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“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…”  (John 17:20-21)

“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…”  (John 17:20-21)

I have been wondering and praying about the tension that I see and experience between those of us who see ourselves as “I’s” and those of us who see ourselves as “Us’s”. As “I’s” we see ourselves as separate units operating in the environment entirely autonomously. As “Us’s” we see ourselves as nodes in an interconnected network of relationships.  This tension is evident in many places, including politics. Consider Margaret Thatcher’s famous “I” line, “there is no such thing as society.” [1] or Jack Layton’s final “Us” words to Canadians, “So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” [2]

The challenge is that we are both individuals (I’s) and social (‘us’s), biologically and neurologically. We are ‘both and’, not simply ‘or’s’. Did you know for example that to the brain, social pain activates the same areas as physical pain; a broken heart is the same as a broken ankle to the brain. We are a mixture of both Rene Descartes axiom, “I think therefore I am,”[3] and the Ubuntu Theology of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “I am because you are.” [4]I am, you are , we are, in short, wired for both self-interest (I) and the welfare of others (Us). [5]

So, what might we take from how our Gospel invites us to consider being one with Christ; “…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21 NRSV) I believe that Christ calls you and I to ‘us’ thinking here on earth, and that this is not an invitation to wait for all things to be reconciled in heaven when we die. I believe this is a call to action for us right now, here on earth.  This is a call for the ultimate “Us”. But, how do we be ‘one’ (US) when we are also wired to be autonomous (I)?

And an answer might be, again, more of a both and, rather than an ‘or’. I’ve just finished reading The Great Partnership; Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks (2011). In the introduction he writes; “[religion is] the space where self meets others and we relate as persons in a world of persons… That is where we meet God, … God is the soul of being in whose freedom we discover freedom, in whose love we discover love, in whose forgiveness we learn to forgive.” (Sacks p. 7)

I believe that we are choosing creatures. We can choose to make our decisions not simply for our own good, but for the good of all concerned. We can choose to honour ourselves both as I’s and as a network called ‘Us’. And sometimes, when the stakes are important enough, we can choose to give of ourselves to make it better for others, even to the point of dying ourselves that others may live. We are in the end a network of choosing creatures, operating in a much larger and even sacred network than we actually perceive on a daily basis.

And to dive a little deeper, did you hear that Rabbi Sacks says, “religion is the place…” (Sacks p. 7) And religion, especially monotheism in Sack’s view, is “the principled defeat of tragedy in the name of hope.” (Sacks p. 9) We are choosing creatures, operating in a huge and sacred network, and we can choose hope. And we can choose hope in ourselves and each other. And we can rattle, shake and change the network by choosing hope. In Sacks’ words, “there is only one thing capable of defeating tragedy that is the belief in God who in love sets [God’s] image on the human person thus endowing each of us with non-negotiable, unconditional dignity.” (Sacks p. 38)

I’d like to invite you to stand, and find a partner, ideally someone you do not know. Now, in a moment I’m going to invite you to look at your partner, for a few moments, and so for many of us, we may feel uncomfortable being looked at, and I invite you to move past that discomfort because, the real challenge is that I am going to ask you to look at each other and to reflect on this line; “I am because you are.”

I’d like to close with this thought. Many of us grew up in Christian religious cultures that were all about the I’s personal relationship with Christ. And there is some truth in that idea. But the real challenge in our lives, the vital shift is the choice to move from I to us. To see Christ, to see God not only in my encounters with the Divine, but to see the Divine in every single person that I see. That a vital relationship is in fact a personal relationship with each other. Knowing that we are each endowed with sacred non-negotiable, unconditional dignity.