Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Divide in America

(9/5/09) I haven't posted since I put up the September newsletter. I had a couple of responses from those who read it in "The Messenger", the newsletter of Peace United Church and Grey Eagle UMC. A couple of people agreed with it and a couple were perplexed.

The latest controversy that seems to be sweeping the country is not the health care initiative, the cap and trade bill, or the economic situation. No, the big controversy this weekend seems to be President Obama's scheduled speech to school children. This seems to be upsetting people in both the big cities and in the rural areas. I have heard of people in Todd County who oppose the speech being shown in schools. Several districts in the area have decided not to show it. Those who oppose the telecast, conservatives, forget that their iconic ideologue, Ronald Reagan, also did a speech to encourage students. (President George HW Bush did one, also.) [9/6/09 update: A friend states that the controversy first erupted over the wording of the study guide that was released last week. But even after the White House revised the lesson plan many still object to the speech. My take: if the lesson plan/study guide is objectionable, then instruct your children not to use it but still listen to what the President has to say. Since they still don't want their children to hear it then the lesson plan issue was a straw dog.]

My big question is simple. "Why?" Why is this such a big controversy? I have a feeling, but no real hard evidence, that those who have been adamantly against Obama, oppose him in the little things, even a speech to encourage children to stay in school and get their education. Does this mean that those who oppose Obama, oppose education? No, I don't think so. I think it might be just a knee jerk reaction.

Some other questions have also crossed my mind the last few days about this controversy. Why do people not want to hear ideas and opinions that they may not agree with? Why are we so closed to other people's views? Are we so entrenched in our ways that we are afraid to hear what others have to say? This reminds me of something that happened in 2002.

Early in 2002, several months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, my local school district scheduled at Roman Catholic nun to come and speak at the school about Islam. From all the information I heard, she was an expert on Islam and had spent some years in Muslim countries. Her expected outcome for the day she was to give her presentation was to inform our students about the Islam that the majority of Muslims around the world follow.

What followed when the school informed the parents of the program was a campaign to get the school to cancel the program even though parents could opt their students out of the program. Those who opposed the presentation said that Christians, especially the young children, should not be exposed to anything so vile and evil (I am paraphrasing here). The (spineless, expedient, and politically driven) school board caved in almost immediately and canceled the program. What I think happened was that they were afraid that their hatred for Muslims in general might have been found baseless. Why are people so afraid of competing idea, even if those "ideas" are simply information?

Is this what America has come to? Are we so divided that we can't listen to each other? When will cooler and calmer people prevail? We can have our differences, and we will, but we can also treat those with other opinions with respect and courtesy as we listen. Listening with respect can open us to the presence of Christ in another and can open us to our own spiritual growth through the power of the Holy Spirit. Come on, America, calm down, take a deep breath, and listen!

Let us pray: Oh God, most merciful and loving creator, open us to the power of your Spirit in our lives and let us with ears hear the voice of your Son in the words of others. Guide us in the way we treat others and show us how to listen intently before we speak. In the name of your Son, Jesus the Christ, who was always open to others. Amen.

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