When night has ended

Jesus erases differences so completely, he leaves me dumbfounded. For example, “Whoever welcomes you,” he says to his disciples, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40-42). For anyone who welcomes you, you are not merely someone who holds certain beliefs or belongs to a specific faith tradition. You are effectively the living, healing, reconciling incarnation of God.

That staggers my mind. As a disciple of Jesus, for the person who welcomes me there is no distinction between me and Christ. For that person, I am effectively God in the flesh – if I am a disciple of Jesus, if I am learning from Jesus how to live fully in authentic relationship with God, with others, and with all of creation.

Two commonly held beliefs keep us from living that way. First is the belief that if we love someone, we must agree with everything they do or believe. The second is, if we disagree with someone, we must fear or hate them. Those beliefs are at work in virtually every problem facing us today: racism and white privilege, immigration, the economy, presidential politics, police powers, sexual orientation and gender identity, health care, you name it.

How can we be the presence of Christ in such conflict? How can we erase our differences and embody love and reconciliation in the face of hatred and division? I think there are two key ways to answer those questions and offer healing.

First, we need to cultivate common ground, intentionally focus on and affirm what we share. That doesn’t mean we won’t have plenty to disagree about; we will. It means that we look for even one thing we share in common with the other person, and we build on it. That one thing can be hard to find, but trusting it’s there and that we can find it helps us find it.

Our faith doesn’t teach that we start a relationship by arguing with someone until we convince them to believe what we believe. It teaches us to start relationships with others by loving them as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40), as Christ loved us (John 13:34). We start by erasing the differences that separate us from one another. As Maya Angelou wrote, “we are more alike, my friends, / than we are unalike.” The smallest bit of common ground will be enough to start building a relationship on, enough on which to build our ministry of reconciliation.

The second thing we can do is offer the gift of grace. We can refuse to let our differences, even profound ones, stand in the way of what unites us. Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom put it this way, ”To forgive is to set a prisoner free, only to realize that prisoner was me.” I define forgiveness as the decision not to let the past control the present, to step out of the past and live freely in this moment.

The gospel of Christ is that “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor. 5:19). Our calling, our identity, is to be the reconciling presence of God for others. Our calling is to love others, all others, unconditionally, not to judge them, not to love them only if we think they are worthy, not to make love contingent on something they do, not to offer love selectively to some and not to others.

It’s simple to begin. Sit down (at a safe distance) with someone with whom you disagree about an issue important for both of you, and don’t talk about that issue. Talk instead about something you have in common. You may already know what that something is, or you may need to fish around for it. And on that one thing you have in common, start building a relationship.

Listen to the other person. Drop your filters, your expectations and preconceptions. Create a silence in which you might feel a resonance between you, something you both value, something you can affirm in each other. Find one thing you can love in yourself that you can also love in the other person, and start building on that. If we can understand one another and build relationships on what we have in common, a whole new day will dawn.

A rabbi, teaching his students about the fine points of Sabbath law, asked, “How can you tell when night has ended and day has begun?” One student said, “When you can look across the valley and tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree.” “Wrong,” said the rabbi. Another said, “You can tell when night has ended when you can shoot an arrow and see where it lands.” “Wrong,” said the rabbi. A third student guessed, “You can tell when day has begun when you can look to the next field and tell the difference between a sheep and a goat.” “Wrong!” the rabbi replied.

No one said anything else for a while, until one student asked, “So, rabbi, what’s the answer to your question?” The rabbi said, “When you look into the eyes of any person you meet and recognize that person as your brother or sister, you will know that the night has ended and the day has begun.”

“Human Family,” a poem by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

2 comments

  1. Ember B Hilkert · · Reply

    Beautiful, Rich, thank you for sharing. I’m passing this one on!

    1. Yes, Ember, pass it on! Thanks for the comment. It’s doubly good, first because my post seems to have been worthwhile for at least one reader, and second because it seems to have been worthwhile for a reader whom I respect and because it led to the pleasure of hearing from you. I miss our conversations. Relatively few though they were, they were meaningful. I hope all is well with you, Kathy, and the girls.

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