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Of spiders and civility

Saturday November 1 2014

Of spiders and civility

On a crisp, clear morning in early summer, I stepped onto the back porch and saw an odd movement on the railing. I looked closer. Dozens of tiny spiders were swarming on the top surface of the railing, emerging from one of the fuzzy spider egg sacks that had been attached to the railing all winter. One by one the baby spiders threw up a circle of silk an inch or two in diameter, and the soft breeze carried them away.

I was transfixed. I had heard that baby spiders dispersed from their egg sack in this manner, but I had never seen it. I heard a step behind me and thought that my teenage son, who had been eating breakfast in the kitchen, might be joining me. I turned, planning to draw his attention to this miraculous event, but all I could see was his back, heading inside. I didn’t want to miss a moment of action, so I turned back to the baby spiders, watching with awe as, one by one, they flew away.

I heard my son’s step again, then the hiss of an aerosol spray. In his hand was a can of Raid, which I didn’t even know we owned, and he was spraying the baby spiders. I yelled “Stop!” and he did, but not before a good number of the cute little spiders had been killed.

To me, the birth and dispersion of those baby spiders was a miracle of nature, something amazing and awesome to be appreciated and savored. To my son, those baby spiders were a threat, a nuisance, and something to be destroyed. How could two people, I wondered, interpret the same event so differently? And not just any two people, but a mother and son, who had spend endless hours together talking about all sorts of significant topics. A son to whom this mother had tried to communicate her values and priorities.

I still shake my head about that morning. I have continued to have moments like that with people who are close to me, times when I am incredulous about another person’s perspective. I can hear God’s voice to me when I reflect on that incident with my son and when I think about other people who baffle me. I know God is calling me to treat other people with respect and civility, even when I totally, completely cannot comprehend their motives, actions or perspectives.

Jesus is unequivocal in his call to refrain from judgment, to embrace peacemaking and to love even the people who are hard to love. Several years ago Sojourners came up with a Peace and Civility Pledge, annotated with scripture references, which may be a place to start. In this time of increasingly polarized political discourse and inflammatory divisive speech, I continue to remind myself of God’s call to me to view others – even those I disagree with or can’t understand – with respect and even love. I find this to be shockingly difficult.

So here’s my question of the day: What helps you view others with respect and love, and listen to them with respect and honor, even when you disagree with them or can’t understand them?

(Here's an article I wrote about coping with some of the inner noise that so often rises inside us when we listen to someone we disagree with. This blog post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you'd like to get an email when I post something on this blog, sign up in the right hand column of this web page under "subscribe".)