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Hope Amid Hatred

Our polarization and anger are signs of hopelessness. What can interfaith dialogue teach us about healing our wounds and coming together?

Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman, known collectively as the "Interfaith Amigos," have been learning and teaching together since 2001. They blog weekly for YES! Magazine.

Colorful Bird Houses, Photo by See-ming Lee

With the start of a new year, Pastor Don Mackenzie reminds us that the world is like a household, providing not only resources for living but also unconditional love regardless of our differences.

Photo by See-ming Lee

The beginning of a new year always becomes an invitation to think about what “starting over” might mean. We would all like to do that, like to feel a sense of renewal, re-creation, even forgiveness. We would like to find a way to get “unstuck,” to get moving again. The new year often feels like a door into that possibility.

But what do we want to move toward? Boredom reflects a sense that we are not moving. Our regrets often constitute a drag on forward movement.

Anxiety about what is coming is similar. When we began our blog a year ago, we wrote about setting sacred intentions—resolutions that help us to move toward a more inclusive, just, and loving world. That is what we want to move toward, but often we don’t have the words to describe it. We don’t have the resources to act on it. And without a certain hopefulness about moving forward, there can be no deep or shared sense of the desire for healing in our culture.

The shootings in Arizona last week are another example of the anger and frustration that is capturing the hearts and minds of more and more Americans. The polarization is frightening. It points toward hopelessness. Where is the opportunity in all this anger and hatred? What is the connection between the work of religion and the benefits of a democracy?

We in this country are deeply dedicated to the concepts of freedom. We speak of freedom, but usually only in terms of the desire for personal freedom. But I think it is important to ask, “Freedom for what purpose?” Unless we consider the fact that freedom can give us both the space and the resources to help ourselves grow spiritually (no matter what our spiritual path may be) and—using the consequences of that growth—contribute to the common good, freedom remains narcissistic.

Oikos, the root of the word ecumenical, refers to the idea of a household, a functioning system that seeks to care for and provide unconditional love and the basic resources for living to its members.

I think it is time to take the concept of democracy to the next level. I remember a conversation with David Korten when he reminded Ted Falcon, Jamal Rahman, and me that the English word “economics” has as its root the Greek word “oikos.” Oikos is also the root of the word ecumenical, a word used by Christians to suggest an ideal coming together of Christian churches. Oikos refers to the idea of a household, a functioning system that seeks to care for and provide (ideally) unconditional love for its members along with the basic resources for living.

Microphones photo by Rusty SheriffWords Matter: How Media Can Build Civility or Destroy It

We are one household in this country and it is time to give democracy the opportunity to have us help each other instead of hurt each other. In fact, we are one household in this world. Suffering in any part of the world actually affects each of us. We need to be defined by hopefulness instead of hopelessness.

That oikos sensibility comes from Deuteronomy 6:4—“Listen O Israel, the eternal is our God, the eternal is one.” It doesn’t say there is just one God. It says God is one—there is nothing else. We are all a part of the One. This was the basic frame of Jesus’ ministry. That sense of oneness does not mean that we should all be alike, nor that we should all think the same way. It means that there is a basic way of understanding experience that is rooted in that concept of being one household—oikos

Howard Zinn in his book A People’s History of the United States argued that, though we value the concept of democracy here in the United States, we do not yet have one. Oikos is a concept rooted in all major faith traditions and through interfaith dialogue and collaboration, it might have a chance to help with the suffering and injustice of this troubled world. One religion working alone cannot prevail.

Here’s one way to get started, a way to step through the door of opportunity that the new year provides. Begin each day with a prayer of thanksgiving. If our lives can be framed by an awareness of blessings, we can find the resources to cope with our curses. But if our lives are framed by our curses, we have no hope of finding our blessings. As a country and as a world, that is where we are now. This reality is a spiritual and psychological truth. But remember this too: Our curses, our difficulties, the things in our lives that are the cause of suffering and unhappiness, are also invitations to growth.

These two pieces of spirituality offer us the opportunity to be energized by gratitude rather than be destroyed by resentment. They point to hopefulness and lie behind the door marked “new year.”


Don Mackenzie bio pic

Pastor Don Mackenzie wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He retired in June of 2008 as Minister and Head of Staff of University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle. Previously, he served congregations in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Princeton, New Jersey.

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