I am experiencing major heartburn over our divisive political and religious polarization.

I love our country. I am proud of the diversity of people and ideas that make up this nation. I love our willingness to incorporate different religions and approaches to spirituality and God. Yet, the growing bitterness and rancor, the growing tendency toward “them against us” threatens the very things that have made us a unique nation. As we celebrate this holiday season, I find myself wondering what the birth of Jesus means as we find ourselves squared off along rigid political and doctrinal lines.

My father was a gentle non-dogmatic spiritual guide, not just for me and my sisters, but for others. He taught by word and deed that loving kindness and forgiveness supercedes piety and doctrine. He insisted morality and ethics are not about following a code of right and wrong, but treating people with respect, living out the prophet Micah’s “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Dad lived his faith in a loving God. He tried to follow Jesus’ example, an example that can be summed up in eight words. “Feed my sheep. Love your enemies. Follow me.” Or as Father Richard Rohr often writes in his many books, “Jesus is far more than an evacuation plan to heaven.”

I remember asking my Dad why we need Jesus when we worship God. “Because the medium is the message,” he’d say. “You see, it’s not enough to believe something. Talk is cheap. It’s what we do that matters. Jesus came to show us how to live the Golden rule, how to deal with people and people’s ever changing needs and responses. Jesus was critical of the Pharisees because they were obsessed with the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. Jesus lived what he taught. He showed us what love looks like by the way he interacted with people. He loved the unloveable, healed the untouchables, even forgave those who criticized and eventually killed him. Jesus was approachable, non-judgmental and loving, revealing God as loving and caring, not angry and punishing.

Our current political climate reminds me how difficult it is to love others when we think we own the truth, when we allow power and self interest to guide what we do. Like Jesus, like Donald Trump, like you and me, the medium (us) truly is the message. That’s why we are called to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. People notice if we are consistent or inconsistent, if we apply different rules to ourselves than to others. When our children were growing up, they sometimes told lies when naughty. When that happened, their father would remind them “your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear your words.”

Nowhere in scripture do I read where we are to worship Jesus. Instead we are to follow him, to emulate him. Why? Because it’s when we follow Jesus we respect and value people whose ideas may differ, it’s when we treat others as we wish to be treated that we help bring in the kingdom of God.

Hopi legend sums up what I am trying to say and speaks both to our political divide and the true meaning of Christmas.

“When he gathered the peoples of the Earth together on an island that is beneath the waters, He told them, “I am going to send you in the four directions, and over time, I am going to change you into four colors. But am going to give each of you certain teachings, and when you come back together, you will share these teachings with each other. Then you can live together and have peace upon the earth, and a great civilization will come about.”

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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