Spirit Alive: Places are People First
Spirit Alive is a weekly blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
November 17, 2015
With Heart, Soul, and Mind
“Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22: 37-39
Places are People First
Paris ...Roseburg ... Kenya ... Russia... Charleston... Ferguson ... Syria ... Boston ... New York.
These are all communities of people. Each one touched by human-against-human tragedy. For me, it is not possible this week, as a person of faith, to write about mission and ministry...and signs of life in the world...without first traveling through these places to ask profound spiritual questions.
I remember years ago sitting in a seminary presentation given by the 1960s radical priest Daniel Berrigan. During his talk, Berrigan said something that has haunted me for over 30 years: "Who dies first, the killer or the victim?" This is a fundamentally spiritual question that requires our full and undivided attention. It is especially important to consider in light of our current situation in which innocent life has been stolen from hundreds of people through acts of horrific, callous violence. This reality is becoming all to common in our post 9/11 world.
We are all spiritual beings
"Who dies first, the killer or the victim?" What does it mean when someone decides to act violently against another human being? How much hatred does it take within a human heart for one's spirit to die and then willingly harm someone else? How many small, daily choices are involved before a person decides to carry out an act of this scale toward innocent people? These are fundamentally spiritual questions long before they are social or political acts. This is why Daniel Berrigan framed his question in terms of the life and death of the killer as well as the victim. It is a question that Jesus could have easily asked in his own day as well.
How is it with your soul?
In the 1700's, John Wesley was engaged in creating a movement that eventually became known as Methodism. In doing so, he was fully aware that social piety and political progress were grounded in personal piety and daily discipline. This is why the framing question in our tradition is: How is it with your soul? The answer to this question comes from inside long before it is manifested through one's daily actions and activities.
Life is a spiritual odyssey filled with blessings, celebrations, challenges, temptations, and distractions. And when isolation, alienation, hopelessness, bitterness, or hatred get the upper hand over community, love, empathy, and compassion, the result is a steady, incremental, movement toward spiritual death. At its worst, this ends up manifesting itself in the violence we have witnessed in Paris and Roseburg... Charleston and on 9/11.
What is our task as people of faith?
Charleston AME Church
Our task as people of faith is to do what we can within the spiritual realm, through our public ministries and personal practices, to create environments that support and express compassion, promote kindness and justice, and foster a spirit of love and understanding. There is no question that the political, economic and military arenas in our world will confront the violence and address the manifestations of hatred in our world. A community will not simply be bystanders as harm is done to others.
So it is understandable that French President Francois Hollande would say: "France will not let itself be overwhelmed or frightened even if today we are overcome with sadness and emotion." Or that France has vowed to respond "ruthlessly" toward those responsible. After all, we in the United States said as much after the attack on the World Trade Center.
However, in the end, if we do not understand that killers die spiritually long before their victims are killed, then it will be difficult to create a world in which we can live peacefully with one another. Or as Gandhi once said: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."
What will be the last word?
Our task is not to have the next word, but to create a foundation that can help frame "the last word," where compassion, love, and justice overcome depravity, mean-spiritedness, and hatred whether they occur in Paris or Roseburg, or Charleston.
Consider the spirit expressed in a prayer written by the late Rev. Hassan Barnaba Dehqani-Tafti, the exiled Anglican Bishop of Iran. His son, Bahram, was murdered by regime thugs in Iran in the turbulent days following the 1976 Islamic Revolution. In his prayer, Rev. Hassan Barnaba Dehqani-Tafti says: "The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us. Its flame reveals the depth of depravity , meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature. It makes obvious as never before our need to trust in Thy love as shown in the cross of Jesus and his resurrection. Love that makes us free from all hatred towards our persecutors; love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, humility, generosity, and greatness of heart."
The bishop was saying, at this most difficult moment of deep personal pain and sorrow, that he did not want the murder of his son to be "the last word." Our task, through our mission and ministries, is to make sure that we too help create a world where violence, hatred, vengeance, and retribution are not the "last word."
Let us hold in prayer all those who have been touched by the violence of recent days,and renew our commitment to create ministries anchored in compassion and love, which promote hope and understanding among our neighbors.
"May you live all the days of your life."
Blessings on the journey,
Spirit Alive is a weekly blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It seeks out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities.