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Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Talk With Them All"

Lee Eshleman (left) of Ted and Lee fame
In light of the growing polarization I sense everywhere I’ve been reminded of some words spoken by the late Lee Eshleman over a decade ago. They are a part of an interview (with fellow humorist Ted Swartz) done by WVPT’s Jenni Howard for a documentary on area Mennonites:

Lee: “Take whatever stereotype you have about Mennonites, and assume it may be true for a fraction of us, and not true for another fraction of us. Then talk to us one on one. And do that with everybody, everyone in the whole world.”

Ted (incredulously): “You mean everyone?”

Lee: “Yes, everyone. Talk with them all.”

Of course we know that’s impossible, but the wisdom in Lee’s wit is that any generalization we make about any group--Mennonite, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, you name it--needs to be tempered and tentative until we have “talked with them all.”

So what if we took more time for personal conversations with our recent immigrant neighbors, for example, inviting them into our homes and learning to know them as real people? Or what if we invested time in meeting with any number of others in our community holding a wide range of views--varying from militant to peace-loving and everything in between? Or if we really took time to listen deeply to members of other races, religions, nationalities or sexual orientations with whom we have few personal connections?

I’m not suggesting we should agree with everyone who differs from us, or compromise our own convictions to accommodate theirs. But we can at least learn to respect others and to show appreciation for the complexity and diversity within each person--and within each group of people as a part of God's beloved creation.

So here's my new goal. Before making any hasty judgments about any group of folks, I want to talk with them all.
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