Compassionate Disagreement


As I sit to write this reflection for the Late November Whistler, I’m still absorbing the results of the recent Election Day. I confess to feeling a little bruised by the whole experience of that season in which it’s so easy to revert to our ugliest base instincts of going for the jugular against our antagonists or at least cheering others on as they do so. This happens to be an election year in which my preferred political agenda didn’t fare so well, but in truth I’ve felt the same vaguely punch drunk sensation even in years when “my” side has been more obviously victorious. On social media sites, people I know and love (and often even those I agree with) behave horribly to those who disagree with them ~ calling names and mocking and dismissing the intelligence of anyone foolish enough to think differently.

Of course I’m grateful to live in a democracy, where it’s permissible to speak my truth and vote my conscience; actually, we’ve recently celebrated Veterans’ Day, which is the perfect moment to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy and the work that has gone into securing those freedoms. That said, I wish we could all feel better about how we get where we’re going as a nation. I wish that the political seasons felt more refreshing than draining, more uplifting that angry.

In the Christian church, November marks the end of one year and the start of another. The season of “Ordinary Time” or Pentecost ends with Reign of Christ Sunday (November 23 this year), in which we recognize the Kingship of Christ and reflect on the nature of servant leadership. Of course, over the generations that image of Christ the King has been celebrated with images that mirror the glory of earthly powers, with Christ enthroned in splendor and authority in the sense of “power over” all others.  The New Century Hymnal has a hymn that shows another image, though, and I like it very much. Written by Daniel Charles Damon in 1990, the blurb at the bottom of the page attributes a key image in the hymn to a sermon by Rev. Ainsley Coe Throckmorton in which the answer to the question “How does Christ rule?” is “By keeping company with pain.”

What would it be like to live in a world where our leaders ruled from a place of compassion and shared suffering? And perhaps as important: what could you and I do to bring about such a world? Because, as it happens, I’m just naive enough to believe it’s possible for us to change the world. I believe it’s possible to speak up on behalf of those who live vulnerable lives and in doing so, call our leaders to their most humane selves. I believe it’s possible to address important local and regional conflicts directly without forgetting that those who think differently than we do are still human beings worthy of love and respect.

This is how the hymn I mentioned ends:

Eternal Christ, you rule

keeping company with pain;

with love and truth as tools,

come build in us your reign.

May it be so.

In peace,