discourse, then it is only inevitable that they will follow suit as they age. We will have left the table so messy, then they will not know how to begin to start the conversation. They will think this is the normal of table conversation. Left unchanged, we will be setting them up for a generation of division and animosity. Is this really what we want to leave behind?
As people of faith, we have to do better. We have to model a way of discourse that is guided by grace and humility. We have to resist the temptation of joining in the free-for-all of insults, sarcasm, and hatred. We have to live with a different mindset; the mind of Christ. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, would write, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4: 8-9) Imagine the salt and light we could be as Christians at the table if we operated under a different mindset than that of the rest of society. Jesus told us that they will know we are his followers by our love for one another. I think we would all probably rather be known for our love than our last political post on FACEBOOK.
As Christians, we can continue to talk, discuss, and debate the issues of the day. Each voice is important. Yet, we do so with the mind of Christ within us. We must let the mind of Christ guide our conversations. Again, the apostle Paul would write to the Philippians saying, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 1-8)
We all want our voices to be heard in the political conversation. However, are we willing to speak with voices guided by Jesus Christ? We don’t have to leave a messy table for others to clean up. We can leave a better place for those who come after us. We cannot do it, however, on our own, but only by the guidance of God’s Spirit. May we each ask God to guide our speech and its tone. May we see others, even the ones we disagree with, as children of God. And may we realize that our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ.