I have found this summer sermon series of 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life(1) by Karen Armstrong to be an interesting challenge as I apply the sense of mindfulness of past chapter’s information to my own life. Now we are being asked to broaden our horizons and apply what we’ve learned in a more global manner.
In this chapter Armstrong writes: “Some religious traditions are more pluralistic than others, but all have at least one strand that insists that we cannot confine our compassion to our own group: we must also reach out in some way to the stranger and the foreigner – even to the enemy. This means that the wellbeing of humanity is dependent upon concern for everybody. It is now time to apply what we have learned to the wider global community.”
Armstrong reminds us that, “at an early stage of its development, tribalism enabled the human race to survive in harsh and inhospitable circumstances, but tribal chauvinism can be extremely dangerous. During this step we begin to expand our horizons to make place for the more distant other. Understanding different national, cultural, and religious traditions is no longer a luxury; it is now a necessity and must become a priority. The Dalai Lama has pointed out that when countries, continents, and even villages were economically and socially independent and contacts between them few, the destruction of an enemy could have been advantageous for ‘us.'” But today, that independence no longer exists in quite the same way.
Many years ago I sought the help and guidance of a therapist. I learned that several of the habits I had developed in my earlier life had helped me to survive. These habits, however, were no longer helpful for me to hold onto, in fact, they had become harmful. It was time for me to let go of the old ways. Through awareness and intentional hard work I was able to do so and mostly successfully. In the same manner, old ways worked in many cultures to help that culture survive, but now is the time to let those ways go. Today, countries, continents, and even villages are really no longer economically and socially independent.
We are becoming more and more a global village. “In the global economy and the electronic age, national boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant; we can no longer simply draw a line in the sand between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ if we harm our neighbors, we also inflict damage to ourselves.”
Armstrong observes, “in the United States, the federal government has built a wall to keep illegal Mexican immigrants from entering the country. In the world or religion too, many people enjoy contact with other faiths, but others have retreated into denominational ghettos and erected new barriers of orthodoxy against the ‘other.’ The strain of piety popularly known as ‘fundamentalism’ can be seen as a religiously articulated form of nationalism or ethnicity, which emphasizes the more particularistic elements of faith.”
How do we interpret a vehicle clearly identified as belonging to a local Christian church, decked out with American flags? I witnessed that truck a few days ago while I was on my way to the church one morning. Christianity is not a national religion, and if it were, I would not consider myself to be Christian confined to that definition because my belief is that God is a God for all peoples and all nations.
Unite the Right 2 rallies happening today remind us of last year’s violent gathering in Charlottesville. I find it interesting to see so many white people acting as if they are victims of discrimination. KKK, Neo-Nazi and other white supremacy hate groups emerge. There is a lot of publicity about these Unite the Right gatherings this weekend. Of these is one story that offers hope rather than darkness and fear engendered by these hate groups.
This story is about Ken Parker who was in Charlottesville, Virginia a year ago spreading hate as a member of the National Socialist Movement, an American Neo-Nazi group. He said, “I’ve been single handedly spreading hate and discontent.” A year after Charlottesville, the Neo-Nazi is denouncing hate and proclaims he is a new person. “It takes too much energy to live like that,” said Parker.
Parker’s new life (following some sacred interior shift) began in March when he turned to an African American pastor to find his path to redemption. It came at a table near the pool in the community where they both live. It was Parker, his fiancé and Pastor William McKinnon at the table. “They just said, we have been wanting to talk to you,” said Pastor McKinnon. McKinnon said he remembers the expression on his face. “God was working on his heart when he came to the table that day, it was divine,” said McKinnon.
A few weeks after that and several conversations about faith, Parker would become a member of the predominately black All Saints Holiness Church. And he would be baptized by the pastor at Little Talbot Island. McKinnon said he is convinced that Parker is a new man in Christ. “As I was sharing with him about God’s love, tears started coming down his eyes. When tears are coming down, something is hitting at home,” said McKinnon. “He was very sincere.”
Pastor McKinnon said Parker is actively working on his new life. He has denounced all hate groups. “I see a young man more in communication with God and learning how to follow God sincerely and trying to do it in love,” said the pastor. McKinnon is doing what he does as a minister but never saw a person of hate reaching out to him for help. “God can save whomever, but never thought about someone coming from a hate background like him,” he said. Now he is working with a tattoo artist to remove the vestiges of hate from his body. Parker has started the first laser treatment in the process. “It is clear to me that love covers all,” said Pastor McKinnon.(2) Such a good story.
The sense I have from today’s scripture reading is that being followers of Christ is not about privilege, except perhaps the privilege of service. To restate from the passage: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting our own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of slave, and became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death.” Another good story.
One of the aspects I have enjoyed in this 12-Step series is weaving a variety of colorful threads into the broad tapestry of world religions and spiritual traditions. When we do so we come to realize how we are more similar than different in our expressions and desires to be in real relationship with God, and how we are called to see God in the other. “The direction is always toward more love and union – in ever widening circles,” as Richard Rohr states in today’s meditation. (3)
In that light, Armstrong encourages us to, “incorporate a new Buddhist exercise into your mindfulness practice. It will help you to appreciate how dependent you are on people you have never met and who may live far away. As you walk about your home, bring to mind all the people who built it, treated its timbers, baked its bricks, installed the plumbing, and wove your linens. When you get up in the morning, remember those who planted, picked, and spun the cotton of your sheets and who collected, treated, and exported the beans you grind for your morning coffee. You enjoy their products, so you have a responsibility for them, especially if they were working in poor conditions. Who baked the bread you toast for breakfast? Become aware of the labor that went into the production of each slice.
As you set off to work, reflect on the thousands of workers and engineers who build and maintain the roads, cars, railroads, planes, trains, and underground transport on which you rely. Continue this exercise throughout the day. We should also make ourselves aware that our cultural, ethical, religious, and intellectual traditions have all been profoundly affected by other peoples. We think of them as ours, but they may in the past have been deeply influenced by the ancestors of those we now regard as enemies. We are what we are because of the hard work, insights, and achievements of countless others.”
These are small steps toward moving from fear of the other to an embrace of the awareness that we are all children of Allah, God, a higher power, Elohim, Krishna, and born of this awareness is the move to acknowledging that we need one another. Interdependence is important. Through knowledge, fear and ignorance may be corrected – and that leads us to the next step.
May God bless you this day to bless others reflecting God’s love, compassion and mercy. Amen.
- Karen Armstrong; Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, 2010
- First Coast News, Copyright 2018 WTLV
- Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, 8-12-18
Copyright DMC, 2018