Friday, January 26, 2024" We are making this world together. In a healthy community, and a functional democracy, each member is valued. Each member of our human community is sacred.
In the dawning weeks of this new year, when the hours of daylight are short yet growing like a waxing moon, I have struggled at times to locate a sense of hope. I read headlines and encounter terrible news of the world coming apart at its seams. I struggle with how to manage global grief and the weight of my own existence. I wonder how to make sense of unnecessary deaths and destruction. Do you ever feel, like I do, powerless and alienated in a deep way? Wars are raging and violence abounds. This year, 2024, is an election year and the foreshadowing is dreadful. It seems there is no shortage of divisions like painful chasms in the contours of understanding.
I have little doubt that in centuries past, individuals have experienced similar feelings of estrangement. I imagine there’s nothing newfangled about political divisions, generational gaps, and differences in belief. Reaching across those divisions is not an easy task, but it is a very important one. After all, one of humanity’s great strengths is our ability to collaborate such that we can accomplish unthinkable feats. Our ability to communicate valuable information and benefit from the insights gleaned by others is absolutely vital to our success as individuals and as a species.
We are making this world together. In a healthy community, and a functional democracy, each member is valued. Each member of our human community is sacred. We may have different roles, strengths, and shortcomings, but each life is an integral piece of the larger whole. But how then are we to respond to violence—or theologies and ideologies that promote violence—which threatens the members of that hallowed human community?
I recently had a difficult interaction with a family member which rendered some of these differences unavoidable and obvious. During the holidays, perhaps more so than any other time of year, I find myself engaged in conversations across boundaries and divides of every sort. As I reconnect with family members who do not share in my daily existence—but who have known me for decades—I strive to show up in these interactions with openness, empathy, and sincere consideration for what they feel is important to impart.
Yet my best intentions didn’t prevent a painful discourse about the war in Gaza from unfolding. A messy argument occurred about who is at fault, what is at stake, and what our role is. As we found ourselves arguing from opposing points of view, I felt the same poignant grief that I often feel when surveying civil discourse and considering the state of our world. The divisions seem like such deep ruts!
I am the sort of person who desires to overcome those divisions. I am committed to non-violence, unity, and peacebuilding, even with people with whom I do not agree. Admittedly, it is difficult to engage in that work when your interlocutor doesn’t share those same commitments. It’s tough when the person I am attempting to communicate with holds no spiritual beliefs about my intrinsic worth as a human being. And if they don’t have respect for me, someone who they know personally and who is sitting right in front of them, how can I inspire them to have empathy for strangers? Or for those that do not look like them or think like them?
When I contemplate how to navigate disagreement, I recall one of my most inspiring intergenerational relationships: my relationship with Sister Julie. More so than anyone I have ever met, Sister Julie has a gift for encountering unfamiliar ideas with genuine curiosity, even when she is confronted with something she does not agree with. I have watched her remain graceful, gentle, and respectful in some truly tense interactions. Of course, I do not know exactly how Sister Julie mastered this impressive quality. Still, I suspect it has something to do with her resounding and quiet confidence in what she believes to be true about the power of love and acceptance.
In so much of the world around me, I see impulses toward domination. Like children raising their voices to be heard, our discourse is too often an endless cacophony of competitive yelling about what’s right and what’s important (and the internet makes this trap all too easy). But Sister Julie has taught me that the wisest ones among us are usually the ones doing the listening.
As the year unfolds, I invite you to join me in listening intently for our common humanity. When the divisions surface and the tensions rise, can we find ways to remember that each person, no matter their beliefs, is sacred? Can we try to bear in mind that each person is much more than their contentious opinions?
May we choose love, and respect, even and especially when it is the more challenging of the choices available. May we become people who are known by our love and gentleness, even in the face of hatred.
MAKING THIS WORLD TOGETHER by Isabella Hall, a member of the Community Board of Directors and Publication Committee at Starcross