Now that’s something!
I just returned from a 3-day retreat at Pacific City for a new initiative called Common Table. Sponsored by our partner Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and the Portland Leadership Foundation, 32 of us met to explore whether we, in the faith community, could present a unified face in the state of Oregon during this time of troubling divisiveness. We thought, “If a diverse bunch of people in the faith community could find ways to come together, treat each other with respect, and unite around some common goals then the rest of the community should be able to do the same.” It is no secret that in this divided nation some of that division has its origin in religious fervor and narrow agendas.
Attracting as much diversity to the proposed meeting was central to our goal. We were a diverse bunch of folks. Here is a snapshot of the diversity represented around the table:
- Mainline Protestant (including yours truly)
- Evangelical Protestant
- Native American
- Church of Latter Day Saints
- Welcoming Congregations (LGTBQ)
- Roman Catholic
- African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
- Young Life
- Religious Society of Friends
As you can see it was ecumenical (meaning many Christian voices), it was interfaith, and it crossed numerous spiritual traditions.
The goal was to see if we could come together around a common purpose, a shared agenda, a mutual mission. Wisely the organizers facilitated this around a “common table.” We shared many meals together, prayed, meditated, sang and walked on the magical beach just outside our conference room.
One evening we simply stopped. If our traditions had a way of reminding us of our differences and uniqueness the sunset reminded us that we all belong to the same earth and enjoy the same mystical connection. At 4: 52 p.m. we all stood together facing west and stared in awe as the sunset massaged our souls in unison.
I want to tell you that I went away feeling very hopeful. But don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we resolved everything or that we came up with a mission statement to which everyone could agree. No, I walked away hopeful because even in the places where we still had division and suspicion, we were able to say those things aloud to each other.
I was sharing this with a colleague shortly after my return and she said, “Wow. That sounds like you had created a safe space for people to be honest with each other. Now that’s something.” She was right. We didn’t resolve everything and go away singing “Kum Ba Ya,” but we did acknowledge that which still separated us and decided to stay at the table anyway.
I am hopeful.
I am hopeful because I have seen numerous protests across our country where division is the source of hurled insults and thrown rocks…
I am hopeful because a day does not go by where Republicans and Democrats don’t demonize each other and tear each other down…
I am hopeful because much of what I see in this time is rooted in hatred and fear…
I am hopeful because despite all the negativity that we have experienced, at this retreat faith leaders acknowledged that we still have work to do, we still have great differences, we still harbor lingering suspicions of each other…
…AND we sat at a common table anyway.
Now that’s something.