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Communication in a polarized world

Reflecting on the meaning of freedom and a life of servitude.

Back in 2011, I wrote with some alarm about polarization. It was a year of federal election. My wife Betsey and I put up both an NDP and a CHP sign in our yard, for candidates who were both men of integrity and conviction. We added two home-made signs: “think” and “vote”. 

Things are even more polarized in 2022. Christian Courier has published columns and features about speaking with rather than speaking to or at those with whom we disagree.

Despite our best intentions, Betsey and I have found that we often are unable to conduct conversations with those of a different mind on The Freedom March or covid-19 vaccinations.

We feel a little like Shiao Chong, editor of the The Banner, who pleads for self-reflection and for a discussion of the deeper issues rather than the “presenting problems” in his denomination. 

Gentle signs

Perhaps we should have clued in long ago that often we were more interested in converting others to our views than in encouraging deep, thoughtful responses.  

So we did two things. Betsey sewed a Canadian flag to put in our window.  If someone drives by the house, he/she may think we are a family that equates flying the flag with occupying Ottawa.  If anyone comes down our driveway for a closer look they will see stitched words: freedom to serve.

I made business-card sized copies with the same message that I surreptitiously leave in the mall, on a shelf with Oreos at Safeway, at the hardware store and in the doctor’s office. People who pick up the card may draw their own conclusions as to what it means. Is the image a person on her knees washing Jesus’ feet? What does “FREEDOM” mean? I include no organization name or interpretation.  

‘FREEDOM to serve’ cards left around town.

Like our “think” and “vote” signs from over a decade ago, we hope each person who encounters these little signs will search themselves and think about underlying assumptions rather than “presenting problems.”   

A highlight of this quiet, anonymous (but — with this article — a blown identity) initiative came in the government liquor store in Smithers.  I put one of the little cards on a rack with wine, and the other in the handhold slot of a case of Molson Canadian beer. The next week I returned to the store and saw one of the signs on the till. “Have you seen these?” I innocently asked the employee who was toting up my bill. “Yeah, they’re all over town!” she replied. 

I hope that a number of people from “all over town” may react by reflecting on the meaning of freedom and a life of servitude, rather than winning others over to their own sides of an argument. 

Author

  • Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc.

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