The focal point of early Christian self-understanding was not a holy book or a cultic rite, not mystic experience and magic invocation, but a set of relationships: the experience of God’s presence among one another and through one another. To embrace the gospel means to enter into a community, the one cannot be obtained without the other.
The will to give ourselves to others and “welcome” them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity. The will to embrace precedes any “truth” about others and any construction of their “justice.” This will is absolutely indiscriminate and strictly immutable; it transcends the moral mapping of the social world into “good” and “evil.
Because we must learn to live in the tension. We must learn to wisely hold it all. And if we can do this, we will find spaces in the tension—space for wisdom and peace and community.
We need to make our home in the tension, because all of life is happening in the middle of it. In the middle of our tension…
The urge to do violence to the ideas and beliefs of people with different political beliefs or faith traditions or worldviews will subside. Because we will have discovered the battle really isn’t between us and them. If we are willing to look closely, we will discover the battle is contained entirely within us.
We will experience each other as prisoners of our own internal wars, and with intimate knowledge of the experience, we will find ourselves eager to free each other, as well.
We will find a way to encounter conflict with strength…and with forgiveness.
We will walk into hatred and bring justice…as well as mercy.
We will stumble upon ignorance and shine knowledge there…with humility.
So, open yourself to the tension within, find a home there, find a deep and abiding love for yourself there, and then scatter that love everywhere you go.
I found it very interesting when Thomas Merton, the famous Benedictine monk, applied to become a hermit and it was met with resistance for years. Merton felt the Abbot was resisting Merton’s request for personal reasons. That battle is quite a read!
The resistance to Merton’s request wasn’t without merit. Even Merton knew the dangers of living out one’s spirituality in isolation. That’s what I’m up against. I no longer am a part of a local church community. Neither are many of you! In a way, we are like Merton who are living as kind of hermits out in the world, many of us in isolation from other Christians and church communities…
Community is the overcoming of otherness in living unity.
The learning community, an ever-regenerated community of people who are willing to be present to and for one another, necessarily recognizes and openly discusses multiple points of view. Diversity is not a difficulty to overcome. A learning community’s multiplicity of viewpoints provides the material for ever-recurring dialogues, because each person brings something quite concrete and unique into the communal relationship. Open-minded honesty and willingness to be changed are valued more than like-mindedness. Again, it should be remembered that genuine community, for Buber, is not only an ideal but also a direction of movement, a reality that we try to build in every situation. A learning community happens through open-minded dialogue—open to otherness, and open to various points of view.
—Kenneth Kramer, Martin Buber’s I and Thou: Practicing Living Dialogue