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Wider circles

Some of the communities I’ve been part of have been active forces for wonder and beauty and justice in this world. I think of where I worked after university, a non-profit whose mission has been to work on the root causes of poverty, homeless and addiction.

I’ve also been part of communities whose impact I question. Where I see people who have been brought together, and accidentally reinforced that they are right, at the exclusion of others. Or who have cultivated a sense of fear about What Else Is Out There, and focused on amplifying What’s In The Room.

It’s weird how that happens. We experience a sense of connection with others, not having an understanding of who is not there, and what voices we’re not hearing. We simply see the people in front of me. And so we create stories to help us relish who’s here, and preserve it.

I replay memories of summer camp — a glorious horde of enthusiastic, like-minded kids — and it gives me a sense of identity. Core memories are formed and stored here. I value it for what it taught me. And yet:

Actively and intentionally, a fear was grown in me. A fear of the other.

The other is The World.
The World is Secular.
The Secular World is not to be trusted.
They are the Lost.

I can’t even type these sentences without a sense of grossness and apology. I’m sorry I ever thought that. There is no Secular World. There is only the world we all share. There are no Lost people, “just lonely people” — and that’s all of us.

A community that tells itself the story that it alone is right and others are not — or worse, that others are dangerous — is an abusive community. It creates enemies. While it’s fine and good to have criteria for membership, it cannot come at the expense of others.

We are together in this, all of us.

To my dismay, that might that even mean communities who draw lines like that — even they, those people, those doing the othering — must not be seen as enemies. They must be included, encouraged, invited, to hear the stories of those they have othered. They must encounter the voices and stories of those they haven’t heard — and we, to hear theirs. They must be included. For all of us are one.

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
― Edwin Markham