I am on vacation right now, but certainly cannot avoid the violence in Charlottesville or the response to it in Seattle. I have found myself, in these pasts days, reaching out a bit more, to others I encounter, as if to say, that is not really who we are. Today, on my morning walk I encountered two Muslim women taking pictures of one another. I stopped and asked if they wanted a picture together. They were elated, and I took it, and then we simply talked for a while and while we did a man across the street yelled nastiness toward us. We have choices. And those choices do affect the world right around us, and beyond.
I am very concerned. The Gospel can in no way condone what we have seen, not only the twisted ideology, but especially the violence that has been born out of it, and out of leaders unwilling to be unequivocal in opposition to it. Ironically I have been reading Richard Rohr’s Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of St. Francis in an Age of Anxiety. I offer several quotes from the book below. I believe we can no longer expect our leaders of any stripe to change this course. What is true now is really always true, it is up to us, with every step we take and every act we engage in, wherever we are, to have the best of intentions, the best of ourselves, and most of all to do what we are called to do as Christians, imitate the one we follow.
The quotes from Rohr’s book follows, but after that, and most importantly I have offered another resource I have rediscovered and have been using daily on this vacation from the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, first the reflections and intentions for the day ahead from the Morning Prayer and finally the recounting of the day questions from Evening Prayer. I have found them grounding and have wondered much in these past days what it might be like if we had leaders that used them.
Carl Jung saw the same pattern in the individual that Girard sees in society and culture: That which you fear, deny and avoid will be projected somewhere else with one hundred percent certainty! In other words, there is an intrinsic connection between fear, hatred and violence. Furthermore, you will do it with impunity and even grandiosity. It is the sacralization of violence, and is the most common form of violence. That way we can be hateful and not feel the least guilty about it, but in fact feel morally superior! The process of sacred violence is so effective that it is now in the “hard wiring” of human personality. As Aquinas said, no one intentionally does evil, they have to explain it to themselves as good! (Page 148-9)
Both Rene Girard and Gil Bailie have taught us that the most effective and common way to turn social hatred into social harmony is via a scapegoat. It works so well, it gathers the community so quickly, that it has perdured through most of human history. Now it is the normal story line, so normal that we hardly see it. It remains denied, invisible and unaware. (page 148)
The absolute religious genius of Jesus is that he utterly refuses all debt codes, purity codes, religious quarantines and the searching for sinners. He refuses the very starting point of historic religion. He refuses to divide the world into the pure and the impure, much to the chagrin of almost everybody—then and now. Jesus is shockingly not upset with sinners, a shock so total that most Christians to this day refuse to see it. He is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners: These denying, fearful and illusory ones are the blockage. They are much more likely to hate and feel no compunction. Formerly, religion thought its mission was “to expel sin and evil from River City.” After Jesus we find out that sin lies in the very act of expelling. There is no place to expel it to. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us. We either carry and transform the evil of human history as our own problem, or we only increase its efficiency and power by hating and punishing it “over there.” The Jesus pattern was put precisely and concisely by Saint Paul: “for our sake he made the sinless one a victim for sin, so that in him we might become the uprightness of God” (2 Corinthians 5: 21). I admit, that is heavy stuff. Only the mystics and the sinners seem to get it. (page 152-3)
From the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, Morning Prayer (page 41)
In God’s presence thing through the day ahead:
the work you will do, the people you will encounter,
the dangers or uncertainties you will face,
the possibilities for joy and acts of kindness,
any particular resolutions you need to renew,
consider what might draw you from the love of God and neighbor,
the opportunities you will have to know and serve God and to grow in virtue,
remember those closest to you and all from whom you have agreed to pray,
ask God’s blessings, guidance, and strength in all that lies before you,
Gather up these thoughts and reflections in the words our Savior taught us to pray
And from the same prayer book, the Evening Prayers, page 52 and 53,
With trust in God’s mercy, review your actions and words in the day that is ending; remember the encounters you had with other people.
Did you use your time wisely, working diligently and honestly?
Have you maintained health habits and received God’s gifts with gratitude?
In your dealings with others were you hones and kind?
Where were you most aware of God’s presence and what particular blessings did you receive?
What actions or failures to act need forgiveness?
Are there things you need to do differently tomorrow?
In humble honestly, name before God your sins in thought, in word, in deed, and in things left undone. Ask for forgiveness and amendment of life. Give thanks for all the ways in which you found yourself drawn toward God and for every good thing you received.
We have choices. We cannot only call ourselves Christian, we must also practice the faith. Even here, I use this to try to imitate Christ and lessen the violence all around us.
Pray, then act, Wherever you are, with whomever you encounter,