“People Are Hard to Hate Up Close. Move In”…And Eat Lunch.

I experienced two things last month that had nothing and everything to do with each other. I listened to a podcast. And I ate a potluck lunch.

The podcast was one of my favorites, On Being with Krista Tippett. This particular episode caught my attention with its title: “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart”–an interview with Brené Brown, a research professor at University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. 

Right away I knew Prof. Brown was speaking my language when she talked about the damage being done by our increasingly polarized culture in America.

And I talk about this high lonesome culture that we’re living in right now, where we are the most sorted that we’ve ever been…we’ve sorted ourselves into ideological bunkers. And so I would argue that…nine times out of ten, the only thing I have in common with the people behind those bunkers is that we all hate the same people. And having shared hatred of the same people or the same — I call it “common enemy intimacy” — is just an intimacy created by hating the same people, is absolutely not sustainable. It’s counterfeit connection.

And so this first practice of true belonging is, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” When you are really struggling with someone, and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or belief, move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection: How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?

That part I highlighted in red? That’s something I’ve been challenging myself with ever since the election of 2016 made me feel like I hated half of America. So far that challenge has taken the form of reading and listening to the words of bridge-builders and people whose life experiences are very different from mine. But because I now live in a very small community (worlds away from my previous life as a public school teacher in Tacoma), I hadn’t yet pushed myself to “move in” toward people of different political views who are my actual neighbors.

Last month, that changed. Along with about 69 other people, I sat down to an Interfaith Potluck for people of all faith-based groups on Lopez–Lutherans, Buddhists, Catholics, Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists, you name it–and ate lunch.

Nothing like breaking bread…or deviled eggs, or salad, or brownies…together!

Actually, the “moving in” part started for me back in January, when I pulled together, via email, a small group from various churches to help organize the event. Even though the idea originated with me and was approved through the Quaker Meeting I attend, it was important that it not be a “Quaker thing” (which most people would read, correctly, as politically left-leaning), but completely inter-faith from the get-go. And so, after sitting down several times to organize with people from some churches with very different approaches to both faith AND politics (which we did not get into), I was already feeling the benefits of that “hard-to-hate” thing by the time lunch was served in May. (Hate, are you kidding? I LOVE these people!)

I can’t show too many pictures without violating people’s privacy; just enough to give an idea. And to encourage others. Do you live somewhere that feels divided? Your town, your neighborhood, your block, maybe even your street or your building? Try this:

  1. think of a handful of folks who you KNOW are very different from each other and from yourself
  2. invite them to sit down with you somewhere neutral (like a cafe) to discuss the possible benefits of some kind of event
  3. as a group, create a rough vision of that event: lunch? tea? BBQ? Indoors? Outdoors? When?
  4. craft a statement of purpose to share with others; designate a larger group that each of you will “report back to” or “recruit”
  5. set a date for your next meeting to work out the next level of details: logistics, activities, responsibilities, etc.
  6. And you’re off!

    Look at all these folks leaning in!

At your event, you get to decide how programmed you want to be. We went with the very minimum–icebreaker questions in jars on every table–so as to keep the comfort level high. Some folks used the questions, others didn’t. But it felt good having them there.

We also had feedback forms on every table so people could let us know what was well done and what to work on next time. And should there be a next time? Our folks all said Yes!!!! …but could we find a meeting hall with better acoustics?

Oh, you mean so you can listen to each other better? Yes. Yes. I can lean in to that. 

There Is an “I” in “Community,” But It’s a Small One

Humbling experiences aren’t always fun. Or tasty. The other day, I had one that was both. I got together with a bunch of people to press apples into cider.

(all photos courtesy Gene Helfman)

(all photos courtesy Gene Helfman)

It started out totally fun, as I’d expected. A huge pile of boxed and bagged apples of all colors and sizes awaited us on the sunny grass. We set up a rough assembly line along two picnic tables: wash, bleach, rinse, cut. Ferry bowls of cut fruit to the pressers; ferry bowls of bruised bits to the compost. Chat, munch, switch roles. Joke, chat, munch. Ah, work parties! On a sunny day in October! What could feel more comfortable, neighborly, plain old right?

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Except that it was taking FOREVER. At one point somebody glanced up and noticed that the giant apple-box pile did not seem to have shrunk at all. Then I made the mistake of asking what time it was. I had budgeted two hours in my busy day for this communal activity. We had been there for an hour and a half, and we were maybe a quarter done.

Uh-oh.I could feel those comfy communal feelings begin to evaporate. Cue pun about “pressing issues”…

I have SO MUCH to do. Gotta finish my Book Two proofs to get them to my book designer in time to upload the fixes and still be able to have Headwinds ready at its launch party. Gotta paint the signs and put up posters for the Gretchen Wing & Friends concert next week. Augh, my concert!!! Gotta practice that run in the third song which keeps tripping me up, and that horrible C-B-flat-G progression I haven’t nailed yet. And I’m having friends over for dinner and I promised them pie. And, oh shoot, when’s the last time I vacuumed?

Did I mention that the group doing the cider-pressing was the Quaker Meeting I attend?Can there be a more communal, thoughtful, self-less group than a bunch of Quakers? Anyone else feeling the irony here?

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Of course I couldn’t leave. That would just have increased the workload for everyone else. No one else was leaving early. Probably no one else was even thinking of leaving early. And plenty of them had more pressing job or family concerns than I did.

Apparently publishing a book and performing in a concert–especially within the same week–can make you kinda self-centered. Especially if you tend that way already.

So I stayed. We rinsed and chopped and chatted and munched. We laughed a lot. Finally, we stopped…not because we ran out of apples. We simply ran out of containers.

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I biked home, two hours later than I had expected to, with two gallons of cider, and another gallon of perspective. Did not get my proofs fixed until the next day. Did not practice. Still have to paint those signs. Haven’t touched that vacuum. But yeah…that pie was delicious. And the cider–even more so.

Does this sound at all familiar to anyone? Do you ever struggle to let communal work find its place amid your personal “stuff,” or do you have the opposite problem? Any tips for finding that balance?