Untying Our Differences  by the Rev. Peter Jenks

By Peter Jenks | Oct 11, 2017

Without a doubt we are living in a most divided time. People seem to be on one side or another of almost any issue. From politics to sports, geography, religion or opinion, on any given subject, even in areas of life where we might have once agreed, we are now divided.

But one thing I have discovered over the many years of being a parish priest is that everybody has a story, everybody has some baggage, and everyone has some sort of an exception to any label that might be attributed to them.  Also, living in an area where there are many retired people, I have found that one can never tell what someone once accomplished, where someone might have worked, or where someone might have lived, and most of all whom someone might know. The old saying that there is only seven degrees of separation between any two people often feels over stated.

Personally, I have lived in the South, Southwest, Upper Midwest and East Coasts of the United States. My experiences in these places have helped me to understand that if I don’t like people in one place, then I probably won’t like them in the next.  Some things, like using duct tape, are universal in all groups of people. Though there are regional differences in cuisine, manners, history and climate we all have a basic set of outlooks that overlap.  But nonetheless, we find it easy to label and assume things about others.  Whether they be Yankee fans, evangelicals, millennials or baby boomers, liberals, conservatives, gays, straight or some other ethnicity, it is easy to make grand sweeping generalizations. The news media and social media have especially used this to their financial gain. Linking like minded people together on Facebook and feeding them tidbits of information that they might like with advertising is very lucrative and effective.  The  news of the Russian influence in our recent election has exposed how all of us can be swayed and led on by a story on Facebook or Twitter, especially if it something that reinforces our stereotypes.  News programs slant their stories oftentimes to a perspective that will support many of their viewers already established opinions and leave out stories that might not fit such a world view.

The importance of faith, the urgent need for an engaged religion now is critical if we are to find a way beyond our social enclaves of limited perception. A religion that challenges us rather than simply consoling us can be the hope and framework for deep and profound growth in our lives. God seems to be opening up relationships never before imagined, as witnessed by a much more open and fluid relationship between denominations and even different religions. Faith and a religious discipline are what can lead our prayers from platitudes into the life changing and profound journeys of transformation. True prayer will cause us to be changed, to be affected by others, to think differently and to see issues from a much larger perspective. Gathering at church leads us to sit and pray with people who might differ with us in very fundamental ways, and in doing so we discover deep connections of possibility and appreciation.

Being cynical, critical and disbelieving is easy in an age when so many images and information can be manipulated and so much power and money is involved. But holding on to the tiller linked to a rudder of deep connection to something much larger than whatever crisis or distraction washes over us is important. Being able to hear something different, be surprised by the nuances in someone else’s story, or fascinated by the ability of others to adapt and persevere is a result of religiously living one’s life for a larger world than our own needs.

Serving at St. John’s has always been a privilege of wonder. I can never assume or really guess how people here will respond to any given circumstance.  I can always be surprised by what Sunday is full of people and when most people are gone, or who will volunteer for something, or who will stand in support of someone in need. In an age of division, I am exceptionally thankful for the subtle humor of God upending my presuppositions. In a time when the tide seems to lead people away from church with great gadgets and endless activities, it is the act of religion and and experience of faith that we need most to help us from becoming lost in our ever decreasing little worlds of limited interest and antagonistic division.


Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 11, 2017 18:23

I needed this sermon - article to reinforce my beliefs in the goodness of mankind. thank you Rev. Jenks. When I lived in Maine I attended the Federated Church with Rev. Roundy attending. We all interacted with other churches, marched together for charities and all with the spiritual guidance of our ministers. God Bless us all!

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Oct 11, 2017 09:43

Just what was needed to jumpstart my day!

This picture was taken yesterday by a Cuban friend of mine; Luis Miguel Campos Cardozo; who teaches tourism, Sunday School and is a strong man of faith. The rainbow reminds me of the diverse way God has made us and that we are ALL beautiful.
Luis Miguel Campos Cardoso's Profile Photo, Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

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