It feels like the world has been morally burning these past few weeks. From the elation of Inauguration Day, we've all had to climb down from our hopes of some immediate transformation of the populace. We've instead found that those of us who felt joy are even more vulnerable to feeling the pain of recent acts of hatred. It is not my intent to catalog the acts -- we know what they are. From Dr. Tiller's killing in his church, to having a GOP activist
suggest that an escaped gorilla could be one of Michelle Obama's ancestors or the fact that some conservative Christian groups
oppose expanding the existing Hate Crimes Bill to include crimes against members of the LGBT community, to the killing of the security guard at the Holocaust Museum.
Death, legislative stonewalling or insult, it's all ugly. And it all comes from hatred.
The Southern Poverty Law Center
,especially with their interactive map of hate groups probably keeps the best track of the development of hate groups. Click here
for info about your state.
But after we read and learn and identify -- then what? What do we do about this national cancer? How do we face it spiritually without it contaminating our own souls by making us hate the hater? How do we lift ourselves from the sadness that this hate brings with it? How do we keep on keeping on...where do we point our souls?
It's a lot to take in, all this hatred...which is why we must not
just take it in and let it roost inside our rib cages, breeding fear and rage. We must not let it be the evil gathering of evil ravens, brooding, making low guttural noises in our chests.
Vigilance and voice are both required. We must identify hatred where we see it, and we need to speak out about it when we do.
I remember attending a gay pride parade in my neighborhood when I lived in Queens.On one corner of a block was a group of haters - men and women of all ages who had been cordoned off by the police, presumably to protect them. They all carried vile signs, wishing death on the parade marchers. They all were screaming, their mouths and faces contorted with grimaces of hatred. They were screaming about how God didn't love gay people. They actually thought it was fine to be doing that -- to be wishing death, to be shouting lies about God. The parade was about to reach them. I wondered what the parade people would do.
The parade stopped. The marchers all got silent. They turned to face the haters, stood very still and said quietly, but as a large group "Shame, shame, shame on you." They them turned to face front and marched on. Every once in a while the parade would stop and do this. It was moving, affirming, and clean. They didn't let themselves take in the hatred, and they called it by its name.
I've had to turn to the words of peace makers whose hearts and souls inspire me. Here is what Desmond Tutu
has said -- "There is no situation that is not transfigurable..there is no situation that is devoid of hope..." He speaks of forgiveness and says "It is abandoning my right to pay-back...When I forgive, I jettison that right of retribution and I open the door of opportunity to you to make a new beginning. That is what I do when I forgive you...I am not going to let you victimize me and hold me in the position where I have an anger against you, a resentment, and I'm looking for the opportunity to pay back."
I struggle for that ideal. I usually fall short. Yet I know in my heart it is the right direction. Looking for the compassionate choice makes more and more sense to me.
We do need to protect ourselves from acts of terror. We do need to protect ourselves from terrorists. But we need to not become them as well. When we take on torture as a form of pay-back,for example, we have crossed a big line.
The parents of brothers, one who is gentle and the other who is violent, may well treat them differently, but they love each no less. Both are still their children. And even if the violent one hits his brother, they are still brothers. Could a member of the military waterboard his/her own brother?
But that is what they did.
Every one on this earth is our brother or our sister. We do not get to choose which ones are and are not. I want to -- I want only the good ones, the nice and shiny ones. But my faith tells me that is not a choice I have.
I have to take the messy ones too...and the ones who think I am messy.
In the past week I have asked people somewhat randomly what is needed to change things, to reduce hatred on a personal level. The most common answer I had was "respect". A need to respect others, to not necessarily love them, but to respect that they have gotten where they are by a path that makes sense to them. And that in knowing that, there can be the beginning of dialog.
That probably isn't going to work with those on the extreme edge, but it may keep someone from getting to that edge.
The days are full of references that are veiled or outright racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, etc. How often in my day do I let something pass in conversation? It's time to step up the number of times I find a way to correct someone. Yes, for example, I do need to send all
those emails back saying that Obama is not American,for example, with an appropriate factual comment. I do need to at least help someone understand that not everyone in their life shares their view. It is time to stop ignoring a foolish remark simply because it is foolish. It is also dangerous. It is also no service to my sister who sent it to let her go unchallenged.
And I need to hang on to hope. There is progress being made. Look around. The ever-present media in 2009 deluges us with information and negative images with such frequency that it can be easy to skip over the fact that we have made progress.
And that would be even more dangerous.
As long as we have hope,
we have direction,
the energy to move,
and the map to move by.
We have a hundred alternatives,
a thousand paths and infinity of dreams.
Hopeful, we are halfway to where we want to go;
Hopeless, we are lost forever. --Lao Tzu