Monday, March 3, 2014

Stepping Over the Line

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” 
-- Henri J.M. Nouwen

During my community's weekly meetings, we have a time for individuals to voice concerns about the community, about the way things are being done, about how an individual feels about certain aspects of the community, etc. Last night, one of my housemates brought up the idea of holding ourselves to the same expectations we hold others to. The conversation was specifically about "profane" words, but the concept went so much farther than that. She mentioned that people in our community had come to her expressing their discomfort and even offense at a certain word she had casually been using. Once it was brought to her attention, she began to filter herself, acknowledging that the word offended others, and avoiding it. But she also brought up another idea. She wanted it to be known that now that she had been asked to filter this word, she also had the right to ask others to filter their words. And they should oblige if they have asked that of her. She expects people to hold themselves to the same standard they hold for her.

We have had similar discussions about words in this community. There are seven of us from seven different backgrounds and upbringings, trying to figure out how to love one another without conforming them to ourselves, trying to make space for each other to grow into our true selves and peel away the layers of lies and biases we have grown up with. While typical "curse words" may be offensive to some, they are a freedom for others who have no attachment to those words, who perhaps grew up hearing those words and use them as a form of self expression.

Words cannot be our dividing line, a boundary that creates the "other," ignoring our common desire to love God and love people even with all our baggage, all our scars, all our history. The seven of us are living in this house in order to learn how to better love God and love people, whatever that means. And while I would love to hold others to standards and expectations that would make my life a little easier, I cannot do that if I am not willing to hold those same expectations of myself.

When I wonder why my roommate can't love me better in the place I am at, I wonder, "Am I loving her as well as I could in the place she is at?"

When I want others to listen to me, to hear me, and to not argue or debate, I have to ask myself, "Am I listening as well as I can, without judgment, without argument, without debate? Am I listening in order to listen?"

When I want to be loved, unconditionally, without fear of judgment, I have to ask myself, "Am I loving unconditionally, without judging or making assumptions?"

So I guess it really comes back to that plank in my eye, the one that will always be there, because I will never be able to see a person or a situation clearly from every angle. I will always have my own biases, assumptions, judgments, and expected outcomes. I will never see clearly enough to judge correctly.

My solution to this is to cultivate silence within myself, to silence the voices of judgement and the desire to tell others they are wrong, the desire to tell others how they should be living. And to ask questions. My assumptions will never be correct. EVER. I need to ask questions in order to understand what others are thinking, feeling, and going through. That is where compassion arises. When I enter into the pain and history of the "other" --whether it is my housemate or someone I hardly know-- I am allowing space for compassion, for my own pain to arise and mingle with theirs, to join in mutual understanding that we are not better than one another, that I have nothing to bring against them, that I have nothing to offer but my broken self, that it is I who need their forgiveness for the assumptions and judgments I had already created in my heart and mind. I need to step over the lines I have already created, that have been created by my culture and my upbringing, in order to enter into dialogue with the "other," not to change them, but to realize I am them, and we are in this together.

 “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” 

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