A Terrifying Concept
I have always loathed this bumper sticker, for a while I couldn't put my finger on why. I actually enjoy talking with people of other faiths, or even those with no faith at all. I learn about people, our world, and myriad of other things by engaging my neighbors with a different take on things than I have. I have participated in interfaith dialogues, worship services and mission initiatives, I have read about and often researched religions different than my own including Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. In this effort, I have found things to admire and things that I am not comfortable in every religion I have read about. Each religion also has it's painful history as do those attempts to build atheistic societies. I continually find evidence that we are all good and bad mixed up, so why can't I just follow the herd, slap a sticker on my car and simply coexist?
The short answer is: I am a follower of Jesus Christ and that means coexistence is never enough. My problem with the sentiment behind coexistence is its passivity. Coexistence is an apathetic concept however you look at it, morally, politically, sociologically, and biologically. By apathetic I am using the concept as expressed by the 20th century Japanese Christian Theologian Kosuke Koyama. He describes apathy in relational terms as refusing to connect to the other. So when I coexist, I go about my day and walk right by you, ignore, avoid, or even hide from you. What happens to you is not my concern. It is the logical extension of the 20th century heresy "I'm Ok, you're Ok."
The Story of Jesus Christ is all about connecting to the other. God wanted to connect to the world, so God became incarnate in Jesus to live with, walk with, eat with, laugh with, cry with and ultimately suffer with and for humanity. Koyama will describe this idea of connecting as "passionate." Koyama will not limit this concept to mere enthusiasm, but take it to its biblical roots. To be passionate means specifically to love your neighbor enough to suffer for her, it means to risk pain for his well being.
To coexist literally means to simply exist alongside others. It is deaf to the call of Justice. In biblical terms love and justice are basically the same thing. So in the late 1930's lots of Christian Germans coexisted with their Jewish neighbors as they were rounded up in the middle of night, packed in boxcars, separated from their families, and taken away to die. Perhaps these people who embraced coexistence were not guilty of crimes that could be prosecuted in a court of law but they were devoid of love, which is even more terrifying.
The More Excellent Way
The only way will ever improve the quality of life in our communities is if we connect and engage with our neighbors. We will need to take interest in our neighbors. We will need to laugh with, cry with, walk with, eat with, have awkward moments with, and ultimately suffer with our neighbors who are radically different from us, religiously, ethnically, politically and culturally. We are to become incarnational in our communities and passionate about our neighbors they way the good Lord has done for us. We are called to be passionate toward our neighbor and that means relating with them, learning from them, sharing with them, and ultimately watching out for their well being as if it were our own. The biblical word for this is Love. It is both a virtue and a command. The more we are able love the healthier we will all be.
In biology there is the concept of symbiosis. This explains how separate organisms actually thrive and grow better when connected. Ecosystems with high degrees of symbiosis are more healthy, resilient, and thriving then where organisms simply coexist. So Christ's call to love is not only about improving the lives of others, by loving others we tend to our own well being.
The allure of coexistence and its sister concept "tolerance" is that it seems so easy. We will avoid pain by not bothering with the other and can salve our consciences that we are not causing the problems of the world. However our spiritual procrastination will only allow the the divisive elements of our contemporary way of life to continue to infest our families, communities, nation and world. In answer this problem Christ calls us to seek the narrow door and the harder road so that we can move beyond coexistence into compassion. Our spiritual journey will then follow the course set by Christ who came to bring love to the world.