Someone recently told me that the shortest distance between two strangers is a story. That is the wisdom of the ages rolled up into one truth!
Story telling and sharing are critical for being fully alive. We seek the presence of others who are like-minded to share our experiences with, to validate our feelings, to offer up alternative perspectives, to keep us on our toes.
While community is critical to human beings to live a full and connected life, community is sometimes misunderstood. Some think of it as representing a group that shares the same way of thinking, excluding those who think differently. Yet while we naturally enjoy being with like-minded people, we should not seek to include in our communities only those who think alike.
And we should not accept tolerance as the final resting point on our journey, we should strive for a deeper knowing and understanding of others.
Coming to Know One Another
At All Saints Church, we are fighting for the rights of same-sex couples to enjoy marriage equality. Following the 2008 Supreme Court decision ending the ban on same-sex marriage, the All Saints Vestry passed a resolution stating that we will "...treat all couples presenting themselves for the rite of marriage equally."
Why? Because our baptismal covenant commits us to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being."
Why? Because our foundational values urge us to be "dispersed throughout this multicultural region for courageous and risk-filled work of peace and justice."
"Where you stand on same-sex marriage depends on where you sit on Sunday morning," one of our parishioners said. By that he meant that if you structure your life so that you don't know anyone who is different from you, then you won't ever understand their need for the same basic rights that you have.
There is such a thing as "structural blindness." We human beings have a responsibility as world citizens to get to know people who live outside our comfort zone. The dramatically changed electorate that voted this past election day communicated this to us in stark and, for some, challenging, even scary ways.
I have a dear Muslim friend, a teacher, who challenges those who promote tolerance, believing that tolerance alone is not enough. He says that the Holy Quran teaches that we were made different in terms of our genders, tribes and nations so that "we might come to know one another." He argues that coming to know one another is more valuable than merely tolerating one another.
A Degree of Interdependence
Community should never be characterized by uniformity of thought. Real community is a group that gains its energy from being inclusionary rather than exclusionary. In it, everyone is valued for his or her distinctive being.
It's important for any institution, whether large or small, to be honest in assessing whether the community they inspire is truly open to the concerns, philosophies and dreams of others.
Every community must engage the Habit of Truth and ask hard questions and give honest answers about how they function. They must ask:
- Do we invite people in or do we exclude people?
- Are we open to ideas and change or do we dig in our heels?
- Are we judgmental and superior, or respectful and tolerant?
Dr. Martin Luther King said, "I cannot be myself unless you are yourself." We are created in that degree of interdependence. My best interests are served when I promote your best interests. I have found this to be breathtakingly true.
The Healing Power of Community
Whether we recognize it or not, we are all on a lifelong journey away from isolation and herd thinking toward the warmth and power of Community.
How would you tell your own story of that journey? When have you felt so different from others that you didn't share a sense of being a part of the human family? Have there been times when another person or some experience broke through that sense of isolation and made you feel that you and others, especially those who are different, were actually connected -- that belonging did not depend on acting and thinking like the other members of the group?
That is the experience of Community.
My hope and belief is that everyone can experience the beauty and healing power of Community. By embodying love actively and engaging the Beloved within ourselves, we can conspire to transform the entire world into a love-based Community. The word conspire means "to breathe with"; surely this is a conspiracy to which we can all aspire.