When my family purchased our current home over a year ago, the property was overrun with weeds and untended shrubs. I spent months clearing the cancerous foliage until I finally had a yard I could manage. According to my grandmother, who lives next door, the yard I had wrestled into submission was not always so difficult.

By her recollection, the previous owners were an older, fastidious couple whose yard was the jewel of the neighborhood. A rather nasty divorce however, embittered the couple toward the property and thus the yard fell into years of neglect.

As I sit on the steps of my back porch this morning and look out on the coming day’s yard work. This is my perpetual chore, I muse, cultivating, harnessing, pushing back, nurturing, all the toil and labor of manifesting an ideal, a reality. And this is the struggle we see before us as a nation in the midst of religious violence, bigotry, and hatred.

In recent months, we’ve endured much as a land which prides itself on its freedoms and vibrant pluralistic expression. Mosques razed to the ground, gunmen opening fire on unsuspecting citizens, Sikhs and Muslims attacked in the midst of worship, and countless smaller yet equally tragic, private episodes unfolding every day. At present, it seems that despite our nation’s lauded diversity, we tolerate and accept one another less and less. The violence, the vitriol, the confrontations are on the rise. But why?

When I undertook Project Conversion, a year-long immersion experience into the practice, culture, and beliefs of 12 religious systems, I discovered for the first time just how small and interconnected the world is. The resulting philosophy I now call my own, the Path of Immersion, espouses this integration, a life of seeping into one another just as water soaks and brings life to the soil. What we see now however, in this landscape of shrinking personal and ideological space, is friction and competition. Instead of sharing ideas, concepts, and nourishing one another, our systems have broken free of their traditional borders and are now evolving into more competitive systems.

Indeed, the citizens of this world are now like dominoes in a crowded space. One gentle breeze or heavy step, and one tumble launches the collapse of the entire structure. Is this why we are currently witnessing such a proliferation of violence and hatred? Have we built ourselves as a society of claustrophobic, individualistic dominoes, waiting to tumble with the slightest provocation? Is our landscape too overgrown with ego, xenophobia, intolerance, hatred, and ideological exclusivity?

This is the yard I see before me: one we’ve taken for granted and neglected for too long. A peaceful and thriving pluralistic society is not one automated for success or growth, but one which requires a constant labor of love, sweat, and sometimes even blood. The redemption of our society, both local, national, and global will come from a recognition of the work ahead and our individual roles. Restoration will come when we cease all strife and gather ourselves for the unified cultivation of a landscape which nourishes the vibrant flora of our political, religious, and philosophical garden. We must embrace and accept the interfaith cross-pollination occurring as a result of a world condensing to a single yet diverse family of expression.

The musing must end. We must rise together and face the work ahead, of eliminating the weeds and thistles choking our society, before we are overrun. There is time, there is hope, but we must fully invest in our task—in one another—or there won’t be a landscape left to redeem.

Andrew Bowen, who completed a year-long immersion in 12 faith systems from around the world, now writes and speaks about interfaith issues and blogs at Project Conversion.

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