"... that they may all be one. ... that they may become completely one ..." -- John 17:20, 22
These words are part of Jesus's final prayer to his disciples. They were in last Sunday's Gospel reading, so I have been mulling over these words all week. They are my favorite words about unity.
The more I think about unity, the more I see that the world is already very much interconnected. We are connected to the people in our extended families, our community, our country, and beyond. Each one of these people is uniquely connected to their extended families, their community, their country, and beyond. So, even if we don't know someone personally, our lives can be influenced and impacted by them. And we in turn influence and impact the lives of more people than we can imagine.
This is becoming more and more true as communication technologies advance. Perhaps it has always been true, it just happens a whole lot faster these days. Jesus's life took centuries to impact the world. Last year the life of a young Muslim girl in Pakistan fighting for an education impacted countless people around the world in seconds.
People around the world are interconnected, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. Now, this connection can be positive and life-affirming, or it can be negative and life-damaging. The choice is made by us. The choices we make always impact more people than just ourselves. And while we cannot always choose how others will impact our lives, we can at least choose how we will respond and how we will impact the lives of others. Even doing nothing is a choice we make that has an impact.
The idea of our interconnectedness is worth considering more often.
I remember a turning point in my marriage when I did just that. A few years ago, my husband and I just weren't getting along. We were continually pushing against each other like two opposing magnets. We were both unhappy, but stuck in a pattern. Every time we fought, I would think of divorce. Some things, I thought, would just be so much easier if I could go my own way. The turning point came when I realized that one very important thing would not be easier if we got divorced. That was parenting. As much as we disagreed about how to raise our children, they would always be our children. We would still have to figure out, for their sakes, how to work together. The longer this took us, the more negatively it was going to impact the lives of our children. And figuring out how to work together would be much harder, if not impossible, if we divorced.
God had made us one. However far apart we pushed or pulled ourselves, we would always be connected. We were all bound together, for better or worse, so we might as well figure out how to make it better.
Ironically, at that same time period in my life, I was wondering why Christians and Jews and Muslims couldn't just get along. We all believed in the same God, why couldn't we just focus on what we held in common? But then again, why couldn't my husband and I just focus on what we held in common?
In order to answer those questions, I went on a journey. First I had to recognize that not even all Christians get along, and they have even more in common. And then I had to learn that not even all Lutherans get along, and they are even more alike in their thinking. And finally, I discovered that not even the people in my own Lutheran denomination always agreed with each other. From this journey, I can only conclude that if agreement is the criteria for getting along, then we will all have to go our separate ways. For it's just not possible for any two people, let alone more than two people, to agree with each other all the time. God didn't make us that way.
And for good reason. Christian unity, the kind of unity that Jesus was talking about, is not about thinking alike. It is, however, about getting along despite our differences.
Through my marriage, God has helped me to understand that how Christians, Jews, and Muslims get along, is the same way a husband and wife get along, or anyone gets along. We do so by being compassionate, by trying to understand the other, by forgiving, by being honest, and by being generous -- all those things that Jesus talked so much about.
Notice that these are all personal attributes. In order for me to stay united with my husband, I had to look within myself, and recognize where I was not doing these things. I had to stop pointing at the speck in my husband's eye, and look at the log in my own eye. The same is true for everyone.
It's a slow and sometimes painful process. But I'm learning a lot. About unity. And about love.
As Jesus said, the kingdom of God is within you. I know this to be true.
Dear God, thank you for showing me how interconnected I am, and for continually teaching me how to love as you love. Yours always, Pam