by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.
The world seems trapped in perpetual “us and them” warfare – caught in the habitual groupings of nationality, age, race, and culture that highlight individual differences, rather than similarities.
At an early age we learn to pick sides for spelling bees, relay, baseball, or math teams. In our desire to be with what’s familiar, we may become conditioned to look for and avoid what’s different – not simply in acquaintances but in activities, choice of food, travel. Such a tendency imposes on one’s natural leaning to love others and is a perspective that has negative implications for humanity as a whole.
The story of a Midwestern farmer defies that perspective. Every year, he won a blue ribbon for his corn at the state fair. A reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with neighbors. The reporter was surprised; the neighbors entered the same competition. The farmer explained that wind blows the pollen from field to field: “If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
What a life lesson! It points to solutions for every community and world problem and affirms that the welfare of everyone is bound up with the welfare of all. Further, it illustrates the effect of following Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourself (see Mark 12:31).
Recently, a report of the work of Heifer International caught my attention. This organization provides a continuing supply of food by giving families, rather than short-term provisions, an animal to raise – such as a lamb, heifer, or chicken. Even more compelling is the project’s “Passing on the Gift” aspect: Participants who receive a heifer, for example, agree to give a neighbor one of its calves, as well as the know-how to raise it. Each then experiences the joy of helping others while learning how to fulfill their own needs.
As a result, in places such as Tanzania, Christian and Muslim neighbors are, possibly for the first time, experiencing the wisdom and blessing of working together.
Individuals like that Midwestern corn farmer and Dan West (who founded Heifer International) saw the practicality of loving one’s neighbor, thereby debunking the “us and them” way of thinking. One seed, one heifer, at a time. “Us and them” strife is a call to prayer, which benefits society as a whole.
Prayer that strives to understand that God, Love itself, is the Father of all, will show each of us how to exercise love. Mary Baker Eddy wrote that working together isn’t always cooperation, but sometimes co-elbowing: “…seek alone the guidance of our common Father …,” and “…prove his faith by works, ethically, physically, and spiritually.” She added, “Remember that the first and last lesson of Christian Science is love, perfect love …,” and “that unity is divine might, giving to human power, peace” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 138).
It is possible with love and prayer to co-elbow in harmony and peace! Unity is divine might and gives peace. Prayer that acknowledges unity as a law of God aligns thought with His omnipotence and transforms discord into harmony. Acknowledging that we share the same divine source disarms dogma and tradition that would divide otherwise well-meaning people.
Events that expose tribal factions and the mass mistreatment of certain groups can alert our prayers to accept this truth. Recognizing that there is only one God unifies us in the understanding that we all have the same divine Parent. And when differing and conflicting opinions, in our families, communities, and churches appear, our prayers can affirm the spiritual fact of God as Love and the interconnectedness of His children everywhere.
Our viewpoint then changes to “we” instead of “us and them.” Loving our neighbor becomes more about what binds us rather than what separates us.