Finding Unity – Can We Listen to our Neighbor’s Story?

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Every four years the United Methodist Church holds a General Conference with delegates from around the world. Because we are a global church, concerns which one part of the church sees as vital and needing immediate action, the other part resists. With viewpoints and ideologies entrenched, progress on resolving differences became impossible this year. A rule that would have set aside time for people to simply have table discussion around controversial issues was voted down. Eventually, a day or so later, our bishops called a halt to proceedings and set aside a two-hour period of prayer instead of doing battle over divisive legislation.

In many ways the arguments have mirrored the division in the US. One group is so certain they have the truth, they are unwilling to listen and even begin to understand the other. Neither is willing to view the issues from the other’s world view. We have been so convinced of our truth, we have no room to hear of another’s experience, even of God. We have stopped talking to each other, instead we talk about each other.

A wise woman once told of asking God to help her cope with a difficult person in her life. In a vision she was given to see that person’s soul as made of a beautiful crystal. When she began to look at the person, not as her great enemy, but through the lens God had given her to see him, the bitterness she had harbored fell away. Seeing the people we vehemently disagree with and have said harsh words about, through the eyes of God’s love can change a heart. I think that is why the writer of scripture told us “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. ” I John 4:20-21

The great issues of our day, both within Christianity and the world, will not be resolved by one group of people shouting at the other. We will not find common ground with others, until we allow ourselves to hear the stories of our neighbors. Only when we understand the painful realities of those we oppose, will we be able to look for solutions that meet the universal need for acceptance, love and compassion. I am by nature an optimist. I believe in the world of possibilities. I’m convinced that God is working in our world and in our lives, moving the mountains of resentment and perhaps greatest of all – distrust. I know this, because God continues to work in my life, urging me to listen and to hear the stories of my neighbors . . . Then to open my heart, just a little wider.

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