One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 133, I suppose in part because it has some funky cultural imagery that is fun to think about. Here is the psalm in its entirety:
1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
It is a psalm about unity and coming together. Originally it was probably intended as a psalm of hope that the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah might be reunited as the one people of God they were intended to be. The images of oil running down the beard of Aaron calls to mind a joint worship service in which one king would be anointed and the priesthood under Aaron would bring the people together. The combination of dew on Mount Hermon in the northern Kingdom falling on Mount Zion in the southern Kingdom reinforces the idea of living together in peace under God’s blessing.
This is a vision for a reality for which we long, but how we get there is the challenge. Unity seems far away when we are so divided as a nation. In fact some of our families are divided one from another. How do we begin to bridge the gap?
I listened to a short TED talk today by Megan Phelps-Roper who grew up in the Westboro Baptist church which is a group of people who travel the country angrily protesting Judaism, homosexuality, transgender people, Muslims and various other Christian Denominations. It is sometimes called a hyper Calvinist cult. The Southern poverty Law Firm calls it a hate group. Megan says she was put in the middle of protests with a sign placed in her hands before she could read the words on the sign. Growing up Megan adopted the church doctrine but began to question the church’s beliefs in her teens as she was exposed to other student who did not seem evil to her as her church taught her to believe. Surprisingly it was conversations begun on Twitter that were the real turning point. Patient, caring people on Twitter took the time to befriend Megan, to ask questions, and point out inconsistencies in the church doctrine. Megan left the church at 26 and today travels the world speaking about her experience in the church and advocating dialogue between groups with conflicting views.
Megan offers four pieces of advice for people who want to build bridges with people of differing points of view. First she says, “Don’t assume bad intent in the other person.” She suggests we assume the other is at least neutral or has good intent. This allow us to assume a kind approach. Second she says, “Ask Questions” and seek to understand the other point of view. Asking questions has the added benefit that often the other is inclined to ask questions as well so you both learn. Number 3: “Stay calm.” This is seriously important as hot emotions often lead to thoughtless remarks that bust up the bridge you’re trying to build. Megan says if you’re feeling upset, take a break, cool off and remember how to think instead of being a slave to your feelings. Finally Megan says, “Make your case.” If you believe something you should be able to make a compelling case and back it up. If you can’t, maybe you need to rethink your position.
I like Megan’s approach. We all need simple steps as we try to connect with one another these days. I don’t believe God wants us to be angry and hateful with one another. Jesus called us to love one another. It just takes effort and intentionality to get there.
p.s. Here’s the link in case you want to watch Megan’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/megan_phelps_roper_i_grew_up_in_the_westboro_baptist_church_here_s_why_i_left?language=en
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