April 13, 2012

A community of like-minded individuals

A pastor friend who I respect very much posted this.  It's a compelling question -- "Why can't I have a conversation with the religious right?" -- and one I have asked myself.

When I was first in college, I signed up for a program called the Saint Ignatius Institute.  Here's its description from the University of San Francisco web-site; it is much the same as it was when I was applying to the University over 25 years ago:

The St. Ignatius Institute (SII) is a Great Books program offering a curriculum founded in the Western intellectual tradition, focusing on texts in Philosophy, Literature, Classics, and Theology …. Students who complete the SII curriculum are awarded certificates with their diplomas. The SII curriculum largely replaces the University's Core Curriculum requirements with smaller, often seminar-style, courses on a variety of subjects in the Liberal Arts.… All SII courses incorporate primary sources as much as possible. The SII is an academically challenging course of study geared towards students who want a rigorous academic college experience while having the opportunity to live and study in a community of like-minded individuals.  (emphasis added)

What's not to like?  It seemed to me to be the ideal sort of curriculum and environment for a liberal arts major in search of a challenge.  In my 18 year old naivete, I missed the coded language:  a community of like-minded individuals.  It would be a gross understatement to say that I was not "like-minded."

I grew up in a post-Vatican II Catholic parish.  I call it the guitar-mass-and-felt-banner era.  It was all I knew of Catholicism.  SII was run by and filled with pre-Vatican II Catholics.  These were kids who went to daily mass and thought that singing was distracting from our purpose there.  Women were not generally welcomed either to read from the scriptures at mass or to minister communion; ideally, communion was only distributed by the priest.  Were they ever conservative -- politically, theologically, soup to nuts.

My first reaction was not to rebel, but to try to understand and fit in.  I may have been the only college freshman in history who went home for Christmas break more conservative than when I left home in the fall.

Spring came, and, one day, I was sitting in a required ethics class.  The professor took time out from his lecture to tell a couple of "jokes."  They are so offensive, I will not repeat them here.  Suffice it to say that they were vicious slurs against homosexuals.  In San Francisco.  In ethics class.  On a Catholic Christian campus.  I was horrified.  I feel the same feeling now, even as I write this.  I was trembling with anger and disbelief.  I was speechless.  And then, my ethics teacher had the gall to say, "I couldn't say that in some other class."  Meaning, that we were like-minded individuals.  I picked up my books and left the room.  I only returned for the final, and the next year I was done with SII.

Years later I encountered the thirty-something homeschool mom version of the Saint Ignatius Institute.  I tried again, for a time, to fit in, and again I experienced a now-familiar smug self-righteousness and narrow-minded, exclusionary ideology.  I'd finally learned my lesson.  This was not a group with whom I could ever engage in conversation.

We humans are prone to dividing the world into groups.  Liberal and conservative.  Capitalist and communist.  Black and white.  Christian and Muslim.  Greek and Jew.  Them and us. 

Then I build my ego-self by identifying with my particular groups.  Christian.  American. White.  Woman.  Stay-at-home mom.  Liberal.  It makes me feel good.  I belong.  And I get to be right, along with all my friends.  And I can feel smug and self-righteous in my narrow-minded exclusionary ideology.  I can.

Maybe "they" feel like they can't have a conversation with me.  Maybe "they" feel judged and labelled and dismissed, left out from among me and my like-minded friends.

We are not connecting.

My personal mission in Christ is to co-create a world of deep connection where we, together, can discover and live the truth in love, so I think a great deal about how that comes about.

I'm not sure that engagement with any group I can label will ever result in genuine communication. Deep and meaningful connection is soul to soul. When I have a real encounter, a Spirit encounter, with someone who believes even very differently than I do, I discover that our differences are less relevant than I'd thought. I discover that underneath politics or ideology is another human for whom Christ died who hurts and rejoices and loves. That is our common ground.
I have friends whose politics makes me cringe.  But our friendship isn't based on our politics.  We don't even have to avoid talking about it, because we can do so with mutual respect, built on a foundation of genuine love.  Without love, at the root, any argument, any philosophy or theology, is nothing but a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.

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