The tears well up and drip down my cheek. I feel the warmth of the salty liquid begin to cool as the evening breeze dries my face. Soon, they will not just drip. Soon, they will flow freely. Soon, my stomach, already knotted, will convulse and breathing will become gulping gasps. Struggling to unite both right and left sides of my brain–knowing I need to focus and work through how to write something more graciously, yet feeling the heartbreak of a group of people struggling for acceptance–two worlds collide in my soul.
When a church leader asked me this week to try to rewrite a policy that I found problematic, I told her that it would be difficult because I don’t agree with the point of view. How do I maintain a sense of integrity and look myself in the mirror when someone asks me to bring some heart into a policy I find offensive. Surprisingly, I found myself asking, ‘What would Ted Kennedy do?’
Raised in conservative church culture, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Ted Kennedy while he lived. He was extreme, liberal, not-on-our-side, someone to distrust. Amazing how much propaganda influences our young minds. As an adult, I see him from a different perspective. When he died, I listened to many people from various walks of life tell their stories about how he influenced them and the humanity he brought to our legislative branch. I heard many Republicans say that if Ted Kennedy gave his word, it was as good as gold. I heard one congressman say that after a devastating car accident with his family, Ted Kennedy and his wife stopped by the hospital to visit with him … then followed up with phone calls to learn of the progress. Ted Kennedy was the only person of Congress to make that personal connection. The man, a Republican, said that no other colleagues made time to visit. Others talked about the phone calls he made to all the Massachusetts’ families of people killed in the 9/11 attacks … and he followed up with them … all 176 families … every year … with a personal and personally signed note … until his death in 2009. Another talked about how he had negotiated with international kidnappers to get their child home. Story after story after story talked about the unreported deeds, compassion and sacrifice of this man. A friend who grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Boston had not heard these stories until his death. WOW! Most of us would have camera and crew on retainer so that all could see our acts of kindness, or at least our PR team could use clips for re-election campaigns.
That’s humility. That’s the kind of leader I want in government. Someone willing to negotiate with the differing points of view. One of his colleagues said that Ted Kennedy knew where the Democrats wanted policy to go and would then work backwards to figure out what to compromise so that Republicans could sign-off on it. His goal was progress–not soap boxes, not making a point. Not arrogance. Was Ted Kennedy imperfect? I’ll answer that with these questions: Aren’t I imperfect? Aren’t we all?
So, as I face my own smallish soapbox compared to national policy, I find this follower of Jesus asking the question, “What would Ted Kennedy do?” Because wars aren’t won from just one battle. It takes many battle successes, retreats, covert spy operations and a lot of divine intervention to win wars.
And that’s when I see my problem. I view ‘it’ as a war.
Ted Kennedy saw ‘it’ as our country, united. Jesus, in my paraphrase, said, “Treat others how you want them to treat you.” I don’t want anyone to treat me or my perpsective as ‘a war.’ We all have to ask ourselves if we will consider compromise a beginning to change, or if we will insist on only our way. Do I want to be ‘right’ and battle it out until others see me as right, and I am the only one left standing? Isn’t that what we see in the stalemate in Congress over the budget right now? Or do we want to make a difference and pave a smoother path for the next time we butt heads?
I hope to unclench my fist, lay down my arrogance and simply bring some heart and opening for a conversation into a divisive policy.
What is your part? Have you found yourself forcefully pushing your own soapbox? What can you change in yourself that may create change in others; or at least open the door to discussion?