We are a culture, if not a world, constantly torn by binary (either this or that) thinking. Just listening for the we/they or us/them language is one way to check for binary thinking. Binary thinking has the immediate capacity to make a lot of folks feel safer. It implies that there is a clear line demarcating something, and that taking a side or taking a position clarifies what was heretofore fuzzy or unclear. I watched students struggle recently with an ethnicity question on a school mandated student-survey. It wasn’t that there were only two choices of ethnicity. It was the simplistic notion that every student would be either one ethnicity or another. “What am I supposed to mark?” asked a student whose family I knew to be multi-racial. In fact, almost none of us is ever made up of just one ethnicity.
Binary thinking walks right into our Unitarian Universalist meeting houses as well. The latest copy of the UU World arrived at our house last week, and I’ve been enjoying a new article each night this week. In particular, I have enjoyed the Spirit section as it takes on the general topic of “prayer.” If you don’t receive the paper copy, you can check it out here, online. A topic like prayer must be for theists, right? People either believe in God or they don’t. The article written by a humanist on a love based ethics must be for atheists, right?People either believe in God or they don’t. The article on Dharma must be for Buddhists, right? The opening article on the Call to Prayer and the several times daily call to prayer in Islam must be just for Muslims, right? Actually, all of the articles in the Spirit section are about prayer, and they all hold a marvelously done non-binary position. They ask us to consider how prayer–in it’s multi-varied forms–changes the one who prays regardless of where those prayers may or may not go.
We might believe in God, or Goddess. We might believe there to be no such Divine beings. We might not know what we believe about that. We might hold a “maybe” position on that, and we just might not think that it matters much. The Dalai Lama encourages a daily morning practice–upon wakening–of acknowledging gratitude–for another day of life, for the ability to make a difference–for opportunities to practice compassion. In my own experience, waking up and just being able to say “I am grateful for another day” makes a shift in my disposition. That little prayer, in other words, changes me.
Everything is possible–including that theists, atheists, mystics and agnostics may all gather in community and pray together.