Beliefnet
Progressive Revival

What a fascinating time to be alive. Here we are … about to celebrate the 2008th anniversary of Jesus’ birth, and a whole bunch of us are still squabbling like cats and dogs about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, proving – to a lot of people – that we haven’t got a clue.

My friend Rick Warren is in trouble with one set of critics for being too tough on gay folk.  And my friend Rich Cizik is in trouble with another set of critics for being too soft on gay folk.

President Obama is in trouble with one set of critics for being too soft on Rick Warren, and Rick Warren is in trouble with another set of critics for being too soft on President Obama.

I know a little about being in trouble, as I am blessed with many passionate and loyal critics. So I’m sympathetic to everybody who is in trouble.

What the people in trouble have in common is not agreement. Obama, Cizik, and Warren have widely differing views on the hot-button issues which energize critics. What they have in common, I think, is that they are seeking to create a new space that isn’t clearly defined as “left” or “right.” This is a space of civil disagreement, engaging with the other, crossing boundaries. Just yesterday, I heard somebody define this space as being homeless … ideologically homeless.

If Rick were the right-wing nut-job that some of his hefty-lefty critics are painting him to be, he wouldn’t dare accept an invitation by a Democratic pro-choice pro-gay President. If the President-Elect were the left-wing nut job his tighty-righty critics paint him to be … he wouldn’t invite Prop-8-supporting Rick Warren to give the invocation. If Rick were the compromising apostate his tighty-righty critics claim him to be, he wouldn’t outspokenly disagree with the President-Elect on gay marriage and criminalizing abortion. And so on … you get the point.

Meanwhile, what the critics have in common is that they have a home. They know where they stand – left, far left, right, far right, etc. They know who’s in and who’s out, who’s orthodox and who’s not, whom they’re cold toward and whom they’re hot about.

That’s why Rich Cizik is such an interesting person to me. For his “soft and maybe still softening” stance on gay civil unions and maybe gay marriage, he “got resigned” … from the same organization, by the way, that had to release its previous president (who held the hard line on homosexuality) for indulging in secret indiscretions of a homosexual nature. If he had kept quiet about his changing views (as a lot of people do), he could have kept his job … but he decided to gently tell the truth: that his mind is changing, that he’s still in process. He was moving out of his old comfortable “home” on the right, and now he is homeless.

Homeless folks wander around. They’re in motion. And that, it seems to me, is fascinating and hopeful. If we dig in our heels and stand firm in our warring camps – left and right, pro-choice and pro-life, blah blah blah – we’re insane if we expect to get different results from the ones we’ve been getting. Nothing will change.

But what might happen if we begin to reach out … seeking the common good … seeking to build bridges rather than bombs … seeking to throw out invitations rather than insults … making friends of former enemies … admitting we’re rethinking and changing rather than defending the orthodox no-rethinking-zones in which we’ve been raised?

If you step out and extend hospitality to one of “them,” as the President-Elect did … if you expose your heart and admit you’re rethinking, as Rich Cizik did … if you accept a gracious invitation by someone with whom you disagree, as Rick Warren did … yes, you’ll get criticized and maybe worse. But you’ll also be opening up new possibilities, putting a crack in the insane polarization we’ve been stuck in for too long. So … those who want to criticize, feel free: you’ve got some good things to say. But at the same time, give the homeless guys a chance. They may be your best friend in disguise.

I’m thinking about … not committing yet, just thinking about it … making a New Year resolution – to try to drop polarizing words from my vocabulary in 2009 – including words I’ve used in this short piece: left, right, liberal, conservative, pro-life, pro-choice, and so on. I wonder what would happen if a bunch of us tried it … as a way of breaking with the insanity of always doing what you’ve always done while expecting to get otherwise than what you’ve already got. Hmm.

As we near Christmas, let’s remember that the one whose birthday we’re celebrating was homeless, wandered around, couldn’t be tamed or contained by conventional categories, accepted and extended invitations to the wrong people, and had a boatload of critics. We won’t be celebrating the critics’ birthdays, you know?

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