Thursday, May 15, 2014

agree to disagree

Montreal Canadiens fans celebrate their team's NHL playoff win over the Boston Bruins in Montreal Wednesday May 14, 2014. Montreal's Bell Centre was a sea of red, white and blue on Wednesday night as Canadiens fans packed the arena to watch their beloved Habs play 500 kilometres away.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Photo by Ryan Remiorz, Canadian Press. May 14, 2014
I live in a pretty charged city. Opinions on hockey, politics, religion, and food are strong in Montreal. Last night the Canadiens (our city's hockey team) won a spot in the NHL semi-finals and Dean and I went downtown to witness the ensuing celebration; if you live here, you just know the fans are going to take to the streets and make a scene. Sure enough, the sidewalks were filled with fans wearing their bleu blanc rouge jerseys. People were driving around, hanging out of their windows, waving flags and cheering. People ran down the streets high-fiving every person they met (yep, I gave a few high fives myself). The noise was pretty deafening in certain parts of Ste-Catherine street where cars were honking and people were yelling in celebration of their team's hard-won victory.

The police and riot squads were out in full force, making sure that the traffic kept moving and nothing got out of hand. One Hummer, festooned in Canadiens flags, also sported a Boston Bruins dummy tied to the hood and a fan was standing in the open sun roof holding a Bruins effigy swinging from a noose. That crossed the line of good taste and sportsmanship, if you ask me. Loud cheering followed the Hummer as it slowly made its way down Crescent street, past people eating and drinking on restaurant balconies and terraces. 

As we meandered through the crowd, I saw one guy walking down the street wearing a Boston Bruins t-shirt; he really stood out among the sea of red. My first thought was for his safety. My second thought was that my first thought was a bit sad. Were we really so ungracious in this city? So intolerant? So bull-headed? So prone to get carried away without a thought for the effect it might have on others? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I love this city, but I have to admit that the combination of Quebecers' passion and stubbornness is sometimes disastrous.

No different from we who are Christians, really. We can get so focused on our favourite cause, belief, person, interest group, or doctrine that we become rude, brash, unkind, hostile, and even violent. Just read a bit of church history (or the headlines of the past year) and you will see plenty of examples. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have learned the lesson from our mistakes. We still separate ourselves from others who love Jesus just because we have some point of contention. We seem to lack the skills to live, work, and peacefully co-habit with those we are in disagreement with. For hockey fans, I believe the celebration should be first and foremost of the game of hockey instead of desiring to crush another team. Can we genuinely appreciate good skills even though they are not wearing our colours? I hope so.

James Bryan Smith believes that divisiveness stems primarily from fear and at the core of this fear is the desire to control. Exclusion makes us feel safe in some way, because we are with those who make us feel comfortable. Stanley Hauerwas writes: "Only when my self - my character - has been formed by God's love, do I know I have no reason to fear the other." If we are honest, a lack of love and a presence of fear are usually at the core of our exclusivity or division. And this is not what Jesus taught and lived, in fact, he came to call us to love others like we love ourselves and to let go of fear. Augustine is credited with saying: "In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity." How we treat (and speak of) those we disagree with is telling. Within the church, there is no excuse to exclude. We may disagree with others, we may have heated discussions about certain issues, but in the end, we are called to love and forgive, not to separate and divide. 

I once heard a close friend say to a someone whom they differed with: "I am on the opposite side of almost every issue that we talk about, but I like you!" That's what it looks like to live in the generous spirit of unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17. We may not agree with someone, but that's not the deciding factor. Miroslav Volf wisely said, "I don't think we need to agree with anyone in order to love the person." 

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