PASADENA, Calif. — Should I be eating crow? We’ll find out on Saturday (Dec. 15), when everything I’ve ever believed and preached from the pulpit of All Saints Episcopal Church will be put to the test.
For the congregation of All Saints, where I serve as rector, the test will be more extreme and dangerous. Our decision to host the convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council — the first time a Muslim group has held a national convention in a Christian church — will also challenge everything I wrote in my recent book, “8 Habits of Love.”
Our decision to host the MPAC convention has led to some of the most vile, mean-spirited emails I’ve ever read. We had no idea our decision would prompt this kind of response.
I’ve been arguing that we must embrace a courageous spirituality in which we are defined by grace and inclusion. My entire career has been based on explaining and promoting my belief in the core of goodness within every human being. Now, those very principles — ideas that I preach, daily habits I seek to live by — will be tested.
My dream was that by opening our inner sanctuary of love to all, we would be playing a small role in turning the human race into the human family. I wrote “8 Habits of Love” to help transform our society that’s based on fear into one that’s motivated by love. Are my dreams so ridiculous? Which of these habits will I cling to, and which will I encourage our Muslim guests to practice? Which habits will I try to get the hatemongers to take to heart?
To be sure, thousands of years of religious suspicion, intolerance and division cannot be erased overnight, or in the decision of one California church to open its doors to members of another faith. Still, I believe firmly in our ability to change. We can do it, but we have to be inspired to do it.
Too many people find themselves living amid a period of huge social change and failing to develop the new attitudes that the new situation demands. What we are seeing reflected in those fear-induced, hateful emails is a failure of nerve in the face of fears the writers cannot control.
Jesus and all the other founders of the world’s religions emphasized the importance of not sleepwalking through life — to stay awake, sane and hopeful when the world around us is changing. One way to wake up is to practice what I call the Habit of Stillness. Instead of perceiving ourselves as victims or heroes, we become learners when we are still. This is a habit I practice each day, especially when under great stress.
The Habits of Forgiveness and Compassion, too, are inextricably linked, and speak directly to the alarming situation we are in. In practicing forgiveness, we free ourselves from the shackles of bitterness. In practicing compassion, we affirm the goodness in everyone — and therefore the potential for healing. We can take concrete steps to integrate these habits into our lives. It is not so very hard: We need to start by envisioning and then accepting the need to change.
Communities too often devolve into gangs in which only those who toe the line are accepted. But true community is not about conformism; it tolerates and even celebrates divergent opinions and personalities. If I had the chance, that’s the one habit I would explain to the haters. In their fearful, defensive posture, they have misrepresented and misunderstood true community. At All Saints, we believe in a radically inclusive community in which everyone is welcome.
I have no doubt that God’s revolution is continuing. It is the revolution of compassion, overcoming, sacrifice and love. It is the end of the toxic narrative that too many of our religions have promulgated, that in order to become a part of my religion, you have to hate someone else in another religion or in another category. We can change that dynamic. We can make the decision to embrace the interconnectedness that binds us all, no matter what religion or race.
Now may be the time to embrace the Habit of Play, to remind ourselves of the joy and hope and trust we once felt as children. It’s time to not take ourselves so terribly seriously and remember that we all — whatever our faith — yearn to experience joy and love. It’s time to get started.
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