A Place to Know the Other

As I write this message there are less than 24 hours until the early results of the 2008 Presidential election are to be announced. We don’t know who is going to be elected whether to the Presidency or to a number of Senate seats around the country, or to the House seats that are suddenly being fought over even here in Arizona.

What we do know is that no matter what happens there are going to be people who are deeply disappointed in the result just as there will be people who believe that their long held beliefs are finally being vindicated. There was a report a few hours ago that emotions are already starting to spill over the top. A man in California has taken his flag and his gun and has shut down a major highway in San Diego as a protest about the direction he sees the country heading tomorrow. I’m praying that this will be a singular incident, but a number of folks I talk to are afraid it may not be. They are seeing people with deep and passionate beliefs who are feeling cheated and are lashing out against the “other” as a result. This blaming of the “other” for bad events has been happening in America for years and now because of the tension in a nation at war and in economic distress it threatens finally break out into widespread pandemic again.

What can we do in response? We are the followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Certainly there must be something that we can do.

Actually I think we’re already doing it. We’ve been doing it at the Cathedral for years. We are intentionally being a place that has a mission to be the crossroads of the city where people from all walks of life have a chance to encounter one another in the presence of God.

Yesterday for instance, there were more than one hundred people who came to a service for Dias de los Muertos/ All Souls. We gathered in Olney Hall to pray, to write the names of our family members who now sleep in Christ, and to witness to their memories. We followed the Cathedral cross and our mariachis around the block in a solemn yet joyful procession. And then we gathered in front of our special altar to pray. I was most struck by the voices of those who led the prayers. There was a woman from Texas who’s first big job in the Church was running a seminary in Honduras. There was a failed scientist from Pennsylvania. There was a bishop of the Indigenous people of Southern Mexico. There was a native arizonan who worked off-broadway and in investment banks. There was an Italian language teacher. There was a mexican-american day laborer. There were brown, red, black and white people, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, natives and immigrants all gathered together in prayer.

It was just another Sunday at the Cathedral. One service out of the five held yesterday. About twenty percent of the five hundred people or so who were in the building at one point or another yesterday. It’s a snapshot of our city and a glimpse of the diversity of our nation and world.

In uncertain times like this it’s easy to blame the other for whatever we’re afraid is happening in our community. The details of the identity of the “other” changes from year to year (the Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Blacks, the Indians, the Poor, the Gringos, the Rich…) but the act of blaming the “others” for our problems continues.

The thing is that it’s almost impossible to see the person that you kneel beside to receive Christ at the altar as the “other”. And as we kneel beside each other each Sunday, the rich tapestry of humanity that we are, we manage to catch hold of a new way of living with each other in which we see each other not as “other” but as friend. As neighbor.

I don’t expect many of you are particularly vulnerable to blaming “others” for whatever we believe is wrong in the world. But you may know people who are. Instead of arguing with them, maybe you could invite them to church with you some Sunday? Because we will always welcome the “other” into our midst. It’s the most proactive response that I can imagine. If we took it seriously and did it, we could begin to change the world.

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...