Way back in 2004, just as the renovations to the interior of this beautiful building were finished, Simon Fraser University held a special convocation here at Christ Church Cathedral to grant honorary doctorates to Nobel Laureates, Professor Shirin Ebadi, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There are some fun stories about the Archbishop’s visit then and other times, but I for one will never forget hearing him say from this very spot; “We are all one. Black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, gay and so-called straight; we are all one.” I would dare to say that this concept of “we are all one” was fundamental to the theology of the Archbishop. Consider how he saw reconciliation through this lens in his book No Future Without Forgiveness. “To work for reconciliation is to want to realize God’s dream for humanity – when
we will know that we are indeed members of one family, bound together in a delicate network of interdependence.”
I infer a connection here to Martin Luther King’s amazing Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All [of us] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
(see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QN8ej4k2ilc)
I would be remiss if I didn’t note that every single human appears to descend from a common genetic “mother” who lived some 155,000 years ago. And the universe itself appears to be an inter- related web of connections, “composed of invisible hydrogen gas filaments ... that make up the majority of ordinary matter in the universe and trace the distribution of dark matter as well.”
Of course, it is this delicate network of interdependence or the inter-related structure of reality to which Paul is alluding when he writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1Cor 12:26) “We are all one. Black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, gay and so-called straight; we
are all one.”
We are all one. I get it. We are all members of Christ’s body. But, boy oh boy there are some members of Christ’s body that drive me bananas! I’m sure there are members of Christ’s body that are thinking right now, ‘if I’d known he’d be preaching I’d have gone golfing!’ We are all one, but boy oh boy there are some ‘one’s.’
So what are we to do? Whom are we to be? Is all this talk about one-ness just a touchy feely ideal? If everybody is part of the body of Christ (and I believe everybody is, regardless of their faith tradition or lack thereof), then, how do we honour ourselves as individuals, and find ways to seek and serve the divine in every other person? This is a fundamental question for each and every one of us; we are challenged by the differences we see in others within this inter-related web of mutuality. In short, what are we to do, who are we to be, if we simply don’t like another person? I have a few suggestions...
First, Paul is talking here about a conscious change. We have to make a choice to see each other as parts of the body of Christ. He says, “[f]or in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13) Our default is to be concerned with our own individual needs and wants; kind of like toddlers. But adulthood is about seeing the needs and wants of the ‘other’; not simply as important, but as if they were our own needs and wants. (Interestingly, there is a debate going back to the 1970’s at least that the second great commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself” might possibly be translated as “love your neighbour as if they were yourself.”
What would the world look like for me, if I treated everyone as if they were me. Especially if they were very different from me? How would I reply to emails differently? How would I write emails differently? How would I talk about other people in their absence, if I saw that the other person were, in effect, me? So a part of the answer to our question, how do we balance ourselves as individuals and find ways to seek and serve Christ in every other person, we need to make a conscious change in our world view, to consciously see that everyone else is part of the same body. That’s part of being an adult spiritually.
“We are all one. Black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, gay and so-called straight; we
are all one.”
Secondly, I want to echo Stuart’s sermon from last week, exploring the first part of this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Stuart had the choir sing, “God here among us, Light in the midst of us.” The spirit is here friends, and She manifests in different ways for each of us. Stuart spoke briefly about his former colleague Archbishop Tutu and said, “we all have a bit of Tutu within us.” I love that image of the Spirit; but I can imagine that others might not feel the resonance. I had a different, but no less powerful experience of the Spirit, just before Christmas when I had a cardiac event. Now as these things go, I got off very lightly, no stent, no bypass, just drugs and diet. And as worried as I knew my family and friends were, I was never worried.
God was with me. Both through the window I could see from my bed in hospital for 3 days, and for two days after I got home, an eagle came to check on me. She would perch for an hour or so, and then fly off, returning a few times each day. The Spirit was there, caring for me, caring for our worried family. So I invite you to think, how does the Spirit manifest for you? Maybe it’s a bit of Tutu, maybe its music, maybe its liturgy, maybe its nature, maybe its in the voice of a small child, maybe its in silence, maybe its an Eagle. Find it for yourself and honour that it will be different for another person, but no less powerful. There is Light in the midst of us, we’re just going to see it differently. That Light is calling us to grow in to the people God knows we can be, and not be concerned with trying to ‘correct’ other people on their experience of the Divine.
“We are all one. Black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, gay and so-called straight; we are all one.”
Thirdly, we all want to be seen, to be known. You may have seen the video posted about two security guards in a parking lot in Gastown a week or so ago. The video showed them taping a note that read, “no loitering” to a man who was sleeping in the parking lot. And I commend the young woman who shot the video for calling out a completely inappropriate way of communicating with another human being. And, I wonder why the two guards did that in the first place? Sure, we can judge them for their behaviour, but why did they do that in the first place? I have not had to wake up sleeping people very often here at the cathedral but I know that the building staff here do it every morning, and there is always a risk. When we are awakened we are startled, and so in some cases there is a verbal or even physical lashing out as a result of the startle. Waking people up everyday is not fun. So if we were to “see” the two guards as within the body of Christ, what might be different for us. Certainly taping a piece of paper is not the most effective alternative, but, might we at least see them in a different light; perhaps as two apprehensive people trying to solve a potentially challenging situation before them. And as importantly, if we see the sleeping person as part of the same body, why do they have to sleep in a parking lot? What is wrong with
our “network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny”? If everyone is the body of Christ, perhaps everyone should have a bed and a roof over their heads?! What do you and I do when we encounter a person who lives on the street? Sure we probably don’t tape a note to them, but how often do we ignore them? With all of the wealth in this city, why are some members of our body in such dire straits? And thank you to Maundy, thank you to 127 Housing, and what else might you and I be called to be and do around housing and poverty in this city if we actually saw each other as members of the same body.
To quote Dr. King again, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...” (ibid) So, let us see each other not as objects to be judged, but as human beings, trying to do the right thing, especially in these difficult times, to the best of our abilities. So, three things we can do to balance our individual needs and our care for each other, to know that we are all one. One, make a conscious choice to love each other as if they were you. Two, know that the Spirit loves each of us and She manifests differently to each of us. and third, to actually see each other, especially the people who are on the street, and working in difficult places and roles.
And for all of my words, this can be summed up by art. Last weekend we went to the Yoko Ono exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. It’s quite something. One of the fascinating sides of Ms. Ono’s work is her invitation to those of us viewing it, to not simply watch, but to participate. One of her 1996 works is called, “Cleaning Piece 3”. It’s a piece of paper with the following words typed:
Try to say nothing negative about anybody
a) for three days
b) for forty-five days
c) for three months
See what happens to your life.
So, here’s the challenge I’d like to leave you with; try to say nothing negative, about anybody (including yourself) for 3 days. And if that feels daunting, as it does to me, try to say nothing negative about anybody, including yourself, for the rest of today. See what happens with your life. See if you can discover for yourself that, “We are all one. Black, white, yellow, red, brown, male, female, gay and so-called straight; we are all one.”
Now let us live that.