Grounded to Transcend the Toxic Narrative of 'Otherness'

The attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris sent waves of anxiety along the global fault lines of fear, activating the saber rattling rhetoric that has become as familiar as it is counterproductive. Tarring over a billion Muslims with the same brush as the barbaric terrorists who have hijacked Islam to misuse as a weapon of mass destruction and victimizing the refugees who have fled from the very carnage we witnessed on the round-the-clock news reports does nothing to solve the challenges we face and everything to diminish us as a human family.

And so it is impossible to overstate with what gratitude I head these words from the pulpit at my church -- All Saints Church in Pasadena -- on Sunday, November 15 : "We will not allow these terrorist acts to make us less human or compassionate because that is terrorism's goal: to turn us all into terrorists. Instead we will overcome the narrative of nihilism with respect for the dignity of every single human being. And we will gather to be reminded not to forget that we belong to each other."

But how? How do we do that? Where do we start?

I started by going home from church and curling up on the couch with these words from Diana Butler Bass's newest book, Grounded:

Hospitality is the spiritual practice that saves tribes from tribalism, allowing them to open their gates and widen the boundaries of their neighborhood to include those who happen to wander by. Thus begins a long struggle within religion about neighborhood. Does God bless only our tribe, or does welcome all people into the tent?

To live beyond walls of fear, especially those constructed on foundations of divine approval, is to assure a future of global uncertainty and violence. The world can no longer afford tribes intent on purity who believe God blesses only them; the world is longing for tribes that place hospitality front and center of spiritual practice and work to bless others on their way.

One of the subtitles of Grounded is "A Spiritual Revolution" -- a revolution rejecting the "distant God of conventional religion" for "a more intimate sense of the sacred that is with us in the world." This shift, from a vertical understanding of God to a God found on the horizons of nature and human community, Butler Bass argues, is at the heart of a spiritual revolution that surrounds us: one that is challenging not only religious institutions but political and social ones as well.

In just a few short days, liturgical Christians will start the church year over again with the season of Advent: a season of reflection and preparation to receive once again the Good News of God's inclusive love made manifest in the birth of a new baby lying in a manger. "The spiritual revolution," writes Butler Bass "is an invitation to new birth; especially for religion...It is time for the church to wake up. There is nothing worse than sleeping through a revolution."

And so part of my preparation this Advent will be to continue to listen to the wisdom and challenge I am finding in Grounded. Wisdom as ancient as the earth itself -- which poet and philosopher John O' Donohue insisted "holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God." And challenge in the fact that whatever our tribe, language, creed or customs we are all grounded in the same soil -- soil that is in its complex web of interconnectedness an "outward and visible sign" of the inward and spiritual grace of the interconnected web of all creation.

Grounded in that soil -- in that sacrament -- there is no "other:" and so we are liberated to rise to the challenge of overcoming the toxic narrative of "otherness" with a new narrative of respect for the dignity of every single human being.

And that is very good news for a world in desperate need of it.