Reflections on Beyond the Comma
By: Erica Lizza
April 10, 2018
Reverend Robert Chase joined the Berkley Center on March 28 for a discussion about his book Beyond the Comma, which explores intersections, namely the intersection when personal realities meet global responsibilities. Rev. Chase, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, intended the book to serve as a reflection on his work for Intersections International, a multifaith organization in a Christian setting. The book’s title was inspired by a quote from Gracie Allen that had become a motto of the United Church of Christ: “Never place a period where God intended a comma.”
Rev. Chase began our discussion by asking us to choose the punctuation mark that best represents who we are at this moment in our lives and which mark represents the present world. Through this activity, and the book’s title, I was intrigued by the meaning that we assign to arbitrary marks of punctuation, such as a comma. Upon deeper reflection, I realized the significance behind the comma. The comma itself functions as an intersection: it is both a pause and a continuation, inviting us to reflect on the past and move deliberately into future action. In continuance of this trend, Rev. Chase invited us to consider “comma moments” in our lives and in society, times when we felt called to pause before moving forward.
These types of moments create the strands of Rev. Chase’s book, which is a mixture of personal stories, commentary on sacred texts, and discourse on contemporary sociopolitical realities, both domestic and global. These themes mirror the work Rev. Chase’s own organization has done in racial awareness and reconciliation and in attempting to build relationships between Pakistan and the United States. Throughout the discussion, I noticed that Rev. Chase used similar language about dialogue and reconciliation to the Catholic and Jesuit emphasis on encountering the other and striving to see God in every person.
Furthermore, I was struck by Rev. Chase’s description of Intersections International’s work in building relationships between Pakistanis and Americans and the gaps in communication the organization sought to rectify. Rev. Chase’s assertion that both his organization and other actors must address religion, even when working toward socially or politically oriented goals, echoed many of the sentiments I’ve had throughout my coursework for the Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs Certificate.
Lastly, Rev. Chase described the duty of people of faith as being continually engaged in the world while knowing your own heart and the truth that nourishes you. I think in an increasingly complicated, globally engaged world, it is far too easy to emphasize one side of Rev. Chase’s prescription to the detriment of the other. If we cling to our core beliefs in an exclusionary way, we cut ourselves off from being enriched by the experience of others. If we minimize our own convictions in order to engage with others, we risk depriving them and ourselves of a profound source of meaning and dialogue. The key is in balancing these two obligations: living our faith and sharing it with an open world as we encourage others to do the same.