We live in a competitive world. We live in a culture that all too often encourages separation rather than unity. It is the language of the Pharisee that says: “Thank God I’m not like that person - the criminal, the alcoholic or the drug addict, the gay person, the homeless person…the sinner!”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that most all of the problems we experience are because we have forgotten that we belong to one another. I want to believe that we are getting better at understanding the importance of that prophetic statement, but I don’t know that we are. I don’t know if we are narrowing the distance between what divides us from one another. Even more troubling is the consideration that some may not even want to narrow the gap, but instead widen it. We see it all around us in social classism, politics, racism, gender inequality and all other forms of marginalization and discrimination.
Religion does it too. The language might sound like this: “Thank God I’m not like the Muslim, the Jew, the Christian or the Hindu. And within our own Christian tradition the language sometimes seems even louder: “Thank God I’m not like those on the Christian conservative right, or the Christian progressive left. Thank God I’m not like the Baptists, the Catholics, or the Episcopalians. This kind of thinking is dangerous because eventually it leads to groups claiming God more for one side than the other and elevation into religious exceptionalism.
We all have different ways in which to approach God. When I look around it is clear to me that there are indeed many ways to understand God and many paths to reach God. For me, the face of God is that of Jesus, and the path to living fully into God’s desire is to follow the lifestyle and teachings of the poor one from Nazareth. But this doesn’t mean in any way that people who are following other paths are lost. It also does not mean that I am any less of a Christian because my heart is open to honoring other’s paths to enlightenment. In fact the more I engage in authentic, loving, respectful dialogue with others of different spiritual paths, the stronger my Christian identity becomes. I have come to learn that if you want to get close to God – get close to God’s people – all of them.
I often feel that the only way for us to narrow the divide between nations and peoples are to come to a true understanding of God being for all people everywhere. God created the beautiful blue sky for all of us, not just some of us. God created the sun to warm the faces of all of God’s beautiful people, not just some of them. God created the human heart as life-force, as compassion, as love – within all people, not just within a few.
Yes, in many ways we have forgotten. But the truth remains that the image of God is in each and every one of us and the Spirit of God is shot through all of creation. If we listen closely to the language that echoes from over time and that whispers from with each human heart, we can hear it telling us that we are all equally loved and surely it is God’s desire that we would live together with that understanding, but we must choose it for ourselves. It’s not too late. We begin right here, right now, opening and expanding our hearts to others.
Now this from William Sloan Coffin: May God give you grace never to sell yourself short. Grace to risk something big for something good. Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.