There’s much talk these days about the divisions in our country. “We are hopelessly divided,” is a common refrain. “It hasn’t been this bad since the Civil War.” Some people are even talking about another civil war—that’s how bad it seems to be.
A lot of evidence supports this assessment. The voting in the national election was very close everywhere (except, it seems, in California and New York). Families, communities, even churches are split; people are leaving, giving up, angry and ugly.
What can we do about all this hostility and suspicion?
Years ago, I was a student in the graduate school of Notre Dame University. I took a course in pastoral theology from Fr. Enda McDonagh, an Irish Catholic priest now 90 years old. Our semester theme was reconciliation, and his constant mantra was “Emphasize the things you have in common.”
That is good advice for all of us.
Chief among these “things in common” is sports.
Yes, I know we are all divided as to team loyalties. For me, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers (the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, to be clear) and the Kentucky Wildcats.
The latter offers a good illustration. When fans are allowed in Rupp Arena, 23,000 plus gather from all parts of the state. We are young and old, religious and secular, Democrat and Republican, progressive and liberal. In that arena you cannot tell who voted for Trump and who voted for Biden. We are all cheering for Big Blue; and it feels good, this unity, even when we lose.
Baseball, footfall, soccer, and NASCAR are the same. We buy a ticket, find our seat, forget other politics, and get carried away by the fun of it all. It is, if I might say, good for the soul—even the soul of the nation!
Music is another way, don’t you think?
Performances by Dolly Parton and Yitzhak Pearlman, Katy Perry and U2, Bruno Mars and Celine Dion, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the American Spiritual Ensemble—they all gather people from every walk of life and every political persuasion. Whether in a performance venue or in a dance club, the music carries us down a common road. Even in these COVID times music can make the difference, especially as we anticipate “Jingle Bells”, “White Christmas”, and “Messiah.”
Speaking of Christmas, why not Christmas?
It is the largest, most popular holiday in the world (if you include both its religious and secular extremes). It is a singing season, for sure, and a buying season, as well as a traveling season. These things we have in common. Like the nativity set itself: no text, just small objects reflecting the styles and materials of a thousand cultures brought together by a simple story of birth.
I remember so vividly my congregation in Owensboro, Kentucky. We gathered with family, friends, and strangers on Christmas Eve for a service of music and candlelight. There was little preaching and no collection, but we all held candles: the simple ritual of lifting high in a darkened space a thousand flickering flames of light. We felt the powerful centripetal force of things in common, and it drew us to God and to one another.
Then there is COVID itself.
In one sense, it is keeping us apart and thus nurturing our ideocentricities. But the testing and the treatments are pulling us out of our ideologies and into our common humanity. And the food: people giving food, distributing food, waiting in long lines to receive food—this also erodes the barriers of ideology and strengthens the bonds of compassion. When we are hungry, the food is good whether it is served by a person in red or a person in blue.
Which leads me to this: I live in a red state. I fly a blue flag in the political battles in our red state. But my heart is always stirred when here and there, large and small, I see the only flag that matters—the flag that is a little red, a little white, and a little blue, and a lot of all of us. One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
I rest my case.
See HERE for more commentaries by Dr. Moody