Living and Growing
It was Christmas, and our United Methodist house in Helena, Montana was full. Some of our children and some of their children and spouses were there. Our Roman Catholic friend from Mexico City was there. Our Muslim friends from Pakistan and their children were there. From the apartment we owned were our Jewish friends.
All told we had substantial diversity among us. We were self-avowed, practicing United Methodists. Some of our children were United Methodist; some were Roman Catholic; and some were committed to preserving the carpeting in any church.
Our Mexican friend was very devout, clearly a post-Vatican II believer and admirer of Pope John XXIII.
Our Muslim friends were disciplined in their prayer practice and religious observances.
Our Jewish friends held classes for Jewish children, teaching them Hebrew, Jewish traditions and religion.
As I listened to the discussions over those heart-warming days, I heard our non-church-going children talk about caring for an old lady living alone next door, about providing haircuts for persons looking for work, about walking the neighborhood to try to reduce crime, about taking groceries to a single mother struggling to get along, about organizing a fund raiser for a child with a brain tumor.
I heard our Roman Catholic friend from Mexico talking about enfolding non-Roman-Catholics within the community of faith, about making her priest nervous by her associating with so many Protestants, about how best to help the poor.
I heard our Muslim friends telling stories from Muslim tradition about Mohammed, stories that sounded very Christ-like to my ears. I heard them talking about respecting persons of other religions. I heard them rejecting retaliation for wounds and advocating actively pursuing reconciliation. I heard them speaking about loving those who hurt us.
I heard our Jewish friends speaking of Jewish commitment to justice. They emphasized remembering the slavery in Egypt and affirmed that Passover is a call for humble commitment to justice for all peoples. They criticized Zionism and were vehemently opposed to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, which they described as a violation of Judaism.
Since then I have remembered struggling with greater clarity regarding the Christian gospel under the tutelage of a Baptist mentor. I thought about coming into a clearer understanding of the writings of Paul studying with a Presbyterian. I recalled being challenged to social justice by an Episcopalian. I thought about trying to make sense of it all and applying my faith to everyday living while at the feet of a Lutheran. I appreciate an increased sense of the exuberance of worship gained with a Pentecostal associate. My spirituality was deepened through the close relationship with God that a Quaker acquaintance embodied. I have been so uplifted in Black churches when worshiping with spirit and dignity. In Serbian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches I have been stirred by a sense of the otherness of God and the love of God. I have been warmed by the deep sense of community I experienced in a Hutterite colony. I recalled the gentle vision of a barber who was Bahai, his vision of humanity joining hands rather than bearing arms and lifting one another up rather than tearing one another down. I have appropriated my own Methodist commitments to personal piety and trying to apply the teachings of Jesus to society.
I wonder what would happen if we listened to one another with more energy and more attentiveness than we give to labeling one another. I wonder what would happen if, rather than taking our stands and positions and aggressive stances, we shared what our deepest longings are. What if we talked about our aspirations, shared our fears and wounds, and listened to one another as persons beloved of God.
That would be hard to do in some cases. Surely it would. But what if we could? What if we would?
Dan Wanders is pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.