Thursday, March 10, 2005

Higher ground

As I mentioned in my previous post, the sex-ed discussions have provided our community with incredible opportunities—we've been given the opportunity to think more deeply about the many issues being raised, and to get clearer on what exactly we believe about tolerance, fairness, and justice. We have the opportunity to decide what kind of community we really want to live in, and how we want the many different faiths represented in our community to interact with our childrens' education.

Not all of us believe in God, but for those of us who do, that belief is often a primary force in determining perspectives on just about everything. It can be very difficult to separate a person's religious or spiritual beliefs from the more mundane aspects of life, because God is seen as a part of it all. Many of us believe that God is there when we are born, when we grow, when we learn and struggle, when we're happy and sad—many of us believe that God is there through everything we go through, and is as close to us as our breath. No relationship is more intimate, or more powerful in shaping who we are, and how we see the world.

And it can therefore be extremely difficult for any community to decide the right balance between respecting individual religious beliefs, and creating enough of a separation between them and our institutions to not infringe on the rights of others who believe differently.

Schools should not be in the business of telling any child what their religious beliefs should be. But, there are times, when the best scientific data available conflicts with specific religious how should schools handle that? We need to be sensitive to the many different beliefs in our community, and where possible, children should be given alternatives.

But the onus is not only on the schools, but also on religious people. I don't believe that my views about God should be given precedence over other peoples' views in a public institution. I can't limit myself to just thinking about my child, or the children of people who believe like me. As a member of any community, I have to also be concerned with people who aren't like me, and who don't think like me.

Regardless of whether God is seen as immanent or transcendant, the belief in God is about believing in a being higher than us, and more filled with all of the higher qualities of humanity—more love, more understanding, more forgiveness, more peacefulness. So those of us who see God as a reality are called to manifest more of those qualities, not less. We will never all agree on whether Jesus actually lived, or whether or not he's the messiah. The many faiths and denominations in our community will never agree on every aspect of theology.

Since we know we will never resolve all of our community's theological differences, we need to find a place where all people have the opportunity to come together, regardless of faith, denomination, or culture.

We need to find a common ground, and as Jim Wallis said "higher ground is always the common ground."

The place where we all have a chance to come together is through an absolute and unwaivering commitment to valuing every human being in our midst.

We can argue all day about sexual orientation—what its origins are, and whether or not gay people can change to straight. But regardless of what anyone believes about that, to view a human being only through the prism of sexuality, is to diminish that person based on one aspect of his or her existence. None of us are that small, and as a community, we can't be so small that we casually gloss over the reality of who our neighbors really are—and focus on nothing more than sexuality.

The belief in God invites us to a higher ground. Those of us who share that belief are asked to be bigger than squabbling with our neighbors. We're asked to listen more, learn more, and speak less. We're asked to connect more deeply with other people, and not to separate ourselves through the wall of judgment.

Judgment, closes doors.

We have a huge opportunity. Through learning about and discussing these issues, we have a chance to become a healthier, wiser, and stronger community.