Unity. It is a word that comes to the forefront in the midst of crisis. It is what is desired and reached for when people are faced with chaos and disrupted lives. On the best days, unity goes unnoticed. On the hardest of days, it seems easily obtained. In between, unity is elusive. One great consistency about unity is this:
Unity is fragile.
A quick look at Merriam-Webster’s definition of unity offers a simple perspective that unity is "the state of being in full agreement." However utopic that may be, Merriam-Webster’s full definition is much more reasonable. Unity is "the state of not being multiple, or a condition of harmony. Unity is the quality or state of being made one."
Unity is fragile because the ideals that we carry individually often collide with our desire and even efforts to be "united" with another. The ancient proverb comes to mind that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." That works as long as there is a common enemy. However; sooner or later, a deeper look at my "friend" may likely bring me to the realization that his differences are not easily aligned with mine. Those differences are almost always found in the arena of beliefs. In that moment, the idea of being in a condition of harmony gives way to the state of being in full agreement. As it does, unity dissipates.
In the last couple of weeks, there has been a specific reach to foster unity in our local community. Hundreds of people participated in gatherings, prayer meetings and marches to promote and support a spirit of unity. There raised a cry and a call — not in the face of the things that are happening in our nation, but a pre-emptive move before such things could find their way here. That cry? "We will work to foster trust and good faith in one another." There rose a determination to find harmony; that we could hold fast to our beliefs and while doing that, we could unite in the common understanding that the fear and hate that has arisen in other places has no place here. We declared, "Not here! Not now!"
How do you maintain that fragile unity? How do you stay alert and aware of the things that creep in to divide? The answer is found in maintaining three things: faith, hope and love. These things are found in Scripture and relate directly to the relationship we have with our Creator. Yet the gift of these three things is also found in how we live with and relate to one another.
Ironically, this editorial about unity was birthed out of questions put to me regarding a recent project sponsored by our local Chamber of Commerce. It was a project designed to promote unity that for some became a challenge to the unity they were looking to promote! The Chamber, in a determination to continue to foster unity, sought a way to inspire people to voice their hopes — for the future of their lives, for our community and even for the nation. They took an idea that was inspired by a tradition that occurs in Tibet, and they used the vehicle of that idea to create a way to share and spread hope. They purchased and provided "flags" — remnants of material upon which people could write down and share their hopes. These flags would then be displayed so that others around could read their expressions of hope, have a greater understanding of one another and, in the building of that hope, build greater faith in one another. In the building of that faith in one another, we could perhaps love each other a little more.
Unity is fragile.
As these steps were taken and reported, some of the information communicated created concern and unrest. People in the community know that I am a pastor and within just a few minutes of people reading their Wednesday newspaper, I received questions like … "What is the Chamber doing passing out ‘prayer flags’?" "Is this a Buddhist thing? I am not certain I can do a Buddhist thing. I am not Buddhist." In one action, the reach for unity in our community began to be met by a few with that which was earlier mentioned. "The state of harmony gives way to the state of not being in full agreement."
The irony is this: While the tradition in Tibet is to fly "prayer flags," the flags the Chamber offered were not prayer flags. They are not prayers offered to any god. They were scraps of beautifully colored material on which one could write his or her hopes for our future. For some, in that moment, the reach for unity ran the risk of trampling on their beliefs because the information wasn’t clear.
I wrote this editorial to offer this thought: Often the biggest danger to unity is in not having all of the information. You see a clip of a video without knowing the context of that which occurs in the moments before and after the clip. You hear a quote from a statement that has been truncated. Or you read part of a paragraph, and the words of one sentence stand out to you and cause you to miss the rest of the information that is communicated. Ideas are birthed. Opinions rise. Unity dissolves.
We cannot let that happen. Not here! Not now! We must work to protect unity. We are all not going to believe the same. Our ideals will differ. Yet we can remain united on the things we hold in common. We want our communities to be safe. We want our children to have freedom to live in a place where their lives are not in jeopardy when they leave the house. We want those who protect our citizens and enforce the laws to be able to serve in confidence and in wisdom. And we want to be in a place where we can have faith in one another, have hope in one another and love one another. We need to walk in unity.