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January 18, 2008

What If?

Ron Rolheiser

What if we all were more consistent? What if we all had wider loyalties? What if we were slower to dismiss othersí ideas? What if we took seriously the biblical idea that Godís revelation comes mostly in what is strange and foreign to us? What if we all took to heart the idea that a little learning is a dangerous thing, that a little ideology is more dangerous still, and that other peoplesí passion for truth might be just as real as our own? What if we all remembered that a heresy is a truth nine-tenth spoken?

What if?

What if the pious were to become more liberal and the liberals were to become more pious? What if those who are involved in prayer groups were to become equally as involved within social action? What if those with a passion for social action were to become equally as obsessed with private prayer and private morality? What if the pious and the liberal were to become more understanding of each other?

What if liberals were to become as known for their humility, respect of others, and personal prudence as they are known for their social concern? What if conservatives were to define family values widely enough to include the welfare of the poor and of all races? What if Evangelicals were to get serious about justice and justice groups were to get serious about Jesus?

What if liberals were to draw more prudent boundaries even as they challenge others beyond rigidity? What if conservatives were suddenly to push for a greater risk and openness even as they defend the hard-won wisdom of tradition? What if both liberals and conservatives were able to do as Jesus did and bring out from their store the old as well as the new?

What if Pro-Life groups were also to become as known for their defense of the poor, ethnic minorities, the ecology, and the imprisoned? What if Pro-Choice groups were to champion, in the name of women, the most defenceless of all groups in the world, the unborn? What if both groups were to become renowned for the gentleness, their respect of others, and their willingness to sit down and calmly discuss anything? What if these two groups began to pray together?

What if both women and men were to adopt an attitude of sympathy towards each other, recognizing as Virginia Woolf says, that "life, for both of us, is arduous, difficult, and a perpetual struggle"? What if both men and women were more gentle, less cynical?

What if the church began to challenge people to enjoy sex even as it teaches non-negotiably the value of chastity? What if secular culture were to preach the value of chastity even as it challenges towards liberation from sexual repression? What if both, the church and the world, recognized the importance of what the other is saying regarding sexuality?

What if all the Christian churches would begin to focus on the things we share in common (a common God, a common Christ, a common scripture, a common creed, many fundamental dogmas, 2000 years of mostly-shared history) instead of upon the things that separate us? What if all churches would focus as much on who is living in charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, fidelity, gentleness, and chastity, as on who is dogmatically right?

What if all the people on spiritual quests who are agnostic about their churches were able to understand the importance of involvement in a concrete historical community? What if we all understood more clearly that only obedience and genuflection can save us from being slaves to the pride and wounds of our own egos? What if the churches were to become as known for their challenge to be free-thinking as they are for their challenge to obedience? What if both, the churches and the emerging non-ecclesial spiritualities, were to be more self-effacing, less righteous, less judgmental?

What if theologians were to become as renowned for their children's stories as they are for their attention to hermeneutics? What scriptural fundamentalists were to read the scriptural commentaries of Raymond Brown? What if liturgists were appreciated as much for their practical judgment as they are for their sense of the tradition and aesthetics? What if those who planned the liturgies in your parish understood basic human boredom and tiredness?

What if religious writers were genuinely as interested in bringing God's consolation and challenge to the world as they are in their own reputations? What if all columnists and editorial writers simply forgot about the labels of liberal and conservative for awhile and wrote up things as they appear on a given day?

What if we were all able to stretch our hearts in new ways to be open to a God and a truth that is forever beyond us? What if we all took more seriously the fact that God is ineffable and all of our language about God is, in se, inadequate?

Certainly we would all be more compassionate - and considerably easier to live with!