Speaking of Religion | Ignorance vs. Daring Curiosity

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Ever since that last presidential election I've felt confused. The day after voting I kept mumbling, "This cannot be!" I had lived in ignorance and denial of the convictions of many, many Americans. My post-election shock stirred a curiosity in me. Who are the people who see life so differently from me and how did they come to their convictions?

Often I'm tempted to get mad at people who see things differently from me instead of getting curious! Honestly, I feel threatened by attitudes and values differ from mine. When I talk with "them" my little animal brain often kicks in with Fight or Flight!

At the same time, something keeps nudging me to open my bigger brain and move beyond my animal reactions: unconscious tightening of my gut, raised blood pressure, and anger. Something, maybe the Spirit, encourages me to GET CURIOUS.

So I was fascinated a few weeks ago to find a book by sociologist Arlie Hotchkiss who went to the heart of the tea party movement to learn explore the stories of people I don't understand. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning in the American Right, A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide introduces us to people who I would never have imagined. In my heart I hear a message, "You have ignored us. Pushed us aside. Told yourself we don't exist. Well, surprise! Here we are! Wake up and make room." So I am reading. And it takes work to open my heart with compassion.

Next Monday night Bennington College invites us to a similar opportunity: a 7 p.m. symposium at CAPA with Megan Bergman, "Climate Change and the American South: root causes of a culture of denial and environmental injustice and a way forward."

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When differences upset us we're tempted to stereotype the "others," to argue, and to fight for MY America. There is a pleasure we can find in condemning THOSE people. We can feel so righteous! But there is a sad loss in writing off half of our fellow Americans, and a danger for all of us. Are there alternatives?

A dear friend of mine went to Selma, Alabama during the civil rights struggles in the 1960s. When he arrived, Martin Luther King. Jr. and the people with him had been slandered, knocked down by fire hoses, bitten by dogs, beaten viciously King led them all in praying for the people who had hurt them. Then he led people onto the streets singing, "We love Sherriff Jim Brown," and all those who opposed and hurt them. Is that what Jesus meant when he said to love our enemies? (Matthew 5:44)

Why did Our Maker put us on earth with people who think and act differently from us? On the day of Pentecost people of faith from countries far and wide came together in one place, and began to speak - all different languages. But the Holy Spirit was at work among them, and they all understood one another! (Acts 2:1ff)

I dare you (and me) to get curious about people who are different from us. Explore their story AND share your own. Initiating these conversations, really listening to learn, building these relationships are keys to healing our country, our families and our communities.

Thank you for every effort you make!

Marsh Hudson-Knapp is coordinating the Better Angels effort of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council and the Greater Bennington Peace and Justice Center. You can contact him at MRHudsonknapp@gmail.com.


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