Well, that’s putting it simply. I may not agree with lots of folks, but if I love you, you’re very likely to know it. I’m thinking about this in light of my own experiences and the political atmosphere of our country at the moment.
A few days ago when I was acutely feeling a lack of local friends, I asked my husband what the difference was between me and another acquaintance of ours, who makes friends easily wherever she goes. Not just run of the mill friends, either – these are feed you dinner, watch your kid, more like family friends. And my husband, who has made vows to be my loving friend for life, said, “You don’t suck up to people.” Pressed to explain further, it turns out that I’m honest with others; I don’t always say what they would like to hear (or keep my mouth shut to leave it a lie by omission).
So I’ve been mulling this over. A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching one of our older adult Sunday school classes at their invitation. The lesson was on Stephen, the first Christian martyr, one of the men chosen to help distribute food to widows when the apostles were getting too busy to make sure this was happening fairly (Acts 6-7). The account the author gives us of Stephen echoes that of Jesus in some powerful ways – a person doing good, witnessing to the good news of God, brought up on false charges and put to death.
The emphasis of the lesson was on being a witness. Now these folks are such excellent evangelists exhibiting such marvelous hospitality, that their problem is that their room is too full. So what could I say about being a witness? So I asked this question: Are there ever times when our positions on issues, the way we are witnesses for the smaller things, clouds the way we may be a witness for God?
And then I did it. I crossed the boundary. I named the elephant (and donkey) in the room and wondered aloud how our words and attitudes during a political season might undermine our witness to the good news. Are there things more important (namely, the reign of God) that should trump and inform how we are who we are in the world?
Afterwards, many of the class members thanked me, probably as much for my presence as for my lesson. I found myself saying that I wasn’t afraid to talk about hard issues with them because they know I love them and I know they love me.
I’m working this out because I can point to an example right now of a wonderful couple that we know. And I love them. I’ve known them for years, but I know that they are never going to be the friends that I long for. Because I can’t keep my mouth shut, and even if I do, what I’m thinking is probably all over my face. And if I have to keep my mouth shut, for fear of offending or challenging, that’s probably not the friendship I really need.
So, in a season when tension and fear and anxiety are high while the outlets of social media feel anonymous, making it safe to be tacky and rude, let's try to be loving instead. Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19 and 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:4, James 2:8). And as often as you may disagree with them, let them know/see/feel that you love them first.