Communicate and Relate

A young rabbi found a serious problem in his new congregation. During the Friday service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition. Nothing the rabbi said or did moved toward solving the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue's 99-year-old founder. He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles. "So tell me," he pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?" "No," answered the old rabbi." Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers?" "No," answered the old rabbi. "Well," the young rabbi responded, "what we have is complete chaos! Half the people stand and shout, and the other half sit and scream." "Ah," said the old man, "that was the tradition."

The world would be such a wonderful place if only we all live together in harmony. But such is not our tale and story. There will always be division and conflict in us and in every community. There will always be contention and disagreement in us and in every family.

The presence of community does not mean the absence of disunity. Even the most Christian community can be afflicted by conflict. Perfection is not an attribute of a human world.

Jesus advises us what to do when we find ourselves in conflict with just one simple word: communicate and relate. Do not hold grudges. Do not brood over injuries. Do not nurse your resentment while you breathe out in silent fury. How many families have been divided because they held grudges against each other for so many years?

Communicate and relate. Never gossip. That which keeps us from our neighbor, keeps us from God. Or spread rumors. Robert Frost wrote, “Before I build a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out and to whom I was like to give offence.” No anonymous notes. Anonymous is already famous. Why still make him notorious? Have the courage to face what needs to be corrected. Have the grace to forgive what needs to be forgotten.

After all we are a community of wounded believers. How different that we pretend to be always right when we know that we can sometimes be wrong. How strange that we hide our wounds when we know we are all broken. How unfortunate that we find ourselves to be strangers when we are supposed to be friends.

Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow Christians whenever we correct or punish. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of the other person whenever we forgive or admonish. We cannot communicate and relate unless we exonerate and emancipate.

We have our own differences in the color of our skin, the shape and size of our bodies, the way we speak, think and feel. But when we look deeper into our own individual selves, we realize that we are all the same.

We are a community of believers. The prayer that Jesus taught us refers to God as our Father, not my Father. Every move we make affects our community. Every sin we break disturbs our community. Every reconciliation we initiate inspires our community.

Our relationships can never be freed from ugly hurts, painful disagreements and harmful failures. Jesus knew this is bound to happen and so he corrected our mistakes by communicating and relating. He communicated with his words: the two greatest commandments. He related to us in his action: his death on the cross.

If ever we have to correct each other and admonish one another, may it be done in a spirit of love, which is the fulfillment of the law. We can never go wrong. Because with Jesus, love was and is his biggest motivation. Through Jesus, love was and is his challenging invitation. And for Jesus, love was and is his constant tradition.

4 September 2011

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