Loving the Stranger in an Election Season

This morning during my run I listened to Krista Tippett’s 2010 interview with Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.

Can I say once again that I could totally see myself as Jewish… except I just can’t quit Jesus.


We keep hearing about how polarized we are as a society. Are things really more rancorous than they used to be? (The Civil War was pretty polarizing, folks.)

Or have we just gotten meaner?

Have the stresses of modern life given us short fuses? (I’m thinking the Black Plague was a bit stressful, amirite?)

Does the relative anonymity of the Internet give us license to say things we wouldn’t normally say face to face?

Sacks offers one perspective as we ponder these questions:

It seems to me that one of the things we most fear is the stranger. And at most times in human history, most people have lived among people who are mostly pretty much the same as themselves. Today, certainly in Europe and perhaps even in America, walk down the average Main Street and you will encounter in 10 minutes more anthropological diversity than an 18th-century traveler would have encountered in a lifetime. 

Maybe things seem more rancorous simply because we’re bumping against more people who don’t look or think or talk or act or believe like we do.

I don’t know what we do with this, other than give ourselves a little bit of a break for having some growing pains. Maybe we’re not going to hell in a handbasket. Maybe we just are learning how to deal with more diversity in that handbasket, wherever it might be going.

Sacks goes on to say that, while “love God and love your neighbor” are the twin commands of love, “the one command reiterated more than any other in the mosaic box — 36 times, said the rabbis — is love the stranger.”

I’m preaching on James this Sunday: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” I think we could use some of that.


11 thoughts on “Loving the Stranger in an Election Season

  1. Grace says:

    Move over on that “could totally be Jewish but I need the Incarnation” bench.

    And, very insightful observation.

  2. Leslie says:

    I’ve been reading Parker Palmer’s “Healing the Heart of Democracy.” It has a whole section on strangers and how we have to get over our tendency to equate “stranger” with “enemy.”

  3. Deuteronomy 26:5 – also, fantastic book “Fear of Beggars,” Kelly S. Johnson (May 29, 2007)

  4. joann28 says:

    Are we also exposed to more strangeness (otherness) because of the explosion of communication resources? Even sitting here at my desk, otherness is in front of me in a way it wouldn’t have been just a couple of decades ago. There is no refuge, so we have to heal our expectation of refuge. On the other hand, my NT prof (Frances Taylor Gench) always reminded us that 1st-century Palestine was teeming with diversity (strangers), may even more so than in our communities today. But again, that’s physical community. The virtual community has an unlimited supply of strangers.

  5. Sweet Honey in the Rock- “Would You Harbor Me?”

  6. anne says:

    i continue to be glad i know you!

    btw, our small group will be discussing sabbath in the suburbs starting next month!

  7. For a while, I had reached a lovely, zen state of being emotionally unattached to the results of the upcoming elections. Unfortunately, I have found myself caught up in the hysteria of demonization that seems to surround us. (I’ve deactivated my FBook once so far this month and may do so again….)

    What I find is that my natural empathy tends to get sucked into my friends’ perspectives that “if you vote for [other party] then *you* are [insert series of negative epithets]” and it is *killing* me, because I *know* that that is a logical fallacy. The red flag for me is when I see friends whom I know to be sweet and caring and funny and, well, *friends* post something that *other* friends have demonized, and I’m shocked. The reason I know it’s a red flag is because, in order to be shocked, it means that I’ve subconsciously bought into my rabid partisanish friends’ beliefs to the extent that I’ve dehumanized *my own other friends.* It horrifies me, and I need to go back to only posting (and reading) pictures of cute turtles and froggies and the occasional baby elephant.

  8. John Porter says:

    I blame it on speed. Not the kind you sniff, but the kind that does not allow you to stop and smell the roses. Why are we in such a hurry to get there? Why did it have to be done YESTERDAY? Take time to SMILE at the person you are rushing past! And if you’re five minutes late for that meeting, it’s OK! The world won’t end tomorrow! SLOW DOWN!

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