Honoring the Divine within All
In the second talk of our Fall Program series based on See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love1 by Valarie Kaur, Rev. Joanne reminds us that Kaur asks us to employ “revolutionary love” to bridge the gap between us. This can only be done in community.
There are three legs of the stool of revolutionary love – the other, the opponent, and ourselves. Kaur says that there are two concepts for the study of “otherness,” grief and fight. She tells us that grief is the price of love and an act of surrender, and that one must keep the borders of their heart porous in order to love well.
There are countless examples in World History of one group of people acting in opposition to another group based only on their “otherness.” They are not like me (race, religion, ethnicity) so therefore inferior, misguided, or even evil. Rev. Joanne asks us, is “othering” people not like us just a matter of human nature? There is strong evidence that the answer to this is yes. As human evolved and developed social groups - first the mated pair with offspring, then extended family, clan, tribe and eventually nation-states – being wary of anyone outside your group was an effective strategy for survival.
In the twenty first century, modern life does not as often include daily life or death decisions as it once did. However, many millennia of human development do not disappear from our consciousness overnight. But humans have developed beyond the basic fight or flight instincts. Altruism, love, and cooperation are also legacies of our development as a species.
Rev. Joanne reminds us that the history of the United States has been one of increasing inclusiveness and fairness. Full participation in the benefits and responsibilities of society were once limited to property owning white males. Later, after a long-coming cataclysm that was the US Civil War, people held in slavery were freed and given citizenship. Women then received the right to vote. Native Americans who were dispossessed were also given citizenship. All of this progress is positive. But it did not happen all at once, and there is more that can yet be done to help others.
A more recent example of “othering,” the behavior of some people following the attacks of September 11, 2001 show us that our assumptions can often be incorrect. Rev. Joanne tells us about the attacks made on members of the Sikh faith following 9/11. Because many Sikhs wear a turban, and most are darker skinned, some uninformed and fearful people lashed out in violence at those who were visibly different. Tragically, some people were not only injured but killed. Those responsible for such criminal acts were wholly and completely unjustified and their behavior to be condemned. Here is the good news. The vast majority of people agree with the previous statement.
The Sikh community grieved the loss of the innocent people who were harmed or killed by those acts of violence. They also grieved with the whole of the American people for the 2,977 people killed and more than 25,000 people injured by the terrorist attacks. On that day, let us remember, it was not just the innocent Sikh people harmed in reflexive fear by a small number of actors, but the American people as a whole were “othered” by a group of people who took their actions to an extreme level.
Rev. Joanne tells us the story of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), who was the tenth Sikh guru. Legend has it that before he was born the Divine said to him “I need you to go be a warrior for justice.” His response was, “let me go sit on a mountaintop and meditate on that.” Eventually, he agreed to take up the work of being a Warrior Sage, but it seems that it is a natural reaction for us to want to think a problem away without actually doing anything. Some within Unity and other New Thought disciplines are guilty of this too. When hearing of a difficulty of another some may say, “let me take that into prayer for you, or meditate for you, or hold you in oneness of consciousness” and think our work is done. In truth, these things are but one step of helping. The old saying goes, “Pray to God, but row for the shore.”
Singh was a leader in the Sikh community in northern India in a time period of Mughal expansion in the region. During that conflict, Singh lost his sons to the violence. Having taken on the command of the Divine, he now had a real life situation to fight for justice. Singh said that fighting for justice is not as an act of aggression, but as self-defense and only and a last resort. This a noble sentiment.
We must be careful, however, in proclaiming our acts are in self-defense and not aggression. The 19 people who committed suicide in carrying out the September 11 attacks believed they were acting in defense of justice, and as a last resort. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. One person’s justice is another person’s lawlessness. I am not, of course, defending in any way the acts of the 19, or of the foolish and hate-filled Americans who committed violence in retaliation. But history also tells us that certainty of ideology and purpose often ends in violence, regardless of the setting.
But there is more good news. Most societies and spiritual traditions agree on a fundamental idea of fairness. The Golden Rule dates back as far as the Analects of Confucius more than 2,500 years ago. Christianity teaches “do unto others . . .” and Islam the Ethics of Reciprocity, for example. Humans could not have survived our early development without cooperation. Goodness is as innate to humanity as a darker nature. Unity’s Second Principle teaches us, “Our essence is of God; therefore we are inherently good. This God essence was fully expressed in Jesus, the Christ.”
In the spirit of Kaur asking us to be a courageous Warrior Sage, Rev. Joanne quotes Unity Minister, the late Eric Butterworth (1916-2003) from a talk he gave entitled The Courage to be You.2
We’re coming to know that we’re living as members of a global society, in one great village, and we’re all a part of it. We have responsibilities to each other. Freedom to do what we want is gone. We have to be a part of a whole, a society, a relationship. For instance, we’re well aware that we’re not allowed to drive through a red traffic light in the city, and by surrendering this right we have a fair degree of safety in city driving. If you insist on exercising a freedom which violates the rights of others, very soon the group will isolate you and deprive you of the freedom to really be you, fulfill your uniqueness.
When we employ cooperation instead of hostility, fairness instead of dishonesty, and inclusion instead of separation, we will have gone a very long way toward becoming “love in action, honoring the Divine within all.”3
When we focus on God, treating someone as an “other” becomes impossible. Living up to, or rather living into, the idea of focusing first on God can be challenging. But the more we are able to connect with Spirit, the easier it gets. We can be sure that God will be there waiting for us when we are ready.
Now Go and Be the Light.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Hebrews 6:10
As you move through the activity of each day this week hold the question, “Who do I need to pay attention in in this moment?” This may be a child, a partner, a friend, a co-worker, an organization. When the ‘who’ becomes clear, ask them, “What do you need?” Be prepared to support them in their response.
1See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love: Kaur, Valarie, Random House Publishing Group, Jun 16, 2020.
2Truth Unity Podcast Number 51; www.truthunity.net
3Unity Spiritual Center, Westlake; Mission, Vision and Values. www.unityspiritualcenter.com