I have enjoyed exploring our great country from the saddle of my bicycle for many years. I especially have enjoyed the small towns where there is a diner or local coffee shop where the "elders" of the community gather.
It doesn't matter what town or in what state, there is a gathering place where people with long histories of doing life together meet. In Knightstown, Indiana, four men and a woman were seated at a table in the local donut shop. Eighty-two year old Mervin Kilmer saw me admiring the nearby veterans memorial. He came over to invite me to join them for their regular Monday morning breakfast. This is where all the problems of the world are solved, he told me. He's probably more right about that than most folks would consider.
I hear all the "experts" on the news shows talk about conditions in our country. They share data, and polls, and survey results, and excerpts from somebody's latest book. But on my bike, I get to embed with the people who actually run this country.
I meet them in the restaurants, talk to them at the sites I visit. At the hotels, I see them and their work vehicles. In the morning, I will talk to some of them before they head out to a farm field, or a building site, or a road crew or a business meeting. One group of migrant workers was heading out to paint a huge water tower, the kind you see with a city or company's name on it. I wondered about them being way up there. One guy showed me a video he shot with his phone camera, the view from their work site was incredible. I remembered thinking that I felt a whole lot safer on my bike on a dual highway then I would standing on top of that thing!
The one thing I saw in common among all these people in all these towns was their reverence for military veterans. Some of these simple, humble little communities had the most elaborate memorials. They all have one thing in common: a reverence for God. Truly, the average American I meet, believes we are "one nation under God", or that we should be.
Someone recently told me that though the national motto is "In God we trust", it is not politically correct to actually recite it.
For instance, if a public school principal announced on the intercom that students should remember our national motto, "In God we trust", he or she could get in trouble. Even though the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and Congress has officially approved the national motto, certain forces in our culture can shut down an opinion they don't like just by saying they are offended.
Why do college students shout down a speaker with whom they disagree? Why do some organizations rescind a speaker's invitation simply because some don't like their view on a certain issue.
I ride up to these scared memorials, read the names, imagine the many thousands who paid the ultimate price at the prime of their lives. They died for the principles of freedom. And then those principles, paid for with blood, are easily nullified by a few who find the exercise of those sacred rights "offensive". Apparently those who advocate for "tolerance" are selective as to what they will tolerate. Why?
It's okay to be offended. It won't kill you to hear an idea you don't like. You'll survive. You really will.
These honored dead gave up their futures so we could have our todays. Why are some of us threatened by views with which we vehemently disagree? That's the beauty of our nation; that we can discuss and argue, and wrestle with differing ideas and perspectives. I may hate your idea, but I have no reason or right to hate you. Am I so unsure of myself that what you stand for should scare me?
The principles on which our country stands allows us to have this tension, but not for destructive purposes. Our differences, if given their space to be properly heard and explored and understood, should strengthen us. Mutual respect edifies and provides a safe space in which we all can dwell. Mutual disrespect, leads to mutual distrust, which inspires mutual destruction, and with that there are no winners.
You ever notice in the gospels that Jesus never felt threatened by those who not only disagreed with Him, but despised Him? In fact His instructions to His followers were to love those who hate you and to pray for those who use you and persecute you. That's going beyond "tolerance". That's what living free is really about.
If I love you, despite what you think and how you vote, and you love me despite what I think and how I vote, what do you think will happen? I think it's possible that we then could actually work together to get something we both agree on, done.