Walt Lichtenberger

Rev. Walt Lichtenberger

Rev. Walt Lichtenberger

On the way to taking my son to college out of state, we went through the drive-thru for a paper bag supper. It was a quick stop and we were back on the interstate in no time at all.

Miles down the highway, my son expressed some concern over his cheeseburger. “I think they didn’t give me my pickle!” His concern caused him to open the bun and check. He was relieved to see the pickle stuck to the middle of the bread in a pool of ketchup and mustard. But the relief was only temporary when he realized that something else was missing. There was no meat patty!

In his concern over a potentially missing pickle, my son missed the proverbial forest for the trees. Of course, this brought laughter to the rest of us in the vehicle. As funny as this situation was, I’m afraid that it is descriptive of a situation which is happening in our community.

Partisan politics are tearing at our ability to engage one another in meaningful and important conversations. Shouting from the bunker of our social media echo chambers, we are allowing divisions to tear the fabric of families, friendships, houses of worship and our community. In the midst of a public health crisis, this is akin to worrying about a pickle when the meat patty is lacking.

Let me offer an example. In early August, my son Mark received recognition at a Prior Lake School Board meeting. Each year, the local Optimist Club purchases a piece of artwork created by a student and donates it to the district. We were surprised as we entered the school district’s office to see a parking lot that was full. I wasn’t expecting much of an audience at a late summer school board meeting.

There was a line to get in and the room was packed with people. Quickly, it became obvious that the crowd was seeking to influence the board’s decision on requiring mask wearing during the upcoming school year in Prior Lake. Folks were wearing T-shirts and holding signs that demanded action. The size of the protest group delayed the start of the meeting as workers set up additional seating and video viewing in an adjacent room.

While we were waiting for things to begin, I wondered how long the evening would turn out to be. Although Mark’s portion was the first thing on the agenda, it came after the open forum. Thankfully, parliamentary procedure allowed for a designated time for comments from the community. Seven people indicated that they wanted to speak and the chair allotted three minutes for each.

On the one hand, what followed could be described as democracy in action. Students and parents rose to the microphone to speak their truth to the elected school board members, who would make the decision. Each speech was a passionate appeal, as folks shared deeply held convictions, experiences, concerns and fears. It was good to hear differences and the way that the issue impacted various situations.

What was less helpful, however, was the tension, grumbling and shouting out when those with the minority opinion in the room were trying to speak. I found the cheers and jeers somewhat intimidating. My heart went out to one parent in particular whose child struggled with health concerns. That plea was treated with disdain by those who didn’t agree with the recommendations of health officials and the Centers for Disease Control.

As a society, when did we lose respect and civility for others? Something is dreadfully wrong if a parent can’t advocate for the well-being of their children without interruption. One may not agree with them or even sympathize with their situation, but they deserve the dignity of being able to speak.

Partisan polemics, rudely flaunted on social media and by national leaders, is having a negative influence on our better natures. Political anger and self-righteousness is fueling an argumentative culture that moves in a direction opposite collaboration and cooperation. Instead of looking for common ground and solutions that benefit all, we are more concerned with aggressively taking all we can for ourselves. Somewhere along the way, we have allowed the one who shouts the loudest to win, foregoing deliberative wisdom in the process. Such behavior tears at the very heart and soul of our community.

When divisions threatened the Christian community in Corinth, Paul directed their attention to love.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7)

Only when we love, do we walk in the direction of God. This is a truth that is lifted up by not only the Christian faith but is also found in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and other faith traditions. Loving others, putting their needs ahead of one’s own, is an essential tenet of all these religions.

And it is a path forward for our community as we continue to go through this pandemic. As another wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths wash over us, it remains my prayer that we will come together for common good. Let us allow the healing balm of love to calm our anger, temper our rhetoric and open our hearts to each other. Instead of shouting and dismissing those with whom we disagree, may we find the strength and wisdom to listen with the intent of understanding.

Otherwise, we may find ourselves with an empty bun and in a pickle!

The Rev. Dr. Walt Lichtenberger is the lead pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Burnsville. He is one of several area pastors who write for “Spiritual Reflections,” a weekly column appearing in this newspaper. He also writes devotions on his website, lightfromthishill.com.