By Dwight Welch
“All this is from God...who gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).
Another election has come and gone. Some of the candidates I voted for won. And some of my candidates lost. Soon I’ll be visiting family and we’ll discover that some of us in the family voted different then others. And we’ll still come together at the same table, enjoying the blessings of food and fellowship together on this holiday.
How is that possible? When I read the newspaper and watch television, I am told that there are two Americas. There is a blue and a red America. And never the twain shall meet. We live in different neighborhoods and towns, consume different products, and watch different television shows—for news as well as entertainment. Do you like NASCAR? Do you listen to NPR? Do you like steak or are you a vegetarian?
Micro-targeting voters has become key in winning elections. And our lifestyles, where we live, who we associate with, what we do for a living, have all been calculated by pollsters to tell us how we will vote and to which America we belong. This movement has intensified over the last generation so that the fragmentation has become reflected in lopsided vote totals, and the ability to lead lives where we rarely run into folks who disagree with us. How does one live with difference in such a situation?
The nice thing about family is that, more often than not, you’re stuck with them. While much of our lives are chosen, this is an area that is largely not, even for those of us who were adopted. And so the question of living and relating to folks who think differently is built in (or at least should be) during the holiday season. I think we need more of those kinds of situations, where the relations and connections we have with one another are stronger and deeper than politics.
Could the church be that kind of place? For the apostle Paul, the church’s mission is reconciliation, to be a movement for healing and wholeness in a fragmented world. And yet churches often fall into the same trap as the culture, with blue and red churches, where folks are expected to fit a certain set of beliefs before they can belong.
But the one advantage the church has, the one thing we can offer is the communion table. Like the family table at the holidays, the communion table is a place where folks can overcome difference with food and fellowship, forging stronger bonds.
Those bonds are not determined by whether we are Democrat or Republican, black or white, gay or straight, Tea Party or Occupy, hunter or vegetarian, cat owner or dog owner, single or married, city or rural, old or young. They are not determined by a micro-pollster.
Instead, such reconciliation happens because of what God has done for us. The communion table can happen, like family tables not because of our chosen lives, but because we are chosen—by adoption or birth or circumstance—to be included as family. It is that to which we belong by virtue of God’s love for us.
Now, not all churches or families function this way. And the holiday seasons can be a painful time as a result. But my prayer is that they will. And that whatever it is that estranges us from one another, God can help make us whole, as individuals, as a community, and as a country.
Rev. Dwight Welch
First Congregational (United Church of Christ) Sheridan WY