Tolerance is precious. It comprises the atmosphere of human communities that thrive. Tolerance stems from and begets humility and hope.
It is not negative; neither does tolerance suspend thinking nor reduce values nor suppress “what one believes.”
Rather, tolerance energetically sets the stage for renewal. Tolerance surprises, refreshes and frees.
An example: my friend Judith was ordained into Christian ministry in the 1950s. She invited her favorite seminary professor to preach at her ordination.
Years later at his funeral, Judith learned that the professor had been conflicted about her invitation. She had not known that he believed women should not be ordained.
When she wondered aloud about why he had not refused her, a fellow seminarian explained: “I wondered why myself, so I asked him. He told me that if he had to choose between his opinion or Judith, he chose Judith.” The cherished professor exuded tolerance.
There is something about Judith’s story that is crucial to tolerance, and in two folds: a self-critical crease – the recognition of personal and group myopia; and a self-giving crease – the dignifying of difference between persons.
On these two folds hangs the whole tissue of human togetherness.
Fear tears togetherness. When we think to know for sure that someone else is terrible, ironically what we find terrible about that other person/group is what we fear in ourselves first – something we cannot or will not face within.
Consequently, we are conflicted inside and out.
Conflict is built into human reality at its base. We are very fond of thinking it isn’t. But it is. We are truly a bundle of nervous energy, both individually and communally. We can act lethally, and in a heartbeat.
Tolerance teaches us to recognize this about ourselves: what we think we know from on high is often fueled with energies of conflict from below. We need to be careful, and tolerance is a way to extend care.
Mid-19th century, Park Church members took their place in the Underground Railroad and thereby stepped onto the stage of history.
In the 21st century it happened again: the Park Church, UCC congregation opened itself and affirmed that all are children of the loving God – including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. The tie between the two? Active tolerance.
Tolerance breaks syndromes of narrowed vision and hard-heartedness.
The whole Earth – that jeweled orb that mesmerizes, hanging amidst deepest darkness with vibrant color and freshening energy – is not the whole Earth a sea of multiform life? Are not people of myriad colors, of unique backgrounds and of universal desires? Would we presume to judge what the Creator created in this entire diverse universe? Tolerance.
What could we hope to give us the grace to make it together on our oasis of diversity, hung solitary yet colorful in the infinite universe? Tolerance.
For tolerance promises to provide us an open, compassionate future with room in it for everyone.
Who could ask for anything more?
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