This past week, I decided to experiment with Facebook ads to promote our congregation’s Christmas Eve service.
Overall, the response I received was great. A single comment caught my attention, though, from a man saying he would like to talk with us about the “merits (or lack thereof) of our sign.” The sign he’s referring to is a banner we erected outside our building facing Thach Avenue that serves as a witness to passersby of what our religious values call us to believe regarding several positions that many consider controversial.
Now, this message from a stranger was rather mild compared to some other things that have been said about our congregation; I’ve seen people call us some pretty awful names. In every case, without speaking with a single person from our fellowship, some have decided that our sign probably doesn’t have merit, that the very expression of our values and beliefs are wrong-headed and easy to dismiss, that our beliefs are less valid than theirs.
If I’m honest, at first this angered me, but the more I thought about the comments and the people making them, the more I began to have compassion for them, to see through their eyes and recognize our common humanity.
The man who made the comment on our Christmas Eve ad had recently had a birthday fundraiser for an animal sanctuary in Tennessee that is near and dear to my heart. I was able to connect with his thought processes by recognizing our common humanity, our common desire to help senior rescue animals.
With the political situation in Washington growing more depressing by the day, it’s easy to fall into the trap of us-verses-them language, of blaming individuals or groups of people for all that is wrong with the world rather than focusing on the unjust systems that are fueling so much inequality and disparity. I fell into that trap, too; I judged someone as a "them" and failed, however briefly, to recognize their common humanity. I did the very thing I thought they were doing.
I’m convinced that what this world needs right now is a whole lot more compassion, to connect with others as unique people, part of "us" rather than as a "them," as outside me. Compassion doesn’t mean excusing beliefs or actions that bring pain to the world, but seeking to understand and extend kindness to others, even, maybe especially, when they behave in ways that are harmful and hurtful, giving them space and unconditional love so they can develop compassion of their own. It means recognizing that we’re all in this together and, in the words of a quote frequently attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
My resolution in 2020 is to bring more compassion into our community, especially to those with whom I have deep disagreement, and I will be engaging in a practice of empathy to see things through other people’s eyes. I am convinced that our current fractured way of engaging in controversial political, philosophical and religious topics is not sustainable, and the only way to bring healing to our world is through deep dialogue and understanding.
It’s understanding what Plato meant when he said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle,” because it’s easy to judge people from the safety of Facebook. It’s a lot harder to look them in the face and extend kindness to them.
Rev. Chris Rothbauer (they/them/their) is minister of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A native of Southern Indiana, they live in Auburn with their partner, a senior rescue beagle, and a spoiled rotten cat. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.