“United we stand, divided we fall.”
— Aesop (620 -560 B.C.)
Peace through Unity
Advent, a season of expectation and preparation.
Last week I asked you if you are prepared to answer questions about Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Thinking about these kind of challenges is good for us, when it comes to our own preparations for the Christmas season.
I’d like to challenge you today, to think about how we bring about peace through unity with our brothers and sisters in the world – unity with those who think differently to us.
1. the state or quality of being one; oneness
2. the act, state, or quality of forming a whole from separate parts
3. something whole or complete that is composed of separate parts
4. mutual agreement; harmony or concord
5. uniformity or constancy
the number or numeral one
a quantity assuming the value of one
the element of a set producing no change in a number following multiplication
7. the arrangement of the elements in a work of art in accordance with a single overall design or purpose
Generally, I think people find it really difficult not to be divided. In fact it seems to be an inately human trait to think in a ‘binary’ way. Where ever there is diversity we create ‘sides’. Can you think of an era, nation, religion, or culture in which the majority has not opposed otherness?
Politics is all about opposing the views of the other side – infact today, it seems that the job of politicians is more about disagreeing with anyone not in their party than it is about developing effective government.
Cultures; races; ideologies; poor; rich; natives verses foreigners all these are examples of binary thinking. People who want to save the world are ‘hippies’. People with less are common, people with more are ‘snobs’. It is so easy to be dualistic in our thinking – we don’t even realise we’re doing it.
This week I’ve read that the press are trying to start a ‘war’ between Princess Catherine and Meghan Markle – the Daily Mirror ‘People have already decided who they ‘like more’ out of Meghan and Catherine’… Meghan won’t have Catherine as a bridesmaid ….. ‘who is more stylish; Meghan or Catherine’.
In a similar way, religion spends a lot of time splitting into factions of disagreement. Even on the Baptist Ministers Collaboration Facebook group there are more disagreements that you would believe.
It is our constant need to divide ourselves into factions, to what what the other side have or to believe we are always right and they are always wrong that leads to hatred and ultimately war.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “But if we are to achieve unity in humanity today, then our loyalties need to transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. Instead, we need to be looking for ways of sharing what is good and true and wise, no matter where it comes from.”
It’s a principle that applies to every person and every community, but I’m going to use some examples which refer specifically to religions.
Richard Rohr – a catholic and Buddhist theologian who’s work I find incredibly helpful, talks about unity through something called the perennial philosophy. The perennial philosophy is an idea which recognizes that there are some constant themes, truths, and recurrences in all of the world religions. It is a complex idea and not universally agreed upon. But to me, it seems that it has some merit in helping us to explore how we can find unity amongst all of humanity.
Rather than being too concerned about everything good and right coming from ‘our’ religion, we release ourselves from the competitiveness when we can be open to anything, from anywhere, which genuinely points to God.
In discerning truth, our first question should not be, “Who said it? Did a Catholic, Methodist, or Hindu say it?” That should be of little concern. Of greater importance is, “Is it true?”
Back in the 13th C, Thomas Aquinas said that if it was true, it was always from the one Holy Spirit.
I’m not suggesting that all religions are the same, or that we should not be concerned about bringing people to the truth of God through Christ, of course not, but I think what this idea does is to stop us always thinking that ‘different’ is ‘bad’. Diversity of religion, race, culture, ideas brings a richness to life.
Many teachers have made the central, but often-missed, point that unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must first be maintained—and then overcome by the power of love! You must actually distinguish things and separate them before you can spiritually unite them.
Richar Rohr suggests we would do better if we had the faith of Jesus (open, humble, trusting toward God and reality) instead of simply having faith in Jesus which history has shown usually becomes competitive and sectarian.
For instance, in Matthew ch. 7 we read that Jesus invoked the Golden Rule:
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. It the same principle that he uses in the Greatest Commandment when he tells his disciples “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
This is a rule that is used by Christ in the Bible, but also in the sacred writings of several other world religions and is a principal shared by many people. Jesus may well have heard this idea from others before he instituted it for his disciples. But it doesn’t matter – Jesus understood the importance of the principle of loving others the way we love ourselves, and the way we are loved by God.
In his book Jesus and Buddha, New Testament theologian Marcus Borg highlights numerous sayings in the teachings of Jesus that are strikingly similar, if not identical, to the teachings of the Buddha who lived some six centuries earlier. There have been some attempts to explain these similarities through historical access, which is a remote possibility. Borg suggests a more meaningful view: that Jesus and the Buddha had both discovered the same spiritual goal and destiny, or I would say the one Holy Spirit that is guiding all of history. The Jewish Kabbalah, Muslim Sufism, and the teachings of the Tao also reveal a map toward non-dual consciousness and oneness.
Let me just share just a few of the parallel teachings Borg gathers in his book, and you will see how they are coming from the same non-dual perspective:
Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). The Buddha says, “Consider others as yourself” (Dhammapada 10.1).
Jesus says, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (Luke 6:29). Buddha says, “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires [to hurt him] and utter no evil words” (Majjhima Nikaya 21.6).
Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). Buddha says, “If you do not tend one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick” (Vinaya, Mahavagga 8.26.3).
Jesus and Buddha diagnose the human dilemma similarly. Our suffering is primarily based on ignorance. The vast majority of humanity lives in blindness about who we are and where we are going. Jesus and Buddha both speak about anxiety, attachment, grasping, craving, and self-absorption.
Unfortunately, Christianity became so concerned with making sure everybody believed that Jesus was God (faith inJesus) that we largely ignored his teachings on detachment, simplicity, nonviolence, and anxiety (the faith ofJesus). Our Buddhist brothers and sisters can help us remember these teachings at the core of our faith; they can help us be better, truer Christians. And we can help them, or at least give them very few reasons to dislike us!
On many levels, Jesus and Buddha talked about the same experience of transformation. In the end, all spirituality really is about transformation, dying before we die and being reborn as our True Selves in Love.
So as we prepare for Christmas, and remember the reason that the birth of this small baby was so important for the entire world, lets remember that God sent his Son not just to die, but to teach, to show, to inform and inspire us – to point to God, who is love. Jesus was born just like every other human child, the the story that we hear each Christmas time is about the extraodinary events around his birth, all of which point to the reality that he was and extraordinary baby, destined to be an extraordinary man. Learning to have the faith OF Jesus – a faith that looked for the Spirit of God in every circumstance helps us to know God. When we know God then we know He is the father of every person – the common source of love for all people of all religions. When we better know the source of our life then we are able to understand that life, faith, is not a competition. We don’t need to put anyone down, prove them wrong, or exclude them.
I have been drawn to the living heart of every spiritual tradition I have encountered. . . . What I found irresistible was the essential unity at the core of all that diversity; each faith tradition was singing the same song in a deliciously different voice: God is love. —Mirabai Starr
So, If we are looking for peace on earth, then we need to embody the idea that our loyalties must, as Martin Luther King Jr said ‘transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; we must develop a ‘world perspective’.
I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality.
— Martin Luther King, Jr
Jesus befriended and affirmed Samaritans, Roman citizens, pagans, and Syrophoenicians, which was shocking to many of his Jewish compatriots. But what’s even more shocking is that, in the name of this entirely inclusive Jewish man, Jesus, we created an exclusionary religion that ended up repeating what he condemned in his lifetime.