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Yesterday, we said Adam and Eve were created, and the important thing is not that Adam and Eve were there. The important thing that I wanted to emphasize was that “and” was created. The relationship was created from that moment on, we are born to live in relationship. Through this “and”, Adam comes alive, and through this “and”, Eve comes out. So the important thing is the “and”, not Adam or Eve, but the important thing is the “and”. That is what’s important and also in our relationship “I” and “you”. How can I overcome my own “I” so that I can build this “and”? When this “and” is built, I come alive and you come alive, but we are focused so much on “I” that we kill end and when the “and” is killed, then “I” is killed and “you” is killed. Both are destroyed. The important thing is that I cannot be “I” be without “you”. I am because you are. Because we are, I am, so this “I” can only possibly survive with this “and”.
Connecting “You” and “I”
I really liked that song, “I am Free”. How can I be free from myself? How can I be free from the bondage of myself and then build this strong “and” that connects “you” and “I”?. It’s like a bridge. This is a secret. When we find this “and”, then “I” come alive and “you” come alive. When that “and” is gone, then I cannot exist meaningfully, and you cannot exist meaningfully; we live in separation. We are not an island. We are connected. We are people of relationships, but relationships are so difficult. It’s not easy just because you’re married, just because you are now boyfriend and girlfriend, just because you’re engaged. That doesn’t mean the relationship is there. A relationship is something that consciously you have to continuously build, otherwise, the relationship dies.
So whenever I do marriage counselling, I do that in the beginning. The first year is very important for all of you. You try to connect with each other, but if you don’t do anything after 10 years, that relationship is not there anymore. And after 10 years down the road, “Gee, what happened?”. You’re supposed to love me, but there is no such thing as “supposed” to love me. Either you love or not, there is no such thing. There’s no rule that you’re supposed to love anyone, so even though you’re married, you have to continuously build that “and”, then it grows, but if you just leave it aside and don’t do anything about it, then after 10 years is not there anymore. So this “and” is very, very important, but the “and” is very difficult to build. Today I’m going to talk about this “and”, and what that “and” looks like.
Building Strong Relationships
To build relationships, it takes a long time to build it and take so much of our energy and patience and love to build a good relationship, but once it is built, the relationship makes all of us very, very strong. Relationships make us strong. Even though everything else fails, if the relationship is there, you can survive, but if even if everything is there if a relationship is not there, then it is pretty difficult to survive. When you look at your booklet, Ecclesiastes 4:12, it says: “And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. If you’re connected, you’re not going to be easily broken. That relationship is strong.
There was a Jewish scholar who was born in 1878. He was born than 100 years ago, but his thinking and his thoughts are still very much relevant to us, so I’m going to use them. I’m not going to describe his theology or anything. He was a Jewish theologian. He wasn’t a Christian, rather a Jewish theologian, but he studies, I think are still very relevant after 100 some years. His name is Martin Buber. He was born in Vienna, Austria. When he was three years old, his mother left without any explanation. She just left. After a while, his father took him to his grandparents, Carl Buber took little Martin to a small rural area in Galicia. And for eight decades of his life, he had to endure the heartache of rejection. He grew up under his grandparents, so as soon after the father dropped him off, he was gone too. So he lived without a mother or a father. He lived alone, under his grandparents. Maybe because of his personal situation, he was very interested in relationships. So sometimes I wonder, life difficulties are not necessarily always bad. Sometimes because we human beings are kind of weak, unless we experienced something through our skin, we can never experience or learn. He truly experienced this rejection and loneliness and tremendous, a sense of being alone in the entire universe. So he thought a lot about relationships. He never blamed anyone for his situation. I think that’s maturity. You can blame people and just be done with it, but he never blamed anyone for that. He chose to meditate on, contemplate the relationship. He was Albert Einstein’s friend.
“I-It” and “I-thou” Relationships
Albert Einstein explained the world through scientific fiscal understanding, but Martin Buber explained the world through meaningful relationships. Martin Buber explains our relationship in two ways. There are two kinds of relationships and even the title itself when you look at it, you’ll figure out what he tries to say: “I – thou” relationship and “I – it” relationship. And “thou” and “it” does not describe the people that you have relationships with. They describe the kind of dash (-) that you have. Depending on the kind of relationship you have, the other person can become “thou” or “it”. Sometimes even God can be an “it” rather than a “thou”. The parents can be “it” instead of being “thou”. When you use God or your parents just for your personal need, then it becomes an “I – it” relationship. But an “I – thou” relationship is very different and I like to talk about the dash (-) that connects between I and you and whether an I and your relationship is either “I – thou” or “I – it”
I want you to think about the kind of relationships that you’re building right now. Are they “I-thou” relationship or “I-it” relationships? As I said, even with God you can build “I-It” relationship without knowing that you’re building an “I-It” relationship. You think that you’re building “I-thou”, but ultimately you’re just building an “I-It” relationship just for your own salvation, your security, your peace of mind and your blessings. If that is all you think about, then you are building “I-It” relationships. You are just using God for your own self. Then that is an “I-It” relationship. I cannot say that “I-It” relationships are necessarily bad relationships. I don’t want to say that. An “I-It” relationship is only the beginning point to be transformed to “I-Thou”. An “I-It” relationship is a kind of a cocoon,
If an “I – thou” relationship is a butterfly. An “I-Thou” relationship can fly and this “I-It” is only a cocoon. And this is where I become totally free. As we sang, I am free. In this relationship, I become free. But in this relationship, I am not yet truly free. Ninety percent of the relationships that you have, is the “I-It” relationship. Probably 80-90 percent of relationships are “I-It” relationships. At Dixie and Eglinton, there is a good Afghanistan restaurant, if you want to go try middle-eastern Afghanistan food, it’s a kind of fast food restaurant. When you go there, there are combos, so it is very easy to order. So I order combo 3. I then they gave me a number 58, then I go to my seat and then sit down and wait for my number to be called. And then they call my number and I go there. And then, I show my number 58 and they gave me my number three. So I take my number three and come back and then eat. That’s all the relationship between that person means just number. I’m number 58 and I order number three. So that’s how are our relationship is like that is “I-It” relationship. It doesn’t go beyond that.
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island as a prisoner, his number was 46664, because he was imprisoned in the year ’64 and he was the 466th prisoner which makes 46664. Bono wrote a song just to say that this is not just a number. So if you go to Youtube, you will see Bono’s song, 46664. While a Nelson Mandela was in prison, to the prison guards, he was just number 46664. He was just number. Nothing beyond that. Their relationship was the “I-It” relationship.
I’m trying to describe this dash. We can see “I-it” relationship in a professional relationship. When a patient goes to see a doctor, the patient is not interested in the illness of the of the doctor. I’m interested in myself. Of course, I’m different, because my doctor is James, so I’m much more interested in his health. So, when I go, “how are you doing, how’s your heart condition?” and all that stuff before he asks me anything. But in a regular situation, when you go see a doctor, you’re not interested in the doctor’s physical conditional, you’re interested in your physical condition. You tell them what’s wrong with you and all that, and then they tell you and nothing goes beyond that. Just a functional relationship. Because 80 to 90 percent of our relationship is “I-it” relationship, we are used to “I-it” relationships. In “I-it” relationship “it” is dispensable. “It” exists only for my needs. The interest is not in the dash. The interest is in me, that my needs are met, not in the dash, not in the relationship. To fulfill my needs, we use others. There is no deep sharing. We are there together just for our needs. When we are in a lineup while grocery shopping, a cashier sometimes talks to a customer and is like “Yesterday, I went to the party and all that stuff. You know, that drink was so great,” and the people in the line, they get frustrated because they get delayed, right? I mean rightly so, but the unspoken rule is don’t go beyond “I-it” relationship. Here, just do “I-it” relationship and that’s it. That is “I-it” relationship. All the self-centred relationship ends up with “I-it” relationship.
“I-It” in Friendships
Even our friendship can become “I-it” relationship. I’m lonely, so I need you. I need my playmate, so I can do something together. So, friends are just there to fulfill my loneliness and that’s a friendship, but that’s an “I-it” friendship. I believe that friendship is more than that, more than just using each other for my own loneliness. In a marriage, your spouse is more than just to fulfill my social needs. Then we need to go beyond an “I- it” relationship to the “I-thou” relationship. But a lot of friendships remains at “I-it” relationships. And Jesus said, I’m your friend and a good friend is you die for your friend. That is a real friendship. That is the “I-thou” relationship, not “I-it” relationship. We are so used to. We are so used to this kind of relationship. So, we think that all the relationships are “I-it” relationship, but you are wrong. With that kind of thinking, we will never experience the beauty that relationship can bring to us. With “I-it” relationship, I can never be transformed. I use “it”, but I can never be transformed. 80 to 90 percent of our relationship is “I-it” relationship, but what transforms “I” is an “I-thou” relationship, which is only 10 to 20 percent of your relationship. The love and sacrifice of our parents are similar to an “I-thou” relationship. They don’t think about themselves, they only think about the other. So that is more like an “I-thou” relationship.
The Story of the Praying Hands
Have you seen the praying hands, the picture? The beautiful praying hands. There’s a beautiful story behind that l picture. These two friends were artists and they were preparing themselves to be artists, but they didn’t have enough money so that they said, they were talking to each other. “You study first, I’ll help you”, “No, you study first, I’ll help you”. And finally, they made an arrangement. So, the other guy, studied first, went to university and studied art and the other friend, because he didn’t have money, he went to a construction site and he was carrying bricks and all that. So, he was helping. But because he worked such rough labour, his hands got all calloused and everything, so he cannot draw anymore, and so he became kind-of bitter. The other guy became very famous and kind of forgot about his friend. And one day he came to visit his friend and saw his friend pray and so the praying hands and it was so beautiful, with that imagination, he came back home he drew that picture. That is the “I-thou” friendship.
With “I-it” alone we don’t experience the transformation. I want to express “I-it” relationship in a different way. I can say “I-other” relationship. “I-it” relationship is the same as “I-other” relationship. When you become, not “thou”, but “other”, we cannot have meaningful relationships. The “other” has nothing to do with me. The other is there outside of me with no involvement with me. There’s a good Korean word for “other”. You know what that is? 남 (nam). We call it 남. It’s a very good Korean word. We don’t call our family 남. We don’t call our friends 남. We don’t call our parents 남. 남, others, are strangers. Not one of us. Not within my circle. Outside of my circle.
“I” Plus “You”
“I” plus “you” equals we. “I” plus “other” equals what? Still “I”. What we are trying to build this is I plus you, we. Not I plus other, which is just I. When you hate somebody, you must make the person other, because you can never hate thou. You must make that person first, other, then you can hate the person. When thou become the other or it, it is much easier to do whatever I want. When you make other, racially, other, sexually, other, politically, other, ethnically, other, morally, other, religiously, other, personally, other, you have a good excuse not to have a relationship with them. I don’t want to pinpoint one person, but Mena has been with us for a few months in our church. And she even came to the retreat. She’s an Italian Canadian and she was raised practicing Catholic. Now she is a Protestant, in a majority of Koreans. I think it takes tremendous courage to be with people who are “other” on the surface, but when you’re connected that “other” can become “thou”. “Other” can become “you”.
Last year I went to Israel. Israel is a strange place. It is religiously charged. Religion is in the air. Religious feelings are in the air. When you go there, from early in the morning, the first day, around 4 or 5, I heard “hmmm” (humming noise). What is this? I don’t even know how many minutes that lasted. And then around noon, “hmmmmm”. In the evening, “hmmmmmm”. At first, it was so strange. It stressed me out but I after a while I was waiting for “hmmmmm”. Why isn’t it coming out? It’s 12:00? Come on! You’re late today! You feel comfortable hearing it. It religiously charged, spiritually charged. Even the airplane to Israel was religiously charged. I took a lot of airplane trips, and we don’t talk about religion, we don’t talk about deep sharing, but when I went to Israel, there was a Holocaust survivor, she was sharing her own experiences. And there was a missionary from South America, and he tried to convert her. And then in the back, there was a messianic Jew and they were talking, but I mean the whole airplane is charged with meaningfulness, meaningful conversation. And the person right beside me, she was a Jew, but she was a retired teacher. Her husband was a doctor and he was retired too. They live in Vancouver, and they were on the way to Israel. Every year, she goes back to Israel. We were talking. In the beginning, we were just chit-chatting, but then we started talking about the issue of Palestine and the Jews, and then she was sharing about how she felt after retirement and you know, her kids. And two or three hours just passed by without us realizing it. We are so absorbed in our conversation that we didn’t know that two or three hours passed by. I didn’t need to use her. She didn’t need to use me. That is an “I-thou” relationship. That is an “I-thou” relationship. We are beyond “I-it” relationship. You don’t have to be family or even a longtime friend to have “I-thou” relationship.
Relationships and Blessings
An “I-thou” relationship does not have to be a long-lasting relationship. You don’t demand that it should be a long-lasting relationship. It can be there briefly and disappear. It’s not something within your control. You don’t control “I-thou” relationships. It is not something that I can dictate. No, you and I, from today, after this lecture, we will have “I-thou” relationship. No, you cannot because “I-thou” relationship is not something that you can dictate. When it happens, it is a blessing, but when you try to possess it, it disappears. When you’re obsessed to have it, it goes away further from you. But when you quietly wait, it comes. Rabbi Pinhas said this, “what you pursue, you don’t get, but what you allow to grow slowly in his own way, comes to you.”. So, “I-thou” relationship is not something that you make.
Do you remember the story of manna? When the Israelites did not have food, every day God gave them manna, but they could not store and it went bad after the day. It is just like a blessing. “I-thou” relationships are like that. It is given to you, but you cannot possess it and hold it. You don’t control it’s coming and it’s going. It can come silently and go silently. When it comes, don’t try to possess it, when it goes, don’t be too sad. It can be 10 minutes, it can be 10 hours, it can be 10 years. It has nothing to do with the length of time. It is the quality of the relationship, not the length of the relationship. But the thing is, even if it is 10 minutes, its impact and effect can last a lifetime. That “I-thou” relationship, even though it lasts only for 10 minutes, it can impact for your lifetime.
Jesus and “I-Thou” Relationships
People who met Jesus Christ experienced this “I-thou” relationship and that short moment impacted them for their whole entire life. Do you remember Nicodemus? He came to Jesus. He wanted to talk to him and Jesus says, as soon as he saw him, you have to be born again, he said, and he talked about spirit probably 10 minutes, 15 minutes at the most, but that had a profound impact on Nicodemus. When you read the scripture, Nicodemus comes out only in John. He comes out three times in John. In the beginning and he disappears and when Jesus was in Sanhedrin and they wanted to kill him, and he stood up and said, “do we kill somebody without properly going through the procedure?”. I mean, it was very courageous for him to do that. Everybody wanted to kill him, and he stood up and spoke up for Jesus. And at the end, after Jesus died, he was the one who took Jesus’ body down and gave a proper burial. And even though he had 10 minutes of experience that had a profound influence on him.
There was a person like that to me. I still remember that encounter. When I went to Brazil many years ago, I went there and met this old man. He was shorter than me. He looked up to me like this. I felt great. For a long time, I always had to look up, but not this time. I mean, from the first moment that I met him, he would give me his total attention to me. So, we were talking, and he was saying he was a priest once, but he quit his priesthood and then one day at home, he heard this baby crying outside. So, he went outside and there was a baby. Somebody dropped the baby. So, he took the baby and then after a few weeks another baby was dropped. He did for a few times and then he became kind of famous in the village. “Oh, if you have unwanted babies, drop them there, he will take good care of them.”. So, people kept dropping the babies. He did not want to do the orphanage, but by the time I went there, he was running an orphanage without it being his intention. And he was saying all that and he was such a nice guy. And at the end of our conversations, he just hugged me really hard and said, “See you in heaven.” That moment. I couldn’t hold back my tears, you know? I probably met him for about 25 minutes and he held me, and said, “See you in heaven.” By now probably he’s in heaven and I know that I will see him in heaven. That brief encounter, that feeling, is still with me. The words he said, “see you in heaven, is very fresh even though it was from 30 some years ago. That “I-thou” experience can transform me and can transform others. It is a beautiful relationship. When there is a relationship of “I-thou”, you experience oneness, and you see nothing but that person. Everything retreats into the background and only that person is there. Do experience that? That total attention when you are in conversation, that total absorption.
Relationships based on Self-Focus
Rabbi Chaim, he saw this tightrope walker and he said this, “this man is risking his life and I cannot say why, but I am quite sure that while he’s walking the rope, he’s not thinking of the fact that he’s earning money by what is doing for if he did, he would fall.” Total focus and concentration. In the “I-thou” relationship, you experience this kind of focus and concentration. Thou becomes the whole universe. I come alive and thou comes alive. You know people who do extreme sports? Bicycle or ski or extreme sports, you ask them, why do you do it? Why do you risk your life? And you know what they say? I feel alive by doing that. You don’t have to do extreme sports to feel alive. When you experienced the “I-thou” relationship, you feel alive. In our relationships, we don’t know how to focus and how to concentrate because we are so scared. We are so filled with our own personal agenda. Our minds are scattered, and our relationships become scattered. We are too self-focused. My continuous struggle for myself and for helping other people is that. How can you be free from this? How can you be free from this? When you are free from this, you will experience true freedom. You come alive! But when you’re obsessed with this, then slowly you’ll die.
We let down our agenda, our demands, our expectations, and we open our hearts to each other. Then “I-thou” will come. I may not be able to create “I-thou”, but I can block “I-thou” from coming by my attitude. If “I” is filled with prejudice, obsession, expectation, “I-thou” relationship is not possible. If “I” is too strong and too big, the relationship is not possible. That’s why Jesus said to follow me, to make fish yourself. What do you have to do first? You must deny yourself. That means you must make yourself small. Otherwise, you can never build a meaningful relationship. When I become bigger, the dash (-) becomes smaller, then I become smaller, the dash becomes bigger. The modern world is obsessed with building bigger “I”s. When you build big I, dash becomes smaller.
This illusionary “I” destroys the relationship. When “I” is transformed, “it” is transformed into “thou” and “and” comes alive. No more separation, no more division, just oneness. In the “I-thou” relationship, there is no dominant “other”. Whoever has the most stable foothold supports the climb that day. There is no dominant one. So, as Saint Paul said, “when you experienced Jesus Christ and build that “I-thou” relationship with Jesus Christ, this what happens, there is no longer Jew or Greek. There is no longer a slave or free. There is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. We all become connected.”
Let me give you the last prayer of Jesus Christ for the human beings. He said this. John 17: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[f] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”. Look at that. It is filled with oneness. This is Jesus’ last prayer. Jesus is talking about the beautiful “I-thou” relationship.
Don’t expect the “I-thou” relationship to always be there. You’ll get frustrated and disappointed. It’s not realistic. “I-thou” becomes, “I-it” and we experience another “I-thou”. All these things, “I-it” and “I-thou”, flow like a tide. It comes and goes. Our relationship goes up and down. If there is a flat line, you’re dead. There always ups and downs. I mean relationship goes up and down. “I-thou” becomes an “I-it”, but then “I-it” changes into “I-thou.” So, don’t expect it to be always there. That’s not realistic, but the important thing is every moment we need to be awake and be aware of what kind of quality your relationships are right now. You need to be aware of what kind of relationship am I building. Even with the spouse. After a while, you just demand and demand and demand and everything turns into an “I-it” relationship. Instead of building an “I-thou” relationship. We all have our weaknesses, and because of these weaknesses, we hurt others and we get hurt. We close our heart. When we get hurt, the first thing you do is you close your heart to other people and a true relationship cannot be built.
Finding Power in Weakness
Do you know what Thomas Merton said? “Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone.”. There are times when our hearts have turned to stone. That’s when we truly love. We truly learn love. Our weaknesses sometimes can poison our relationship, but in Tibet, there is a saying: “The medicine can be found in the poison.”. When our weaknesses poison our relationship and when our relationship is in an ill condition, maybe that’s when we can find the true cure for our relationship. Yes, we see a lot of people with a lot of weaknesses, but behind all those weaknesses, I hope that you can also find treasures, some beautiful qualities behind them.
You know, I’m reminded of a scene, Jean Valjean, that movie. What is that? Les Misérables. Yeah. A beautiful movie. And when Jean Valjean was arrested, the bishop said to him, “Oh, you left in such a hurry, you forgot to take the candlestick that I gave to you and here, take it.”. Even though the bishop knew that Jean Valjean did something bad, he didn’t just look at the ugly side of it, but he saw the potential beauty behind it. And we see Jean Valjean live the potential beauty at the end. That’s what we need to see. As we look at each other, yes, we see each other’s weaknesses, but I hope that we can also see the beauty that is hidden behind those weaknesses. When you don’t see beauty in other people, you cannot build the “I-thou” relationship. When you see ugliness in other people, you have no choice but to build an “I-it” relationship. But when you start discovering the beauty in other people, then you can build “I-thou” relationships. Have a big heart like an ocean. The ocean is at the bottom, but it embraces all the waters from small rivers and big rivers. So, it is good to be like the ocean so that you can embrace their weaknesses, but the ocean is bigger than the rivers. I believe that love is bigger than hatred. Love can embrace the hatred, but hatred cannot embrace love.
Love and Humility
When Jesus said, “love your enemies,” Jesus is talking about the magnitude, the size of the love that is bigger than the hatred. The cloud cannot embrace the Sky. Sky embraces the cloud. Love is like that. As the ocean embraces the rivers, as the sky embraces the cloud, the true humility can embrace other weaknesses, and I believe that true humility is courage. So, if I may say the last word, when you make “I” so big then “you” becomes so small. But when you make “I” small, “and” becomes bigger, and through that you both become alive. So, two kinds of dashes, two kinds of relationship. Think about it. What are the relationships that you’re pursuing in your own relationships, in your own life? With your parents, with a church, with God, with others? Are you building a relationship just to be meet my needs, or do you build relationships so that you can give? Think about it.