Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Reconciliation: Learning to Love Your Enemy

Hyde Park Corner is a place in London where barkers, evangelists and political devotee’s of all stripes stake a claim to a space and preach, teach or proselytize while the crowds heckle, argue, or cheer them on. When I was 16 and heading into my last year of high school my parents sent me off to Europe to see the world. Hyde Park Corner was where Mr. Rosengrave, my chaperon, an Aussie with little tolerance for wayward children almost sent me home. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised that I was in my element. Being a devout Catholic and an even more devout patriot, I found myself defending my faith and my country  in an argument with a Black South African who was expounding upon the racism in the USA. With all the certainty that a 16 year old can muster I was arguing for the American values of equality under the law. He, of course, was arguing for 600 years of oppression under slavery and beyond. At 1:00 am my able opponent, myself and a bobbie ( cop) were the only ones left in the park. There was no reconciliation here. The argument ended abruptly when my chaperon came flying out of the hotel vociferously ranting that I was not to talk with man woman or child as long as we were in Europe. This was 1957; apartheid in South Africa did not end until April 27, 1994 when I first learned of reconciliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, set up by the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995. The hearings began in 1996. The Commission was to create three remedies to the injustices of apartheid and to successfully deal with human rights violations after political change.

The Commission heard testimony concerning human rights violations on all sides; worked for reparation and rehabilitation of victims, and in some cases to granted amnesty for those perpetrators who applied. This method of restorative justice was seen as an alternative to the retributive justice applied in the Nuremberg trials.

According to the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries there are two parts to the definition of reconciliation. The first is the revival of a friendship that has been broken after the parties have argued seriously and kept apart from each other. The second is “making one view or belief compatible with another.

Our country, while claiming to be a Christian country, seems to have retribution as one of its core values. We see this in the different responses of the family members of victims of violence. Often the family seeks retributive justice, only believing “justice has been served when the maximum penalty has been. In other cases, those family members express sorrow for the losses  the family of the perpetrator are suffering and  seeking healing and rehabilitation, ie restorative justice.  Films of all types, westerns, war stories, and even stories of family violence end with the killer getting what he deserved.

Retribution requires that we see the perpetrator as ‘other’ not one of us. It is so pervasive that stories like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Green Mile, and Cool Hand Luke are notable simply because they expose the lie that underlies the belief that retribution is justified. Indeed the Hebrew Bible is full of stories of a vengeful God who takes a personal interest in the relationships of his chosen people, while Jesus teaches us to love, to forgive, to make amends.  Christians on both sides of the political divide have come to see the ‘other’ as the enemy, not as neighbor, not as one deserving of love and compassion.

How do we get from that place of seeking revenge to seeking healing and restorative justice?
“ Remember that everyone you meet along the way in your journey are dealing with their own hopes and fears. Everyone you meet loves something, has lost something or fears something.”1. Victor Narro

Following a panel on gun violence, I found myself arguing with the mother of one of the young men on the panel. We began by reciting our positions and trying to convince each other of our correctness. We each had beliefs and opinions about the group that the other represented. We were not hearing each other. In order for me to reconcile with my neighbor who thinks that carrying a semi-automatic rifle her God-given right under the Constitution. In order to cut through the impasse,  I had to be curious about her loves, her hopes and most particularly, her fears. In other words, I had to see her not as an enemy, threatening to block any efforts for gun control but as another human in the family of God. At the end of her rant about why we all needed guns, I was moved to ask, “What happened to you?” She told me; and I could feel her fear. More importantly, I could feel compassion for her fear and knew that had I been through what she’d been through, I might feel the same way. In the end, Nila and I became friends, planned to go out for coffee, even found some areas of agreement. She agrees that all people need health care, medicare, and social security. She believes in a woman’s right to make her own life choices. That is a beginning.
 For us Episcopalians, the ministry of the Baptized means we are not only to follow Jesus example but that we are part of the mystical Body of Christ. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mystical means “Having a spiritual symbolic or allegorical significance that transcends human understanding.” In other words, our relationship to each other in the risen Christ is a mystery. It is wondrous, and deeply meaningful. We are the hands of Jesus blessing those around us with love, compassion and forgiveness. When we are asked to love our neighbor, often we can feel the joy in the gift Jesus gave us to love. Yet, that is not the end of the story. Jesus left us no clearer example than how he wanted us to treat our enemies, our oppressors, our political opponents. From the cross he forgave them. He preached to the poor and downtrodden not from the perspective of one who stands above them; as one who sees themselves as better than the less fortunate. He preached to them as their brother, as one of them. Can you find any passage in which Jesus tells the oppressed to punish the oppressor, the sinner, or one who has harmed them? Jesus tells us that we are all brothers and sisters, and that through our Baptismal covenant we are to meet each other as brothers and sisters treating each other with kindness and compassion even when we are at odds with them. Is this the cross Jesus asked us to take up; to love and forgive those who have harmed and oppressed us?

So, I invite you to look at your hopes and fears, Who or what have you loved and lost, or fear losing?  These are our potential triggers that block our opening to others. I invite you to picture a friend, or someone with whom you might disagree. Imagine yourself being curious about what in their life has caused them to hold so tightly to their beliefs. Imagine yourself listening for an opening, for a place to learn more about them. You’ll know what to say in the moment. Spirit will guide you if you are open to hearing. And just maybe you too will make a new friend. And that is the point from which you just might be able to let him or her know why you believe so strongly that love is the way.

Narro, V. Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with your Work for Justice. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, South Carolina. 2014

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

She Who Brings Light into the Darkness

“Teach me the power of the dark” – came to me in a dream. The dark is where we live until the light comes. In the dark our hearts are breaking. Our soul is wounded; a black hole in the heart, a dark spell is cast; it holds fast, and we slide into the dark night of the soul. This is the power of the dark.

In the beginning, we are told, humans became the fire bearers; in every home in the world is a place where the fire is kept: a hearth, the heart of the home. For every hearth there is a hearth keeper; in most cultures it is the women who tend the fire, who are the hearth keepers. Tending the fire, is a constant worry and a constant work. If the fire goes out, it must be restarted, or food will not be ready for the table. If the fire dies down children may freeze in their beds, If the fire wood runs out the family is in peril. We gather around the fire to warm ourselves, to share food and drink, to share stories and gain wisdom. Beyond the fire, lies the dark.

Advent is the time when the fire has gone out, and before it is relit. For many of us, this Advent is more than a time to remember the power of the dark, this year we are living it. We women of great heart, are taking up the challenge. We are making friends, sharing stories; cooperating in our natural way.  We are creating alliances with those we see every day. We heal wounds, we comfort those men and women who come before us. We make common cause in our daily lives and learn from each other. We are all sisters and brothers in an immense learning community of women.

Each morning, we meet. We greet, face to face, on the street as we walk our infants in strollers, at the market, or the well.  And now through the miracle of webs and clouds, we cross the miles, the oceans; the vast spaces evaporate like the dew in the morning sun. We are heart to heart, playing and working side by side, I in my village in the north; you in your village in the south, or west, or east. We carry in our hands our magic boxes linking our knowing in ways we might never have imagined.

I have always known you were there but you seemed so far away. I imagined that you knew not that I cared whether you had clean water, or a chicken to lay eggs, or gruel for your children. But I do care; I never imagined that I could let you know.

We are 3 hundred million strong and we are mending our nets, we are mending the fabric of soil beneath our feet. Can we share as women have always shared, a cup of sugar, an extra blanket, a prayer, a song across the miles? Can we, like the pulses of energy coursing through our bodies heal each other as we heal our families?  As we live in these dark days, like our world, we refresh ourselves, resting, replenishing our essential life force, by Grace. It is a time for healing, for remembering who we are and what we are called to be. The light creeps in slowly and the world awakens slowly quietly gently. Solstice is the beginning of the time of gentle awakening. Christmas is the season in which we celebrate the woman who brought Light into the darkness. Let us lean into the fire and into each other with compassion, remembering the women who are the hearth keepers and their ways of caring.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Beloved Community: Dreaming the Impossible Dream

Somewhere in every heart is a longing for home. We’ve all felt that deep ache. I first felt it when I was 7 sent off to summer camp while my family moved to a new home. The ache was so deep; the resident Collie feeling a small child’s pain lay down with me each day while I wept. Home is where we feel we belong.

At the end of the Wiz, Dorothy sings “When I think of home I think of a place with love overflowing”. To belong should mean to feel loved. I was loved; we were loved not only by my family but by a brilliant and compassionate community of women. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Community was my first clan, my first Beloved Community. They were our mentors and our role models; we were raised to be as they were - to offer love to others. Hospitality and welcome to all persons were their core value and ours. Women of Great Heart is the motto of the high school I attended. We were aspiring to be women of Great Heart. I was home there.

For the past week we have been celebrating and exploring what it means to be a community this year and beyond. Speakers have explored God’s Dream for Community, through readings from the Old and New Testament. This article is the first of six exploring aspects of the Beloved Community. Here we introduce the Beloved Community and visit an example of a Beloved Community in Seattle.

I first learned of the Beloved Community in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Rev. Nelson Johnson, founded the community after he was stabbed by a klansman and arrested during an anti-klan rally in 1979 which he helped organize. The Beloved Community was the vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.” “The core value of Dr. King’s Beloved Community was agape love which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative. ”…”the love of God operating in the human heart.” King said that “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.” It seemed clear to me that this was an unattainable goal. So, I wondered, “what does this have to do with me, with us, when we live in a world that is being torn apart by violence and hatred?
How can Beloved Community, King’s commitment to love all, enemy or friend,  empower me and my community to survive and thrive?

Philosopher, Josiah Royce, first explained the Beloved Community in the late 1800s. For Royce, Beloved Community is central to transforming the heart of humanity. It is how we will make it through the chaotic times in which we are living.  An overwhelming love, Royce tells us is exactly what we need to be human. For Royce, in order to have a meaningful life, we must find a cause, a life purpose, that is born in our life experience and is inspired from within to seek truth and kindness. For a cause to be good, it must be greater than anyone or any community can attain and it must be good for everyone not just a few. Royce called this a lost cause because we are aspiring to an ideal we can never attain. We are all Don Quixote chasing the impossible dream. Sister Simone told us, “you’ll know you’ve found your cause when it breaks your heart open”. Royce believed that causes are found in the social landscapes in which we live; we find a home in communities where we share their cause. The Civil Rights movement of Dr. King, and the Beloved Community of Reverend Johnson were communities with a shared cause.

Every good fight fought in this world has started with a heart broken open. Malala’s dream is education for girls everywhere. Mother Teresa’s was a good death for everyone. For Jimmy Carter it is homes for all. Impossible dreams are found in communities of dreamers and while we can’t reach the ultimate dream, our search moves us to accomplish amazing things.

For a number of years, Hillary Clinton has reached out with heart, hand, and treasure to Children, families, youth in prison,  dreamers, immigrants, refugees, women and girls worldwide. Having known the ache of being far from home, I was more than delighted to learn of this place where the longing for home is made whole for women and girls like me. If you are looking to be inspired you won’t want to rest until your heart breaks open.  Our prayer is that by exploring Beloved Community we will the renew our commitment to Agape, hold our Beloved Community together, and renew our commitment to the Impossible Dream, inspiring the amazing work we do. May it be so.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mother Hummingbird designs and builds her nest.

Click on title.
Everywhere in nature there are females creating, nurturing, protecting, tending to the life of the next generation. Every unique creature on this planet comes into being through the creative power of the female of the species. She tends the hearth, prepares the food, rocks the cradle, makes certain there is water and wood. Chop wood, carry water is woman's work around the world. Backs are bent, heads are bowed, teeth are lost, all in a days work. The male is the consort, the helpmate unto the Goddess of the hearth. It has been so since the beginning when evolution began designing the species that were to come. Here is just one example of the work in nature of the mother hummingbird making a home for her offspring.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Caring Choices


I wrote the lyrics to a song yet to be written after I heard a TED type talk by Stephan Schwartz author of the Schwartz Report blog. Please consider doing what is asked of you here and help us spread the word. 
A one, a two, a one, two, three, four

You have to admit things aren’t  looking so good
For the people, the nations, and old mother earth. (rest)
People are fighting, Children are dying, 
Far away and near, even in our neighborhood.

This is the one thing I’m gonna do now
I promise you, you can do it to.
Every time you have a choice to make   
Choose the option that you, (rest) know in your heart is
The very best action of the two.

Choose life affirming compassionate action
That’s how were going to change our hearts
Choose life affirming compassionate action
That’s how were going to change the world

All day long we’re making our choices
Every day we have so much to do.
One option’s always better than the other, choose
The most life affirming compassionate action
(rest) you (rest) can (rest) do.

Text your friends, tell your family,
share it on facebook, take it to work
make it a habit, make it an earworm, 
Playing in your mind, it will change your heart.

Tell em,
Choose life affirming compassionate action
That’s how were going to change the world
Choose life affirming compassionate action
That’s how were going to save Mother Earth

It will spread like wild fire, person to person
Changing our minds, lifting our hearts.
We can change the consciousness of enough people
To take peaceful action and change the world.

Tell em,
Choose life affirming compassionate action
That’s how were going to change the world
Choose life affirming compassionate action
That’s how were going to save Mother Earth

Tell em,
Choose life affirming compassionate action
Choose life affirming compassionate action
Choose life affirming compassionate action
Choose life affirming compassionate action