Since the day that religion and spirituality began, the idea of “outsiders” has long been an issue of controversy. In the worst case scenarios, what started out as disagreements often disastrously turned into “heresies,” witch hunts, hangings, and being burned at the stake.
Thankfully, we’re no longer at that barbaric stage any more. Or are we?
In the U.S., because of the nation’s current political unrest, religion is often being bundled into the brouhahas over everything from freedom of speech to protests of racism, from healthcare to immigration, and on and on. And in the generally rancorous spirit of the times, unfortunately, it always seems to devolve from “he said/she said” type arguments into sometimes angry, sometimes violent eruptions in which no one listens, no one believes the other side has anything good to contribute, no one… cares!
In a recently renewed relationship between two sensitive, mature, thinking people, it’s discovered that their viewpoints, values, and belief systems have naturally changed over the course of years. One has found a new spiritual home as a lay member of one of the old religious orders, while the other has gravitated towards one of the most liberal theologies around. What to do? How does one even come together in conversation, without feeling that opinions have to be held back, or heartfelt beliefs denied?
From one faith tradition’s point of view… what would Jesus do? Or, from another, what would Buddha say? Or Mohammad? Or Confucius?
At an ecumenical, interdenominational retreat quite a few years ago, in which mission-minded faithful from both the U.S. and abroad gathered to discuss how best to minister to the many hurting people in the world, it was pointed out that “you know, you people in the States think you know it all, that you have all the answers. Let me tell you, with all due respect, you don’t. And some of the folks in the developing countries of Africa have more to teach you about doing ministry than you will ever learn in your lifetimes!”
That was certainly a moment to shake you by your foundations, and make you stop and think.
Perhaps the one true answer to this recent spate of conflict, controversy, name-calling, and hate is actually a simple one… as that song goes, “we begin again in love.”
In other words, we resolve to sit down with each other and really, really listen. Don’t stop at the initially intimidating or alarming sentiments, but allow yourself to dive further into the mystery. Ask questions. Probe gently. Express appreciation. Find areas of common ground. You’ll no doubt find that as you start “reading (or hearing) between the lines,” you’ll begin to better understand where the other person is coming from.
And you may even discover that underneath it all, there is something that actually ties you together, rather than driving you apart.
Peace. Spread it around.