Those People

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Yesterday, my cousin posted a news article about a woman who had repeatedly punched a 12 year old who was carrying a Trump sign while riding his bike. Thankfully, he reported what happened and it is currently being investigated. I wish I could say something like this crime surprised me, but it doesn’t, at least not anymore. Sadly, I also was not surprised at the comments. People were quick to write that this sort of behavior is “typical” of democrats and we “only hear of democrats doing crap like this.” I don’t know about you, but this sort of animosity fills my Facebook feed every day. I routinely have to resist rushing in to defend “my side” and I am not always successful.

Here’s the thing: The problem isn’t those people. It’s you. It’s me. When we physically attack people for carrying Trump (or Biden) signs, we reveal the evil within our own hearts, not theirs. When we say this sort of behavior is “typical of democrats” (or republicans), we convict ourselves, not them.

Friends, our self-righteousness and divisive attitudes are literally killing us. We make sweeping assumptions about the hearts and motives of people who think differently than we do. We presume that those people are evil, so by extension, we must be good. The consequence of this way of thinking is division, not love, and every single one of us is guilty.

Let me offer a few thoughts:

  • When you feel compelled to share an article critical of those people, pause for a moment. Ask yourself, “Am I honoring their humanity?”
  • When you feel angry about what those people have said or done, ask yourself, “In what ways do I do similar things?” Consider not only your actions, but your words and thoughts, which have a greater effect than you might imagine.
  • When you want to respond to someone who thinks differently than you do, whether online or in person, practice the pause. Ask yourself, “Have I stopped to listen to what they are trying to say?” When we don’t try to listen and understand, we contribute to the hatred.
  • Resist the urge to call those people names.
  • Pray for peace, within the world and within yourself. If you have a hard time praying, consider reading the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi every day.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Instruments of Peace

I was pondering this wonderful prayer often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. May it be the prayer of all of us.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

What does it mean to be a person of peace?

What are the characteristics of peace-filled people? How do they show up with others? Assuredly, there are many traits that could be entertained, but let me suggest five that not coincidentally use “peace” for their acronym.

Presence
Equanimity
Amicability
Calmness
Empathy

Presence. A person of peace is not continually distracted, but rather stays in the moment. In conversation, others feel attended to and important. In a world where all of us have ten thousand internal and external distractions, those who can set those aside and become present are a gift.

Equanimity. A principal construct in Buddhism, equanimity has to do with mental evenness, even in the midst of turmoil. It must not be thought of as disinterest or aloofness, but rather I tend to think of it as unflappability.

Amicable. Amicability is characterized by friendliness and a desire for goodwill. Even in the midst of conflict or disagreement, it is evident that amicable people desire the best for others, whatever that may be.

Calmness. A person of peace possesses calmness, which is similar, but not identical to equanimity. In a calm person’s presence, people perceive a sense of settledness and tranquility and the freedom to catch their breath.

Empathy. An empathetic person is able to communicate emotional withness to others by attuning to their emotions, thoughts, and actions. Empathy is not demeaning or simply feeling sorry for another, but a desire to join with another.

Do you desire to be a person of peace? Be present to others. Seek to be calm, kind, and even tempered with a desire to love and understand.

Do you need a resolution?

Do you still need a New Year’s resolution? Let me offer a suggestion. Listen with generosity and curiosity to those who think and believe differently than you do. Read and listen to things “outside of your camp.” Do not pass along angry, hate filled rhetoric. In fact, when you find yourself drawn in to it, turn away to something whole and beautiful. Build others up. Seek to be an agent of reconciliation where it is possible, and a person of peace where it feels impossible. Each and every one of us can choose to pursue wholeness or disintegration in how we live and relate with others. Which will you choose in 2020?

The Pause

Write 31 days, day 17
Writing Prompt: Pause

“What happened to my day?” I wondered aloud as I walked through the nurse’s station at quarter past four. How could it possibly be this late? The day was not particularly overburdened patient-wise, but I’ve been at my desk for over nine hours, minus the brief visit with my wife over lunch. Patients were seen and reports were written, but without a break to catch my breath.

Normally, I take time to pause. Before the workday starts, I sit in the corner chair, eyes closed, and ponder Christ’s presence. Later in the morning, or perhaps mid-afternoon, I take a walk. A slow walk. I saunter. Amble. I listen to the leaves and watch the birds. I feel the breeze upon my neck or the sun upon my face. I breathe. Life is better when I am not hurrying through it.

For consideration: take five minutes to pause today. Or thirty. 

In the Little Things

Write 31 days, Day 10
Writing prompt: How

Each day, every one of us faces the question, “how will I choose to live today?” Some of us approach the question with intention, though most of us, I suspect, simply drift through our morning routines. Let me suggest, though, that even if we never have consciously considered this question, it still shapes us. We choose whether we will take a shower, surf the Internet, or greet our spouse with a kiss. We choose whether to walk with our shoulders back or staring at the ground. We choose whether or not we will think poorly of those who believe differently than we do.

For me, it has been beneficial to intentionally consider how to approach each day. Borrowing from Chuck DeGroat, I ask myself “how can I be an ambassador of shalom today?” or from my friend Curt Thompson: “am I living as an outpost of goodness and beauty?” I firmly believe that we can make the choice each day, indeed in each circumstance, to strive toward wholeness and peace or to degrade toward bitterness and division.

Last night, when I came home from work, I was irritable. Perhaps 20 minutes later, Heather asked me if I needed anything because I “seemed short.” She was right, and I told her so, but it was for no reason I recognized. It helped me to own that emotion and ask myself, “how does my attitude toward my wife, my son, and my dogs press toward shalom?”

None of us will get this perfect. We are all broken. Yet our imperfections do not disable our capacity to strive toward wholeness. I pray that more and more people will strive to embody truth, goodness, and beauty in their daily routines, and that those choices will push back a little bit of the darkness.

Reflection:
What daily rhythms help you to live toward wholeness?  How can you stretch toward deeper wholeness this week? 

I wish to enter every conversation,
whether in conflict or commonality,
whether with friend or foe,
with an overwhelming peace
grounded in the knowledge
of the steadfast love of God,
remaining present to whatever
the Spirit may bring about.

Radiate

Indwelling Spirit,

I am aware of so many sinful tendencies within myself,
self centeredness,
lusts of the flesh,
chasing distractions.
They crowd out the God-life.
I end up pursuing ten-thousand things that do not glorify you.
I live for self and fail to love.
Life becomes about satisfying my passions
and fulfilling my comforts.

So overwhelm me with your Holy Spirit
that I am left with no option
but to radiate peace, goodness and beauty.