Thursday, August 9, 2012

Room to grow

There are days when the rhetoric turns my stomach, when the black-and-white us-versus-them thinking wears me down.  I have to step away from Facebook and wander out into the bright light of the real world.  There are times, too, when my peaceful devotions in the bright light of the garden outside of my office do not speak to me, and I find myself, instead, walking away, seeking for a greater communion beyond words and ideals and religion.  The other morning, in such a walk, I started to feel connected again for the first time in a week or more.  I walked alone, and yet I felt a part of the ground, the air, the trees...I felt the Spirit of creation around and within me.  I realized community even as I was set apart from it.

Perhaps because I had been so opened, I ran into an acquaintance who serves as a security guard on campus.  He is a friendly sort that is always happy for the chance to stop and talk.  He is amicable and pleasant, and yet I've learned that if I'm not careful, he will talk longer than I have time to listen.  I know, too, that his background is different from mine, as he goes to a very conservative church, one that I've had run-ins with before.  Last semester, I had to confront the church's evangelism and outreach pastor after a student handed me a religious tract she had been given outside of the chapel, condemning homosexuals to hell.  The church's name was stamped on the brochure and I groaned.  This same church visited regularly at my last calling to minister to the youth whom I served and I regularly had to berate the leaders for their tactics and counsel the youth who were angered, hurt, or confused by the altar calls that seemed more like spiritual abuse.  Sometimes, it seems, that even though we're playing for the same team, we're on very different sides.

Yet in this conversation, the guard and I shared what we had both been studying from the Bible, and then he asked me if I had seen him talking to a man on campus the previous day.  I had, as I had waved, and tried to keep my distance as I was pressed for time.  He shared a bit that he had learned about the man, an immigrant who serves as a housekeeper on our campus.  The housekeeper has done some work in the chapel, so I knew him for his strong opinions yet caring manner.  He often chastises me for my office set-up, in which my desk faces the window and away from the door.  He worries about someone "sneaking up behind me" without me knowing.  After talking to the guard who shared some of the housekeeper's story, I realized how the man's own background in a war-torn country must be behind his fear and his concern for me.  Then the guard shared, "and he's a Muslim."  We looked at each other in silence, and I was judging his reaction to this.  I certainly thought I knew what his church would think.  I carefully responded, "Yes, and doesn't he have such a sweet spirit about him?"  My acquaintance smiled and said, "yes, he sure does!"

It felt significant, one of those kingdom of God moments when we realize that what we have in common is far more than what separates us.  And I realized that my own tendency to polarize and separate is just as insidious as those on the "other" side whom I judge.  Really, when it comes down to it, we are all acting from our notions of love and faith.  We don't all agree because we don't yet see fully.  We see a part of the tapestry, our own small experience.  And yet, God is still weaving together the story, adding us in each person by person, joining our lives, attitudes, stories, prejudices, faith, hopes, dreams, and disappointments.  God stands back to survey the beauty (and also the messes where we have hurt and turned away from one another).  And yet the work of creation continues ever on, inviting us to join into the shared story, learning from one another and opening to all the possibilities.

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