I do not need the gift of prophecy to know that 2024 will be a terrible, awful, horrible year (at least here in America). I know this to be true because 2024 is a Presidential election year. For many months the political parties, the campaigns, the action committees, and all the rest have been busily gearing up to convince us that things are – or are about to become – truly terrible, awful, and horrible.
I do not, of course, know whether 2024 will be good or bad on any objective measure. I do not know if the economy will be up or down, if the weather will be mild or miserable, if crime will be rampant or constrained, if wars will grow or peace will be secured. I have no idea about those or any of the thousand other things that may intersect your life and mine. I do know, however, that objective measures are irrelevant, because in 2024 we will all be reminded many times each day that the stakes could not be higher, and that we are careening toward Hell in a handbasket.
The people who track these things tell us that some sixteen billion dollars will be spent on the political campaigns. Nearly all of it will be dedicated to persuading voters that things are going badly; that terrible danger lies just over the horizon if the wrong side is elected; and that an enemy walks among us that cannot be trusted. We will be endlessly warned that the other side is malicious, selfish, and intent on destroying all we hold dear.
One way or another, all of us will be caught up in the sixteen-billion-dollar push to spread disgust and distrust. There is no escape.
Some Christian leaders will stand proudly and proclaim that if you love Jesus, you ought to despise these enemies among us and you may do so with a clear conscience because, after all, they are not our neighbors in the Biblical sense, they are the enemy – or at least unwitting tools of the enemy. (Which of our non-neighbor-neighbors are among the bad people will, of course, vary among from one church to the next.)
One way or another, all of us will be caught up in the sixteen-billion-dollar push to spread disgust and distrust. There is no escape. So, what are we to do? One of the prison ministries with which I serve offers a useful road map. When they go into prison, volunteers at Jubilee Prison Ministry are taught to “Talk Less, Listen More, and Love Always without reservation.” I can think of no better New Year’s resolution, especially as we confront the terrible, awful, horrible year ahead.
Yes, yes, I know you have political and policy opinions and perspectives that you would like to “share in love” with your family and neighbors. So do I. But let’s be honest: no one we know will be enlightened because they have heard our particular take on this issue or that. If there is one thing that will most certainly not be in short supply during the coming year it is opinions and perspectives. And as unique and insightful as we may imagine our view to be, it will not persuade anyone of anything.
It will, however, alienate and offend many. Because no matter how much you share your opinions “in love,” you will find your voice increasing in volume, your vocabulary increasingly intense, and your tone becoming increasingly insistent as your disagreeable discussion partner shares their own unique political insights, in love of course.
It is a simple and obvious truth. If we Talk Less, we will get into far fewer arguments. After all, there is no satisfaction in an argument when the person with whom you disagree won’t argue back. Even Pilate learned that. And while you are talking less you will also be able to …
There is much more to listening than not talking, but not talking is a good start. Once you have decided – even before you know what the other person is going to say – that your response is going to be “tell me more,” you free yourself from the distraction of formulating your own response. You are not going to respond, you are going to listen, and after that you are going to listen some more. You are going to acknowledge the person’s perspective and make sure you fully understand what they are saying. And when they say something you find outrageous, you are going to work to Listen Even More and to understand why they do not think what they are saying is outrageous even if you do. And when you spot their error – and you will, because you have been listening carefully – you will resolve to …
Loving your awful neighbor will not mean manufacturing irresistible feelings of affection for them. It will mean resolving to act with love and embrace the behaviors that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13: being patient and kind; refusing to envy or boast or be prideful; never stooping to dishonor others or keep a record of other’s errors and wrongs. It means, as it always has, embracing the actions and behaviors that God demands of us. And when we are doing this we need to do it….
We like to offer conditional love, not love without reservation. We will be patient and kind if you are as well. We will keep no record and your wrongs as long as you do not bring up ours. You do not have to be perfect, but we reserve the right to refrain from our loving actions if you act in some sort of intolerable manner. Of course, none of that is acceptable and we all know it. Even when others are stealing our coat and slapping our face, we are to love always, without reservation.
In the year ahead, we need to do all this while ignoring the sixteen-billion-dollar megaphone screaming in our ears and telling us that the other side is awful and the consequences of them seizing power is catastrophic and it is your duty (even your Christian duty) to engage the battle.
Maybe, in some small measure, it is your duty – and you should certainly vote – but remember this: we already know how this story ends. God wins. Jesus saves the world. There is a new heaven and a new earth and neither one has elephants or donkeys in charge. His Kingdom will come. The end. No election will change any of that. Not in America or India or Russia or China. It did not change that in 324 or 1054 or 1594. It won’t change that in 2024 either.
So perhaps we can band together to Talk Less, Listen More, and Love Always Without Reservation and 2024 might be an ever-so-slightly less horrible, awful, terrible year.