Friday, January 17, 2014
E pluribus unum
Hawa. Pat. Sophath. Claudia. Wes. Yumino. Rahim. Paolo. Juan. Yvonne. Martha. Gary (not me!). All names of regular volunteers at Metro CareRing; most were there this morning. Muslim. Methodist. Mormon. Episcopalian. Buddhist. Catholic. Atheist. Jewish. Non-denominational. All represented in the volunteer corps. Vietnam veteran. College-aged intern. Recent immigrant. Gun rights activist. High school student. Gun control advocate. Retired. Between jobs. All working together to ensure that Denver's hungry left with bags full of healthy food.
I was especially attuned to notice this collection of folks this morning after spending much of the week reflecting on Eboo Patel's visit to Denver this week. Eboo, an Indian-born Muslim Oxford-trained sociologist with kids in Catholic schools in Chicago, is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit that seeks to "build a movement of people from all faiths and traditions who are working together to change the world". He spent all day meeting with students, faculty, staff and community members speaking about the various ways this possibility might be made real. In an address to the university community at noon on Tuesday*, one thing he said really stuck with me: "Diversity is a fact. Pluralism is an achievement."
In a meeting yesterday (Thursday) morning, I found myself in the unusual position of digging in my pockets to find some US currency. In response to a question from someone about "What is pluralism?" I thought that the ideal embodied in the slogan on our paper money and coinage would help illustrate the concept: "Out of many, one". While we are, in this country, engaged in a national debate about what that "one" might look like, given the "many", Eboo's assertion that "pluralism is an achievement" rings especially loudly. Creating the "one" demands effort.
And, then, this morning I was at Metro CareRing, looking around the table at the beginning of the day. And, as the day went along, I noticed the folks coming through the door, accessing the services. The FACT of Metro CareRing IS diversity! Staff, volunteers, guests -- all represent the amazing palate that is the population of Denver. But, together, we ACHIEVE something at Metro CareRing; it IS pluralistic. And it is so, because we all are engaged in common cause -- alleviating the problem of hunger in Denver -- and in our common engagement, we learn from, and about, one another. The cause is enough, and shared by all, that our diversity is not a reason for division, but rather a strength in our service to the community.
Diversity IS a fact. Our religious traditions recognize that and struggle to explain it. One account is found in the Q'uran: God has made us "into nations and tribes, that [we] might get to know one another" (49.13). The Genesis account of the Tower of Babel is another, less positive, attempt (Genesis 11.1-9). That story, however, finds hopeful resolution in many passages in Hebrew scriptures about all nations coming together. And the New Testament story of Pentecost is a hope-full account of the overcoming of division (Acts 2.1-11). Buddhists teach that each individual is a manifestation of ultimate truth. No one has privilege over another; all are enriched by each other. And it goes on . . . .
In my conversations with folks who heard Eboo, one sense was shared: inspiration. We were inspired to move beyond a simple recognition of diversity, to move beyond mere tolerance, to something more profound, more holy: to achieve pluralism.
* He also gave a public address on Tuesday evening at St. Andrew's Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch. That address can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPtpn4Hh6es