Growing up in the 1990’s, I learned a lot about tolerance. I recall it being the “word of the year” at my junior high school when I was in 7th grade. The lesson went something like this: If we can live with mutual tolerance for all our differences, life will be good. Violence will decrease. We can all flourish. Oh, those halcyon days of 1992.
Looking back now, I think that lesson is pretty lame.
The word tolerate is used often to describe the act of enduring pain. As in, how much can you tolerate before life gets unbearable? After the birth of my second son by C-section, a nurse asked me, “what’s your pain tolerance?” I paused, wondering how to answer, and my husband filled in the silence, “She’s tough as nails.” (Thanks, dear.)
Even if I may be a toughie when it comes to physical pain, I don’t want my approach to neighbors who are different than me coming from that place of toughness. I don’t wish to live anticipating hurt or injury. I don’t want to ponder how much difference between my neighbors I can survive before life gets unbearable. I want to nurture practices with and among my neighbors that bring us all to a healthier, more whole way of life.
I propose we let the tolerance talk subside in favor of other virtues. One such virtue or practice that comes to mind to replace tolerance is to abide. While there is a sense of the word that echoes the meaning of “tolerate,” to abide also means to dwell or reside or live with. To set up camp. To tabernacle awhile. To take off your shoes and coat. To stay for a drink.
To me, abiding with others means sharing life’s experiences. Dialogue, in the context of an abiding neighborly presence, would mean telling stories about things we all go through: birth, the death of loved ones, preparing food, making a home.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O, abide with me.
This is the first stanza of a well-loved Christian hymn in which the author asks Jesus to abide with him. Images for this text come from the biblical story of Christ appearing to his disciples along the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. It is probably my favorite story in the Bible. And in a way, it’s about dialoguing through differences. Two disciples walk along a road, mourning the violent death of Jesus. The Risen Christ appears, but the two do not recognize him. They walk together. They talk together. They eat, and when they break bread, they see their Lord.
Abide with me. What would it mean to make this kind of invitation to our neighbors? The evening is here; darkness deepens around us. Not of sky or star, but of hatred and fear. I believe we will need to abide together in order to see the light once again.
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Dialoguing Through Our Differences” at 10 a.m., Jan. 2 at Indaba Coffee, 1425 W Broadway. Larson Andrews is a panelist.
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