Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Unity


The Gathering of an Odd Concoction

On Unity

Feb 5, 2024

Blue Columbine

Brian Wilcox 'Blue Columbine'

We can have moments of unity with everyone, a global sense. Yet, to sustain this unity, we grow into it; we become it.

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The grace of unity in diversity appeared in my office one day when I served as a religion professor in the 1990s. It was my final year at the conservative Southern Baptist college. I had resigned due to pressures against me due to my so-called "liberal" beliefs ~ as defined by the ultra-conservatives who were in a "corporate takeover" of the religious sect.

I had invited two men to my office to encourage goodwill. Larry was a fellow professor and ultra-conservative Pentecostal. He practiced healing, speaking in tongues, and other charismatic gifts, as well as believing in the inerrancy of the Christian Bible. Larry had solid religious convictions but was kind and tolerant toward those who disagreed with him.

Stacy was a fundamentalist ministry student. He was a large young man with rosy cheeks, a black mustache, and blue overalls. He grew up in the Tennessee mountains and spoke with an accent common to his upbringing. Stacy was a trail-of-blood Baptist, believing the only true church was the Baptist. He was glad to argue Baptists have John the Baptist, the cousin and forerunner of Jesus, as their founder. If Jesus' blood were mentioned, he would become enthused and show it with a hearty "Amen!" He claimed the King James Version of the Holy Bible is the only perfect Word of God. He, too, spoke in unknown tongues.

There I was, esteemed to be liberal by many at this school in the Bible Belt. I questioned much about the Scripture, no longer seeing it as perfect or inspired directly by God. I had been schooled in biblical criticism that arose out of the rise of rationalism. The most significant influence on my studies was German biblical criticism in the mid-20th Century: names like Noth, Von Rad, and Eichrodt. To those representing my childhood faith, such names represented enemies of the "true faith." Even in my Ph.D. studies, years prior, I had been seen as the student willing to go beyond others in considering teaching opposed to those most other students would consider as possibly valid, as well as most in the sect. Other students would read such materials academically, but I would welcome such as potentially true.

I had come to embrace if God were the source of truth, there was no basis to fear it, regardless of what form it takes, regardless of popular or unpopular, traditional or nontraditional, orthodox or unorthodox, and, including, irrespective of whether it would lead to losing my professorship or service in the sect - both which did occur.

While others in the sect, including my religion department, took sides in the fight between the "fundamentalists" and the "moderates," I decided not to. For me, Jesus had become a sign of reconciliation, of unity, not warring over the Bible. Christlikeness was about love, not political in-fighting over religious differences.

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Sitting with Larry and Stacy was an embodiment of an idea I had not fully realized, but the heart confirmed to be valid, as well as my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus. One thing that attracted me to Jesus was his radical openness to welcome everyone and willingness to get in big trouble for doing so.

I shared in common some matters with Stacy and Larry. I believed in the validity of the Christian message, with its inherent differences among its adherents. I, like them, loved Jesus. Like them, I greatly respected the Christian Scripture, which now was exemplified in seeing the Bible more as sacred story, transcending fiction or nonfiction - I had come to see some of the shortcomings of the rationalistic treatment of Scripture. What I shared with Larry was welcome to those who differed with me. I did not share with Stacy the exclusive nature of much religion. At one time, Stacy proudly announced to me, and in public view of others on campus, "You're going to hell!"

I was a seeker and announcer of truth, as best I could discern it. My motives were, indeed, not all pure or always thoughtful regarding how I presented myself and my teaching. I could be insensitive to those who had not had the advantages I had of exposure to a wide array of ways to approach religion.

Hence, an odd concoction in this little office - a Baptist esteemed-liberal, a tongues-speaking Assemblies of God fundamentalist, and a fundamentalist, King James Version-only, tongues-speaking, Baptist-only mountain preacher.

The grace of what was happening is best indicated by what we did after our dialogue. We prayed together. I led with a quiet prayer. Stacy prayed second with loud pleading. He could have probably been heard all over the complex. Larry prayed last and was not quiet but less animated than Stacy. Our prayers reflected different personalities and beliefs. We said goodbye and never met together again, though I did meet with each one separately on other occasions.

After our prayer, it dawned upon me what a miracle had happened. I will never forget that holy experience. Recalling the prayer together brings warmth to my heart. There was a microcosm of the harmony Life wills for us in that small office.

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Larry and I continued as friends and spiritual partners. Stacy refused to tolerate me due to my beliefs. He never allowed himself to see past my beliefs. My pleading with him regarding the priority of Christlikeness over belief did not persuade him. I gave up trying to unite with him, for unity requires chosen participation. He heard a rumor of my converting to another Christian denomination and responded by affirming hell would be my destination. This was at least the second time he assigned me to the fiery flames, as though I should fear a hell I no longer believed in.

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A beauty of the earliest Christian communions was the ideal of equality that contrasted with the inequalities of the cultures in which they lived. To say the following was a radical socio-political statement -

There is neither Jew nor Greek [i.e., gentile, all non-Jews], there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.28, LEB)

That the churches did not fulfill this ideal nearly as well as possible cannot diminish the grandness of the experiment, the inspiration of the vision. Enemies, including those claiming to be Christians, are arising in strong opposition to our living in peace together.

The realization of this loving community can live in us. We can embody it. We embody it by realizing it within ourselves increasingly. For us, unity is not a destination; it remains a journey.

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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2024. Permission is given to use photographs and writings with credit given to the copyright owner.

*Brian's book is An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love. The book is a collection of poems Brian wrote based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.


Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Unity

©Brian Wilcox 2024