"Don't bring up race, money, politics or religion at the Christmas party."
We can't talk about politics, money, religion, climate change, abortion, marriage, or anything having to do with sex or gender, including rape, pornography, sex trafficking, sexual assault, misogyny, and masturbation. All of that and so much more is best kept behind the "comfort curtain."
So what are we actually supposed to talk about? The latest celebrity wedding or breakup, red-carpet fashion, video game or movie -- anything that won't leave us feeling uncomfortable.
Comfort is that idol that all of us worship. Every race, ethnicity, family and social class regularly pays homage to the altar of self-interest and preservation of the status quo.
We don't want to talk about race and religion because it might get awkward. We don't want to talk about sex because we might say the wrong thing. We can't speak about gay marriage and climate change because we're afraid of offending someone or sounding too open- or closed-minded.
So we stay silent and book our next vacation, talk about work or complain or rave about the latest iPhone.
This conversational kung fu happens multiple times a day between parents and children, bosses and employees, friends, spouses and colleagues as we redirect the focus from our personal and corporate limits and ills toward disparaging Kim Kardashian or figuring out what we're going to eat next.
Sometimes though, if we are able to press through that first line of self-defense, we are quick to hear, "Why are you so intense?" or, "Are you always this serious?"
And unless you have a black belt in leading others into empathy, compassion, and peacemaking, the conversation stops.
So we are left with a generation of people who bash politicians but don't engage in the political process. We hate or love unions but don't understand why they exist or where they actually came from. We can't have a constructive conversation about the NYPD slowdown, the school-to-prison pipeline or the epidemic of violence and fatherlessness in black and brown communities because we are too afraid or too angry to listen or speak.
So we sit in our silos, tithing our time and money to staying comfortable when in reality we are all deeply dissatisfied and disillusioned and long for something more than the American dream or the next top-10 list on BuzzFeed.
America doesn't need more cowards, and sadly it mostly cowards who hold the microphones and billfolds of this country. We need people who are willing to do courageous things like turning to face Mayor Bill de Blasio when their comrades are turning their backs to him; listening to an angry protester; hearing the story of a widow; being willing to be called a 'liberal' or seen with 'conservatives'; being willing to risk a good reputation to be known as someone who loves his or her enemies until they become friends.
The world needs courageous people who are willing to say the wrong thing, listen, ask for forgiveness and then try again. New York needs police who are willing to cry alongside protesters, and protesters willing to weep with police. Ferguson needs leaders who are willing to do the hard work of reconciliation and smash the idol of comfort that rules our fake, half-true nation. Blessed are the peacemakers, not the peacekeepers. And we can't make peace with people we don't know, refuse to listen to, live with or even sit beside.
Will you be bold and courageous like Joshua and pursue the promises of God, even in the wilderness after the death of Moses? Or will you build a golden calf and worship it like Dathan, seeking control and something familiar, and remain a slave?
I choose courage because Joshua did, and he got the promised land. I choose courage because Jesus chose the cross, and He got the resurrection. I trust that on the other side of a hard conversation is a friend with a different perspective. I believe that on the other side of an argument is a daughter or son whom I long to see as a brother or sister. I am willing to mess up and ask for forgiveness and move forward in this walk toward freedom together. And I hope and pray that you are too.