Last year at the University of Minnesota, PBS hosted a conversation between David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch.
Rauch and Blankenhorn are friends and nobody is sure why.
Rauch has long been a major player in the fight for marriage equality and Blankenhorn has been the thorn in his side, advocating for the traditional family and the mother-father parental model.
For years, these two have traversed the country while tearing into one another over their opposing beliefs. Rauch has called Blankenhorn a bigot. Blankenhorn has called Rauch a radical. The two were camped in polarizing places, maintaining a gridlock that would make congress blush.
But then something happened.
They grabbed coffee.
Through the honest hours of humanity that they spent together, a friendship was born. Shortly after, Rauch wrote the preface for Blankenhorn’s book- a book against gay marriage. Rauch called it the best argument he’s heard yet.
The bond that blossomed between these two didn’t derive out of a change in belief (although, Blankenhorn eventually did). It came from changing the language. At the height of their mutual hostility, they experienced a crinkle of the conscience, one that begged them to be better. This epiphany awoke a newfound desire to disagree with dignity again. They had grown tired of demonizing one another, so they started an organization and co-wrote literature and connected over the ordinary in their lives.
Looking through the lens of how the real world works, this relationship is rare, if not impossible. But have we ever truly tried? Have we ever wondered whether we were simply situating ourselves in the tribes society told us to?
Let’s imagine for a second that there’s this Church function.
In attendance is George and Evelyn, an elderly couple from the rural parts of Pennsylvania. With a little grit and grace, they raised eight children on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. They also happen to be Franklin Graham diehards and down ballot Republicans.
Across at their table sits a newlywed lesbian couple, just on the cusp of parenthood.
Through a little nudge and a proper introduction, a lay out of lives begins. The two catch a glimpse of anxiety and fret filling the young ladies faces- looks they know all too well.. And like the proud parents they are, they lean in and offer a few tricks up their sleeve. But then things get a little of hand. An hour passes and coffee is spat out of mouths during another hilarious trip down memory lane. Exhausting the stories the couples somberly reflect on how life is never what we expect it to be.
Is it possible that inside those intimate exchanges, nostalgia and naive dreams could collide and cross over… into closeness?
Call me an idealist or a dreamer, but I don’t think this is farfetched for us. Rauch and Blankenhorn did it because they reclaimed that redemptive lost language. The one that speaks to the soul, not the soldier.
The lost language beneath the wreckage of wrong worldview and cultural caricature is found in our shared humanity. Too often, instead of excavating what bonds us, what truly matters, our sharp tongues reflexively strike, injecting toxic turns that wither away whatever was growing.
But our stories disarm. In our familiarities we find ourselves unfilled and wanting more. Our differences don’t dissolve, but they become quieter and petty, unwanted interruptions of something valuable we have stumbled upon. Empathy is found in people we do not expect to find it from. Through stories of different characters, but similar sentiments a brave bond can be formed. This is the language of lives lived.
Somewhere between Stonewall and Proposition Eight we lost sight of the stories beneath the banners. It was all about winning for us. We stroked our pride by pledging allegiance to the propaganda of our cause. Crimes were committed, to be sure, but the brush we painted the other with was too broad, too simple and completely dehumanizing. And as a consequence, we buried the language that bonds us.
If we could resurrect those refrains of common courage and struggle and hope and faith, maybe we could unearth what has been lost. Maybe we would hang on tighter to the words of Mother Teresa who said
“if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Could what divides be overcome with what bonds us?
The Kingdom tells us yes.