Prayer is “shaped to heal relationships” even the worst of oppressive relationships. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer. Our capacity to forgive is based on the knowledge that God has already been forgiven us. I was struck by the ready forgiveness by the survivors of the gunman who infiltrated the Bible study class in the Charleston church. While we say the Lord’s Prayer at least once a week, how many of us even think about the meaning of ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’? This has to do with the formation of relationships. Trespass is to cross over without permission, right? Some say debtors and debts instead of trespass and trespassers. We might say sin and sinners. All of our language here is out of date or loaded. What we mean to say is forgive us for breaking relationships with others as we forgive them for breaking relationships with us. But that sounds a bit mild until we consider extreme forms of breaking a relationship – then we recognize it can be very serious business. Murder is an extreme form of a broken relationship – there is no hope for reconciliation with the dead person. The women who were able to respond to the gunman knew about forgiveness and broken relationships.
“Sometimes I just like to sit quietly and listen.” This is a loose quotation from something that Winnie the Pooh said. I think it worth considering. Not entering into any meditation or contemplation at all, just sitting there listening. In Pooh’s world he heard his friends, the wind, the rain, he thought about his honey supply and his stomach, he thought about what he could do for his friends, he wanted to visit Eeyore, Rabbit, Christopher Robin, Piglet and all the others. Just sitting there has no agenda, topic, subject. It is open ended. Maybe it is important, maybe not. The point is that we leave ourselves open. It is important to do that once in a while. If for nothing else than to listen to the birds sing and the wind hold forth. In sitting there we might remember a friend’s sad story or their birthday and be moved to respond to their need. This becomes a message to act for someone else in relationship. On the other hand, we might just find that it is a source of renewal to just sit there. That may become an important event, or just be.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks studied the dynamics that fed the totalitarian up risings in Europe in the 1930s and warns of the dangers of division in our societies. He is especially concerned with the dynamics which might lead to ‘sibling rivalries’ or the social equivalents of these. I think we are seeing this happening again in our time.
This week I’ve noticed three different arrests of men who posed a threat, according to authorities, because of their postings of “white nationalist” propaganda on social media( Reuters, August 16,2019). Why they feel that they have the responsibility or right to such postings in a pluralistic society is anybody’s opinion. That their postings run a danger of in division of our society is without doubt. They may feel threatened or afraid that they are being crowded out and that they no longer have a place in this society. Jobs, income, immigration, politics, education, opportunity, housing, and a host of other problems plague these folks.
Not the least of their problems is how to take in and how to love the stranger that they do not know!
That, after all, is one of our two overriding commandments–right up there with: Love God! How do you love someone you do not know? You spend the time to get to know them! Otherwise we are not likely to form a relationship of any sort with a stranger. If we cannot find a way to love the other, the stranger, when we have a group of strangers we form social groups called “us” and “them” or the “insider” and the “outsider.”
We have a division in society based on fear. That runs the risk of division of society and violence developing.
An emotion that may stall our impulse to love our neighbor and instead feed our anger, hatred, and rage is fear. Fear is a primary emotion and serves us well when it comes to jumping off the edge of the Grand Canyon or out of a 20 story window. It may cause us to run and dive under an object in the face of a gunner. It can prevent us from putting a noose around our neck just to feel what it would feel like to hang. Fear may also prevent us, even paralyze us from acting on our behalf. It is a primary emotion that feeds secondary emotions of anger, hatred, and rage. When it does, we cannot move to love our neighbor. One of the important steps in loving our neighbor is reaching out to the other. If we fail to reach out to another person, we cannot get to know the other person and learn to love them for who they are. They and you languish as a result. You must form a relationship with someone to love them. You need to know how, in what way, you know someone to love them. Do they need food or clothes, medical care, or our personal attention? Are they bringing you a surprise like one of the angels in the Old Testament? Are they likely to be a good friend? Whenever we drop our guard, our fear to find out who the stranger is and form a relationship with the person as a person who deserves to be known and loved for their own sake.
I have been reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks study of the rise of Nazi Germany and am saddened by not only those events but by observing some cultural similarities between the 1930s German culture and our own 2019 culture. The overwhelmingly feeling, I am getting, is that of a destructive tendency that seems to dehumanize a portion of society, and hence, to commit mass violence against it. We create scapegoats of people that we do not like. We call a select group of people by derogatory names telling them they are not wanted. When we do that, we dehumanize them. They are now an object instead of a person for whom we have feelings. Hate and rage rule our behavior instead of compassion, empathy, and care. A large part of the recent rhetoric in public places has been to scapegoat minority groups. This makes me wonder how we can love either God or our neighbor. You see when we dehumanize someone, individuals or groups, we not only make them objects which we do not have to treat kindly, but we create objects of ourselves. We are now ruled by our hate and rage toward the other and have lost our own capacity to feel loving toward them or ourselves. Hate and rage are all-consuming. They are feelings that destroy the object of hatred or rage and the hater. To love God, our neighbor and ourselves, we must have access to our emotions, our feelings of compassion, caring, and empathy. We cannot do that when we are blinded by name-calling and the desire to kill, to be rid of a cancer in our midst. The outsider, the stranger is there for us to love or care for in order that we discover our own humanity.