As a theo-nerd, I’ve had to read Augustine’s Confessions seven times over the course of my higher education. If you count his other writings, too, he was assigned in about a dozen of the classes I took during my master’s alone. He wrote a LOT. Which means he said a lot of things. Because of all the things he said, there have been times where I thought he was awesome (Hey! there’s a saint who wasn’t always perfect!), times when I could have done without (oh my goodness, will you stop whining already?) and times when I decided that we weren’t speaking to each other (let’s just say I felt for Pelagius. And I tend to think women are okay.).
But regardless, there are some beautiful nuggets in his collection. One of them kept floating through my head last night as I watched the election proceedings–and the various reactions from friends on either side. At one point in the Confessions, Augustine has to deal with the death of a friend. During this time of turmoil and grief, uncertainty and trepidation, he celebrated his community who was bearing the pain together:
There were other joys to be found in my friends’ company which more powerfully captivated my mind–the charms of talking and laughing together and kindly giving way to each others’ wishes, reading well-written books together, sharing and delighting to honor one another, disagreeing occasionally but without rancor, as a person might disagree with himself, and lending more excitement by that rare disagreement to our much more frequent accord. We would teach and learn from each other, sadly missing any who were absent and blithely welcoming them when they returned. Such signs of friendship sprang from the hearts of friends who knew and loved and knew their love returned, signs to be read in smiles, worse, glances, and a thousand gracious gestures. So were sparks kindles and our minds fused inseparably, out of many becoming one.
Dude was lucky to have such a wonderful group. It seems like something that we’re seriously yearning for these days, though. People keep saying we’re at a peak, a stalemate, and things are just going to have to get better. But unless we learn to disagree without rancor, or learn to care about learning, or enjoy the company of those around us, I don’t know that it will. We need to teach and learn from each other. We need to recognize that the occasional disagreement, if handled properly and honestly taking the time to see where our opponents are coming from, can actually bring us closer to a solution. What’s wrong with being peers with one another? The individualist “I’ve got mine” sentiment in our nation, while one can argue is culturally ingrained, is tearing us apart at the seams. I’m not making a political statement here–I’m saying we’re failing to see the human in one another, the more we engage the way we have.
I’ve been telling people I’m grateful to have moved to the Midwest from Boston, even though my politics agree more with those in Boston than out here. But out here, your next door neighbor most likely disagrees with you. And the one next door to her might disagree with you both. Being in a swing state has been fascinating. But most of all, it’s forced me to look beyond the opinion and into the person. I’ve begun to try to live in a world like the one Augustine describes above. There’s something reassuring in knowing that those nearby care about you because you exist, not because of what you believe. And after last night, it’s time for our nation–and the world, in a different, though related way–to stand together, regardless of who you’ve supported for the last 21 months or so. Let’s become that community described above. We don’t always have to agree, but we better learn how to understand each other. Once the Other becomes Someone, he/she’s harder to demonize.
Idealistic? Sure. Worth it? I think so much more.