In the midst of a national election cycle, it is easy to forget this simple reality. We become enamored with national polls, seeking to find significance in big imposing numbers. Yet political meaning is as diverse as the geographic and social locations of the interpreters, and as specific as the individual voter’s community. We can distinguish not only between political parties, but describe differences between various members of the same party on issues important to us. Meaning and understanding are found in greater discernment not less.
Religion suffers from a similar simplification. While the practice of religion is local, the greater the distance we have from its lived reality, the more likely we believe collective statements.
Seeking meaning we see events— especially events in far off places like Cairo, Damascus, Kabul and Islamabad—through the lens of a universal or totalizing vision. Any sentence that begins “All Muslims, all Christians, all Jews, all Sikhs, all Jains, all Buddhists,” is no more likely to convey useful information than a sentence that begins “All Americans” or “all Chicagoans.”
“All Chicagoans live in Chicago” is no more useful a statement than “All those who live in Chicago are Chicagoans.” Neither is true, both are true.
My Bishop says, “I have learned to see through my ears.” I understand her to mean that listening to each other is the beginning of a spiritual wisdom that, instead of covering up difference, perceives the nuance of variation.
When freedom of speech, the cornerstone of liberty, is accompanied by the burden of listening with a discerning ear, real movement toward respect of each other can be achieved.
Grace and Peace.