Peace for Paris and beyond
Peace for Paris and Beirut and beyond

I don’t often write in response to tragic events happening on the world stage. I am all too aware how small I am in comparison, how limited my knowledge, how distant from the actual suffering of the victims and their families. But I also frequently get asked,

“What do you think?”

“How are you seeing this?”

“Give me something but anger to hold on to.”

So for what it’s worth, this is how I am holding these most recent tragic events in my heart.

I don’t know exactly what the just, or appropriate response is to those attacks, or to the people and organizations that perpetrated them. I don’t know what you or I, as individuals sitting across the globe, can actually do to stop the violence of ISIS, Al-Shabaab, or other Islamic militants. I only know what I can do to stop the violence here, in my own body, my own home and among the people I come into contact with. And I actually think that is a really important place to start, which too often gets ignored in our desire for immediate answers and concrete action.

I begin by reminding myself that none of these angry, violent, suicidal and psychopathic men started out that way. At one time, they were just little boys like our own, who loved to crawl into their mama’s laps and be cuddled. They passed out, milk-drunk, at their mother’s breast, while she dreamed of all that he might be someday. At one point, I imagine, those boys had dreams of their own, to be helpers, teachers, leaders, fathers even, but that all changed.

And it probably changed at home first with the messages they learned from their very own fathers and mothers. Eventually those messages were built upon by their religious leaders, their surroundings, culture and the world around them. They learned that a loving response was a foolish one, that whoever had the biggest guns had the most power, that economic freedom was never going to be theirs. They learned that violence was the best answer to every problem and that their God approved and applauded it. This is not what they were born knowing; this is what they were taught and so it is my obligation to teach my own son and daughters something different, but I have to live it myself first.

After hearing about the attacks in Paris and Beirut, I immediately thought of the words of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who was killed during the Holocaust. She wrote: “Each of us moves things along in the direction of war every time we fail to love.”

Oh my God, I thought, I’m part of the problem, but Etty’s words also remind me that I can be part of the solution. I can start by making conscious choices to Love more, to stop making war inside my own heart, judging, criticizing and condemning myself and others for simply being human and imperfect. Whatever peace I create from that Love, I must bring to my own family and friends, primarily through kindness and compassion. And if I can Love just a little more, I can hold even more space for difference, and diversity among the people I know and come into contact with.

But let me be clear, when I find myself in conflict with others, I do not have to agree; I do not have to approve; I don’t even have to allow, or excuse behavior that I object to, but what I cannot do is hate. I believe Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I have seen that play out in my own life. I cannot offer the same, or equal response to violent, or aggressive stimuli and expect a good outcome. Even if I “win,” we both lose in the long run and believe me, I’ve lost plenty of times!

Finally, as someone who has considered the teachings of Jesus her whole life, there is one thing he said we CANNOT do. We cannot hate the other. Jesus said, “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus also said, “Love your enemies” and he made it clear that your enemy was often your neighbor,  just in case you wanted to skip that one.

I don’t have it in me to Love God, my neighbor, my enemy, or even myself in the way I must in order to create perfect peace, but that doesn’t mean I can give up trying. I must persevere, at least in my own heart. One woman, when asked about the futility of her quest for justice and equality for women within her community, said, “I don’t have to complete the work, but that does not mean I am free to abandon it.”

Amen, sister. Thanks for the reminder.

 

 

 

 

I woke early this morning – like 4 a.m. early – and decided to tackle one of my theology chapters for the Living School. I find it much easier to get through this type of work with a well-rested mind. What looks like gibberish at 10 p.m. somehow becomes intelligible after seven hours of sleep. This particular chapter was from a book called Christophany by Raimon Pannikar. Here is a sample:

Here we see clearly delineated a twofold dimension of Christianity that a dualistic vision of reality has difficulty keeping in harmony, despite the fact that nonduality is the quintessence of Christ’s mystery – totus Deus et totus homo (“The whole God and the whole man”) according to the classical expression. An inevitable consequence of this “panhistorical” vision of Christianity would be that the eucharist cannot be Christ’s real and true presence, but only an anamnesis (“memory”) of a past fact. In other words, without a mystical vision, the Eucharistic reality disappears.

After reading it the first time, there was nothing “clearly delineated.” No “inevitable consequence” was obvious to me. However, after several passes a modicum of understanding emerged. If his meaning is crystal clear to you, leave a comment below and we will discuss.

However, if that paragraph of theology leaves you cold, read on.

I will confess, there is some part of me that loves academic work. I love the puzzle, the working things out, the “Aha” moment when I finally grasp the author’s point. It’s even better when I have not just comprehension, but a strong opinion on their argument. That is a true victory!

But as I find myself being intellectually and egoically seduced by the power of knowledge, I also know, in the pit of my stomach, that it’s “nothing but straw,” as Thomas Aquinas infamously said in the final days of his life. Ultimately, on a cold day, in the concrete reality of our lives, most of what has been written about God would be most useful as fuel for a fire to keep us warm. Theology simply falls short of experiential knowledge. Simply put, our study of the Divine has far less of an impact on us than our experience of it.

The only theology we truly need to know is that God is Love with a capital L. Jesus gave us only two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. Like Hillel, he thought the rest would take care of itself. St. Augustine said simply, “Love God and do as you please.” But even this simple theology is worthless if we are not Loved in real life, in real ways, by real people, intentionally, compassionately, fiercely and unconditionally. Without the lived experience of deeply committed Love, by parent, spouse, friend or community, even this theology can be twisted and misunderstood.

I know academic studies of theology, philosophy and the like are critical disciplines. They elevate and animate conversations at the highest levels and shape our educational system and our vision of the world. They record the evolution of our collective consciousness. Without Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, without Descartes and Voltaire, Locke and Hobbes, and countless others, we would not be where we are today. But these subjects are not for everyone and I am grateful for the one percent who study them responsibly and have an opportunity to influence our world.

I know what they’ve done is good, but I read a story about Tamika Brown today, who is the embodiment of a lived theology of Love and

I am convinced that if all the theology in the world from every culture and religion, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and every other, ceased to exist tomorrow and instead we all Loved like this, the world would be a better place.

Two years ago, Tamika’s son, Richie Knight, was stabbed to death when he was 19 years old. His killer was Ian Lorne Ellis, a 17-year-old young man from the neighborhood, who Richie had been in confrontations with in the months before the murder. Ellis pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and will serve twenty-one years in prison. This is what Tamika had to say to him in the courtroom on the day of his sentencing.

“Only God knows why I’m not angry, or why I don’t hate you. Would it shock you to hear that I love you? I thought to myself one day a while back, ‘Don’t lock him up. Sentence him to my home. Let him be my son that he took away from me.’”

Can you imagine if we all sought justice this way? If loss opened us up and allowed us to give birth to something new and miraculous, instead of hardening our hearts, seeking retribution?

Tamika sang to her son’s killer about the source of her Love, starting with the song, “He Cares,” but changing a few words on the spot:

“So you think that you can’t make it through,/ Just remember that my God cares for you…/Don’t give up, don’t give in/ Today make Jesus Christ your number one friend.”

In suffering, Tamika knew Love, but instead of sharing it only with her friends and family, she extended it to the other, her enemy. No one can say this is soft, or easy, or wishy-washy theology. This is Love from its the deepest source, in any culture and by any name. She changed the equation. We are accused and we get defensive; we are Loved and we can be transformed.

Theology is all well and good, but it should never trump the embodied reality of Love. Think of France and Nigeria. Think of Israel and Palestine, ISIS and Iraq. Think of Leelah Alcorn. All these tragedies were based on mistaken theologies, ones that said there was a something greater than Love. We have to do better.

I may study theology, but I choose Love.

If you want to read the local news story, click here.