Spiritual Life

To build true community, where do we need to get to know each other?

“I don’t WANT to get to know HIM!”

That angry outburst came from the mother of a white football player regarding a black teammate who had become a dear friend. Her son had been pleading with her, that once she got to know his friend she would welcome him home for dinner. She responded accordingly, much to her son’s dismay. The scene, as you may remember, is from the powerful film about race relations, “Remember the Titans.”

I think that exchange between mother and son is the key point of a magnificent motion picture. The tragic theme repeats time and again throughout the scenes, and reverberates even more tragically and far more broadly across our land to this day, much to our collective loss.

(Are you wondering how this topic is related to “spiritual life”? Please read on.)

“I don’t WANT to get to know him“ – No matter who exclaims it, this door of blind and blatant refusal slams shut in the face of hope for true community and compassion, much less liberty and justice for all.

Any room for conversation and understanding is cordoned off by the closed — and wedged shut — door of such refusal. Shuttered windows of unfounded fear and false assumptions hide any light of awareness and appreciation. Such a room could be my room or your room.

“I don’t want to get to KNOW her” focuses the spotlight on our local and national problem, for this is where it gets most real, literally face-to-face. This is where individuals must become persons, without prestige, pretense or power. Thus, getting to know someone may feel extremely risky, a threat to one’s sense of vulnerability or entitlement.

But how else are we going to get to know someone … if we don’t get to know them? If we don’t shake hands and say, “hello”? If we don’t share names and get acquainted? If we don’t share a meal together? If we don’t listen to each other’s stories? If we don’t learn and appreciate seeing the world through their eyes?

If you haven’t watched it already, my favorite football movie-documentary asks and answers these questions for those involved.

And what about the documentaries of our lives – our ball fields, our homes, schools, workplaces, streets, neighborhoods, and even (or especially) our churches – what are the scenes of our motion pictures? Where do we need to get to know each other in order to build true community?

Essential for community is loving-kindness, described in the sacred texts of all major world religions as the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Getting to know someone is an act of loving-kindness, a biblical fruit of the Spirit. Our spiritual lives, perhaps even our very lives, depend on our ability and willingness to get to know others whom we don’t yet know.

Getting to know each other exercises the highest and best spiritual life, and pays tribute to the One who truly knows each one of us.

Timothy J. Ledbetter, DMin, BCC is an American Baptist-endorsed professional chaplain and member of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricityherald.com.