Pray to God, but Move Your Feet
In the fourth talk of our Fall Program series based on See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love1 by Valarie Kaur, Rev. Joanne encourages us to “see the possibilities” that can result when we engage in the deep listening we learned about last week.
Rev. Joanne tells us again of the three foci that Kaur uses to forge a world of Revolutionary Love – love for others, love for opponents, and love for self. An “other” is those who are separate and outside of ourselves, but without an emotional charge to the relationship. This could be a store clerk, a casual neighbor, or co-worker. If we see them as an “other” it is because we do not recognize them as our father, mother, sister, brother, etc., and as a part of us that we do not yet know. Kaur encourages us to keep our eyes wide open in wonder of who they are, and in doing so our hearts will also be open to the practice of Revolutionary Love.
Kaur also says that to practice Revolutionary Love we must love our opponents. This could be a person who has a different world view and ideas from us. Opponents often create an emotional charge in our reaction to them. This can result in a natural response of defensiveness. Rev. Joanne tells us that as long as we are in a place of defensiveness, we cannot be engaging in Revolutionary Love. She reminds us that Kaur encouraging us to love our “opponents” is not a new or unique idea. Jesus tells us in The Sermon on the Mount: If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. Luke 6:32-33. More recently, Unity Minister Eric Butterworth (1916-2003) tells us:
It is normal to want to be with only those people with whom we are comfortable, but this is neither realistic, nor healthy. If you are surrounded only by those who agree with you, life would be quite static. We must condition ourselves to enjoy and learn from diversity within Unity. We are all children of God, yet we are different from one another. Do not expect people to always agree with you or follow your styles, manners, or mores. Do not expect people to live as you do. Accept them as human beings, just as you want them to accept you.
Rev. Joanne tells us of a question she received from a Unity Spiritual Center congregant who has been studying and thinking about Kaur’s teaching of “listening for deep understanding.” “What if even after listening,” the congregant asked, “we still come to the conclusion that the other person is simply not correct?” This is an excellent question. Rev. Joanne explains that Kaur is not inviting us into the practice of deep listening in order to change the other person’s mind. Nor is she saying that the practice is to allow us to find a place of common ground. What Kaur is saying is that the practice of deep listening is to allow our own minds to be changed.
If we do not listen or allow ourselves to be “changed,” it pushes us away from, instead of moving us toward, a place of Revolutionary Love. What does allowing ourselves to be “changed” mean? It means not reacting from a place of anger and hatred, but instead to keep an open heart, and in that sense we change.
Lowering our emotional response to an adversarial situation is a good idea. However, we must be careful not to also lower our guard in situations that can have negative life altering consequences as a result. It is worth pointing out that Jesus encouraged us to love our enemies. Jesus loved the Romans. It did not end well for him. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi also loved their enemies. It also did not end well for either of them. These three historical icons are considered heroes by millions, even billions of people. I am not suggesting that any or all of them should have, or even could have, changed their philosophies but only that even while maintaining an open heart of love we must be aware that there are many, many people who will take advantage of us if we drop our guard.
Rev. Joanne says that we do this (deep listening) only to open our hearts to love, not to prove ourselves right or change our minds to agree with someone else. This sounds good, but I must ask the question, What good does any change of thoughts do without a corresponding change in behavior?
As we draw closer to the national election, the thoughts of many Americans are on the increasing political and philosophical divide we are all experiencing. Some point to Washington D.C. and blame “them” for creating these issues. It has often been said that in a democracy the people get the leaders they deserve. Well as long as we continue to behave individually in divisive ways this condition will persist. Disagreeing on policy does not automatically create divisiveness. Honest and well-meaning people can disagree on many topics and not devolve to finger pointing, blame casting, and name calling. When we resort to demonizing or name calling, no matter how correct or well reasoned our position may be, our opponents will not only not be persuaded to consider what we are saying, but will often literally not even hear us.
Rev. Joanne reminds us that we are all living our lives to the best of our abilities and have our individual vision of what we want this world be be. It is up to us, individually and collectively as citizens and residents, to make this world a better place. She also reminds us that a great place to start in this is to remember that we are all Children of God, and as such have the power within us to create our reality through thoughts held in mind. But we cannot stop there. As Unity’s Fifth Principle tells us, through thoughts, words, and actions, we must live the Truth we know.
Recognizing that the congregation of Unity Spiritual Center is not homogeneous in our political and philosophical thinking, Rev. Joanne announced that following the National Election this year, Unity Spiritual Center will be participating in activities sponsored by an organization called Braver Angels (check our website for upcoming announcements on dates and times). Their mission is to heal the increasing political division in the United States. These activities will include open forum discussions for those who are happy with the results, and a separate forum for those who are not happy with the results. It will also include open discussions between both “sides” of the political divide. From their website2:
At Braver Angels we do not accept this division. We reject the normalizing of this extreme polarization. We say no to the break down of political and social life that it brings.
Our work is about restoring civic trust in the USA. It is about healing the wounds between left and right. It is about challenging institutions to be better, building community together, and discovering what it means to be American in our time.
Our work is about supporting a more perfect union. Our work is about inspiring the beloved community.
At Braver Angels, our work is about building a house united.
Regardless of the results of the National Election, our work will continue. Rev. Joanne tells us that we must take individual responsibility to do what is ours to do to create what the United States’ founding fathers envisioned as a more perfect union. This personal responsibility applies not only to political issues, but to all aspects of our lives. The good news is Unity teaches that every one of us has within us Twelve Powers to not just re-imagine a world that works for all, but provide us the tools for taking the necessary actions to make that world a reality.
The Unity Spiritual Center congregant who asked Rev. Joanne “what happens if after deep listening, I reach the same conclusion as before” also asked, “Is deep listening just giving us false hope?” Rev. Joanne says no, because for her, it is through deep listening that she finds hope. Hope is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient to making a better world. But hope must be combined with the individual responsibility she mentions and taking action by living the truth we know, for any meaningful and lasting change to occur.
Now Go and Be the Light.
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”
the things God has prepared for those who love him;
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10
Take time this week to engage in the Power of Imagination. Imagine the world that you want to see. Be as specific as possible. What does this world look like, feel like? What do systems of care, governance, justice, education, healing look like? Take time to write down your vision. Then consider how you might support such a world emerging. Who is already doing the work and how can you support them? What can you do each day to bring your vision into expression?
1See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love: Kaur, Valarie, Random House Publishing Group, Jun 16, 2020.
2Braver Angels: www.braverangels.org