Searching For Relevance
The Extreme Center
March 31, 2017
I would like to thank everyone who participated in our “Crossing Fences” program this past month. Over 100 people attended each of the conversational gatherings with both the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hargrove and Mr. Zai Alayan. And judging by the feedback I, and other staff members received, attendees were: grateful for the atmosphere in which the conversations were presented; appreciative for the listening and dialogue the evening agenda provided; as well as the new insights and understandings everyone received.
What seemed to be the most memorable “take-away” was when Zai spoke about coming to the United States at age four, knowing no English, fearful of escalators, and astounded that anyone could have fish swimming in their backyard pond, but most amazed by the neighbor, a Mr Hoolihan, who joyfully welcomed and embraced Zai in order that he might fully assimilate into life in this country. And none of us could leave our evening together without hearing our call to personally be a “Hoolihan” to others, rather than a “Hooligan!”
Given the success of these two evenings, we will again be “Crossing Fences!” next year!!!!
Why do I believe events like this are so important? Because, in a time of increasing segmentation and polarization — from where we live or go to school, to whom we “friend” or “unfriend” on Facebook — the church may be offering the greatest hope of promoting a safe space for dialogue between groups with divergent ideologies and sharp differences in opinion. When we look around on Sunday morning, we often assume there is little diversity. But, if you look deeper, there is no place of greater diversity in our country that gathers weekly, for the purpose of centering on values and ideals other than our own. Conservative, Progressive, Republican, Democrats, Ph.d., GED, White Collar, Blue Collar, Buckeye, Gator, Nittany Lion, Bostonian, and Conch, all in one place seeking that which we hold dear and in common. And in that time, we reaffirm our commitment to be God’s beloved community — bearing witness to the world of how we can rise above our differences in order that we might unite around our shared, human needs and interests.
Traveling to many parts of the world, my greatest discovery has been how much people of every land and nation, have in common. Whether in Europe, the Middle East, South Africa or South America, people just want enough food to get through the day, a roof over their heads, safety for their children, and meaningful labor. The challenge being, how we accomplish this with, not over or despite, one another.” Most of what separates us is of human creation, not God’s, for “God so loved . . . the world . . . “ not just me, you, or a narrow definition of . . . us!
Honestly, I don’t know how to make this happen, it’s such a big question. I just know that it must, and we can never give up! If nothing more, the church can work to create and promote a safe setting for respectful sharing and caring can take place.
Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in the midst of them” and that will reveal, “the way and the truth, that brings life.” In other words, we each view life from our individual perspectives, while the full picture lies somewhere between us. And it is toward the “Extreme Center” that our commitment to truth in faith should lead us as we are called to lean and to labor toward Christ’s vision of peace and well-being for all God’s children on earth.
May it be so, lest the cracks in our culture break up the very foundations of our future!
Rev. Dr. Keith A. Haemmelmann