Yesterday morning, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Denver, during Adult Forum, I led a session entitled "From Stranger to Neighbor: How to Share Who I Am." This was my annual visit to St. Thomas for this particular series of teachings, focused on the practical, pragmatic "How to's" of getting beyond all the "-isms" that separate us to the place where we're comfortable with multiculturalism and being true neighbors to our sisters and brothers in the world.
The great commandment is to "love God and love our neighbors as ourselves." But how do we love our neighbors as ourselves when we don't know how to connect to our neighbors? I believe the first step of loving our neighbors begins with learning how to communicate our passions and core values, out of which we can then form deeper relationships.
"Namaste" is the Sanskrit greeting used in India and among many Buddhists and yoga practitioners to say, "The divine in me greets the divine in you." "Ubuntu," a Bantu word meaning "I in you and you in me," was the theme to the 2009 Episcopal General Convention, proclaiming that "I am because you are," proclaiming our profound interconnectedness.
As baptized Christians, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptisms. There is an indwelling of the Spirit which forms the most intimate part of ourselves, that part where we are connected to God, where we are holy and sanctified. Moving from Stranger to Neighbor is about the journey that moves us to connect the "me" that is holy and sanctified with the "you" that is holy and sanctified.
I was struck that the movie "Avatar" depicted the blue people known as the "Navi" using the phrase "I see you" to indicate the deep connection felt by the two main characters. I see you. I see you. What does it mean to see, really see, someone? The comments from the group yesterday included "I hear you," "I understand you," "I get you" and more. Being seen for who we really are, is there any affirmation that is better than that?
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori introduced the term "Radical Vulnerability" to the Executive Council at its October, 2009, meeting. Radical Vulnerability, I think, captures what I suggest as the first steps to connecting the holy and sanctified "me" with the holy and sanctified "you." Someone has to take the first step to share at the deepest, most personal levels. Someone has to be open to the vulnerability that entails. That someone may as well be me.
I acknowledge the importance of exchanging information about ourselves at the biographical, surface level: where we were born and grew up, our marital status and family makeup, our education and jobs, etc. But then, we need to plunge in deeper, to talk about what we think and how we feel about our stories, about what's happening in our lives today and about our hopes and dreams. We need to be willing to reveal and expose our thoughts and our emotions to one another in order to touch and connect at deeper, more intimate, and yes, more vulnerable levels.
I am not suggesting "true confessions" of the tabloid variety or dumping our psychological baggage on one another. Obviously, we must be judicious in what we share so that we don't hurt ourselves or lay a burden on the other person. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to go to a place of less guardedness, of more openness, of laying bare the part of ourselves where our humanity and our holiness as Children of a Loving God dwell, and sharing that part of ourselves with others. It is out of that depth of sharing that connection is formed. It is at that level of connection that we begin to see each other. That is where the divine in me sees the divine in you.
Here are four questions that I suggest to begin your meditations on the journey towards Radical Vulnerability:
- I want people to know this about me:____________________ because:____________________
- This is what makes me "me":____________________
- This is one of my hopes for my life: I hope that____________________
- This is one of my dreams in my life: I wish that____________________
If you would like an electronic copy of my two pages of handouts for this presentation, email me at LelandaLee@gmail.com, and I will gladly send it to you.