Unity Ain’t As Easy As You Wish It Was (for Paris)

Jeremiah 29:11    New International Version (NIV)

11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I’m not quite sure what happened or why…I only know that people in Paris are dead and the world is horrified.  I also know that extremists have once again captured our minds by filling our hearts with fear.

I am so very tired of finding that there is very little left that gains attention that doesn’t involve terrorizing someone else’s soul.

There are so many reasonable people in the world; so many people who are devoted to making the world a better place through dialogue and hearing the ‘other person’s’ opinion, and yet we are still locked into never ending debate by terrorists and hard-liners who are unwilling to hear any political or theological position but their own.

I was blessed to go to seminary with a host of people who were different from me theologically.  People who came to school as deeply liberal individuals when I had been raised as a fundamentalist evangelical; people who held a deeply conservative line as my theology slowly shifted into a more liberal perspective; people who deeply disagreed with my understanding of God and who felt that I was a diluting the scriptures and therefore perverting the word of God.  I have stayed friends with the grand majority of them (as long as they were willing to remain friends with me despite our growing differences) and still find each and every one of them to be incredibly valuable to my understanding of my political and theological world; I can only hope they think the same of me.

I found myself at peace with all of them during the years that we studied the Bible; we often stayed up late into the night studying and arguing over deeply held theological beliefs.  Now I serve the Methodist Church with these exact same folks, united in the purpose of reaching the world for Christ even as we are divided in the specifics of our theology.  The funny thing is that I cannot imagine my life having the same value and diversity without their voices and their brilliance.

I am deeply aware that division in thought doesn’t have to become hatred, violence, or the desire for annihilation of ‘the other.’

I was commissioned into the clergy of the United Methodist Church in 2003 and fully ordained in 2006. I have worked in the United Methodist Church longer than any other job that I have ever held, and if I have to be honest, I have also worked for myself in private practice as a counselor longer than any professional job that I have held at any other corporation.  In the end, going to seminary and counseling school so that I could be a minister and counselor in God’s Kingdom has brought me more job security than any other position I’ve ever taken anywhere else.  Maybe I was always intended for success in God’s Kingdom?  I don’t know…I just know that I’ve found more peace and more space to disagree and yet work together in the United Methodist Church than I’ve found anywhere else in my entire life.

It is actually quite difficult and rather exhausting to ‘agree to disagree’.  I’d like to think that it’s easy and that people can live in theological/political/philosophical tension relatively easily…but I have not found that to be true very often.  I have been blessed with many friends who were willing to do this, but I’m guessing that it is our mutual commitment to work together for the Kingdom that brings about our diversity in unity rather than our evolved nature as human beings.  Achieving a healthy balance of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in the UMC (United Methodist Church) has involved far more effort and sacrifice than I ever planned on.  You see, agreeing to disagree involves constantly holding open the possibility that the other person just might be right after all.

Tolerating your opponent’s opinion with true open-mindedness demands that you admit that your opponent has a really good point somewhere in his/her argument.  Sometimes it demands that you admit that your opponent has a really good point, period. It demands that you assent to the logic and reasonability of your opponent’s opinion.  Open-mindedness demands that you constantly review your own viewpoint and argument looking for weaknesses and failures to adhere to rigorous logic.  In the end, to remain open-minded, you must constantly examine yourself and be willing to let go of your own viewpoint whenever your opponent has a more solidly constructed, more logically founded viewpoint than your own.  This is difficult, since our personal viewpoints tend to come from our most deeply held morals and values…and Lord knows we hate to question our own morals and values!

I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  And yet his success as a Republican candidate for President of the US tells me that he has a number of followers who enjoy the bombast of his speeches and the harshness of his stance.  Open-mindedness demands that I ask “What do those people need in order to feel safe and honored in my United States of America?”  Am I willing to let their needs matter to me?  It sure would be easy to say that the people who love Donald Trump are uneducated rubes who are looking for a leader who absolves them of their responsibility to think critically for the sake of the US.  Then again maybe I should consider how deeply those exact same people fear immigrants and the prospect of having their beloved American culture diluted by people who are ignorant of all that the US symbolizes.  There is some validity in the fear that drives Donald Trump’s popularity, and I am free to ignore it, but only at the cost of my fellow US citizens.

I am deeply aware of the grief in Paris today, the shock and horror that drives the French people’s desire to unite in nationalistic pride to restore their own country.  It was not that long ago that I wrote about the unintended effects of 9/11; the uniting and deeply nationalistic effect that 9/11 had that no terrorist had intended when they attacked my beloved country.

I eagerly await the day when terrorist attacks against any nation cause us to pull together worldwide to comfort a terrorized nation and to declare our awareness that we are a brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity worldwide.  I long for a day when no religion, national boundary, or personal creed can separate us from the siblinghood of humanity and the awareness that each and every nation has good things, good knowledge, and good skills to bring to our awareness as a worldwide community.  The odd thing is that the killers, the suicide bombers, the terrorists, and the hate-mongers among us are simply seeking a smaller version of the exact same unity that I wish to see worldwide. They want to unite with people who are like-minded (in hatred and fear) in order to create a world that is better than the one they currently live in.  It’s just that extremists seek their unity through violence and exclusion, and I seek  my unity through service, tolerance, diversity, and respect.  Perhaps that’s the most important take-away from this moment: the truth is that we are all seeking unity and brotherhood/sisterhood—we just don’t quite know how to get there without stepping on the brothers and sisters that we don’t know very well yet.  We don’t know how to create unity with those we don’t agree with.

May we forgive those who hate us and seek to destroy us; may we forgive those whose ideology we don’t understand; may we reach out with peace and acceptance to those we have not yet included in our circle of friends; and may God create the greater binding force that brings us together in love and not in mutual hatred or destruction.

You have heard our prayer over and over again Lord. Make it so, as it is according to your will, absent of hatred, violence, or destruction. Amen.

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