There are times when I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and everything is wrong. Everything is terrible and terrifying. I check the time. It always starts with a three.
The world that seemed OK during the day and when I fell off to sleep now seems malevolent. My life is a in tatters. there is no love. There is no hope.
I try to sleep but it eludes me - my heart and my thoughts racing. “Think of something positive, Andy.” Nothing…
Finally, exhausted, wet with perspiration, I fall of to sleep. the time begins with a four or five.
Some hours pass. The sun rises and the world of horrors is gone with the darkness.
Sometimes, though, it’s hard to drag ourselves back to love of the morning, as Denise Levertov puts it in her poem.
Recently, I have begun to have that three something feeling in the daylight. It comes as I read about the terror, the killing, the cruelty, taking place in Iraq and Syria.
We have all heard the names and places and stories. From invisibility, a group called ISIS has emerged. From seeming irrelevance and invisibility, it aims to establish a repressive Islamic Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. ISIS is now being called a global threat by the leaders of western and a variety of other nations.
In our connected world, we see the terrible detail. We know that as we speak a battle is raging for a Kurdish town in Syria called Kobani. We are warned that there may be a massacre.
We’ve heard about the inhuman acts taking place - including from ISIS itself, whose expert social media use has driven their recruiting and compelled reactions from leaders around the world.
The responses we hear are perhaps predictable. They feel familiar too - using much of the language we’ve heard about Al Qaeda previously, and before that about Saddam Hussein.
Not a lot of nuance there…
From here, our thoughts and words can quickly jump to politics. It’s all about oil. We created ISIS. It’s Israel’s fault. The problem is with Islam.
But let’s not go there. It’s too easy.
And it’s too easy also to mimic the strident voices speaking about evil monsters. What is hard is to hold onto our values and our faith in the presence of horror.
Yes. I said faith. We all have some kind of faith - faith that the sun will rise, faith that bodies heal, faith that love matters... And it is that faith that allows us to have hope for a brighter tomorrow for humanity and for our world.
If Unitarianism has any articles of faith - which is arguable - there are two that have been with us for a long time: First, that every person has inherent worth and dignity and second, that we are all interconnected.
These values or convictions or beliefs may at first sound simplistic. Doesn’t everyone agree? No. They don’t. And these perspectives on the world matter. Not only do they affect the way we look at the world, they shape the way we act in that world.
Do we label people as evil and worthless? Not if we believe every person has worth and dignity. Do we turn away from the horror and injustice going on far away? Not if interconnection is real for us.
How do we hold onto our faith and our hope when human beings behave in ways that we would call inhuman.
I don’t mean this song to be our answer, but let’s sing together. When will the fighting cease? When our love breaks boundaries.
There are, of course, ways to think about the terrible conflicts in our world that do not resort to the simplicity and polarity of good and evil. There are ways to approach the world that do not rely on demonizing some and making saints of others.
And these ways are much much harder than drawing absolutes - much more troubling than applying labels of who is OK and who is worthless. These ways require us to think about the capacity for good in all of us and the capacity for cruelty in all of us.
These ways require us to think about how we might behave in different circumstances and - if we do wish for a world of peace - to think about what would need to happen to change things for the better.
The bad news is that there are no easy answers. “Bombing them into submission” is not an answer. Violence has never yet proved to be, in itself, an effective answer to violence.
Ignoring them is not an answer. Oppression, pain, and misery will come in that route as well. And we can be sure that the violence will come back again and again as each generation raised on violence and hatred and fear take their own place in leadership.
To a great extent, answering the question “how do we get to peace from here” is like the person who asks direction and is told “well, I wouldn’t start from here.”
And, in fact, being faced with a violent, well-armed, fundamentalist movement intent on killing and destroying those who are different is not the right place to start.
If we are at that point, we have already lost this round of the long march toward peace and justice.
The place to start is with the battles that may or may not take place 20 years from now. The place to apply our values and to exercise our faith is in the creation of a world where the children born today will not be damaged and twisted by violence and hate.
Creating that world is where we need to be. It is in the long view that our faith and hope makes sense - far beyond the time-frame of the next election cycle and even, sadly, far beyond the horror of the present conflicts.
Of course, we can work to minimize the horror and pain of this current war, but our best hope for today is only to minimize - to help the suffering, to reduce the killing.
Real hope lies in our vision for the future.
The world that our children and our children’s children will live in is determined by people like us today. If there’s is a world where many are powerless, oppressed, poor, and suffering, then their world will be torn by violence as ours is.
If we have made it a world of justice, opportunity, and freedom, then we will have left them a brighter future than the present.
That is the work ahead of us. That is the purpose of our faith.
The hope that hovers in the corners, that drops from mushroom gills, that explodes from dandelions - that hope - comes from the world we build for tomorrow. It is not in ending the war of today, but it preventing the war of tomorrow.
Let us build a world of tomorrow where, when we wake up, we know that the terrors of the night were only nightmares and that they do indeed fade with the coming of the light.