Holding up opposing views and finding common ground is what I do for for a living. I teach World Religions to a diverse population of students at a private high school. We use a comparative approach to study the major religions, looking at each tradition from seven distinct but overlapping dimensions, an approach pioneered by Ninian Smart. This allows for comparing and contrasting the traditions but most importantly identifying the sacred intersections. I delight in the areas where the circles overlap, I call this the common core, a platform for God’s outreach.
I am a Roman Catholic, I don’t always agree with the magisterium’s interpretation of ancient scripture, but I choose to put my faith in God. I love the way I worship God but I also admire the way other traditions worship and honor a relationship with the divine. I think there is wisdom and relevance to be found in all the traditions, even nontraditional sects, atheist included, especially if we take the time to understand each other’s core beliefs. We all want to know why we are here, how we are to live, and where we are going?
Jesus pushed for radical reform during his three year ministry and we all know how that turned out. The Romans dealt with zealous revolutionaries swiftly and permanently. But as luck would have it, Jesus was part of the God squad, a cool trio who employ all things for the greater good…even bullies.
Let’s consider the worst bully of the first century. His name was Saul, he made tents for a living, temporary dwellings for those who travel. He lived in Tarsus with his upper class family. Now Tarsus was occupied by the Romans at the time and young Saul had dual citizenship. He was highly educated and very ambitious. Saul made it his personal mission to rid the world of a small group of Jesus freaks who went into hiding after the crucifixion. He thought he was doing God’s work and his methods were extremely brutal. Caiphas (high priest of Jerusalem) gifted Saul with a small military unit to assist him in his work. One day Saul was on the road to Damascus in pursuit of Christians who had fled Jerusalem. He was just outside of town when he got caught up in a major snafu.
You might ask what the hell really happened on the road to Damascus? Here we have this tent maker, a radicalized solider for God, intent on wiping out the few remaining followers of Jesus. But this was not part of the divine plan. It would have been epic to witness God knocking Saul off his high horse, throwing him to the dusty ground, and leaving him blind. He spoke to Saul, “Dude, when you stone my people, you stone me. Cut that shit out [adapted Book of Acts].” This is when Saul uttered the most important words of the millennium, words we all should be uttering today.
“God, what would you have me do?”
Maybe it’s time to place ourselves on the metephorical road to Damascus, we are clearly at the end of a long journey, but we’ve somehow left behind our reverence for each other. Conversion can only happen when we are open to the possibility of change. Maybe I need to be knocked off my high horse and fitted with a new world vision. Saul certainly had a change of attitude, he took the name Paul, shared the Good News with thousands of people for thirty years, wrote half the books of the New Testament, before he was beheaded by Nero. Tough break.
Jesus said, “We have the power to move mountains with the faith of a mustard seed,” but the dirty little secret is this can only be done in communion with each other.
Krista Tippett says, “We need to learn to live together differently. We have to create entirely new ways to begin to speak to each other, new framings, we have to create new kinds spaces, that don’t have the same kind of assumptions about why we’re in conversation together.” [adapted]
We are a resilient people, we can adjust to the prevailing circumstances, because it is God who ultimately reigns. I am learning to stay open to the unexpected, take life one day at a time, and listen deeply to those I encounter on this long and windy road. I’ve come to believe hope has been walking beside me all along and all I have to do is ask, “God, what would you have me do?” Then hold on tight to the reins for it’s sure to be a rough road.
Nan Merrill says, “Each of us can become a blessed channel of peace for the healing of Earth’s wounds: We can awaken from apathy and find creative, non-violent ways to transform the abuses rampant in today’s world.”
Let’s get the conversation started in the comments.