The older I get the more I realize how significant it is to learn how to say No to some things in order to say Yes to others. And especially to learn which are the more important things to push back against and push forward toward. Here are two strategies for doing this well.
Did you see this Coca Cola advertisement during the Super Bowl this year? It was definitely one of my favorites! "Coca Cola Border" tells the story of two soldiers from rival nations who are able to put aside their differences and, for the briefest of moments, see each other as individuals as they share an ice-cold bottle of Coke. Check it out. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-STkFCCrus]
The primary intent of the ad obviously is to promote Coke as a great tool to "open happiness" as the ending tag line says. Drink and share Coke to bring people together. I love the sentiment, even though I'm not a super Coke fan.
But the part of the ad that visually depicts the strongest message, in my opinion, is when the one soldier is trying to find a way to give an extra Coke bottle to his thirsty enemy without crossing the boundary between them. It appears that there's just no way to bridge this boundary without violating their national military and political rules and causing an international incident. Until the soldier, in a moment of creative desire to cross the gap, puts the bottle of Coke on the ground next to the boundary, takes his sword and redraws the line to encompass the Coke bottle within his enemy's territory. Mission accomplished. Cokes can now be enjoyed by both parties.
This powerful ad painfully reminds us how real life is filled with many boundaries that separate people, boundaries that keep people afraid of or wary of or angry with others and deprived of mutual blessings. These boundaries produce a kind of "I'm better than you" attitude or "You're not as good as me" belief or "You might contaminate me if I let you into my world" paradigm" or "I need to teach you what I know so you can be as spiritual and holy as I am" philosophy or "Giving to you might diminish me" fear. We draw lots of different kinds of boundaries to make sure the world is easy to define for us - there's an inside and an outside that helps us label people and behaviors and morals. It produces a check list religion so that we can chart our and other people's progress more easily, aids to making quick judgments about ourselves and others, ways to compartmentalize life so we can understand it more clearly. And so, as the ad depicts, by George, if some of your trash floats into my space, I'm obligated to hurl it right back at you where it belongs! I don't want your mess messing up my world!
But the sad truth is that living life by drawing clear lines in the sand separates us from others. It often keeps us from sharing what we have with others in life-giving ways. It denies our common humanity. We can end up spending our whole lives like these two soldiers, walking back and forth beside the boundary between each other, guarding our side and never even acknowledging the other person meaningfully. Their only identity to us is "enemy."
Until one person finally gets the courage to change the "rules." The soldier stops his marching because he's thirsty. He starts drinking his Coke. And then he feels the gaze of the enemy on him, looks up, and notices the expression of extreme thirst and desire on his counterpart's face. So he takes courageous action by finding a way to share what he's enjoying with the Other. How? By drawing new lines that include rather than exclude.
I'm reminded of the powerful poem by Edwin Markham: "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 that took him in."
True spirituality is about drawing circles of inclusion rather than exclusion. That was Jesus' approach, wasn't it? He courageously chose to confront the religious and political systems of his day by speaking and practicing a radical mission of inclusion into the Kingdom of God. Those who had been deemed "outsiders" (unholy sinners not worthy of equal life within the religious community; the poor and disadvantaged left behind by an empire of power and riches) Jesus deliberately encircled and blessed as special to God. Jesus redrew the lines, broke the accepted rules, turned the pyramid of righteousness upside down, and gave drinks of the water of Life to all who were thirsty.
Paul, the author of many of the books in the Christian testament, codified this radical theology by writing, "Messiah has erased the line that was used to designate insiders and outsiders and made us all one. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody." (Ephesians 2:14-15)
A new kind of humanity where we first and foremost embrace and acknowledge our common humanity with all others. And then we use our differences to enhance our experience of each other rather than to separate and divide.
So what are the lines and boundaries you tend to use to separate people from your acceptance? What labels for people who are different from you do you use to keep them at a safe distance? Do you have the courage to draw circles instead of lines, circles of inclusion rather than lines of separation?
Sadly, the "Coca Cola Border" ad ends once the soldiers have enjoyed a short Coke reprieve together by the soldiers redrawing the original lines and going on with life as usual. Jesus calls us to a higher standard of love than that. After all, once you've had a Coke together, you can't go back to the way it's always been! We must keep drawing the lines into bigger and bigger circles until everyone is included on the inside.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.