Whee! We! Wee! All the Way Home: Our True Home

Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost:

Give me understanding… (Psalm 119:33-42)
Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:15-20)

English singer and songwriter Dave Mason first found fame by founding the band Traffic with Steve Winwood. He may be best known for today’s song, though. “We Just Disagree” was released in 1977. The song is actually about no-fault divorce, and it reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Let’s try it.

Been away, haven’t seen you in a while.
How’ve you been?
Have you changed your style and do you think
That we’ve grown up differently?
Don’t seem the same
Seems you’ve lost your feel for me
So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye.
There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys.
There’s only you and me and we just disagree.
Ooo – ooo – ooohoo oh – oh – o-whoa

I was in third grade when I acquired my first enemy. Her name was Linda. She was a tall, lanky girl with long dark hair and, I noticed later, rather shifty eyes and a permanent scowl. I had no idea Linda was my enemy until one day in class the teacher called me to her desk at the front of the classroom. She told me I had been talking while she was out of the room. Wrongly accused I immediately burst into tears and denied the heinous allegation.

“I swear, I didn’t talk,” I tearfully told the teacher.

“Linda told me you did,” the teacher replied as if Linda’s word was the final authority on the matter. I was given a sharp reprimand in front of the class and sent back to my seat. On my way there, I remember seeing the self-satisfied smirk on Linda’s face.

I was in shock from the incident and, to this day, I haven’t the slightest idea why Linda was my enemy. I don’t recall talking to her or obviously offending her in anyway … but she was clearly my enemy from that day forward.

Years later, nothing much has changed. I still don’t quite understand why I have enemies. I’m always shocked to find out that I do.

Not because I’m such a wonderful person, but I’ve always tried my best to follow the kindergarten precept of “playing nice.” When people hold some sort of enmity toward me that’s not obviously earned, it puzzles me. How can someone, like Linda, hate me so much without even knowing me? I just didn’t understand!

I identify with the psalmist’s lament in today’s passage where he pleads for God to give him understanding.

“Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life. Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise. Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word.”

It seems that no matter what we do, we seem to accumulate enemies for some reason. But, we also often declare ourselves the enemy of someone else. Someone who we think has done us wrong. Someone we believe has slighted us. Someone we believe is working against us.

We have enemies – and we are someone’s enemy. But, the psalmist has the answer we seek – the understanding we long for – when we rely on the steadfast love of the Holy, we will know what to say, we will know how to answer any challenge. The key is: understanding that there ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy – there’s only you and me and we just disagree.

I’m going back to a place that’s far away.
How ’bout you?
Have you got a place to stay?
Why should I care?
When I’m just trying to get along
We were friends
But now it’s the end of our love song
So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye.
There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys.
There’s only you and me and we just disagree.
Ooo – ooo – ooohoo oh – oh – o-whoa

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us that “the basic work of peace is to create mutual understanding.”

In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, our world briefly came together in unity. We had a common enemy – terrorists. In the intervening years, however, we seem to have turned on each other. Our politics are more polarized than ever. If you listen to the politicians, there are definitely bad guys – there are definitely good guys, and this is not just a disagreement – this means war.

And so we’ve warred – in far off lands like Iraq and Afghanistan – but also here at home among each other. Republicans hate Democrats. Democrats hate Republicans. Independents hate everyone. No one can come to any agreement. If it’s a Democratic idea, the Republicans reject. If it’s a Republican idea, the Democrats reject it.

Religious folks are even worse. If the Evangelicals like it, the Catholics hate it. If the progressive Christians like it, the Evangelicals and the Catholics hate it. If the Buddhists like it, the Christians hate it. If the Hindus like it, the Buddhists hate it. And everyone hates the Muslims.

That terrible event ten years ago has galvanized brother against brother, sister against sister, clan against clan, tribe against tribe, nation against nation, party against party, and religion against religion.

We don’t understand one another anymore, and more than that – we don’t really want to understand each other. The world is divided into good guys and bad guys – and we’ll be happy to shed blood over this disagreement.

We have forgotten what we hold in common – our humanity. We have forgotten our true home – a place where there is no suffering, where there is no judgment, where there is no criticism, where there are no accusations, where we don’t blame others for creating our suffering.

This true home is found right here, right now, in our present lives. This is the only moment we have to reflect on our lives – and reflect on the lives of our enemies. Here, in this present moment, we can forget the slights and insults of the past. Here in the present moment we can seek to forgive our enemies, and seek the forgiveness of those who consider us their enemy. It is only in the present when no one has done us wrong in the future – or we have not done anyone else wrong in the future. The present moment is the only place for us to be home – and to understand that truly we have no enemies.

It can seem an impossible idea. “Of course we have enemies,” you might say. “They are at work right now, plotting our demise, using their present moment to obsess over how to get rid of us.”

And they may well be doing that in their present moment – but is that how you want to spend your present moment? Plotting to do away with others? Plotting to get your revenge? That may make this moment sweet – but when will you get a moment free to simply breathe and enjoy your life if you spending every moment plotting?

And you are you really plotting against anyway. Remember, we are all connected. As much as some of us might wish to simply be left alone – we are never alone. We are all made of the same stuff – the same dirt, the same air, the same sunshine, the same rain. This is what Thich Nhat Hahn calls “interbeing.”

“You are in me and I am in you,” he writes. “It’s silly to discriminate against each other. It is ignorance to discriminate, to think that you are superior to me or that I am superior to you. Safety and peace are not individual matters. If [another] person is not safe, you cannot be safe. If the other person is not happy, there is no way that you can be happy.”

That is why we must seek understanding – because it is only when we deeply understand the suffering of another person that we find our true home, and realize, there ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me and we just disagree.

So let’s leave it alone, ’cause we can’t see eye to eye.
There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys.
There’s only you and me and we just disagree.
Ooo – ooo – ooohoo oh – oh – o-whoa

An uneducated old man was visiting his children in the city for the first time in his life. One day, while being shown around the city, he heard the most awful sound and he knew at once he had to know what it was. He followed the racket until he found a boy in a house practicing on a violin.

Screech! Scrape! came the terribly off-key notes from the instrument.

His son told him that was a violin and the old man swore he never wanted to hear such a horrible thing again.

The next day as he wandered the streets he heard another sound, only this one was the sweetest melody he had ever heard. Even the birds of his mountain retreat would be rivaled by this sound. He insisted on finding its source and soon came upon a woman in her home – a maestro – performing a sonata on a violin.

At once, the man realized his mistake. The terrible sound he had heard the boy making was not the fault of the violin, nor even of the boy. It was just that the young man had not yet learned his instrument well.

The old man thought that it must be the same with religion. When we come across a religious enthusiast causing such strife with his beliefs, it is wrong to blame the religion. It’s just that the novice has not yet learned his religion well. When we meet a saint – a maestro of their religion – it is such a sweet encounter that it inspires us for many years – whatever their belief.

Breathe deeply.

Melissa Etheridge was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1961. She started playing guitar at the age of 8 and now has two Grammy awards and has sold 27-million albums worldwide. Our next song comes from her CD, Fearless Love. It’s called We are the Ones.

[Verse] We’re dreaming from the bottom of the well
We’re curled up in the corner of our cell
Freedom’s just a story that we tell
I say give me liberty or give me hell
I know life is just a song
If I can get the world to sing along,
Brothers and sisters

CHORUS We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we’re waiting for

In our Jesus story, we find our guy sitting around with his disciples discussing disagreements and how to handle them. He tells them that if disagreements occur, they need to go to the person and talk to them. If that person won’t listen – take others with you.

What Jesus is getting at here is that when we disagree – when there is strife between us – our first reaction should never be violence, or revenge.

Instead of spending our present moment plotting against one another when we feel slighted, the first thing we should seek is understanding.

But, what if we try, and we simply cannot reach a point of understanding? Perhaps the person you’re trying to understand has done incredibly terrible things. Perhaps the person you are trying to understand has raped or murdered someone. Certainly, we can regard these people as enemies – as outsiders.

Hahn tells the story of a girl raped by pirates in his book “Together We Are One.” He imagines the life of that pirate – raised in abject poverty, never learning to read, never learning the ways of the outside world. One day, someone comes to him and tells him he can get out of his miserable life with just one pirate job. While on the ship he sees the young woman being treated roughly by another pirate. He’s never learned about courting a woman or how to even treat one, so perhaps he believes this is how you treat a woman.

Does this excuse his crime? Certainly not. He still should be punished – but by looking deeper into this man’s history, hopefully we can find some shred of compassion for both him and the girl. They are both victims of their world – but both still deserving of love, compassion, and ultimately forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean we invite the pirate over for dinner. As Jesus tells his disciples, while we may come to understand why someone did something – it doesn’t mean we have to validate them. But, if we can come to an understanding right here, in this present moment, then that spirit of understanding and compassion is blessed by God.

Jesus also reminds us that we are not on our own in this. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” There is always a “wee-ness” to our seeking understanding. This is Jesus talking about our “interbeing.” We can certainly understand on our own – and experience the Holy on our own – but when we gather together and share that wisdom and understanding – it is multiplied and blesses even more people.

What Jesus is telling his disciples is this – stop waiting for a peacemaker. Don’t send a mediator when someone offends you. Don’t send a friend to smooth things over. Don’t wait for a leader to declare peace. You go – you talk to them – take others with you if you need to – but don’t wait for someone else to take the lead. We are the ones who must take action to begin reconciliation with those we perceive to be enemies.

We are the ones who must make the first move, even if we feel that we’ve been deeply wronged. We are the ones who must stop the cycle of violence. We are the ones who must first put out our hands in friendship, even if it is rejected. Stop waiting for other people to heal the world, Jesus tells his disciples. We are the ones that we’re waiting for.

Breathe deeply.

[Verse] There are differences we cannot hide
Yet we are all one spirit deep inside
Finding out our past has been denied
Now we can tell our story and start to question why
Climbing out from under fear
We’ll know what we’re doing here,
Brothers and sisters

CHORUS We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we’re waiting for

This is our true home, Jubilants, right here in this present moment when we can realize that we are all one spirit deep inside. It is only in the present moment that we can decide to climb out from under our fear and claim our true home.

But, what if our present moment is one of suffering, one of violence, one of fear, one of hatred and discrimination? In those moments we may feel angry, but it is in those moments that we need understanding the most. Those who create suffering and hatred are also victims – they are victims of fear. Instead of our scorn or hatred, they are in need of our compassion and our love.

It is only because we have known suffering that we can have compassion on those who suffer. It is only because we have known violence that we can have compassion on those touched by violence. It is only because we have known hatred that we can have compassion on those who hate. It is only because we have known discrimination that we can have compassion on those who discriminate. It is only because we have known fear that we can have compassion on those who generate fear.

This is our true home, Jubilants – not a place where we never know suffering, or violence, or fear, or hatred or discrimination – but a place where we can – in this present moment – seek understanding and cultivate a heart of compassion.

As Thich Nhat Hahn tells us, when we cultivate understanding and compassion “we know how to make use of the garbage in order to nourish the flowers and the vegetables.”

How would it change the way you lived if you truly believed you had no enemies? How would it change the way you lived if, during this time of remembering our great national tragedy, you tried to cultivate a heart of compassion toward those our nation perceives as enemies? How would it changed the way you lived if you stopped waiting for somebody else to do the hard work of peace, but you realized you’re the one the world is waiting for? How would it change the way you lived, Jubilants, if you found a way to transform the garbage of this world into the fragrant flowers of compassion and understanding?

Remember the old man and the violin? Well, here’s the rest of the story.

On his third day in the city, he heard a sound that surpassed even the beauty and purity of the maestro on her violin. It sounded more beautiful than the cascade of the mountain stream in spring, the autumn wind through forest groves, or the mountain birds singing after a heavy rain.

What sound do you think moved the old man in such a way? It was the sound of an orchestra playing a symphony.

What made it beautiful was that each person was a maestro of their instrument, and they had learned to play together in harmony – there were no enemies among the instruments – none superior to other or inferior to another – none holding grudges for past sour notes.

“May it be the same with religion,” the old man thought. “Let each of us learn through the lessons of life the soft heart of our beliefs. Let us each be a maestro of the love within our religion. Then, having learned our religion well, let us go further and learn how to play, like members of an orchestra, with other religions in harmony together.”

CHORUS We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we’re waiting for

Who built this pyramid, a hundred years ago
Cause we’re trapped inside a grid,
While they feed us what we need to know
The scientists keep telling me,
That we are all what we agree
So I agree to let you be,
Anyone you want to be

CHORUS We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we’re waiting for

[Bridge] Every stranger you see is a part of you,
Teaching we are the ones
We are all there is,
We are the all that is
We can get through this,
We are the ones
The ones that we’re waiting for
I feel you, You feel me

CHORUS We are the ones we are the ones we are the ones
The ones that we’re waiting for

Oh, Yeah!