Light patches bursted through the red wood canopies, and raced over my open mouth. Granny and I were creaking up a forested drive, eyes widening at the houses embedded into the hillside. The only disruption to my awe was Granny’s faltering foot upon the brake, causing me to lurch forward at every moment of uncertainty. This was Fairfax. Granny was dropping me off to spend the 4th of July with my Uncle Fernando and his partner Vincent, who I had actually just met the week prior. No blood relation, but connected by marriage. Marriage certainly has a beautiful way of bringing people together.
And so, Granny and I ascended the many steps to Vincent and Fernando’s doorstep. Their house felt like nothing short of a tastefully constructed treehouse, with open windows in nearly every room and a great big deck, looking out over the hills of Marin. It had all the history of a museum (Fernando seemed to have a story for every painting and furniture piece), but with the warmth and welcome of a well-established home.
Though I was pretty taken by the aesthetics, I had no idea what to expect from a social standpoint. Granny waved goodbye, and it occurred to me that this was a rather unusual 4th of July gathering, where most of the guests were colleagues of Vincent’s, professors from the Theology and Religious Studies department at the University of San Francisco. And boy, this was a diverse group, with individuals hailing from well outside the borders of the United States. At one point, Fernando tried to count the languages represented there—we hit the double digits. And then, combined with religious diversity, we covered a lot of ground. A lot of ground.
For some, this level of diversity is common and easily accessible. But for me, this was an invaluably rare experience. I attend an evangelical college, and for all of the things I like about going to school there, my college is not known for its diversity—even among the multiple denominations encompassed under the evangelical umbrella. Most contemporary Christian-speak sounds like Christianese to me, like watery clichés and spirit hype. But this, this was different. This was accented color. This was content well below surface-level.
And what did we do? We drank wine and played Cards Against Humanity. What? Yes. That game, the one that’s sort of like Apples to Apples, but with card options like “goat-skin thongs”, “nipple blades”, and “pooping back and forth. forever.” We played a game that is designed to be outrageous and offensive. But, no anger. No tears. We laughed and laughed, emitting a healing salve on the loads of division caused by politics within and around the church of late.
The concept of “non-dual thinking” has been recently introduced to me, thanks to Richard Rohr, a favorite theologian of mine. This kind of seeing was not created by Rohr, but is an ancient contemplative practice. Basically, the way that Richard Rohr explains it, is that our human instinct is inclined towards duality, where we view something in comparison to something else (taller, bigger, etc.). We construct boxes to make sense of the world, to define our surroundings. But then, there comes a time when we must deconstruct. Undam the river and let the water flow. Let go of the black and white kind of seeing that our childhood glasses yielded. The deconstruction is only the middle-step, though. From there, according to Rohr, we must reconstruct, and begin to re-see our environment. But this time, we look for the Divine in unexpected places, and strive to see sanctity in all people and places.
I saw these words come to life on the 4th of July. We all had different terminology, and a broad range of backgrounds. Some had doctorates, some were in grad school, some of us (actually, just me) were plugging along in undergrad. And yet, there was an expression of kindness from each individual, an acknowledgement of human sacredness from every mouth. That night, it didn’t matter where each of us fell on a spectrum. It didn’t matter who we were voting for, or what cause we supported. What mattered was that we were there, together, sharing stories and talking about real issues.
When I came to Northern California, I knew that I would connect with family. The density of blood relations made for a sense of predictability. However, what I had in mind was more of a reconnection, seeing people that I already knew. I did not anticipate meeting new family, and being welcomed in with such enthusiasm and love as Vincent and Fernando have shown me. We’ve gotten to spend more time together since our first meeting a few weeks ago, and my love for them grows and grows. They are such a vision of compassion and unity despite difference.
I didn’t expect to find such a level of understanding in my family here. I didn’t expect to find healing at a 4th of July party, either. Surprise, surprise.