“Unity isn’t necessarily the result of agreeing with others, but rather understanding where they’re coming from.”
This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.org and is reposted here by permission.
One of the most widely used features in social media these days is the mute button, the option that allows us to silence our friends’ posts and stories without them ever knowing. It can be a handy little feature, I’ll admit. I may have used it myself to reduce the number of culinary creations flowing onto my feed (not that they looked unappetizing, but just to reduce the sheer volume!).
As handy as this feature may be, I wonder what its usage says about our current culture and our ability to connect and listen to each other. Think about the implications: the moment our peace is disturbed (or our thoughts challenged), we can simply tap our screen and click those little annoyances away.
Someone offended us? Muted.
Their words were a tad too political? Silenced.
They advocated for the wrong cause? Canceled.
At first glance, we may think that canceling someone is just an easy and almost innocent way to keep our peace and reduce noise in our lives. But if we dig a little deeper, we may realize what a genuine threat this seemingly innocent action poses to our communities and relationships.
The moment we cancel someone, we are no longer able—or willing—to hear them out. All we do is widen the gap between us and reduce the possibility for understanding. Without understanding, suspicion grows. And suspicion, as we all know, breeds hostility, which in turn leads to violence and the severing of ties. It’s a dangerous domino effect.
Canceling, in its truest sense, is an erasure of the other, the result of centering our own perspectives and stories and privileging them over those of other people. It’s a rather simple framework: Anything that doesn’t conform to our center is automatically out.
The question is, where do we go from here?
UNITY AT PENTECOST
If we turn to the Bible for guidance, we find that it’s full of references and metaphors that invite us to be united, “to be one, just as we are one” (John 17:22), to recognize we’re members of one body, each one of us with a unique role (1 Cor. 12), to be of one mind, united in spirit and purpose (Phil. 2:1:2). But of all the passages that speak about unity, I am particularly interested in the story of Pentecost and the message it has for us today. Recall the story:
“People from all around the world were gathered in Jerusalem. Suddenly, a sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the entire place. Tongues spreading out like a fire descended and rested on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. The crowds came together, bewildered and excited, for each one of them heard them speaking in their own language.” —Acts 2:1–8
Let that last sentence sink in for a moment.
“Each one of them heard them speaking in their own language” (emphasis mine).
Of all the miraculous events that happened on the day of Pentecost, this one speaks the loudest to me today: the fact that people from all different cultures, traditions and backgrounds, people who carried different stories, perspectives and trauma, were all together in one space and they understood each another.
How’s that for the miracle we need these days?
Many of us have erroneously believed that agreement with others’ views and perspectives is the foundation for unity and harmonious existence. Pentecost, however, reminds us that unity isn’t necessarily the result of agreeing with others, but rather understanding where they’re coming from.
In a world in which canceling the other is common currency, listening to understand becomes a countercultural act, one that requires an intentional shift from suspicion to curiosity, from exclusion to embrace.
What would it look like to live countercultural lives that constantly centered the other instead of ourselves?
What if the first and foremost goal of our conversations was to understand each other?
What if we went about our lives offering fewer answers and asking more questions?
What if we instead of looking for the flaws in others, we looked for the Spirit of God dwelling in others?
One of the most beautiful parts of the Pentecost story is that people were able to see—with their physical eyes—the Spirit of God in the form of fire resting on each person that was there. That, I believe, is a prophetic vision and a major revelation for us today: that the only way we will achieve unity in today’s hostile and divided world is to allow ourselves to see God in the other. No matter what “the other” may look or sound like.
Recognizing the Divine’s fingerprint in others allows us to bring their sacredness to the forefront. It can help us imagine what God might sound like in a different language, or what Wisdom might want to share with us through someone else’s story. It might even instill in us a desire to spend time getting to know a stranger, for we would know there is a part of God in them that we might not be able to see without proximity.
How different would our interactions be if every time we engaged someone, we realized we’re in the very presence of God?
AN ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY
After the last year we’ve endured, staying safely distanced from others, wearing face masks in public, and engaging the world remotely, we find ourselves facing what seems to be a once-in-our-lifetime opportunity: the chance to reconnect with others in an entirely different way, with an entirely different posture.
As restrictions and mandates are lifted in our cities, and as we keep engaging the world through social media, may we find ourselves intentionally moving toward the other, exchanging our impulse to cancel for an attitude of wonder, offering empathy instead of judgment. May we be bold enough to look for the Spirit of God resting in each and every one: the rich and the wretched, the friend and the enemy, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, loved ones and strangers.
Finally, may we honor the desire of Jesus, which rings truer than ever today: “May they be one even as we are one” (John 17:22).
The way forward is clear. The closer we move toward others, the closer we’ll be to experiencing unity—and ultimately, the nearer we’ll be to God.
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