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Love: Looking outward in the same direction

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” —Saint-Exupéry

Something I remember at this time of year: A better translation for the word “love” in the Bible would be “compassion.” 

I changes everything. Imagine if couples promised to have compassion for each other instead of to love each other. It takes away the possibility of  the kind of damage people inflict on each other in the name of “love,” a word that can lead to possessiveness and manipulation.

Compassionate couples trust. They don’t need to keep watchful eyes on each other. They turn outward together to look at the world in the same direction.

They don’t waste time gazing. They look at what can and needs to be done.

They take action, do good, have fun.

If Valentine’s Day can lead to a little more of that, I’ll get on board.

Compassion

 

 

 

 

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Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?

____________________

1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Why I don’t boycott

the-sneetchesConsider this scenario:

The son of a wealthy family bullies a smaller, poorer child at school. The wealthy parents upon hearing of this say, “That’s not right. If that’s the way you’re going to behave, we’re taking away your cell-phone and computer.”

The son, accustomed to his luxuries, wants the use of his cell phone again, so he ceases bullying the child—when anyone is watching. Sometimes though, when no one is around and he know he can get away with it, he still shoves the boy into a locker or whispers “Loser” in his ear.

The wealthy boy lives without his cell phone for a while, but then his parents see improvement in his behaviour. Certain that things have changed for the better, they return his electronics to him. Life goes on.

But the wealthy son has not learned to have compassion for the smaller child. His behaviour changed for all the wrong reasons, and his relationship with his parents suffered because he fostered resentment against them in the meantime. And the child? He still feels like a loser. He watches over his shoulder constantly and fear clenches his stomach into knots every day when he walks to school. He doesn’t trust.

What comes of this? Two broken relationships, no change in the feelings of the perpetrator, and a damaged child setting off on a path in the opposite direction from healing.

This is why I don’t boycott.

Boycotts are punitive, not loving. They are a “Let’s fix this now” approach to problems that need “Let’s fix this for the long-haul” efforts. Forced resolutions to problems produce short-term satisfaction but create long-term damage.

[For example: The history of our First Nations peoples includes both forced segregation (reserves) and forced integration (residence schools), both of which failed spectacularly. The negative effects of those two approaches reverberate on, and on, and on . . .]

I sometimes hear, “The boycott worked to end apartheid in South Africa.” True enough, the punitive boycott did change the exterior actions of South Africans—when people are watching—but do you believe that racist sentiments vanished there? I don’t. I believe it’s too soon to say where the reverberations of that boycott will lead. In the arc of time, when people take action for financial reasons not compassionate reasons, the underlying negativity and resentments eventually re-surface when the commotion dies down and when the time is right. If you imagine a timeline of South African history and you place our 2013 as a dot in the middle with the emptiness of future stretching out beside it, what do you see on the future half of that line? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I see lots of potential for racial tension, because the feelings haven’t changed, they’re just buried for the moment.

Let’s take a look at another boycott: Chick-fil-A. When COO Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage, activists promoted a boycott of the chain. What happened? People lined up to eat at the restaurant. Some of the people lined up to eat there didn’t like Cathy’s comments and they supported same-sex marriage, but they went there as a statement: “No one tells me where, or where not, to eat.” The result of this was a wash. Dan Cathy suffered no financial damage, and he didn’t change his feelings about same-sex marriage.

That’s another result of boycott: backlash. When the Roman Catholic church urged a boycott of Harry Potter books, sales went through the roof. The recent proposed boycott of Russian vodka did Vladimir Putin a favour. In Russia a majority of people believe that homosexuality is wrong so when he defends “the traditional Russian family,” his approval ratings go up.

Why am I writing about boycotts now? I’m a member of the United Church of Canada, and they have proposed a boycott of Israeli goods manufactured in occupied Palestine.

I am so proud of everything about my church, except that boycott. I love that they support love-based marriage and ordain females. I love that they discourage bottled water use. I love that they embrace progressive, evolving faith. But I don’t like the boycott. When the General Council of the United Church passed the motion which includes a directive “to give high priority to establishing a church-wide campaign of education and economic action directed against one or more settlement products that can be identified as produced in or related to the settlements or the occupied territories” and to encourage “members of the United Church to avoid any and all products produced in the settlements” I was, for the first time, ashamed of my church. Embarrassed. Why was my church, so loving in every other way, proposing a punitive action?

Imagine if the parents of that wealthy boy had found a way to awaken in their son compassion for the child he bullied, so that he could look that child in the eye and see himself. Imagine if same-sex couples, instead of avoiding Chick-fil-A, flocked to it and showed to Dan Cathy what love-based marriage is all about. Imagine if Roman Catholics read Harry Potter and realized how its theme of “act with love and resist evil” reverberates through the books. (Okay, that one’s already happened.)

There’s nothing like the deep joy of breaking through physical barriers of differences and finding the common ground. When we meet people so vastly different from ourselves that we can’t even imagine what common ground might look like, but then we do find the common ground, it’s thrilling.

The only long-term solution to oppression and violence comes when perpetrators look in the eyes of victims and sees themselves.

How can we make that happen in Israel and Palestine? In my opinion, a boycott is not the way. In my opinion, a boycott might produce short-term satisfaction, but it won’t do anything to change the root causes of the problem. It might even create backlash and have the opposite effect of what was intended. (I don’t even want a Soda Stream machine, but I’m still tempted to buy one now . . . )

I encourage you to read what you can, learn what you can, write to whomever you believe can foster compassion in the area. And buy whatever you want.

The day I learned I loved Lucien Bouchard, or love thine enemies

Do you hate your enemies? Are you sure?

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

In 1994, I learned I loved an enemy.

In 1989, the Progressive Conservative majority government in Canada appointed Lucien Bouchard Minister of the Environment. But in May 1990, Bouchard resigned abruptly from his Progressive Conservation party. A few months later he and a group of colleagues formed the Bloc Québécois, a political party with the mandate of promoting Québec sovereignty.

To me, and to much of Canada, Bouchard’s actions were a shocking betrayal and an alarming threat to our country. I cherish the rich Francophone culture here, and I love Québec as part of us. Here in the National Capital Region, Québec is just a short canoe ride away. I don’t want to have to take my passport to enjoy Winterlude activities.

I seethed with anger at Bouchard. I wished him all kinds of ills.

Then, in the early morning hours of November 30, 1994, I opened my front door and retrieved my newspaper. The headlined declared the sudden, severe illness of Bouchard, in a Montreal hospital suffering from necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease. The disease can kill a person very quickly.

The news shook me. Sure, I was angry at him, but I didn’t want that to happen. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

The next day, doctors amputated Lucien Bouchard’s leg.

When I read the newspaper headline that day, I found compassion for Bouchard as a fellow human being. I didn’t like his actions (still don’t) and he held opinions different from mine, but we shared common ground as people just trying our best to make it through life following our convictions.

Since then, when I find myself seething with anger at someone’s actions, I try to remember Bouchard. I ask myself, “Would I wish flesh-eating disease on this person?” The answer is always no.

Years later, my husband and I went to an Ottawa Lynx baseball game. We sat in the sun in the high bleachers listening for the crack of the bat. A man with a cane slowly climbed the steps toward us. I smiled and nodded at him. He smiled and nodded at me. Lucien Bouchard sat right across the aisle from me, and we watched the baseball game together.

And, oh yes, we cheered for the same team.

Merry Christmas

upper-canada-villageNo matter how you feel about Jesus, this holiday celebrates his birth.

It celebrates the birth of a compassionate movement toward “all is one.” It celebrates the birth of a man who lived the idea that every person contains the divine spark.

“The greatest of these is love.”

“The kingdom of God is within you.”

Compassion because all people shine with the same light.

Merry Christmas

Why do the right thing?

We had a lively and lingering dinner party with a group of friends on the weekend. Over dessert one friend shared a story from his week.

After filling his car with gas, he went into the store to pay. While there, he picked up a few other things that amounted to about $5.00. He paid with his card, left the store and drove away. Hours later, when he looked at the receipt, he realized that the cashier had charged him for the $5.00 items, but not for the gas.

He could have just let it go. But then he thought that maybe the cashier would have to cover the loss. He went back to the gas bar and pointed out the error.

His story prompted another one of my friends to tell us about her “honesty ring.” Decades ago, she came down the escalator at Sears to see lying on the floor in front of her a $100 bill and a $10 bill. Decades ago that was a lot of money. She could have just picked it up and walked on. Instead, she took it to the service desk where they logged it in and told her that if no one claimed it in a certain amount of time, it would be hers. No one claimed it, and she used the money to treat herself to the “honesty ring” she still wears all these decades later.

Another friend at the table told the story of her father finding a paper bag full of thousands of dollars lying on the ground in a parking lot. He turned it into police.

All of these stories reminded me of the time I stopped at an ATM in Mac’s Milk. I walked up to the machine and found $100 sitting in the slot. Someone had withdrawn the money, taken their card and then left without the money. I looked all around the Mac’s Milk, but no one was there. I could have taken the money and run, but I took it to the cashier and handed it in.

All of us at the table that night had a “doing the right thing” story to share. 

We had either lost financially or risked losing financially in these situations, but we had gained in pride and feelings of self-worth. Some of these events had taken place decades ago, but still they resonate good feelings through our lives today. We glowed as we remembered and shared our stories.

We didn’t talk about all the times we didn’t do the right thing.

Guaranteed each of us could pull out stories about times when we made different kinds of decisions. Those resonate through our lives decades later, too, with no-so-good queasy feelings. We’re just not so willing to share those stories.

So:

Doing the right thing: short-term financial loss or risk, long-term feelings of pride and self-worth, and great dinner conversation.

Doing the wrong thing: short-term financial gain, long-term not-so-good queasy feelings, no good stories to share.

Sounds so simple. Why is sometimes so hard?

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