malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: January 2011

Take the Other to Lunch

There is nothing new about this idea: “People who have a different point of view need to sit down, listen, and talk to one another.” Simple enough?  Maybe not so much these days.

It appears that dialogue (listening and talking) with a person who has a different point of view from you or me is becoming a lost art.

We hear the Conservatives (Fundamentalists) blame the Moderates (Liberals) for all that is wrong in politics and religion.  And vice versa.  There is no innocent party here.

The truth is you and I do it too on many issues, maybe without realizing it.

So I challenge you to “take the other to lunch,” anyone who has a different view of religion, politics, sports, homosexuality, race, global warming, abortion, Evangelical Christian, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or any issue you choose.

It starts with you and me. Be upfront with the person why you are inviting them, promise you will not to try to convince them of your viewpoint but you want to listen to them. The goal is to get to know one person from a group you have negatively stereotyped (or have strongly disagreed).

Elizabeth Lesser suggests three rules for taking “the other to lunch.”

Conversation Guidelines:

  1. Share some of your life experiences.
  2. What issues deeply concern you?
  3. What have you always wanted to ask someone from the “other side?”

I promise I will have this conversation with someone from the other side.  And I will write about what I learn.

Will you take the other to lunch?  Please let me hear about it through your comments below.


More info:

Elizabeth Lesser gave an interesting 11 minute TED talk on this subject (see video below).

“Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder of Omega Institute, the US’ largest lifelong learning center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, creativity and social change. She’s the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure. For more than 30 years Lesser has worked with leading figures in the fields of healing—healing self and healing society.”

A New Freedom

This is the eighth in a series on My Personal Faith Journey.

On the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 17, 2011, it is a time to remember and a time to rekindle his dreams.

I am also reminded of my faith journey and a freedom I experienced as a young boy.

Dr. King has always been one of my heroes which may seem odd.  But it’s true.

When I was born on July 9, 1955, my father was a Baptist pastor in Selma, AL.

A few months later on Thursday, December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white people on a city bus in Montgomery, AL, which was a local law at the time.  For over a year, Dr. King helped to organize the black community to refuse to ride the buses (the primary paying customers) until December 20, 1956, when a federal ruling took effect saying that the law was unconstitutional.

We moved to Montgomery in 1960 when my father, Lewis Marler, became pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church (until 1970) on a street that is now named Rosa Parks Blvd, just four miles from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King served as pastor.

These were my “growing up years” of kindergarten through the ninth grade.  They were also growing up times for many adults in Alabama as well as in U.S. history for the civil rights of all people.

My father and mother talked to me about Dr. King’s ministry in kind, compassionate language which was in stark contrast to what I heard in our white community.  I remember deacons in our church who would talk about that “trouble-maker King” as they smoked their cigarettes under the big oak tree after Sunday School.

But I never heard that kind of attitude in our home.  My parents talked about how faith and behavior went together.  What we said and how we treated others, mattered.

For me personally, the Civil Rights movement also became the time that my personal faith journey was changing.

In 1963 I made what Baptists called “a profession of my faith” in church. That is to say, I walked down the aisle after my father preached one Sunday and fell into my daddy’s arms and said, “I want to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”  I was eight years old.

Prior to this action, I talked with my mother the week before about what this decision meant.  She wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing since I was so young.  So, she asked me to talk with my father on Sunday in his office like most children did in our church who were considering this big faith decision.

I remember walking into my father’s office. We sat down in two chairs in front of his desk and he said, “Malcolm, tell me about what you are thinking about doing.”  Of course, my mother had filled him in about our conversation earlier.  As we talked, he asked a few questions.  He concluded by saying, “This is your decision.  You are the only one who can make it.  You will know when it is right for you.  Let’s pray about it together.”  He put his arms around me and prayed that God would lead me throughout all of my life.

On that Sunday, I discovered a new kind of personal freedom in the heart of the Civil Rights movement. My personal freedom was the realization that my personal sins could be forgiven.  I had the realization in my heart that God loved me and would always love me and be with me, no matter what.  It was a beginning.

It would be years later before I realized that “God loves everyone and that we are all equal” was not everyone’s experience who lived in my community, or in the world.

Dr. King’s words in his freedom speech meant something different at the time to this eight year old, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Or was it so different after all?  We are all called to be free.  Free to love, and free to ask for forgiveness when we fall short.

We are called to help others find that freedom.



Drinking from a New Fountain

This is the seventh in a series on My Faith Journey.

I was nineteen years old and a sophomore at Clemson University in the spring of 1975.  As the President of The Fellowship of Christian Athletes during my four years there, one of the things I did regularly was speak at churches on Sundays.  It was great fun.  I had been inspired by various football players at Alabama who did the same thing when I was growing up and it was an opportunity to give back.

One weeknight I had the opportunity to talk to a “youth rally” of high school students from several churches in Greenville, SC.  At the end of the service, a young man in his 20’s by the name of Ben Wham came up to me and told me how much he enjoyed it and added, “Would you be interested in a summer job as our youth director?”

I was surprised and flattered. The church was close enough to Clemson so that I could work out with some of my football teammates throughout the summer.  “Yes, I would be glad to talk to you more about it,” I heard myself say without hesitating.  It wasn’t long before I met Don Collins, the new pastor at Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church.  Don was a gentle, loving man who assured me that being a Baptist wasn’t a problem for him, and that maybe we could learn something from one another.

I had never been in a Presbyterian Church until the summer I worked in one. I discovered that I loved working in a church as much as I loved playing football.  We had weekly programs for children and youth.  We went on an awesome beach retreat and much more.  It was the beginning of my calling into ministry though I wouldn’t know that for another year.

Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church introduced this Baptist boy to a liturgical style of worship.  “The Lord be with you,” Don would say at the beginning of worship, and the congregation responded in unison “And also with you.”  I learned to say the Nicene Creed for the first time and we said The Lord’s Prayer together each week in worship.  I was intrigued by a new form of church government with a “Session” which is similar to Baptist Deacons or an Episcopal Vestry.

But I also experienced that Presbyterians loved God and one another as much as Baptists did.  That sounds silly now but it was news to me at the time.  This was an important internal shift for me.

I thank God for Don Collins, Ben and Dora Wham, Glenn Garrett, and many other friends for influencing my faith journey.  Love is the language of faith, no matter what tongue speaks it.

Thirty-five years later I stand in an Episcopal congregation, and I hear my pastor, Bob, say, “Peace be with you,” and we say, “And also with you.” And the familiar liturgy, prayers, and style of worship of so many years ago remind me that God’s family is bigger than I can imagine.

This Sunday I will close my eyes in worship and thank God for the people of Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, and for their contribution to my faith journey.

What about you? What or who has broadened your understanding of God in your faith journey?

In the meantime, peace be with you.

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