The Oneness of All People

by Arthur W. Anderson

One regret that still bristles me is that I didn’t speak or write more forcefully about the oneness of all people—sinners, saints, butchers, ham operators, sailors, sea captains, farmers, drillers, receptionists, CEOs, doctors, plainclothesmen, peacemakers, al-Qaeda, preachers, tax cheats, contractors, lawyers, baseball players, rabbis, poets, criminals, et. al. You guessed it. The whole bunch!

Of course, this is an idiotic idea. Experience shows us that it won’t work. If someone in the car behind me honks at me for not making the turn fast enough, he’s a bully. If someone walks past with his chin up, he’s a snob. If a salesman won’t take no for an answer, he’s a bloodhound. Or if a student keeps flunking tests, he’s an ignoramus and must be ignored. We have our standards and when others don’t fit in our box, we judge them less than human. Or bring this up in the Christian church where we presumably love one another and care about each other. We are met with silence if we try to include those who are different or those we have already decided we don’t like. How quickly we come to the conclusion that half the world is made up of enemies whom we have to fight!

A few Sunday nights ago, Bernice and I were caught up watching a symphony with violinist Andre Reu, charismatic director, and his orchestra. It was a concert taped in Dublin. I thought it was exuberant. My wife thought he was sexy. It was a superb program! But it was something Reu said during the break that got to me. He said that music brings us together and he hoped that his music could help do that. After all, he said: “We are all brothers!”

We Christians have to hew out a trail in the forest. But will we? I came across a disturbing quote from Annie Dillard in a new book by Johann Christoph Arnold: “What a pity, that so hard on the heels of Christ, came the Christians” who promptly forgot Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 “so that they be one as we are one.” Arnold continued to remind us that throughout the centuries of faith, we have “spawned” innumerable divisions, done outrageous things to each other, and not least to people of other faiths.

Most mystifying and appalling, we can’t get along with our brothers and sisters in our Christian churches. Even in the battle for correct doctrine we turn against our brothers and sisters. I was conversing with a good friend from another denomination. I told him I missed him in our local ministerial meetings. If he had answered “They’re a bore!” I would have understood. But he said he could not agree with the theology of most of the others. Surprised, I wondered just where the disagreements were.

I understand, too, that when most churches talk about “brothers” they mean those who have committed themselves to Christ. This is rightfully so. But, then, what about the many people throughout the world who have not done so? They also live in the mix of humanity experiencing the same events, trends, the degradation of the poor, wars and rumors of war, ups and down of the economy, and unexpected natural disasters; people who have hopes, dreams, and wishes for their families and their friends—the same fears and worries!

Yes, Andre Reu, we need a music that will draw all people together in a new consciousness. We need a symphony that carries us across the great divide of fear, hate, misunderstanding, and the strategies of retaliation. Even our brothers and sisters outside the faith respond to the tenor of “faith, hope and love.” Never have world leaders had a challenge such as this. Finding that Strategy could well be the greatest adventure of all!

Locally, reaching out to strangers could exhilarate us—seeing them with a new pair of eyes, seeing them from within. I certainly need a new way of seeing the chap who is fixing my tire or the guy who plants himself next to me at the bench at the Mall where we wait for our wives. This reminds me of a summer morning in Minneapolis when I was called to teach at Minnehaha Academy. While walking down Marquette Avenue reveling in the sun, I was encountered by a man in everyday khaki, stumbling along. He stopped me and asked for a penny. I asked him what he could get for a penny. He had a good answer. If he got enough he could buy a sandwich. His Swedish dialect froze me. He sounded exactly like my father. All I could see was my dad in that plight! I emptied my pocket and gave him almost everything I had. Since then I’ve had to look at people like that in a new way—my father, my son, my brother.”

Taking the long look, I haven’t lost faith in humanity. And if I understand the Apostle Paul right, he hasn’t either. Take a second look at what he fairly shouts in Colossians 1: 19 “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ) and through him to reconcile to himself all things on earth or things in heaven by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” A promise on its way to fulfillment!