Young and idealistic, we embarked on an adventure as pastor and spouse to an Inupiat village north of Nome in 1972. Our plan was to make a big impact on the people of Brevig Mission! Instead, we discovered we were ignorant white people. The people changed our lives forever! We became one with them. Our metamorphosis came shortly after our arrival when the people invited us to Fish Camp. We failed miserably as campers and found ourselves hungry and cold. We were taught to subsistence fish, but allowed to struggle. On the third day, we were invited into warm tents with wall to wall reindeer skins and fed.
Two days later we returned to Brevig to conduct Sunday worship. The waves were high as we struggled to land our little skiff on the beach. Molly and Polly rushed out to rescue us, rebuking us saying, “You stupid white people. You have no right to be out in these waters. You do not know what you are doing!” We held services for five people.
What a transformation! First, we were humbled. Respect for the culture replaced idealism. Our survival was dependant on the abilities of the people. Secondly, by scolding us, Molly and Polly revealed love and concern. The people’s actions communicated they cared. As we accepted and learned a new way of life, we grew in relationship. Thirdly, we realized worship should have been at Fish Camp, not in a nearly deserted village!
We learned that despite differences in culture, race and lifestyle, all people need food, shelter, love, relationship and understanding. We live in a different age today, yet the need to respect, love, communicate and find common ground with people who are different from ourselves remains the same.
Modern technology and social media challenge meaningful conversation and communication. Strident, radical, extreme and bazaar voices screaming their opinions too often drown out meaningful conversation. Proverbs 18:2 cautions us that, “a fool is one who takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.”
If each person’s voice is valued, harmful boundaries of one-sidedness are bridged, and meaningful breakthroughs in conversation on difficult issues can be found. Closed mindedness on such issues as religion, politics, health care, war, peace and relationships give way to common ground for the good of humankind.
Choosing to be ignorant of people different from ourselves, as well as issues we don’t want to face, or letting fear of the unknown rule our lives, can slam doors to communication, understanding and compassion. Open minds and good listening opens doors and moves us beyond the harmful dead ends of close mindedness, manipulation and coercion.
We can delete people and ideas needed in decision-making, and surround ourselves with like-minded people. By appealing to one side we can ignore the other. Too often we hit “delete” in our relationships. In the process we delete people, faith, principals, morality and responsibility. We deprive others and ourselves from the blessings of meaningful communication. Social media is a vehicle for deletion or inclusion. Be careful how you use it!
At a face-to-face meeting, people typically share input and discussion with the passion and divergent views of those present. When social media replaces face-to-face decision-making, honesty and integrity are too often sacrificed for expediency and instance gratification. When people spend less time face to face and “neglect to meet together” the gift of human interaction suffers and important voices are left out.
We need to be “a connected people” who seek out diverse relationships. These relationships are sacred and need to be nurtured. We are all inescapably dependent on others. Hebrews 10:24-25 directs us to: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another …” Social media should not replace the blessings of meaningful conversation.
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau. Laura and Larry are members of Resurrection Lutheran Church and are advocates for those living with brokenness. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.