Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Sept 10, 2017
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.
Last week in the Free Press, Melissa Martin wrote an article entitled, “Amazing grace floats to the top of Houston’s ocean of misery.” She noted that when environmental crises hit, human compassion increases. In Houston, people saw an elderly driver trapped in a flooded car as the waters continued to rise. They formed a human chain to reach him and pull him to safety. Mosques and churches, stores and private homes opened their doors to shelter flood evacuees. People bandied together across political and religious differences to save lives and soften the blow.
This has happened repeatedly around the world. Employees of a bakery in Mexico, were trapped by flood waters and couldn’t get out. So—they set to work baking. When they were finally rescued over 24 hours later, they had hundreds of loaves and cakes to share with other survivors.
In Honduras, rural residents reported higher levels of trust and closer friends after experiencing devastation from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. A study was conducted in the area of Chile that suffers the greatest number of earthquakes. It found that the residents gave more to charity and volunteered more. Their communities also had lower crime rates.
Melissa concluded her article by writing, “when the water rises up to swallow the world, what keeps us afloat is compassion.”
What happens when social crises hit? When people are forced to flee from their homes not from environmental disasters, but because of political upheaval and violence? Initially, compassion largely kicks in again, but after the refugees have settled in, conflict might well happen over misunderstandings and differences in language and culture. Fear begins to compromise compassion. Its tentacles begin to feed false news, an insidious epidemic that deepens fear. People move into defensive, protective mode that shields once-open hearts.
I saw this happen yesterday. I was afraid that violence would break out. In fact, I didn’t sleep well all of last week because of these worries. Although an anti-Muslim rally planned for yesterday morning was called off, two white supremacists still showed up and a small skirmish broke out at the CBC building. In contrast, the 2 pm rally was publicized as family-friendly and it was more like a love-in. Westworth had a strong presence at the afternoon rally. Ed White and his girls looked after a children’s area, where they helped other children draw posters that celebrate diversity. Noella, Phio & Anna drew pictures of different-coloured cats on a poster, including a rainbow cat!
Storm clouds are intensifying in magnitude and frequency not only in our climate-changed physical environment but also in our fear-charged social environment. I’m sensing the gathering clouds of a deepening dis-ease in this beloved country of mine. Overt racism and anti-refugee sentiments are gaining legitimacy. I’m afraid that we will see more rallies and protests against Muslims and refugees. Anti-semitism is also on the rise.
At the 2 pm rally yesterday, I pleaded with people not to return hate or violence with the same. I asked them to take the higher, much more difficult path of compassion—even for the instigators of hate. Hate feeds hate, but compassion starves hate.
Our Judaeo-Christian tradition has taught us to take the more challenging road of compassion and love. In Jesus’ time, there were two main schools of Jewish thought. One was led by Shammai, who took a more literal approach to the Torah, and the other school was led by Hillel, who was more liberal in his theology. A Gentile decided to test both leaders with a question. He asked Shammai to teach him the whole Torah while he stood on one leg. Shammai took offence and simply dismissed him. Hillel, however, replied with wisdom and a gentle rebuke: “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn!”
Jesus would have been aware of Hillel’s teaching, and he stated it in the positive by teaching his followers, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus taught us to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. Our passage in Romans refers to both the Jewish and Christian teachings, stated in both the positive and negative: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Many of you have seen the poster called “The Golden Rule”. It compares teachings of the world’s major religions on love and compassion. It includes a teaching from the Prophet Mohammed that states, “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” Listen to the teaching from Buddha: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” You will see on this poster that Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism all have similar teachings because we all have common values of love and compassion.
If we treat our neighbour as we would treat ourselves; if we love our neighbour as ourselves, it begins with the first glance. Studies have shown that the first impression almost always remains as the lasting impression. How we look at each other will determine what we see. If we first look at each other through the eyes of suspicion, we will notice every little detail that feeds our fear. But if we look a at one another with eyes of compassion, we will recognize our common values of love.
We all have a propensity for fear; we all have hurt others. If we look for the ways in which we have hurt each other, we will find them. But if we look for the ways in which we have offered kindness and compassion, we will see more deeply into each other’s true character.
There are very few, if any, whose core being is evil. We all have good intentions—for the most part. Our mistakes may be harmful, but usually we did not intend harm. What if we give each other the benefit of the doubt—especially if that person is someone we already don’t trust? We know that our harmful actions were not intentional. If can also assume best intentions of the other, we will be loving our neighbours as ourselves.
When I was part of a United Church delegation to Israel and Palestine, we visited Palestinians and Israelis who were trying to live peaceably together. One of the places was the home of a Palestinian Christian, whose land that had been in the family for generations was under attack by settlers. And yet, he refused to give in to hate. Instead, he turned his home into a place of creative peace-making for children around the world. As you entered his land, you were welcomed by a sign painted on a rock in Hebrew, Arabic, German and English: “We refuse to be enemies.” They asked visitors not to take sides, but to seek justice and peace for both sides.
During the week of Trump’s inauguration, our Moderator wrote an article entitled, “I Love Trump.” “Although I have serious misgivings about his policies and pronouncements,” she wrote, “he is a child of God, just like me, so I must treat him with dignity, respect, and love.” She challenged all of us to refuse to give in to hate—even hate within ourselves—and that we “defend the dignity and worth, the well-being and integrity of everyone—including the oppressors.”
In this fractured time, it is imperative that we set aside our political differences and stand together united in our determination to live into Jesus’ high calling to love our neighbours—no matter who they are nor where they’re from—as ourselves.