Over the last year, I’ve grown to appreciate social networking opportunities offered by web sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social networking has enabled me to connect with people who are not part of my day to day life, which has helped to broaden my sense of the world.
It’s been particularly interesting to reconnect with high school classmates and other people I’ve lost contact with over the last thirty years. While I often recognize the values and experiences which I shared with these people decades ago, I’m also struck at how life has taken us on very different paths and led us to very different places. Some of the people I’ve reconnected with have made sharp turns in the road, including people who were once conservative clergy in Christian denominations who are now socially liberal Buddhists. Other friends were once nominal Roman Catholics and are now staunch supporters of the pope, members of large evangelical churches or ministers in those churches. There are also friends who are staunch atheists and others who have disassociated from any type of religious or spiritual perspective. Some of my friends are members of Tea Party groups, the NRA, and, of course, a wide variety of liberal or progressive causes.
Of course, I, too, have changed. In my youth, I was much more conservative – much to the embarrassment of my mother and my own embarrassment today. In addition to valuing various Christian doctrines in a narrowly interpreted way, I also held several conservative social positions. For instance, most of my friends today would be surprised to know that I once held a pro-life, anti-choice position. In my youth, I believed that right was right and wrong was wrong – that shades of grey didn’t exist.
What causes us to change our views, perspectives, beliefs, and values over the course of life? Simply, the events of our lives and how we interpret them draws us to conclusions about our views, values, and beliefs.
Major turning points for me came in the early 1980’s. I began attending programs at a retreat center in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania called Kirkridge. Kirkridge is a retreat center where many contemporary Christian theologians have led programming on a wide variety of topics. There I met people like Carter Heywood, Daniel Barrigan, William Stringfellow, and Beverly Harrison. They introduced me to new ways of thinking and doing theology. As I heard them speak and read their books, what they were saying made much more sense to me than the theological categories from past millennia which I had struggled to understand during my years as a student. They spoke and wrote with clarity, purpose, and deep spiritual insight.
Around the same time, I was working as a hospital chaplain and met a person diagnosed with AIDS. The experience of working with people with AIDS, who were shunned, mistreated, and outcast by the very people who were to provide them with care, broke open my life and enabled me to experience deep compassion for those who are marginalized in the world.
I wonder what would have happened if I had never gone to Kirkridge? Or what if I was not the chaplain on call and met that patient with AIDS? But those events happened and led me on a course which brought change in my life.
It is the day-to-day events of our lives and how we respond to them that lead us along a path in life. That’s exactly what happened to Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus. He was off one day on a hike up a mountain, just walking along on his own way. On this hike, he became curious about a bush: it appeared to be on fire but wasn’t burning up. It was then he realized that the place he on which he stood was holy ground. So it is with each of us. We lead our lives and learn from the events of our lives. But at times we realize that the path we’ve traveled has brought us to a special, sacred place. It is holy ground.
Social networking allows us to reconnect with people who were a significant part of our past. But it also provides an opportunity for us to consider the twists, turns, and developments which have been part of the course of our lives.
This weekend, my high school classmates will gather for our 35th reunion in Johnstown, PA. I am not able to join them. After 35 years, I appreciate the people we have become and am happy to recognize that many of the values we share were forged during our time together in the early 1970’s. While we may express those values differently, there’s a great deal we share in common. On the occasion of our 35th reunion, I wish them nothing but the best life has to offer as we grow older and mellow like fine wine.
© 2010, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.