Once a beautiful goddess was walking upon the earth when she happened on the Southern gate of a small village. She walked down the street that went straight through the middle of town, smiling and waving as she went. Everyone, on both sides of the road, stopped what they were doing and stared at the heavenly creature that was passing so gracefully before them, radiating light as she went. The entire village was filled with awe and devotion toward her. Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone.
The people of the village all got together to talk about this wonderful thing that had happened. They all agreed that since she was the only deity anyone could remember visiting their small village, they should build her some kind of shrine and make her the official goddess of their people. But once they started discussing what the shrine should look like, they began to run into trouble. Her appearance had been so brief that they didn’t even know the goddess’ name. They agreed that they would simply worship her likeness. The only problem was that they weren’t in agreement about what she looked like.
The people who lived on the Eastern side of the street had seen a goddess with a fiery red hat and were prepared to depict her, red hatted, in a scarlet shrine with burning candles. The people on the Western side of the street had seen a goddess in a deep blue hat. They wanted to depict her that way in a pale blue shrine with flowing fountains. After much argument and charges of heresy, it became apparent that this difference could not be reconciled. So each group erected their own shrine on their own side of the road according to their own preferences and each group declared that they would not worship with the other.
At first, this division was only apparent on feast days, but as the years passed, the relationship between the two groups soured until they hardly spoke to each other at all. After a generation, they instructed their children to not even associate with the heretics on the other side of the road. A generation after that, walls went up on each side of the road to keep the enemies who worshipped the wrong color goddess out.
One day, the goddess returned, this time from the North. As she walked through the middle of town, the villagers peeked over the tops of their walls to catch a glimpse of the goddess and perhaps see which shrine she preferred.
When the villagers on the side of town with the blue shrine peeked over, they were shocked to see the goddess was wearing a red hat. But when the villagers on the side with the red shrine looked, they were horrified to see their goddess wearing a blue hat.
Finally, a little girl hopped over the top of the wall and came face to face with the goddess in the middle of the road. Her eyes grew wide then she smiled a big smile and started to giggle. The giggle turned into a polite laugh, and then a deep belly laugh. Soon, she was on the ground, pointing up at the goddess and laughing hysterically. The other kids wanted to see what was so funny so, faster than their parents could stop them, they too hopped over the wall and when they saw the goddess, began laughing hysterically. When the adults went out to get their children they saw and they began laughing as well. Soon, the entire village was in the middle of the road laughing uncontrollably– laughing as hard and as joyously as any had laughed in a long time. And, as they laughed, the sound of it caused the walls to shake, then crumble, then disappear into dust.
Smiling, the beautiful goddess continued walking through the street, radiating light as she went. And the people were filled with awe and devotion for the deity whose hat was half blue and half red.
This beautiful African Folktale has something to teach even disciples who don’t worship goddesses. There are so many wonderful themes: the gulf between religious experience and religious dogma, the innocence of children, the power of laughter to bring down walls… but, in a divided America where just about every facet of life has become polarized into a red vs blue dichotomy, the most vital message in this parable may be the simple truth that each person’ perspective does not tell the whole story and that our sincere convictions are best tempered with humility. To quote the Apostle Paul, “we see only in part.” Someday we shall know fully even as we are fully known, but not today. Today the way of the world calls us to drop our cross and take up the totem of a tribe. To wave the banner of liberalism or conservatism while the cause of Christ is cast by the wayside. The walls are higher than ever and the people on both sides teach their children to fear and hate. Perhaps now is the time for Disciples walking in the way of Jesus to meet each other in the middle with humility and try, with the eyes of compassion, to see how things look from the other side of the street. Maybe then with laughter anchored in the spiritual fruit of joy, we can begin shaking the walls we’ve let stand between us too long.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…