We must seek common ground

August 29, 2012 

The Church of the Common Ground is an Episcopal Church that meets in a parking lot in downtown Atlanta. They met for awhile in a park but were continuously interrupted by the police who were charged with making sure the homeless were out of the park by a certain time each day.

The parking lot has proven to be a more hospitable place. The church is led by a priest the same as in any other Episcopal community and I have heard many good reports about the power of the worship in this small community of people who live such vulnerable lives on the streets of Atlanta.

This small group of folks are courageously creating sacred space in a downtown parking lot as they affirm the connection between all of us regardless of our class, gender, race or sexual orientation.

The realization of this truth and the courage to affirm it in our daily lives is our best chance of saving our planet. Our separation from one another continues to lead us into deeper levels of polarization and it will not save us. But seeking common ground will encourage us to work to understand one another better -- and when we have more knowledge of one another -- we do not have to be afraid of the differences that we might find in our neighbors and we can begin to have genuine compassion.

One of my friend’s who is a part of the Church of the Common Ground was sharing with me about some of its members who are ex-offenders and how difficult the cycle of their lives are for them to navigate. Many of them find themselves back in jail because they are not able to find employment and are mandated, in some cases, to make payments to their probation officers which they are unable to do since they are not working. Thus they skip their appointments with their probation officers and then they are in violation of the terms of their parole and are sent back to jail for parole violations. But in this case there is little that they could do about not having gainful employment in order to meet their obligations.

Since these brothers and sisters participate in the weekly worship services of the Common Ground community, they are no longer simply, the other or a statistic. They are seen as the human beings they are who have been created in the image of God and who deserve a chance to have a better life. I am very interested in thinking about what it would be like for us as a nation to truly search to see what can be done about trying to rehabiliate those who are sent to prison.

The less humane we are in our attitudes toward them and the time we spend being unwilling to explore our connection to the least of these, simply helps to continue the destructive and violent threads that we have allowed to become so powerful in our country. It has been said that if you really want to learn about a nation, visit its prisons.

The Church of the Common Ground has moved beyond the safe and secure walls of church houses and gone into the streets to build a community without physical walls with many of the folks who would not be very welcome in many of our churches on Sunday morning. The folks from jail, the unemployed homeless person, the mentally ill, the physically limited, the person of color and anyone else who ignites our personal and collective fears make up this church’s community.

All of us are presented with the challenge on a daily basis to affirm our connection with one another and to seek common ground instead of continuing to support the things that divide us. We can choose.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at kayma53@att.net.

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