I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that divide us—or maybe the things that we think divide us. We say that we are a divided nation, that we are a divided Church. We are divided by sexual orientation. We are divided by gender identity. We are divided by political ideologies. We are divided by acceptable levels of gun control. We are divided by so much.
We think that the reason for the division lies with the other person:
The reason for our division lies with the young man who walked into Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine beautiful people. Because he hated black people. Or maybe the reason for our division lies with those who question how this man had access to guns in the first place.
The reason for our division lies with the man who walked into Pulse in Orlando, Florida and murdered fifty beautiful people. Because he was disgusted by gay people. Or maybe the reason for our division lies with those who question why Muslims belong in our country in the first place.
Yes, I’m working a little hyperbole and using some gross generalization. A little. Some.
But I’m frustrated.
I’m frustrated because I love diversity.
I love theological diversity.
I love political diversity.
I love racial diversity.
I love diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Diversity makes us stronger…
if we embrace it…
and one another.
I believe in the power of the rainbow and it makes me sad when we take ideas that we fear, and the people associated with those ideas, and send them away to graveyards. Metaphorical graveyards and especially literal graveyards.
In the Gospel Jesus encounters a man who has been chained up in a graveyard because people were afraid of him. He was scary. He had a demon or two, or three, or four.
I’ve always thought of these passages in terms of the demoniac, but in light of recent events—and not so recent events—I wonder if we shouldn’t put ourselves in the place of the Gerasenes and ask why we’re so afraid of other people, or other ideas, to the point that graveyards are an acceptable option.
Now that I think about it. Maybe we think we’re chaining up the people we’re afraid of but we’re really putting ourselves in chains: shackled by Islamophobia; shackled by Homophobia; shackled by Racism.
Either way, this is what I know. I’m tired of hearing, seeing, reading, how “that person or people” are the ones with the demons that need to be cast out. I’m weary of hearing how all of this is just a “sign of the times…end times that is.”
A poem by Thomas Merton describes a people “waiting to see the seven-headed business promised us” but then wonders, “Who shall gather to see an ordinary dragon, in this day of anger?…meanwhile…no one observes the angels passing to and fro: and no one sees the fire that shoots beneath the hoofs of all the white, impatient horses…” (“Landscape: Beast” by Thomas Merton. A Thomas Merton Reader. Ed. By Thomas P. McDonnell, Image Books, 1989.)
I read it like this: we’re eager for more things that stir our fear, and deepen our divides, and—for some—toll the final bell. But where are those who are excited to observe the ordinary stuff that harkens the goodness in our lives, and in our world? In our anger can we recognize the angels in our world, can we hear the stamping of impatient feet?
Maybe I’m missing Merton’s mark, but I’m okay with that because I’m married to a poet and so many poets I know and have read have said that poetry is meant to lead the listener or the reader to place of experience not to a place of explanation. (Or to quote the Grateful Dead, “[the story teller’s] job is to shed light not to master.”) (“Terrapin Station” by Hunter & Garcia)
But I digress—maybe.
Whether we separate ourselves from the Other because of our fear, leaving them in a graveyard; or whether we ourselves become chained up by fear of them. It ends the same way until we open ourselves to healing and action.
In the Gospel texts, Jesus engages the demoniac and learns its name. (Having a name is the first step in exerting power over something—hence we name our fears—hence the reply to Moses, “I will be who I will be.” (G-d will not be owned by anyone.)
Engage—name the fear; name the ism that possesses us, so that healing can begin and then tell it to leave.
For G-d’s sake do something.
Stand with those who hurt. Speak up on behalf of those who are demonized. Be your brothers’ (“And sisters!’”) keeper.
When I say tell it to leave, I don’t mean cast out or cut off from you anyone and everyone who won’t accept your worldview.
I love diversity, remember?
There is absolutely a place for difference. You don’t have to accept me, and I don’t have to accept you. But there is room in the world for both of us, as long as we don’t demonize each other.
As long as it doesn’t end with us in graveyards.
Because I’m tired of everything ending in graveyards.