Saturday, 7 March 2009

Love your neighbour. Love your enemy.

The world is a diverse place. There are a lot of people in it who interpret life differently than I do, and a fair few who seem to share some of my interpretations.

As long as we're sitting around our nice cozy metaphorical fireplace, talking about theoretical situations, that's all well and good. It's easy to accept, "Well, I would do differently," or "I think this is right/wrong/crazy," and pour another whisky or make another round of hot chocolate.

The world we live in, though, isn't so comfortable. We are compelled to act in the world, to make decisions about what we should do or not do--and even choosing not to act is a decision about action.

I believe in God and I love God. I try to reflect that belief and that love in my actions. I also try, though my beliefs are less secure in this area, to act as though God is loving and merciful. I am certain that I fall short most of the time. To err is human.

I do not believe I have any special claim to knowledge of God's will, for myself or for other people. I try not to judge or condemn those with whom I disagree. But if I can make errors in discerning right action, so can anyone else. I think that by discussing divergent viewpoints with compassion and an open heart, we can all get a little nearer to knowing what is the right action, get a little nearer to making this world a reflection of God's will.

I believe compassion and tolerance are integral to this process. Love has to be part of the discussion; love has to be what drives our actions.

I see so many examples of fear. Those links are all to people who I believe are trying to act with grace, people who are lovingly questioning the way things are and looking for how we can do better, and they're all discussing things that have gone wrong in the world, things that I think come from fear.

A theme that keeps coming up, again and again in these conflicts and countless others, is how and indeed whether to engage with those we could consider our enemies.

I am a teacher; my instinct, when I see someone in confusion or someone who is engaged in self-deception, is to try to clarify the truth. The greater the confusion and self-deception, the more horrific the wrong committed, the more I want to take that person aside to somewhere quiet and safe and talk to them, and listen to them. I want to try to understand how they got where they are, and either adjust my own attitudes accordingly (referring, always, back to God's love and mercy as my yardstick of right and wrong) or help them to see things in a less painful, less harmful way. If people had not done this for me, countless times, I would not be where I am today.

So, what to do? A church I am not a part of excommunicates someone who made a faithful and compassionate decision that happens to go against the doctrine of that church. As far as I can tell the decision for excommunication is either very misguided on a personal level, or a symptom of a much deeper systemic confusion between the function of the church as an agent of God's mercy and as an agent of God's judgment. Those are some pretty deep-seated fear and control issues. Do I imagine that I can get through to someone like Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho? No. Do I imagine that others haven't tried? No. Do I imagine that the Archbishop has not given this some thought and prayer himself, and simply come to a much different conclusion? No. Does that absolve me from a responsibility to respond, somehow, to this issue? Absolutely not. So I read about it, and I ask questions. Further discussion online would amount to feeding the trolls. I pray about it, and hope that the log in my own eye is smaller than the speck I see in someone else's. I consider whether I might write to the Archbishop, but he'll have thousands of similar letters from people far more qualified than I am. I remind myself that some of my regular charitable donation goes toward an organisation that, among other things, supports young women who flee their families because of a similar sort of religion-backed misogyny, that of female circumcision. I hope that I am supportive of the women in my life and a good role model for the girls. I try to get back to my 'regularly scheduled programming' of living my life (learning, teaching and creating: truly a blessed existence) as best I can and not thinking too hard about the great weight of fear and hate in this world... I can only do so much.

It doesn't feel like enough.

I have had so much help from so many people, religious or not, people who loved enough to take a risk on me and try to help even though odds were it wouldn't do much good. These people didn't give up on me, they didn't cross to the other side of the road. They took responsibility, whether they knew it or not, for representing God in the world.

How can I, in any sort of faithful good conscience, walk away from situations that cause so much pain? I do it every time I don't have spare change and a kind word for the homeless, every time I walk away from a discussion--even with trolls--about compassion and mercy, every time I decide I don't have the strength or money or endurance for one thing and another thing and choose the thing that I enjoy or do better rather than the thing that is going to do more good in the world, every time I just don't even do the research to find out which is going to do more good in the world.

Is there ever an excuse for anything less than tireless acts of lovingkindness, complete self-sacrifice to improving the world through caring for others? It seems impossible, unreachable. No wonder so many people lose their way.

Lord, help me to do better, and forgive me when I fail.


8thdayplanner said...

This speech is really helpful to me when I start getting depressed about how much wrong there is in the world, and how little I feel I can change -

In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy delivered his "Day of Affirmation Address" in Capetown, South Africa. Excerpting from it, he stated:
"Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Song in my Heart said...

Thanks for this. It's so easy to get overwhelmed.

I guess I don't really know when I should rest and when I should keep trying.

DanG said...

Dear Song,
You are already forgiven. God's boundless grace keeps you close to Her, much like a hen keeps her chicks gathered underneath her protective wings. None of us does enough to spread God's love to all with whom we come in contact, but if we are able the show just one person what it means to love then we keep the chain intact.

Song in my Heart said...


Thanks for the reminder.

I don't find forgiveness, of myself or others, easy, and accepting it from God doesn't seem much easier. And yet if I didn't have some hope of mercy there would be very little point doing anything! So I try to live as if it's true and I hope I'm not wrong.