Responding to hatred and terror with love - Paris

A New Unity Sunday Gathering

 

We come together today from many places and many ways of life
Amid our many differences, we join as one
We know that there is strength in our connection
We know that there is comfort in our togetherness
We know that there is hope in our diverse unity
May the flame we kindle today enable us to see beyond disagreement and strife
Beyond anger and fear
Beyond different belief and understandings
May we learn to see the beauty in each and every person
And free our love to work in the world


Readings

 

The Body of Humankind by Norman Cousins

I am a single cell in a body of billions of cells. The body is humankind.
I am a single cell. My needs are individual, but they are not unique.
I am interlocked with other human beings in the consequences of our actions, thoughts, and feelings.
I will work for human unity and human peace; for a moral order in harmony with the order of the universe.
Together we share the quest for a society of the whole equal to our needs,
A society in which we need not live beneath our moral capacity, and in which justice has a life of its own.
We are single cells in a body of billions of cells. The body is humankind.

 

 Martin Luther King, from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way
to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy
into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must
evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.

The foundation of such a method is love.

 

J.R.R Tolkien, The Two Towers

FRODO: I can't do this, Sam!

SAM: I know. It's all wrong! By rights, we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr Frodo; the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was, when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the Sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that MEANT something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something.

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there's some GOOD in this world, Mr Frodo! And it's worth fighting for!


Message, by Andy Pakula

 

It happened again. On Friday evening, terrorists killed more than one hundred people in Paris and wounded many more.  

Most of us probably woke up Saturday morning to the terrible news of confusion, grief, and suffering. 

I want to believe that we are all parts of this body called humankind - interlocked - as Norman Cousins reminds us. At times like this, that trust and that faith is tested.

It was only earlier this year that we were all shocked by terrorist attacks in France. That time it was the killings primarily at the Charlie Hebdo offices. This time it was bigger - more deaths - more wounded. The attacks this time were clearly intended to cause as much death and fear as possible.

Of course, it’s horrible and terrifying and tragic either way, but the scale and indiscriminate nature of the attacks this time make it somehow more immediate - more personally threatening. Last time, somewhere in our minds, a voice calmed us with the reminder that we aren’t involved in satirising Islam or working at a Kosher market, so are safe.

Now, we know what was really true all along - that we’re all in this together. 

And now the emotions roll over us as the news feeds continue on 24/7. Grief as we hear of the dead and wounded - the many lives lost and the many more changed forever. The web of interconnections has been slashed and torn. 

There is anger, of course toward the men who carried out this terrible act. Anger toward those who incited them to do it. Anger toward the policies everywhere that created the conditions that encouraged such hatred. 

And there is tremendous fear. What does the future look like for any of us? For our loved ones? For our children? Are we all now susceptible to the next wave of attacks which, the right wing papers are quick to assure us, will be here in the UK?

There are many who will react to this fear in ways that tend to defeat understanding and connection. Reports suggest that two of the gunmen were carrying passports of people who traveled through Greece as refugees from Syria. We don’t yet know if the passports were theirs or taken from others, but we can be sure that this will create pressure to take even fewer refugees than the 20,000 the UK has agreed to accept over five years.

That is only a small part of the backlash we can expect. How many European Muslims - how many Europeans that someone might think looks like a Muslim - will be harassed, attacked, and even killed?

Muslims in western Europe - the vast majority of whom disagree with and abhor the violence of the extremists know that hostility toward them will increase - that they are less safe now than they were just a few days ago. They know too that no statements of disavowal and condemnation of the violence could fully dissociate the word Muslim from the word Terrorist and take them out of the cross-hairs of the angry.

The news of the past few days reminds us that our world is a dangerous and scary place. It has always been a dangerous and scary place. It is worth remembering two important things. First, violence is lower than it has ever been; The number of people killed annually in conflict has dropped tremendously and steadily over the past century. Although news is more immediate and more available so that the horrors that have always been there have become more visible, the world has actually become safer.

And second, the vast majority of people are like the many people who have turned to social media and opened their homes as shelter to anyone in need - people who refuse to let terror overcome their human decency and compassion.

At times like these, we can be tempted to regard one another with fear - suspecting that every person we don’t know would harm us in one way or another if they had the chance. The truth is that most people are like you and me. We have our anger. We have plenty of fear. We worry for ourselves, for our families, and for their futures. We mostly want to be loved and to give love. We feel good when they help people. We do not wake up each day with murder in our hearts.

And yet, terrible, terrible things happen in the world.

There are many victims this weekend and there will be more victims to come - more innocents killed. Sadly, there is little we can do to change that. 

But we can do something about another potential victim and that is our own humanity. We have a choice about whether our faith in humankind and our commitment to love can survive days like these.

Every time there is immense cruelty, the perpetrators must do one thing to make it possible.

They must learn to see their victims as less than human.

Exactly this process is playing out in the news of the past week. Terrorist extremists thought of their targets as less than human. It made their actions possible.

But it’s not one-sided. To many non-Muslims in the west, Muslims are “other” - not like us. They don’t feel and ache and love as we do. They don’t value life as we do. And it becomes a small step to dehumanize and turn to cruelty.

What about those we enlightened lefty folks -are inclined to call monsters - inhuman? The terrorists themselves? What about the right-wing and racist movements in our own country or those in France and elsewhere in Europe? Are we not quick to dehumanise them as well?
Responding with love is not a gimmick and it is not easy. It is far harder than hating and harder than turning to violence and vengeance. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., like Ghandi before him, took the very challenging path of love in the face of hatred:

His words:
“Darkness can can never drive out darkness; Only light can do that. Hate can never drive out hate; Only love can do that.”

These were not empty words. King was determined to live them.

o-SELMA-TO-MONTGOMERY-facebook.jpg

When the marchers on Selma Alabama came upon racist troopers manning a barricade, they sang a gospel song to them with modified words:

“I love the troopers in my heart, in my heart,
I love the troopers in my heart.
You can't make me doubt them,
Cuz I know too much about them,
In my heart, in my heart.”

And even the notoriously cruel Sheriff Jim Clark was serenaded in this way: "I love Jim Clark, in my heart, in my heart,"

The original words of the song are about Jesus. These faithful people substituted their oppressors for their God in a song proclaiming their faith.

I wish I could tell you that the path of love is a certain and rapid route to world peace and that with a little more love, flowers will replace guns and bombs everywhere. We know that’s not true. 

But we also know that killing or even demeaning our enemies is not and has never been a reliable path to peace. It satisfies vengeance. It provides an outlet for our fury. But it leads to even more anger, resentment, and polarisation in the long run. “Us” and “them” become more entrenched, more foreign to one another, and more certain of the “otherness” of their opponents.

It is natural for human beings to divide into “us” and “them.” It is natural for “us” to begin to imagine about “them” that they do not feel as we do, and for “them” to imagine the same about “us.”

Our love will not stop terrorism today nor will it eradicate the hatred and anger that fuel it. The conditions for that hatred have been built up over many many years.

If our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents - if governments had taken a path of understanding rather than force, we would live in a different world today. This weekend might have been a normal weekend in Paris with joy and love and the usual sorrows - but without terror.

Whilst we can not change today with a snap of our fingers, our love can change the future. Our commitment to compassion and understanding can change the way our children and their children will relate to one another. The way we are today can shape the world to come. 

It is time that good people, like King and Gandhi before us, spoke of a different way - a way of love. It is a hard path. It is a path that causes us discomfort as we try to get inside the heart of an enemy. It is an uncertain path and a long road whose end is beyond our own lifetimes if there is an end at all. But we know where the road of anger and dehumanisation leads and we have had enough of that journey.

Let us work toward a world where understanding and love are the tools with which we address conflict.

May it be so for you.