Building Bridges

     We have finished with Thanksgiving and are headed towards Christmas.  Most likely you had a family gathering of some sort, either in person or maybe via zoom.  How did it go?  Was it stressful?  Were some of the current divisions in American culture present at your family gathering?   Outspoken Biden and Trump supporters, Pro-mask and anti-mask people debated as you ate turkey and dressing together, were there any sparks?
     Families, including blood relatives and those joined through marriage and circumstances had to navigate some land mines at Thanksgiving and will do so again at Christmas.  How do we build bridges in a time of such division?  Recently I was asked this question by someone with whom I disagree strongly on several issues, yet still like personally.   To be honest I said, “I don’t know.”  But now that I’ve thought about it, this is my answer. 
      Here are some bridge building tips: 
  1. Practice Wisdom.    
      Sometimes it is wise to simply dodge or at least minimize the conversation when both people are firmly entrenched in their views.  Please understand you do not have to respond or give your opinion on everything your family, friends and acquaintances post on Facebook.  Sometimes it is wise to just keep scrolling.  Ask yourself, when was the last time you changed your mind on something significant because of a heated Facebook exchange?   If you must discuss something heated, in person is better.  There you can smile and send both verbal and nonverbal cues that you like/love the person with whom you are talking.  Really, it is ok at family gatherings to stick to less controversial subjects like “How is the job going, and what are your kids doing these days? 
  1. Adopt a posture of humility    
       I am always a little surprised at the confidence people have in their thinking.  I have read articles, even books on many subjects, but I am an expert in a very narrow field of knowledge.  That is probably true of you as well.  Does everyone in my circle of influence have to know my opinion on everything?  I think not.  Also, in the spirit of humility one simple practice is to read widely.  Occasionally, I will intentionally try to find the most articulate authors who hold a different viewpoint than I hold. Alone with a book, I can set down the natural defensiveness that most revert to when discussing a hot button issue and actually listen.  Remember the Bible tells us to “be quick to listen” (James 1:19).  This does not mean I will change my mind, but at the very least I can change my view of the opposition from the “straw man” I might have constructed in my mind.  In addition, this practice helps you understand the other side’s strongest arguments, which makes you a more articulate spokesman for your view in the future.   
      3.  Acknowledge complexity.
      Topics that divide us always involve some complexity.  For example, I am strongly pro-life in my thinking about the issue of abortion.  However, years of working with broken, hurting people help me see the situations that women find themselves in.  The woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy does so for many reasons.  Most tell me in their time of stress, confusion and fear, they genuinely did not feel they could make a better choice.   When I begin to engage in the complexity of an “issue,” it takes on names and faces and real life circumstances. My mind is not changed but my compassion is activated.  This calls me to put my beliefs into action rather than just to voice them.   
     4.  Agree to disagree.   
      Please don’t damage a family relationship over conflicting views of any U.S. President.  Destroying your relationship with your grown child or sister-in-law is not worth it.  Family is family, so cling to them despite the political differences.       
       5.  Pray .
     If you are nervous or even dreading your big family gathering (in person or Zoom), pray for wisdom.  The Bible tells us that if we ask for wisdom God will give it (James 1:5).
      Any engineer will tell you that bridges are expensive and difficult to build.  Relational bridges are the same.  But bridges help with connection.  Connection with others is part of what we are designed for.  During this contentious time, build a bridge wherever you can.

Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church