Believe in Good

Into the darkness of fear, let us bring the light of courage
Into the darkness of despair, let us bring the light of hope
Into the darkness of hate, let us bring the light of love
We choose whether to turn to darkness or to light
Where there is darkness, let there be light


Good and Evil (from The Prophet) by Kahlil Gibran

And one of the elders of the city said, Speak to us of Good and Evil.
And he answered:
Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, “Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”
For the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward.
But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,
You are only loitering and sluggard.
Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.

But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, “Wherefore are you slow and halting?”

For the truly good ask not the naked, “Where is your garment?” nor the houseless, “What has befallen your house?”

Willow, by Brendan Kennelly

To understand
A little of how a shaken love
May be sustained
The giant stillness
Of a willow
After a storm.
This morning it is more than peaceful
But last night that great form
Was tossed and hit
By what seemed to me
A kind of cosmic hate,
An infernal desire
To harass and confuse,
Mangle and bewilder
Each leaf and limb
With every vicious
So that now I cannot grasp
The death of nightmare.
How it has passed away
Or changed to this
This clean peace
That seems so unshakable
A branch beyond my reach says
"It is well
"For me to feel
The transfiguring breath
Of evil
"Because yesterday
The roots by which I live
Lodged in apathetic clay.
"But for that fury
How should I be rid of the slow death?
How should I know
"That what a storm can do
Is to terrify my roots
And make me new?"

Message, by Andy Pakula

2016 is a year that will probably stand out in most of our minds for a very long time - if not for the rest of our lives.

2016 is the year of BREXIT. And since Wednesday morning, it has become the year when Donald Trump was elected to what is still arguably the most powerful position on Earth. 

2016 is, for many of us, the year when hopes were dashed that the world would inexorably become more just, more peaceful, and more decent.

The stillness of Wednesday morning - its normalcy - felt surreal. Like the willow of Brendan Kennelly’s poem, a great storm had shaken many of us. And yet, we went about our business. People walked and talked as though the world had not changed in some major way. Some say it hasn’t. Many despair.

Whether you have a strong connection to the United States or not, the results of the American presidential election have hit most of us hard. I apologise now if you were supportive of Trump or perhaps neutral. I will not be speaking to your perspective much this morning. Perhaps that’s part of the problem, but more about that later.

We held a gathering in this place Wednesday evening for anyone who needed to be together with others who were hurting from the news of the day. It was a place of quiet and candles and heart-touching music. 

Those of us who gathered Wednesday needed to be together. We needed to be together because we were afraid and angry and shocked and depressed and distraught. We came together as we would after a shocking death. We needed to be together in our grief. And it was grief - it is grief. Not only are we worried about the future - we are also mourning a dream of what the world could be. To a great extent, I feel like the remnants of the dream I was raised to believe are now dead and buried.

It is hard to know how to respond this soon after the election and with so much uncertainty ahead. We do know that, like BREXIT and like a variety of right-wing movements growing across Europe, this election has been deeply linked with xenophobia and nationalism and racism and sexism. It has been linked with ways of thinking and acting that seem antithetical to what we hold dear in this community.

It remains to be seen how this storm will change the world, how this storm will change this community, and how it will change each of us. Despite the stillness, I am convinced it will. I believe - indeed, I hope - that this becomes a watershed moment in history where our roots were shocked from the apathetic clay in which they so readily lodge.

I titled today’s gathering “Believe in Good?” And there’s a very definite question mark following Believe in Good, three words that capture the optimistic and hopeful perspective found amongst us.

“Believe in good” is a hopeful worldview - a worldview that makes room for compassion and understanding and peace.

Kahlil Gibran, whose words we heard a moment ago, was a 20th century Lebanese immigrant to the United States. His 1923 book, The Prophet made him the third best-selling poet of all time, behind only Shakespeare and Laotzi, the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching. This immigrant’s radical views were influential and often challenged simple assumptions, like the divide between good and evil. “Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil. For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?”

“Believe in Good” stands with Gibran and many others to counter a worldview that divides people into us and them, and into good and evil. The view that we can sort the world into such simplistic categories is prevalent. 

It is found in the history of our species and taught in too many of our religions. It is rarely more relevant than it is today - remembrance Sunday - a day when remember the horrors of the wars whose existence could not have been without the ability to convince people across many lands that humans and nations could be divided into us and them, good and evil, worthy and unworthy.

And “Believe in Good” also stands in opposition to the fearful view that the world gets inexorably worse, replacing it with a commitment that positive change is always possible. It is a faithful statement that asserts that, in Martin Luther King’s paraphrase of Theodore Parker: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Believe in Good is a statement of faith. It is not something we can test or prove. It is something we choose to follow or deny.

We began the theme of mystery and wonder and faith in October. We began with the many woes of the world on our mind but before we could imagine this new test of of our ability to remain hopeful.

And now, with BREXIT and Trump and other setbacks to our dreams,  the test is very much upon us. Can we remain hopeful? Can we hold onto our faith in people as individuals and as a whole?

As much as we may be struggling to hold onto our belief in good right now, the answer must be yes. And there are two sides to that answer - the practical and the faithful, both of which echo in the writings of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

There is more truth in this than we are usually ready to recognise. It is a call to us to consider how we too separate people into good and evil, acceptable and deplorable, us and them… 
I recall when Barack Obama was first elected. I was overflowing with joy, and not just because he was my candidate. I was moved and grateful and hopeful because of what he represented. At last, an African American was president of the United States - a nation that had enshrined great ideals but lived with a shameful history of slavery and a seemingly unshakeable strain of racism. And now, Barack Obama would change all that. We won.

And somehow, I and we dreamed that the opposition to his candidacy, the racism, the hatred, would all melt away. Whilst we might not have been hateful to our opponents, we certainly weren’t loving. We didn’t try to understand their perspectives or reach out with compassion.

We won.

Yes, we might have had some reason for hope of change. A generation of children of all colours would grow up understanding that the colour of one’s skin is no indication of intelligence, or ability, or the content of one’s character.

But the hardening of hearts that took place bore its poison fruit this month - with the election of a candidate who encouraged racism, who encouraged hatred, and who encouraged violence.

Winning does not change anything in the long term. Spiderman 3 included a coldly pragmatic dictum: “Never wound... what you can't kill.” If you have an enemy, only death will prevent them from coming back stronger. 

If this sounds Machiavellian, it should.

Niccolò Machiavelli gave much the same advice in 1505 in The Prince - the classic guide to ruthless political and military power. His words: 
“Never do an enemy a small injury. If one is striking out at an opponent, one should make sure that the fatal blow is struck.” 

If we cannot or are unwilling to destroy our enemies, then our own interest demands that we take a path that changes minds and hearts.

Defeat cannot drive out hate. Repression cannot drive out hate. Laws cannot drive out hate.
Only love can do that.

And then we are left where we started, because the ability to reach out to our enemies with love - to see them not as evil but human - requires that we believe in good. Until we can believe that Trump supporters and Leave voters are capable of compassion, desirous of peace, and possessed of dreams and sorrows and hopes and fears much like our own - we cannot begin to love. And if we cannot begin to love, we cannot begin to understand, we cannot begin to have compassion of our own. We cannot begin to drive out hate.

This is just the beginning, my friends. Kennelly writes “That what a storm can do Is to terrify my roots And make [us] new.”

We can not know what is to come. We may be too raw and grief-stricken now to know how we may act and respond as individuals and in community here and beyond.

But our roots should be terrified and ripped from their lodging place in apathetic clay.
In days to come, there will be room for words and action. There will be a place for us to show that we do not and will not stand with hate.

There will be a place for legislative battles to prevent hate from becoming locked into our societies

And there will be a need for love - a need for a great, expansive, healing, and connecting love that is the nature of our giant selves - of the good we all hold within.

In this time of shock - this time of grief - this time of remembrance - we will perhaps begin recognise that the struggle of our time has come - the struggle for what kind of societies we will live in and what kind world we will work to create for future generations. 

The struggle will not be brief. It will not be easy. It will not be completed in our time. It will not be without great sacrifice.

But we cannot give in. We cannot give up on good.

May it be so