- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday as I watched the conclusion of the popular TV series, The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, I was struck by the depth and intensity of the racial division in this country during the time of that trial back some 20 years ago, a condition that has perhaps even become worse in our own times fueled by fiery presidential election rhetoric with talk about building walls and guarding against people who are “different.”
America has become a “country divided,” everyone behind the locked gates of their own insulated camps- conservatives and progressives, Trump supporters and Bernie disciples, atheists and believers, citizens and foreigners, rich and poor, black and white. At times the camps are more like armed-fortresses and many times those who are “inside” the camp are quite convinced and certain that those outside have it wrong and those on the inside have it right, those on the outside deserve less and those on the inside deserve more.
Oddly enough, when it comes to race, although there is a “great divide” among us, the truth of the matter is that racial differences are essentially a social construct and not a scientific fact. Cutting edge DNA research has pretty clearly established the fact that all human beings are so close genetically that there is essentially only ONE race. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “ethnic purity” because every single ethnic group is a mixture of many past cultures and a combination of many different tribes of people.
I recently came across a wonderful story about a group of “European” missionaries who had traveled to Africa in order to convert the primitive, pagan tribes to the true Christian religion. One of the missionaries decided to play a little game with a group of native children by placing a bowl of fruit under a tree, challenging them to a race - whoever got to the tree first would win all the fruit in the bowl.
As the race began, instead of running to the goal, the children mysteriously all joined hands with one another and together gathered around the tree sharing the bowl of fruit. They simply had no idea of what it might mean to run against one another, no concept of how or why only one person would have it all while others looked on.
When I heard that story about those missionaries in Africa, I wondered who were primitive barbarians and who were the civilized people?
The African word for “I am” is ubuntu. Actually in the Zulu language there is no word for “I am,” the word ubuntu is best translated as:
I am because you are
Interestingly enough, when we look back over the ages to the times of our ancient ancestors, those people who we may pejoratively labeled as “primitive societies” were often far more civilized than we are in our contemporary society and maybe even far more “human.”
Priest and author, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:
Our primitive ancestors enjoyed an attitude about life that was invariably
tribal, cosmic and mystic.
They lived in an enchanted universe
where everything belonged including themselves.
Our problem today is that we think we are separated.
I am convinced that this “sense of belonging” is a far more advanced spiritual wisdom than the belief that “I am different” and that “the people in my camp are better and more correct than the people in yours.” Indeed, “our problem today is that we think we are separated.”
Race is a myth, separation is a myth, and yet so many of us live our lives believing in the delusion.
I am reminded of one of my favorite Zen wisdom sayings:
The true person is not anyone in particular,
But like the deep blue color of the limitless sky,
it is everyone – everyone in the world.