In "The Wounded Healer," Henri Nouwen talks about faith relying on promises and the unknown, not on concrete results - which can be immensely discouraging, frustrating, etc. to diligent folk. This made me think of Hebrews 11:39-40 which suggests that none of the heroes of faith received what was promised during their lifetime, but held on to the promise of something better after that.
This makes me also think of the cathedrals of Europe, many of which took more than one lifetime to construct. I imagine the builders and artisans spending their whole life working on something and not getting to see the final result, which so many of us enjoy today.
How painful and yet how beautiful it is to know that our work is not ours alone and will be continued by others when we are gone. And how beautiful and painful that our work will affect the lives of countless others, though we may never see it. And what a relief to know that I am not responsible for the fate of the world - and at the same time what a privilege it is that I am responsible for how my thoughts, words, and actions affect the fate of the world.
And so it reminds me that our work matters and thus each of us matters, and yet we need not worry about the future or about accomplishing this or that or being recognized as the results-producer. We have the joy of working to make our world a better place.
When we view others with anger, bitterness, suspicion, and prejudice, we erase their humanity - and along with it any chance for unity and reconciliation. We live in a time when it is hard to trust - perhaps we always have. How do you have unity when there are so many different ways of thinking, living, acting, and being? How can we have democracy when some view others as inferior?
As soon as we start “othering” people we’ve already created sides, teams ready to fight till one rules the other. We need to stop separating an “us” and “them” and refer to the collective as “we.” As soon as we start seeing ourselves as connected to everyone (which we are), we can start moving toward unity - not necessarily full agreement, for unity does not equate to singularity, but rather a joining together.
And I do believe it is possible for vastly different people to join together because I’ve seen it happen - I’ve done it. But it requires us to see each other, to listen, to put each other’s needs before our own (without ignoring our own), to find something greater than ourselves that we have in common to unite us. As long as we stay within the walls of our camps, raining ammunition on our opponents, we lose the opportunity to have meaningful, mutually beneficial conversations with human beings.
So who raises the flag of peace first? Those who can afford to, who are in positions of power, leadership, authority, privilege. We all have more influence over others than we realize. Be a part of a positive change - not a change to “the good old days,” not a change to “suit my agenda,” but to putting other’s needs before your preferences for a change, to considering the well-being of those who are struggling. We are responsible for the best and worst parts of our communities - not in the sense that it’s anyone’s fault, but in the sense that we are responsible to each other.
It’s a sunny MLK Day in Boston and I, for one, have hope.