Humankind. What a state we’re in, and don’t we know it. On the bright side, we’re full of much inherent kindness, creativity, culture and beauty. But give us a bit of power over other humans in any sphere of influence/authority, and things can get ugly mighty quick. How often have we given in to abusing our power in defence of the position and interests we fear to lose? How often have we cast dehumanising labels upon those who threaten what we’ve established? Once a punchy “us” (good) versus “them” (evil) plot line becomes our rallying cry, it’s way too easy to justify murder in the name of justice.
I didn’t get too far into life before my childhood innocence was overlaid with defensive categories of who I deemed in (belonging/safe/true) and who I deemed out (unworthy/dangerous/false). But one day I let Jesus take the wheel, as they say. It was the most vulnerable, disarming, healing, and mysterious experience I’ve ever had, echoing the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection that repeats across the universe. From that point on, I no longer wanted to make my home in a tower of isolation. Brick by brick, category by category, God and I have been tearing it down.
It’s not about being enlightened, it’s a change in what takes precedence. Where once I could keep a safe distance from others by labelling them the ‘competition’, the ‘target’, or something to objectify, now I can see: they are God’s image bearers, uniquely created ones, refracting one-of-a-kind colours from the spectrum of God’s own essence. This is the bread and butter of humanity, qualifying every individual to be infinitely worthy of love and belonging. When I’m sensitive to this, I’m persuaded to pause. Am I seeing this person for who they truly are?
As deconstruction continues, belonging in God’s unconditional love has become the new paradigm to grow from. The healing knowledge that at my worst, even I am of infinite value to God has had a natural output of attributing that same value to others.
So, if I’m a child of God along with everyone else, that makes us family. And if we’re all family, how could I view anyone as an enemy? How could I not desire their friendship? I think that’s the gist of what God wants for us: friendship. On a human level, I think friendship is what a loving parent desires most for their family: parent to parent, parent to child, child to child. And I’ve come to believe friendship is God’s greatest desire for all us kids—that we would experience friendship with God and with each other, no matter our differences.
To be clear, good conversations will expose our differences, and that’s essential to authentic friendship. But I’ve found that when I’m valuing the person over my need to convince them of anything, there’s always enough substance of commonality to share in. We can share our celebrations and our hopes, our grieving and our struggling, and even the mundane. That’s the stuff that makes up our common holy ground, and on that ground we can testify together that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, [we] can hear her breathing.” (Arundhati Roy)
Now and Ever Shall Be…
In the first part of this series, I mentioned our Saudi neighbour who invited us to Iftar. Ibrahim* and his wife Madeeha* have two kids around the same age as our own. Shortly after Ramadan, they left Australia and returned to their homeland after Ibrahim’s PhD program had finished. I’m so thankful for that friendship. But the lesson I take away is that it didn’t just materialise from nothing, I actually owe it mostly to my wife, B. Her infatuation with people from Middle Eastern backgrounds sometimes compels her to go really out of her way to introduce herself… (She spent a life-changing college semester in the Middle East and was enamoured by the hospitality of the people she met.)
One day as B was driving up our suburban Aussie street, she saw a woman in full niqab entering a house with two young kids. When I arrived home that evening, B excitedly told me about this neighbourhood development. She’d been racking her brain trying to come up with a plan to meet her. It didn’t take long before she decided on the most direct approach: march our kids back up the street and knock. When Madeeha opened the door, B introduced herself saying she had seen her a couple days back and just wanted to say “Hi”.
“Come in, come in!” Madeeha immediately responded, throwing back her veil as soon as the door had been closed. Two hours later our kids were ready for naps, so they exchanged numbers and planned their next visit.
Over the course of a year, their friendship grew and before long the men were introduced. Every time I caught up with Ibrahim we’d sit in the backyard while the women visited inside. One of the most generous and kind souls I’ve ever met, I never came away unchanged from our visits. Over Saudi coffee we’d talk about family, work, religion, culture, politics–the usual stuff. A lot of our discussions around these topics focused on correcting misperceptions we knew to exist between Christians and Muslims. Much time was spent establishing who we were and who we were not. What we ended up having in common provided more than enough space for a great friendship to grow.
World Without End. Amen.
Jesus has laid the foundation for the reconciliation of all things. While we wait for the final ‘reveal’—the finished product of creation—we’ve been called up to be a sign and a foretaste in the world: making known what is to come, and living it out today, however we can. As we do this, we’re anticipating and preparing for an existence where we, and all of creation will be fully and finally healed. Now is the time to move deeper than a mere coexistence with personal, religious, cultural and political ‘enemies’, into the sweet spot of our shared belonging. Let’s sit down on tarps, eat dates, and enjoy our common holy ground.
* Names have been changed for reasons of privacy.