Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Bridging the Gap

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Delivered at the United Methodist Men’s Prayer Breakfast. January 9, 2010

A Jewish street preacher exiled to Babylon issues the poignant admonition; a cry of desperation to the people of Israel. “I looked for a man who would stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it but I found none.”

We all admit this morning that there are too many gaps in our nation and world, in our families and communities. We all long for the kind of world where the things that divide people can become the things that unite people. We live in a gap society; where division and strife result in alienation, separation and polarization among us. We long to close those gaps. We long for unity and equality among all people.

This nation was founded to close the gap between have and have not, between rich and poor.

The Father sent his son to the world to bridge the gap created by sin between God and his people.

Many of us sitting here today long to gap bridgers in our home life, in relationships with family and neighbors and other with whom we have become estranged.

God is looking for men and women of strength who will close these various gaps to make our society and world which keep people from coming together and realizing their common ground.

Gaps need to be closed today and men must take the lead and bridging them. There are the traditional gaps between rich and poor, black and white, have and have not, Muslim and Jew and atheist and Christian. There are political and social gaps, economic and educational gaps; gaps that keep people apart that can be closed with wisdom, compassion and understanding. What gaps do we then need to close as men of God.

1. We need to bridge the Generational gap between the older and younger generations of men. Many younger people have not been taught the values of the older generation; values such as hard work, self-respect; respect for men, women, and children. The generational gap does not have to be as wide as it is. If people of the older and younger generations had compassion for one another and listened to one another, they could learn from each other and bridge that gap. Too many of us do too much talking and not enough listening. We should not only educate the younger generation but they should educate us. We should stop putting the younger generation down because of their rebellion. Every generation rebels against their parents. They just do it differently with each generation. We should be mindful of that. Instead of putting them down because they do things differently enter their world and get to know why they do what they do.

Too many younger people don’t listen to older people and too many older people don’t listen to younger people. Compassion means taking the time to show that we care about them. Generational gaps can be bridged if people just listened to one another and heard each other and cared for one another.

The truth is You can listen to me better when you know that I care about you. I can listen to you better when I know you care about me. The generational gap has widened because of a lack of caring and compassion.

There are certain things we learned growing up that helped bridge that generational gap. We were taught to respect our elders. We answered no ma’am and yes sir. We helped one another. If you needed a pinch of salt or an ounce of butter you could borrow them from a neighbor. We grew up in communities where we knew each other, looked out for each other and cared for one other. This sense of caring bridged the gap between have and have not, between blue collar, white collar and no collar. By caring for one another in our community, we created a sense of equality where each person had value and was important in the eyes of the community.

Many of the communities in which we grew up had first and second generation southerners who brought those small town values up north. It was unheard of during that time for people to live side by side and not know each other. People talk about neighborhood crime watch. The greatest deterrent to crime in our neighborhood was little old women sitting on their front porches watching the comings and goings of people on the block. They knew everybody; what time Mr. so and so went to work and got home; who the chirun were; what time Mrs. So and So left the house and so forth because they kept watch over everything. They sat on the porch, chewed snuff, sipped cool aid out of a jar with a dash of bourbon or brandy, watched the soaps and saw every move you made. If you blinked, they knew it. If you hurt yourself or somebody else they knew it. If you pooted they knew it. We would call them nosey today but without them you would not have had a sense of security in the neighborhood. They watched the neighborhood because they cared and had compassion for old folks as well as the young folks. Nowadays you better not look like you are watching some body. We have lost that sense of community because folks are busy minding their own business.

The generation gap was also bridged by family and extended family members, knowing and living with one another. It was not uncommon for grandma to live in the home so the children could grow up respecting older people. The generation gap was bridged every day because grandma or grandpa or uncle Jess or Aunt Bess were in the home talking to the children and helping to raise them. What mama and daddy could not do, Grand mama or Grand daddy could cover.

Families and communities were more closely knit than they seem to be today. Many families had fathers in the home. The fathers helped to raise and train their children. The fathers were an integral part of family life. As the primary breadwinners, they also modeled industry and self-sufficiency. They were harsh disciplinarians and fun persons to be around. My father worked two full time jobs in an effort to feed five children. He made a concerted effort and a commitment to take care of his children. He worked hard to see that the gap of inopportunity would be closed so his children could have greater opportunities than he had. Many people in my generation exceeded the achievements of their parents. Statistics indicate, our children might be the first generation not to exceed their parents. By achieving things, we were able to exceed the expectations and achievements of our parents and it was because those values were instilled in us.

The generational gap was bridged by sharing life stories, by showing love and concern for the children and by shaping the thought and aspirations of young people. The gap was bridged by teaching children to dream and dare; to learn life lessons and to work hard at making something of themselves. Many of us came from a time when people of the older generation bridged the gap by constant mentoring and teaching. There never was a time when someone older was not giving you advice, sharing valuable life information with you or telling you what you should or should not do. Not only did your parents do this, but people in the neighborhood did this, strangers did this.

Howard Thurman story. People bridged the gap by looking out for one another, caring for one another.

2. We need to bridge the communication gap. Before Snoop Dog talked with the si zzizle there was pi zigg Latin. Nothing is really new under the sun. As I said earlier, if people listened to people they could hear what they were saying because they know the person talking cared about them. Too often, we talk at one another and we are not listening. We cut each other off before we can hear what they have to say. We need to work on communication. You can listen to me but not hear what I am saying.

One psychologist said the greatest act of communication is listening. Communication is to a relationship what oil is to a car. If the oil gets muddy, it clogs up the engine and destroys the vehicles ability to go forward. Communication is vital and essential. He said inherent in the listening process is a fundamental, indispensable human value. That value says, “I care about you. I care enough about you to listen to you and hear what you are saying. I am listening to you because you are important to me and I care about what you are saying and how you are feeling.” Think about how much better you feel after talking with people who take time to listen and really hear what you are saying. That really is a form of healing.

I always find that a great way of bridging the gap between people is by asking them questions about themselves, their life story, or questions about how their day went; or questions about how they are feeling inside. You actually care enough about me to ask me how I feel? Wow! What a feeling. Because I am living in a world, where I am talking and no body is listening. That’s why we have so much pent up anger, so much miscommunication because no body is listening because no body cares enough to listen to discover what the other person is feeling deep down in side. There is something healing and cathartic in listening to people who care for you.

Men especially should get in touch with their feelings and teach their sons and daughters how to communicate. Men in particular get so many mixed and messed up signals from the larger culture about what it is to be a man and many of us are not very good communicators. Too many of us use the silent treatment as a form of communication. Not always good. Sometimes we wait until its too late and use violence as a form of communication. My father’s generation believed in using too much violence to get a point across. Instead of listening to what you had to say they inflicted pain by slapping or beating you. They believed in pain as behavior modification but sometimes that gets old. A lot of that is unnecessary. We use violence is a form of communication because we have not been properly trained to communicate with language. I do believe that if you spare the rod you spoil the child, but sometimes you can use the rod too much and ruin the child. Then that becomes his form of communication. Instead of talking to his wife and children he uses violence on them to get his point across.

Furthermore, our culture’s macho, bravado creates conflict within men. That culture says, If you are man you don’t cry. If you are a man you don’t show emotion. As a man you have to use violence or anger, seldom tenderness or affection. The latter are too effeminate. If you are a man you are impervious to pain. We subconsciously teach these values to our sons and daughters and they grow up confused and messed up. Women are a little better at expressing emotion. They have been better socialized into it. But men? Many of us are deeply troubled because we haven’t been taught to properly communicate our emotions. We have been taught that feelings are wrong. Feelings are not wrong. Feelings are feelings. We have taught that the expression of certain feelings like tears is a sign of weakness. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of our humanness. Too many men have been taught to be inhuman; non caring and non feeling and then living in denial of their emotions for so long, no wonder we have so many volcanic, violent eruptions of anger and anguish because we keep it all choked up inside.

Parishioner who told me I was wrong because I was angry. She was wrong for telling me I was wrong because some one did something that made me angry. Don’t take away my anger. If something makes me angry, it means I care. It means I am invested in that person, place or thing enough to care about it. Anger is expression of my emotional investment in something. The emotion to avoid is not anger but apathy. The emotion to avoid is taking that anger out on someone though hostility and violence.

We bridge the gap of communication by teaching our children to be honest about their feelings. If angry then express your anger without hurting some one; joy, then joy, sorrow and pain then sorrow and pain. Our children have difficulty communicating because we as men have a hard time processing and communicating our feelings. Honesty about how we feel bridges the communication gap. We bridge the communication gap by teaching our children the value of feeling their feelings and properly expressing what they feel in ways that make them honestly human. We bridge the communication gap by listening and hearing what people are saying. By doing this, the walls now become bridges, open avenues of communication and solidarity that make for viable community building.

James Weldon Johnson tells the story in his Autobiography of an Ex Colored man of seeing a man so filled with joy and laughter that he was bent over and nearly on the ground. When is the last time we felt such joy at this we could openly and freely communicate that feeling in such a dramatic way. Some of us have lost touch with our feelings that we can’t even laugh or guffaw deeply and soundly as we used to.

3. We need to bridge the relational gap. What’s missing in our relationships? Intimacy. Now when I say intimacy I mean the power of personal sharing; the ability to become close and personal. Many of us lack intimacy. Our lives are devoid of close, personal relationships. Many have been taught that intimacy only comes through sex but sex is not necessarily intimacy. Intimacy is not necessarily sexual. Intimacy has to do with finding the center of ourselves and being confidence enough in that center that we can share ourselves meaningfully with others.

Many relationships fail not because the people did not want it to work but because they both lack the power of intimacy. They have never been taught to establish real close relationships; to risk all of our selves even vulnerably. Many of us have difficulty establishing a dialogical relationship with God not because we don’t to, but because we lack the interpersonal skills that will allow us to be truely intimate.

Many of us can’t go to a doctor not because we are afraid of what he will discover but because we cannot be truly intimate. The lack of intimacy is a socialized pattern in our lives that causes us to avoid those opportunities for sharing where we risk disclosing ourselves and showing vulnerability. We cannot have lasting friendships because of their inability to become intimate. We have been taught that intimacy is weakness.

Many men don’t have intimate relationships in their lives even with their wives, their children etc and thereby have trouble establishing intimacy with God. They cannot bring themselves to disclose their true selves for fear of disclosing weakness.

The relational gap is bridged by intimacy; having the courage to share our stories; live out of the comfort and socially established boundaries that keep us imprisoned and locked up in the various zones of life. We bridge the relational gap through intimacy; through our capacity to share something of our selves that tells others that we have common ground with them. Realizing and establishing common ground builds community with others.

Men you can tell your sons and daughters you love them. You can close that gap by love, by sharing, understanding and by giving them a part of yourself that is important. You can hold people in your inner circle of care and concern and tell them how important they are to you. Don’t be afraid to bridge the relational gap through genuine intimacy.

Finally, we need to close the spiritual gap. We need men in every area of the church’s ministry. We need to help people understand that there is a God and despite what the world says God still cares. The mark of strong men is their spirituality. That’s what had the prophet Ezekiel so perplexed. His people had been exiled to Babylon and had lost the spiritual teachings of their fathers and mothers. He could find no one to stand in the gap because they had turned to the pagan Gods of their captors.

We need strong spiritual men; men who are able to say what they mean and mean what they say; men who model honest spirituality; who can confess their sins and get better; can model for their children the meaning of true spirituality. One of the worst things we can do today brothers is to turn our children loose in this world without the proper spiritual foundation. We must help people know that God is a caring and loving God; and a source of support and strength at all times.

So we all need to work at bridging the generational gap, the communication gap, the relational gap and the spiritual gap. We do this first in our homes with our families, in our church by getting involved and taking responsibility for our church as we do with our families. Charity begins at home. We do this by showing caring, compassion and wisdom and being honest about our feelings. We do this by getting involved in every aspect of the church’s ministry and by always pointing the way to God. When we begin to close these various gaps, then we can take back our families, our communities and our nation. We can re-instill those values in future generations that help them to become strong, spiritual and responsible citizens in our world.

Who will stand in the gap and bridge the gap? Will you?


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