Monday, 15 August 2011

Hope not Hate: A Universalists Response

“You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not Hell, but hope and courage.  Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”
John Murray
These word’s by John Murray have been ringing in my ears these last few days.

We need hope more than anything at this moment and we need courage. We are all being challenged by despair and at times hatred.

We have all witnessed the rioting and looting and wanton destruction in some of our cities, although not all. Watching the news last week you would think the whole country had gone up in smoke, when in truth it was isolated to certain areas.

We all witnessed the horror of the gunning down of children in Norway; we have seen the phone hacking scandal and the corruption of journalist, the metropolitan police as well as politicians and public figures; we continue to see war and conflict in north Africa, violence in the middle east and famine in the Sudan, exacerbated by its own government;

We have seen the death of a talented singer, to the disease of addiction. It would be so easy to turn away and give up on life...I know I have been tempted to do so from time to time.

I have also felt, as I am sure we all feel sometimes, the need to condemn to blame to turn again to hate. And then I look in the mirror and remember the words of Jesus “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”; and then I have to be honest and say that yes I too have hated and I too have hurt others. This is not me condoning what has happened, just remembering that I share a common humanity with these rioting youths and corrupt politicians, and terrorists and journalists and soldiers, and addicts and the homeless and the mentally ill. I could be anyone of them and know at times I have been some of them. I have certainly lived in despair and perhaps even hated enough to kill. I am human I am not immune from such emotions, I share a common humanity with these very same people. We all do.

In the very same cities where the violence erupted we have seen people coming together; people from all walks of life, at one, in community. There have been peace vigils in all the major cities where rioting took place; people from all walks of life, sharing in their common humanity.

I would imagine only someone completely lost in their own hatred could have failed to have been moved by the example of Tariq Jehan, father of one of the three young man who were mowed down in Birmingham attempting to protect their community. This man did not speak of retribution or reprisal; yes he obviously wants justice, but not revenge. Instead he spoke of our common humanity and the need for communities to come together. Here is a man of faith and love and compassion and his light has definitely shone brighter than any flame this week.

The Norwegian response to the killing of 77 people, 69 of them young activist on a summer camp is another example of hope triumphing over hate. What do we see from Norway’s politicians? We see them uniting together in partisanship for the coming election. The aim of the killer was to attack Norwegian multi-culturalism and tear the nation apart. How have the people responded? They have come together in unity and mutual support in response to the violence and horror. It will not bring the lost lives back, of course it will not, but it would seem that love and hope is prevailing in the aftermath of such horror.  

It would be easy to despair at humanity and yet I see hope everywhere.

I am a Universalist, in both the old meaning of the word and it’s more modern incarnations. I both believe and experience a God of love who accepts all and rejects none; is present in all life and yet is greater than the entirety of all. I also believe that there are many ways to understand and experience this universal love. I do not believe that there is only one way. Universalism has given me a code of hopefulness that I can live by. It sustains me through the vicissitudes of life.

My Universalism is a living breathing faith and helps me make some sense of the world in which I live. It helps me to make some sense of both hope and despair, emotions that are with us all. Universalism does not separate them. They are joined at the hip; they are like Siamese twins, who depend on one another for life.

In the French language hope (espair) and despair (desespair) share the same root. From this it seems reasonable to conclude that the opposite of hope is not actually despair but indifference. Indifference is to live without feeling or passion or care, to fail to respond to the pain and or suffering around, to deny our link to one another, to fail to feel another’s pain, to care less. Yes people in the midst of despair struggle and may even want to give up, but they keep on, hope is never too far away. Hope and despair are two branches formed from the same root of the one tree.

Universalism is a hope filled faith, but that does not make it an easy path. It is not about sitting back and waiting to be rescued by the God of Love it promotes. Instead it declares that salvation, in this life, can only be achieved by facing up to the suffering present in all our lives and dealing directly with the despair that accompanies it.

There are those who accuse we hope filled Universalists as being nothing more than “Pollyanna’s”, I have had this accusation thrown at me. Is this true? I certainly do not deny the pain of life, quite the opposite I have learnt that love and beauty can only truly be found in the very muck of life itself, this is where the pearls and diamonds are found. Hope is found through honestly living through the vicissitudes of life.

We are all responsible for creating the world in which we live. We bought the newspapers that tapped into the phones of people; we all played our role in creating the current financial crisis. can any one of us truly claim innocence? I know that I can not.

I believe that the Brahma Kumaris hit the nail on the head in this recent public response to the rioting:

“Greed, inhumanity, and lack of integrity in the pursuit of financial or political gain are hardly the preserve of the young rioters. Young people are particularly susceptible to the myth peddled to them by society that happiness lies in material gain; this has left a huge vacuum inside with nothing to fill it.”

We can all point the finger and blame others for the current state we are in, but we all share a common humanity. We are all responsible for the state we are. I will certainly hold my hand up and accept my responsibility. Therefore we are all responsible for the solution, which has already begun by communities coming together. In the very despair of our current situation there is hope.

I have felt incredible sadness at times these last few weeks as I have witnesses the many horrors we inflict on one another, but I live with hope which I believe can fill the vacuum in our world. I will not turn away and sink into depression, which these days I understand differently to sadness.

Sadness is an emotion which any fully connected and therefore awakened human being must feel. If a person never feels sadness or pain, then they never feel love either. Depression on the other hand is something very different. More often than not it is the result of becoming trapped in self pity or crippled by despondency. Sadness is a naturally occurring irremovable part of our humanity, where as depression can be lessened and even totally eliminated, if correctly treated. Sadness can bring us together in our shared humanity, where as depression keeps us apart and in isolation. Sadness breeds hope; depression suffocates it.

Sadness is an emotion that we need as we look out at some of the terrible destruction and corruption witnessed over these last few weeks. It is an emotion I myself have felt many times, but it has not brought with it hopelessness. I have also felt it during conversations with those nearest and dearest to me; people struggling with the pain of their own lives. I have tried to be with my loved one’s but I have not found it easy at times and I know that I have failed them on occasion, I am not immune from diffidence. Sometimes other people’s pain can be just too much.

I also know what it is like to live without hope. I have been the slave of addiction and I have been constrained and trapped by depression. I have hated myself and I have hated my world, but not anymore. I have found love and I have found hope, in the midst of despair. I found it by searching the through the muck of my own life. That great reality deep down within every single one of us.

So to echo, but to slightly alter, the sentiments of John Murray. Let’s give our world hope and not hate. Let’s follow the examples all around us in our own cities and our towns, lets live lives of love and connection.

Love will prevail...

“What the world needs now, is love sweet love”

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