Most good things have been said far too often and just need to be lived. ~Shane Claiborne
We don’t think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. ~Richard Rohr
This month our theme is ‘common ground’ – how do we find, connect with, and cultivate that which brings us together even in the midst of so much that threatens to tear us apart?
Last month, for those who were here, we talked about belief – as you might imagine, we here in this place represent more than a few opinions on the subject! There was much conversation, and for many of us – myself included – it stirred up more than it smoothed out. I have to admit, that’s not always comfortable for me! I like things to be clean, orderly, wrapped up. Not messy. Closure. In fact, one time when I had a friend visiting she and I both caught me talking to myself out loud. I began the phrase, “I love me some…” and to her surprise without a pause said, “I love me some order.” Really Erin?? Order? That is not normally the type of word people use in that phrase!
But there is something compelling about a world that makes sense, isn’t there? Something tempting to want to eliminate the gray, the in between, the not yet. It is tempting to want a world without a bunch of loose ends straggling all over the place.
And yet, when we look around at our world – especially in the last weeks, messy, awful, tragic, violent, fanatical is a lot of what we see, isn’t it? Regardless of what ‘side’ you take on issues that are currently garnering the headlines – the tragedy in Israel and in Gaza. The horror that is sweeping Iraq. The mobs in Paris screaming death to the Jews. The hatred that is being unleashed toward children who are fleeing violence and desperation – and the violence and desperation which is causing them to flee.
I’ve found myself quite weighed down by it all, as of late. Not to mention the things closer to home that remind us that life isn’t always what we intend it to be, that even in our own families, amongst our own neighbors or friends we are faced with challenges.
It’s made me wonder – what can I do? What is to be done? What can possibly be done?
The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me is, ‘How do we cure what ails us?’
For some the answer lies in a sort of circling the wagons and rejecting those who believe/think/act differently from them. How do we cure what ails us? We rid ourselves of those people. We rid ourselves of __________.
For others the answer lies in information. I have to say, I find myself guilty of this one. It must be that people do not know about ________, that is why they are behaving the way they are. If they only knew, then they would change, then they would be different. In our google, facebook world it can be tempting to think that the cure for what ails us is more information – knowing would solve it.
Perhaps the cure for what ails us lies in security, in protecting ourselves from whatever it is that threatens. More walls. More bombs. More fences. More vigilance. More brute force. In many ways we live in a world that has almost made an idol out of security, hasn’t it? Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying security is bad or misguided or problematic in and of itself – we need a certain level of security in order to live our lives. But the challenge comes in when security becomes the justification for everything else.
(And here I thought ‘common ground’ was going to be an easier theme than ‘belief!’)
I wonder, what is it that we are looking for, hoping for, seeking, when we find ourselves wanting to find common ground?
A place where fighting can cease. A place of peace.
But I wonder, what does common ground look like? Let’s find a place where you can agree with me? Let me convince you of my side? This is why so much of religious evangelizing is so annoying, isn’t it? The assumption that you need to come to the side of the one doing the evangelizing, rather than the other way around. I’m not so sure that’s common ground.
It’s what facebook often turns into, isn’t it? Let me post all these things about how I see a particular situation, so that I can convince you and win you over to my position. If you post too many things that I don’t agree with, then I just hide your posts so I don’t have to deal with them – and maybe you do the same to me.
But I think there has got to be another way. A third way, if you will. A way that is not me convincing you, nor you convincing me, but somehow us finding a way to honor, respect, and listen to one another.
Recently my friend Ron told me about a conversation with his son. They have differing views on the situation in Israel and Gaza. They are both well educated, thoughtful, intelligent – and diametrically opposed. And yet, Ron told me, after a two hour conversation they left – not having convinced or converted each other, but having understood each other better.
But isn’t that just a waste of time? What’s the point of that? Isn’t it pointless to spend all that time and not gain another convert? (Btw, that is often unintentionally how many church people view interactions with people outside the church…)
Speaking of church…one of almost the oldest stories in the christian and jewish scriptures is the story of adam and eve in the garden of eden. This one story has had uncaculable ramifications on so much of human history, as it is the account that tells of the story of what is known as ‘the fall.’ There are actually two creation stories, which are somewhat different in their details, but that is a story for another time. But as the story goes, God tells Adam and Eve that they can enjoy everything about the garden, this new paradise, except one thing – they cannot eat from the fruit of the tree in the center. They, of course, do, and the consequence is that they are cast out of the garden. This act is considered to be the original sin that now plagues all of humanity.
You may be wondering why you care – but here is why. Sin is not as we have been so often indoctrinated in our puritanical culture a list of bad things, or wrong things, or even a list at all. Sin, in its meaning, is simply ‘missing the mark.’ Think about that. Think about how that changes so many things that get said, promoted, etc.
Missing the mark.
In the case of the story of Adam and Eve, it is a choice that leads to disconnection. Prior to the ‘eating of the apple’ all is well – all is in harmony, all is connected. But the sin is to choose disconnection over that. To make a choice for disconnection rather than connection. And then to live as though disconnection is the reality, rather than the other way around.
It is separation that is the lie. Oneness is the reality.
I wonder, what is it that we long for? What is it that might cure that which ails us?
Is it not connection? Is it not someone who is willing to see the world through my eyes? To walk in my moccasins? To understand me, to hear me, to know me? Is this not what is behind so many of those facebook games or quizes – which Harry Potter character are you? Are you a true Californian? Or Southerner, or…?
In Spanish there are two words for knowing – saber and conocer. Saber is how you know facts. I know that it is sunday. I know that the sky is blue. I know that we live in Baja. But conocer is how you know people. Do you know Ron? Conocer is a knowing in relationship.
So, how do we find this connection, this being known, this common ground?
It’s easy. And terribly difficult.
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.” Rabbi Hillel
Or, as Jesus put it, “In everything do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.”
The Golden Rule.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And do not do unto others as you would not want done to you. The rest is commentary.
What if, for a moment, instead of insisting on others meeting us upon our ground, we allowed ourselves to set that aside and chose instead to meet them on theirs? It takes an enormous amount of courage at the interpersonal level and at the international level. And it must be fed by compassion. Where courage and compassion meet, there is where we find connection.
So, what does it actually look like?
Maybe it means this week inviting someone to lunch, or over for a drink, or to go for a walk on the beach or to enjoy a meal. It doesn’t have to be someone who is your sworn enemy – but maybe it is someone who you do not know well, who you would like to know better. Maybe it means listening when you’d rather be doing something else. Maybe it means lingering for a time, being open to that which might unfold, rather than rushing to judgments or assumptions about others.
I don’t know what it looks like for you. But I know what it looks like for me.
The challenge I leave with us all today is to be cultivators of this common ground. Might we? Because, my friends, that is how we can change the world. It is, possibly, the only way. In being the change we wish to see in the world.
It is not easy. It is not without risk. It is not always fun. But I believe it can bring deep joy. For when we connect with the truth, the big truth, the truth that all things are one, that we are truly one, that separateness is the illusion, that is when we find peace. That is when we encounter love. We know it, not just as saber. We conocer it.