My job as a pastor involves figuring out how to help people navigate really difficult situations. The year 2020 has given me plenty of material in this regard, from Covid-19, a record number of hurricanes, and bears with nunchucks (go ahead and look it up). A few months ago I wrote about the lost art of charity in the aftermath of the pandemic. But perhaps this election cycle represents the most difficult test of the year. So much is hanging in the balance. Once the dust settles from this highly contentious election year, I’ve been pondering what tools we will need in our metaphorical toolkit to help us move forward in a positive way. Regardless of the final vote count, I’m confident there will be a large percentage of the country that will disagree with your political preferences. And they are your neighbors, co-workers, and family members. Avoiding, unfriending, or writing-off the other person is a short-sighted solution that unnecessarily destroys friendships and ultimately creates echo chambers that stunt our growth as human beings. I’m in the relationship and personal growth business, and neither are well served by cancelling those with whom we disagree.
So what tools do we need to move forward in our relationships? This past weekend I binge-watched the new TV show Ted Lasso, which is the fictional story of a Division II NCAA football coach who finds himself coaching a Premier League soccer club in England called AFC Richmond. This show displays a level of depth that betrays the hilarious script-writing of a former SNL cast member. Throughout his 1st season, Coach Lasso is rejected and dismissed by really everyone, from fans, media, owners, and his own players. But in one scene in a sports bar he reveals why this hasn’t bothered him. He mentioned a day when he came across a Walt Whitman quote “Be curious, not judgmental”. As he pondered its meaning, it dawned on him, “All the fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious. They thought they had everything figured out. So they judged everything. And they judged everyone. But if they were curious, they would have asked questions”. I won’t ruin the rest of the scene, but lets just say that he went on to prove that the people who will win the game of life are the people who are curious.
I’m no immunologist, but I think it’s safe to say that curiosity is the key to successfully finding a vaccine for Covid-19. It takes medical professionals employing their scientific curiosity. It takes everyday citizens who are curious enough to subject themselves to vaccine trials. But maybe curiosity has the power to do more than bring an end to a pandemic.
Back in 2015 Price Waterhouse Coopers, the 2nd largest accounting firm in the world, performed of a survey of more than a thousand CEOs to discover the critical leadership traits necessary to navigate challenging times. And what they discovered is “curiosity” was one such critical leadership trait. They put it this way: “Without curiosity, you’re not growing, you’re not bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be to sustain relevance.” The executives who lead successful corporations are the ones who have enough humility to be curious.
This Fall our church has been working through the Bible book of James, known as the Proverbs of the New Testament. The book is essentially about how to help people to become sustainable influencers in challenging times. The Bible employs the simple term “wisdom” to communicate this. James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” I think what strikes me about these characteristics of wise people is that its all about our disposition towards others. Its not about our productivity as much as our interpersonal skills. Its a willingness to give other people a fair shake. It’s a desire to take our neighbor, our co-worker, and our family member seriously, including their thoughts and opinions. And its a willingness to be “open to reason”. To put it another away, it means that we recognize that we haven’t cornered the market on truth. There is more for us to learn. Perhaps the people who are the most influential in the best sense of the word are those who are willing to be influenced.
Albert Einstein once said, “Never lose a holy curiosity”. The problem with social media is that we are at greater risk of doing what everyone did to Ted Lasso. We think we have everything figured out, and so we judge everything and everyone. We speak with certainty, and without empathy. Is this not what we learn from political ads? They are all about selling certainty about the future better than the other guy. But maybe we need to regain a holy curiosity. In his book Holy Curiosity, Winn Collier writes, “God asked a question to the two hiding in the garden, and he has been asking questions to us ever since . . . Good questions are subversive. They reframe the discussion.” One of the best ways to encourage holy curiosity in your life is simply to make sure that you are fostering relationships precisely with people who think differently than you. Have a holy curiosity with these relationships, seeking to understand their values and beliefs. Ask questions as much as you voice answers. Be someone who is “open to reason”. This doesn’t mean you let go of your convictions. It means that you hold onto them, but with an open hand. It means recognizing that truth is bigger than you, and therefore you never stop being a truth seeker. A commitment to truth requires humility. Also recognize that having a holy curiosity requires treating people with dignity. This is why James couples “open to reason” with peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy. How we interact with people who believe differently than us is just as important to the Christian faith as the content of our beliefs.
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. vFear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:15-17