Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tolerant of Everything Except Intolerance

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not possibly born until they arrive.” ~ Anais Nin

My hope is to open you to the possibility that your life expands and deepens with EVERY encounter you have.

As the poet Rilke said:

I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.

Life is a circle and your life is a mandala that weaves around the world with your own unique design and patterns. There are other mandalas too with their own designs, each weaving in and out of the others. The circle has no beginning and no end, just infinite connections and elastic flexibility. It expands without losing its shape or strength. From where you stand in the circle you hold the hands of pioneers who came before you, and you stretch out to hold the hands of adventurers who come after you. With awareness and compassion, you embrace ever widening people and groups. Where once you stood in a circle of just family and friends, you now stand with lovers of life the world over. Where once you stood in a circle of fellow Methodists or Lutherans you now stand with spirit seekers from all denominations and religions and people of no faith, stretching to include all beings. With each new embrace, your world grows and you come to terms with some new aspect of yourself.

This is gospel, or good news – you are part of the family of all beings. When you recognize that any separation or division is an illusion then you are saved from your own ego. This salvation can happen today. You don’t need to wait. Don’t make excuses. The table is ready. Consider this an altar call to the table that includes all beings without exception. You have inclusiveness and unity built into your DNA, if only you would get beyond the fear. There is a way out of fear and into inner peace. You are ONE with all things and all beings, and your life is an adventure of holding hands with more and more things and beings in the great circle.

What does it mean to be inclusive?

Churches find many reasons to exclude people. A cowboy went to an up market church wearing jeans, ragged boots and a worn out old hat. As the cowboy took his seat, people moved away from him. No one welcomed him. As the cowboy was leaving the church, the minister approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask what would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored.

The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”

“I did,” replied the old cowboy. ”God told me that she didn’t have a clue what I should wear, seeing as she’d never been in this church.”

The good news is that you can wear what you want at C3. Come as you are, even if that includes pajamas and bed head. Be yourself and don’t apologize for it. However, being inclusive includes so much more than physical appearance.

We include people and groups often excluded from churches. We welcome gay and lesbian people, and families of all sorts of configurations. We welcome people of all religions, spiritual but not religious people, religious but not spiritual people, spiritual and religious people, neither religious nor spiritual people, and any other combination you can concoct. We welcome theists and atheists, democrats and republicans, progressive and pagans, believers and free thinkers. In fact we get beyond the labels that divide.

I love the words in the poem by Edward Markam-

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in.

Is your life circle expanding? Are you moving out over all the things of the world, creating circles that include rather than exclude? More people! More perspectives! More possibilities!

Jesus and Inclusion

The greatest inspiration I draw from the life of Jesus was his inclusiveness. One thing we hear a lot about Jesus life was that he ate often. He was even accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because he spent so much time at dinner parties. The most striking thing was that when he ate, he ate with all sorts of people. If he wasn’t eating with sinners and lepers and social outcasts, he was telling parables about parties that included homeless people and gentiles.

The choice of who you eat with is significant. It was even more significant in the first century. By inviting all sorts of people to a party, he wasn’t just being hospitable, he was challenging the very system that divided people. The party table he described would have put slaves alongside free people, Jews alongside Gentiles, and women alongside men. This was radical and transformative. Being inclusive is not just personally fulfilling. It is an act of radical activism. It challenges the status quo by revealing the limitations of the system.

Some churches talk about being inclusive. Anyone is welcome, but the aim is to convert or change people. The incredible thing about Jesus was that he didn’t invite diverse groups in so that he could change people. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the diversity. Here at C3, we say “Come as you are, and be yourself. We actually like you the way you are.” There is nothing to convert to. The message here is to be more yourself. If there is a challenge here it is the opposite of conversion. It is to remove the barriers to being fully and outrageously authentic. Your presence and authenticity will liberate the rest of us to be more of who we are. Whole communities of people who are at peace with themselves adds up to a huge dose of peace in the world. It makes a difference.

There was an edge to Jesus life. It is also the edge in being inclusive. Being inclusive sounds warm and fuzzy, but in reality it is deeply threatening to many people. We discovered this from the Fox News clip about C3. People wrote to me as if I was challenging their very right to life.

When asked how he created an exciting story, the spy novelist John LeCarre said, “You take one character, you take another character and you put them into collision, and the collision arrives because of how different they are. That’s how you begin to get the essence of drama. The cat sat on the mat is not a story; the cat sat on the dog’s mat is the beginning of a story.”

The choice to be inclusive is so often a choice to face criticism because you challenge the status quo and you challenge people’s securities. So we need to stand together, and non-defensively state the case for inclusion.

Tolerating Intolerance

Groucho Marx once sent a telegram to the exclusive Friar’s Club in Hollywood: “Please accept my resignation. I can’t belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”

We have a genuine clash here; a cat has sat on the dog’s mat. In order to speak an inclusive message, you inevitably exclude all perspectives that compromise inclusion. When you go public with an inclusive message, the question comes back like clockwork. Do you include a traditional Christian perspective? Do you include a message of exclusive truths, for example that God is the God of certain people and that Jesus died so that certain pre-elect people would go to heaven? Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that everyone is welcome here. No in the sense that I can’t encourage a belief system that compromises the value of inclusion.

So we have a hierarchy of values, don’t we? Most people value saving a human life over tolerance. In other words, if you have the ability to save a person from being murdered you do so, because this is more important than tolerating the murderer. Most people also value justice over tolerance. In other words, you believe the murderer should face consequences for their actions and this is more important that tolerating their actions.

These are extreme examples, but you see the point. Inclusion is a higher value than tolerance. So you might not tolerate any belief or system that compromises the value of inclusion. For me, inclusion, or unity within diversity is one of the highest values and it’s more important to me to stand by that message than to worry if I am offending people who have an exclusive theology.

There is room for many different churches. I support the existence of churches with exclusive theology. They serve a purpose for many people, and I do what I can to encourage them. But here at C3, we offer a different message and a different style of community. Viva la Difference without apology or defense.

The Difference

Yesterday I was driving locally with my two youngest children. We passed a church that had the word “Christian” on its sign. My son said to me, “What’s the difference between that church and ours? Is that church religious?” I tried to give an answer that was fit for a 10 year old.

I said to him, “Think of it like having friends at school. Imagine you were told you could only sit at a table with blue eyed kids. Or you could only sit with boys. You want to be able to sit with anyone and everyone. It’s a bit the same in churches. I want to be able to sit at a table with all sorts of people.”

C3 is a place where all sorts of people come together and part of the glue that unites us is inclusion. We share core values instead of traditional beliefs. We encourage wide ranging thinking and diverse programs, but draw the line at anything that compromises our core values. We include all sorts of perspectives but not intolerance. I will stand in the firing line for the sake of inclusive community. Will you stand with me?


For Further Reflection

Why do you think some people and groups are threatened by diversity?
Do you think that there is a hierarchy of values?
What are you intolerant about?
In what ways are you growing your circle of care and compassion?