Beware of Rattlesnakes: Obamacare, Robert Kennedy, & More Dangerous Venom

I used to engage in conversations about politics over a cup of coffee or a beer with the same easeby which many folks wade into the California surf on a hot July afternoon. Now whenever someone broaches a political conversation, I get the same uneasy feeling I experienced driving on the 101 with my friend Jason past those Southern California beaches: I am referring to the prominently posted “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs that adorned many of the entrances. I missed seeing a couple beautifulocean viewson that drive because of the apprehension those warnings gave me.

(It wasn’t the first time this Midwesterner noticed similar signs out West and headed the other way).

I have noticed the great divide and passionate posts on both sides of today’s heated political issues in my news feed the past few months. I have avoided these debates like the plague; until recently, when I began to witness deep-seeded anger, name-calling, venomous exchanges, and general discord generated between folks from different political persuasions who all practice the same faith on Sundays.

I think the tones of these conversations are making us sick.

The prominent point of contention in the past week seems to be Obamacare… and that rattlesnake warning appears bigger to me as I type these words…

Here are my feelings (the best I can articulate them):

The Cons: I do have a fear that someday my doctor visit might look a lot like my trips to the post office or my occasional wait at the DMV. I think Justice Robert’s decision on healthcare was more of a strategic ploy to identify Obamacare as a “tax.” I have serious doubts that putting the federal government in charge is the best solution.

The Pros: On the other very prominent hand, I believe that living the Gospel means that we should work tirelessly to ensure our neighbors (all of our neighbors) have their basic needs met. I think this legislation will be wonderful for folks who are dropped by their insurance because of a pre-existing condition… many of us have seen the devastation this can cause. The book of Acts reminds us that the New Testament church pulled all of their resources to take care of each other. I see very few churches allocating funds toward the healthcare needs of their immediate community these days.

My Irritation: National Healthcare is not a clear cut debate and it is an argument that stands closely connected to many other important questions. For instance, I must wonder if the 15 billion dollars our country spent on foreign military assistance across the world in 2011 might have gone to better use (providing healthcare and education for those who need it)…

I see passionate and valid reasons for both the institution of national healthcare and the abolition of the bill.

It is the demonization of each other and the toxicity with which we conduct these conversations that I am afraid may have a more harmful outcome for our health than the fate of Obamacare.

I recently came across an interesting story about Martin Luther King Jr. A group of civil rights leaders called a summit after Robert Kennedy was appointed by his brother to be the attorney general. The great concern was that RFK, who was both Irish and Catholic (and now the most powerful man in law-enforcement) would be no friend to theirstrugglefor equal rights. Apparently, the perceptionin the 1960’s was that Irish-Catholic-Americans were generally hostile toward theCivil Rights Movement. The story is told that this summit about RFK began with the leaders around the table denigrating the newAG,name-callingand identifying him as the latest villain in theirwork forequality. It is said that after several minutes of this conversation, a frustrated King adjourned the meeting and told the leaders that they would not reconvene until someone found something good to say about Robert Kennedy. You see, King believed that the world could not be moved forward by vilifying people, and that change began by finding the good in folks. He needed the leaders to recognize Kennedy as a person first, rather than a politic oragenda. We all know Robert Kennedy died a hero to the Civil Rights movement.

By recognizing the good in people who believe differently, we can begin to craft connections, understanding, and compassion: keys to change.

It takes some poison out of these debates if you can begin to see the person across the aisle celebrating Obamacare or the Tea Party activist as “good.” Before long, we might even forget about their “venoms” and start seeing each other as family. President Reagan famously said that real change in America happens around the family dinner table.

Before yournext heated arguement about national healthcare, make sure to invitesomeone on the “other” side over to celebrate the 4th (or over for a meal this summer). Don’t think of it as hanging out with a left wing liberal or a right wing conservative, but as pulling up the “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs and enjoying the cool surf on a hot summer day – bridging the gap and exercising the freedom we have toargue – as a family.

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