While this is a post about local politics, it is not meant to be political – I think one of the pastor’s chief roles is proclaiming truth when it matters, and letting people decide for themselves when the choices before us really are a matter of weighing the options. The early reforms called these things “adiaphora.” A friend of mine once said, that adiaphora was the 16th century German equivalent for “whatever.” (It is actually Latin, but you get the point.) Adiaphora can be things like – what hymns do we sing, or what time should worship be – the things we tend to fight about most of the time, even though they are morally, spiritually, physically, well, not that important but still need to be decided.
Anyway, in New Canaan, there is a growing debate over road and sidewalk paving and repair. At first it seems like fixing the roads in town should be a no-brainer – isn’t that what local government is supposed to do? But after reading some well written articles on the New Canaan Patch over the course of the last couple of weeks it, of course, is a lot more complicated than that.
It seems that…
1. There wasn’t money in the budget for road repair. Really? I don’t know the back story or who was involved, but it seems a bit odd to me that any town would be surprised that the roads are going to need maintenance and repair over time. (Maybe I’m naïve.)
2. Road and sidewalk paving is going to cost $4million, with the help of a bond. Okay. Seems like a lot, but so does the cost of gas and milk, so no great surprise.
3. (And here is the point of contention) $600,000 of the project is allocated in creating new sidewalks on Main Street, which has people arguing over whether or not this is a good idea. I’m not going to weigh in here – it is in the best use of the word, adiophora – I can see it both ways; why someone thinks sidewalks would be a good idea; and why someone does not.
4. But here is the really interesting thing. There is a referendum now, where people in town can vote on the matter. Democracy is good. Passion over these things is good. But get this…
5. To vote “no” on the referendum is to vote “yes” to paving both the roads and creating new sidewalks.
To vote “yes” on the referendum is to vote “no” to the sidewalks and just go ahead with street repair and paving.
And they say people get lost in our country’s political process.
Whatever you think about this situation, issues in your community, or the way the primary way politics seems to work is confrontational these days, let us remember to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), listen well, and give thanks that we live in a place that we are free enough to argue about things, even potholes. That is not being wishy-wahsy – it is being clear that this is not a central issue and can be thought through in a number of ways that does not make a person more or less a citizen in town.
Jesus says, let your “yes be yes” and your “no be a no.” (Matt 5:37) That doesn’t mean shouting on the sidewalk (or from the street if you don’t have sidewalk) and shouting down a perceived opponent, nor does it mean talking in circles so that “no” means you are for something and “yes” means you are against it, confusing everyone in the process. It means calling out things that directly oppose our core values of both justice and mercy. It means articulating yourself clearly and asserting your positions carefully. It also means listening to what somebody else is saying. Too often we have answers to things but they do not pertain to the questions being asked!
Christians confess that Jesus is Lord; that Jesus rose from the dead; that Jesus lives and rules our lives. That doesn’t mean we need to shout down people that don’t believe this or treat them badly. To articulate our faith requires of us make distinctions between what is central and what isn’t; how a common Christian witness might be helpful in some situations while a more categorized one might be more helpful in others; it is bringing people together rather than estranging them. This isn’t cut and dry, black and white, right and wrong religious fervor. It is faithfully living in the grey, in the mess, in real life. It is admitting that we might not have answers to all of life’s questions, but we still have something important to say. We may have differing opinions about sidewalks and may even trip in a pothole in doing so, but all of us are citizens in the City of God.
Jesus said, “Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” (Matthew 5:37 – The Message)