How easy are you to live with? How often do you disagree with someone? Have you ever felt frustrated that some people’s views, opinions, lifestyles or values are very different to your own?
German philosopher, Schopenhauer, once said that human beings are like porcupines on a winter’s night. They draw close together only to find that in the process of unity they end up moving apart and hurting or needling each other.
Living together harmoniously is one of life’s great challenges. Ask a parent of a teenager or a teenager with a parent. Ask a mother with a two-year-old or the chairperson of a church council.
We humans are a complex and paradoxical bunch. We are made in the image of God, how glorious is that, and yet we are fragile and broken beings, with a tendency towards self-interest, the enemy of harmony. We may hold strong convictions about what is right and wrong; yet in doing so we can see our own view of the world with 20/20 vision while suffering from blind spots when trying to see another’s viewpoint.
Living in harmony means living in love and with truth. It is a prayerful pursuit, humbly recognising our need of the Spirit’s help and guidance. It requires a willingness to seek the wellbeing of others, while not surrendering the call of our conscience.
Seeking harmony means we do not demonise others or too quickly put others in the enemy camp. Equally, harmony means we do not settle for the lowest common denominators. We must never allow our search for harmony to allow injustice or stifle healthy debate. Healthy communities are not destroyed by the expression of strong differences of opinion as long as they are done respectfully.
Jesus was the greatest ever peacemaker and yet his words and deeds were violently opposed by some. During the Advent season I was appalled that some countries banned the use of the word ‘Christmas’ and made it illegal to give another a ‘Christmas present’. In Victoria, there were moves to ban nativity plays at schools and some argued that the singing of carols should only be allowed if the carol did not mention God or Jesus; the censoring of Christmas!
Harmony in my opinion is not about silencing the voices of others or banning religious practices. I was personally saddened that Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous has been taken to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal because he supports a traditional view of marriage. Social harmony must always include religious freedom as long as it does not insult or humiliate the views of others.
Democracy and harmony are built on mutual respect and the willingness to agree to disagree. To build a harmonious society we need to be truly inclusive of others, in the kinds of ways Jesus was. He opposed adultery, greed, hypocrisy and all forms of discrimination. He treated people with generous compassion and prayed and worked for the hope that one day ‘God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on Earth as it is in heaven’.
This is our prayer for the world.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA