Two people are sitting in a room. Two brains are absorbing the world. Two minds are meeting.
A disagreement forms.
Two lived experiences are clashing. Two hearts are racing. Two egos are bubbling up.
In this space, there is tension. The rubber band of conflict is taut.
There are a few things we can do with this rubber band.
We can shrink it back down to relieve the tension. Change the subject. Look away. Pretend nobody said anything disagreeable.
We can launch it to relieve the tension. Usually at the person we disagree with. Attack their beliefs. Rip apart their argument. Insult their intelligence.
But there's a third option.
We can sit in the tension. And if we sit in the tension long enough, we might just find a little more truth than we had before we sat down.
At a conference on literature and literacy in Cyprus, Madeleine L'Engle was invited to teach delegates from underdeveloped and developing countries about the Christian artist.
The one thing that tied the attendees together was their Christian faith. A shared faith should bring people together, but as history shows us, the more similar we are to someone, the easier it is to find reasons they're wrong.
Yet, she found hope in a man named Jesse:
One of the most profoundly moving moments at Ayia Napa came for me when Jesse, a student from Zimbabwe, told me, “I am a good Seventh Day Adventist, but you have shown me God.” Jesse will continue to be a good Seventh Day Adventist as he returns to Africa to his family; I will struggle with my own way of belief; neither of us felt the need or desire to change the other’s Christian frame of reference. For that moment, at least, all our doors and windows were wide open; we were not carefully shutting out God’s purifying light in order to feel safe and secure; we were bathed in the same light that burned and yet did not consume the bush. We walked barefoot on holy ground.
Jesse shows us the third way to handle the rubber band. We sit. We listen. We feel the tension. And we let it illuminate our minds. We let it teach us.
We let the person we don't agree with teach us what we don't yet know.
This is beautiful precisely because it his hard. Refusing to react as you let another person's words rail against your understanding is unpleasant.
But when we let another person bathe us in their perception of reality, we not only respect them, we respect the truth.
Humility is baked into the act of listening because only people who have something to learn will listen for what they don't know.
The truth is not defensive. It is not self-righteous. It does not need to be justified. It just is. Patiently waiting for us to look its way.
When we sit in that fiery tension long enough, it just might burn away the things that are false. It just might purify both people until all we're left with is truth.
I am a good Christian...
I am a good Jew...
I am a good Muslim...
I am a good atheist...
I am a good agnostic...
I am a good person who does not believe what you believe...
...but what you have shown me is beautiful because what you have shown me rings true.
Common ground is where we find holy ground, and holy ground is where we see God.