By Scott Taylor
Before moving to Waynesville, I lived on the Chesapeake Bay in the city of Annapolis, MD. The church I served was a little more than a mile from my house and I frequently walked to work through the heart of the colonial city and its picturesque harbor. One April morning in 2009 I was stopped by a person who identified as part of a new grassroots movement known as the Tea Party. Like the historical event their name calls to mind, they were gathered by the docks of the Annapolis harbor in protest of taxation. Seeing them reminded me of the simple fact that my taxes were still unfinished! As I crossed their path, one of the organizers approached me and asked, “How do you feel about the government taking your money?” I responded, “What do you mean?” She said, “How do you feel about having to pay taxes?” I snobbishly said, “I imagine it to be the most patriotic thing I do.”
I am not sure if that response was true or not. In some ways it is true; my taxes represent a pragmatic patriotism that is clear and tangible. But really, I know, and you do as well, that patriotism was the furthest thing from my mind when I made my comment. My aim was to be clever. To deliver a “ten-word” response that did nothing to engage a somewhat reasonable question. A sharp-tongued bumper-sticker that shuts down any possible conversation.
It may sound drastic, but remarks like mine that day in Annapolis, as harmless as they seem, are part of why we stand so divided in America. I am guilty as charged. My confession is made. Now I must be about the process of repentance.
This past year’s Holy Week had many meaningful moments for me. Perhaps the most impactful one happened on Tuesday night at the David LaMotte program. David had an incredibly welcoming presence and everyone felt they could be rather frank with him. Someone asked a question about the political climate of our country and invited David to talk openly about his own feelings. To be honest, I was nervous. I think we all get anxious when this topic arises in public. Perhaps we are nervous that our own sense of political identity will be or won’t be affirmed. David did neither. Here is a paraphrase of his story as I remember it.
I’ve lived in Asheville for a while now. When we moved into our neighborhood, there was no sidewalk. This was a problem. It was a practical problem because it was hard to take the dog on a walk and avoid the ever increasing Asheville traffic. It was a community problem because you never had the occasion of meeting someone and connecting. So, the neighborhood got together and built a sidewalk. In turn, we built a stronger and better community.
I honestly feel that America has ripped up its sidewalk. Liberals. Conservatives. Everything in between and on the periphery. We have all ripped up our sidewalk. It will take us all to rebuild it.
May we as Christians not let this moment pass us by. There is important work to do in rebuilding the sidewalks of America. We must leave the comfort of our homes and see people face to face, not through the murky glass of a TV screen or a political ad. We must be slow to anger and even slower in celebrating the cleverness of a sharp-tongued bumper-sticker one-liner: these kinds of 10-word displays of public deception only serve to divide us because they cannot convey to fullness of anything true.
We must seek to affirm the good in others and not the righteousness in ourselves. Above all, we must be hopeful for hope will not disappoint us (Romans 5).
Together, and only together, can we rebuild our sidewalk. It may be the most patriotic thing we ever do.