On the weekend before Election Day 2020, I decided to take a walk along the beach. After strolling for a while, I happened upon a message carefully etched in the sand. It simply read:
So struck was I by this creation that I snapped a photo, and I’ve been ruminating on the word one and some of its many meanings ever since. The definition of one on which I first reflected was,
“a single person or thing,”
which implies individual or solitary or alone. Having always been a bit of a loner by nature, this definition resonates with me. Given the choice, I would much prefer being by myself rather than in the company of others. Maybe that’s because the activities I enjoy the most are best experienced alone. Or perhaps my life circumstances during the last 20 years have simply caused me to grow accustomed to a more solitary existence. I won’t bore you with the details, but those life circumstances have often isolated me from the goings-on in the world around me; they’ve frequently limited my ability to engage with others. As I write, lyrics from a 1970’s song pop into my mind: One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know, and I realize that I’ve probably experienced more “alone time” than is beneficial or healthy.
Ironically, the definition of the word one that next came to my mind was,
“united, together, or as one.”
Strange that the same word can have two completely different meanings, isn’t it? In this context, the word one implies living with, and in harmony with, others. This vision of harmonious living, of unity, captivates me because it aligns perfectly with God’s own hope for this world:
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other… be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. ~1 Corinthians 1:10
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. ~Ephesians 4:2-3
God’s vision of a world united and at peace stands in stark contrast to the world as it presently is. Political, social and racial unrest seem the order of the day; dissension and violence are on the rise. The discord is palpable… upsetting… even frightening, at times. Like many of you, I long for an end to the unrest, dissension and violence that have become so much a part of our shared lives. Oh, that we might learn to live as one – united and together! But how?
I was one of those fortunate kids who grew up in a stable and loving home, a place where unity and peace reigned. Still, there were times when the harmony within our home was disrupted, most often by a kid who chose to test parental boundaries or argue with a sibling. It was at our kitchen table where peace was most often bartered, where unity was typically restored. On countless occasions, I arrived at that table determined to present my case; to prove I was in the right. I quite frequently left that same table having capitulated, either because I’d been persuaded that my position was not accurate, after all, or because I’d concluded that tranquility is more important than triumph. My favorite “kitchen table” tale took place when I was in 7th grade and decided to test my dad’s limits by donning bright blue press-on nails to accompany my baby blue eyeshadow and neon pink lip gloss. Such a look was the trend of the day, but my dad was never a lover of trends. -smile- As I descended into my chair to eat breakfast, my dad looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and gestured very pointedly toward the bathroom door. Although no words were spoken, I quickly ascertained from Dad's non-verbal cues that his limits had been surpassed… so I promptly washed my face and pulled off the press-ons! True, I could have challenged him but wisely chose not to, deciding that unity was far more vital that defending my style choices.
An important point about unity. Tony Evans once said: “Unity does not mean uniformity; it means oneness of purpose.” My parents never expected uniformity; never required that we conform to another’s beliefs, ideas or opinions at the expense of our own. But they did ask that we contribute to the construction of a home built on a foundation of love and consideration for others. Our unspoken, but shared, purpose was to create an environment where different points of view could be safely expressed and truly heard, where compromise could be civilly negotiated, where disagreements could be respectfully resolved, and where unity and peace could thrive. Granted, peace sometimes took a while to broker, which meant copious amounts of time spent at that kitchen table. But I’ll forever be grateful for the lessons learned there, and for the blessing of parents who loved us enough to prepare us for life in a world where unity and peace are often in short supply.
On the topic of unity and peace, a woman named Deidra Parks once said,
“I don’t want to create a mono-tone community, where I don’t ever get to stretch my thinking. Or my faith. Or my courage. I don’t want to go through life always sitting at the table, or going to the church, or living in the neighborhood where everyone’s story has been painted with the same-colored brush as mine. Peace doesn’t take the easy way out. What if peace is more about staying at the table – with people whose ideas are different from mine –long enough to find God, right in the middle of it all?”
Like Ms. Parks, I’d rather not move through life always assuming mine is the right way… the best way… the only way. To stay at the table with those who think differently than I might be the greatest gift I can give not only to myself, but also to those around me. Staying at the table demonstrates respect and regard for others; it broadens my thinking and helps to expand my perspective on the world; it builds character; it teaches me to confirm and articulate more succinctly what it is I believe; it creates an atmosphere where unity and peace can thrive.
God has much to say on the topic of unity and peace, about oneness with others. His Son, Jesus, warns us of the greatest danger associated with living in conflict or disharmony with our neighbors: Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand (Matthew 12:25). Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way: We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
Our country is fractured; that much is abundantly clear. No matter our political affiliation, our gender, our skin color, our sexual orientation, or our socioeconomic status, we will all be contributors to the future ahead of us.
What will your contribution look like?
For the sake of our own and future generations - in order that we might stand - we must learn to move forward together to restore this country and world. So, join me at the table, at that place where we can safely gather and work to find common ground. May we come with hearts humbled and minds wide open, contributing our gifts and talents to the accomplishment of one shared goal: the construction of a solid foundation on which we can stand, united and at peace. As we labor, may we find God, right in the middle of it all. To Him be the glory!