Sunday, January 09, 2011

Communities of Innocence

As those of you know who have been here for a while, Rumi said, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” This means, in part, that you have to care about us, and if you can’t do that, you have to at least live with us in ways that are caring. You have to act like you care about us whether you do or not. And we have to do the same for you. It doesn’t mean that we will pay your car payment or your house note for you, or you for us. But it does mean that we all can count on being cared for here. That we can be seen, listened to, heard, understood and helped to live our lives. Caring is automatic here. That is a part of our commitment to each other—to be with the other in good faith.

Now, look around. Spot the people you do not care for automatically. Work to care for those people, to treat those people caringly. It is part of your covenant with them to be with them here in good faith. We cannot be casual or flip about, or disinterested in, caring for one another. We are upheld and sustained, encouraged and called forth into our lives by the presence of those who love us. We must not dismiss the power of our love in the lives of others, or dismiss the power of their love in our lives.

We have to live in ways that make the world as good a place as possible. Everything hinges on our ability to let things be what they are and do what can be done about it, with it. We are to live in ways that make the world better by the way we live in it. We do that as we care about one another here, in this place, and do what is right by one another.

We all know what is right as it pertains to us. We know when something is right for us and when it is wrong. We know when we are mistreated and when we are honored, respected, cared for. We have no problem nailing what is right and what is not right about the way we are treated. We have to become those who recognize what is right and not right as it pertains to others—and care about them in their situation as we would care about ourselves. And, we have to know when to do what is right by them even at our own expense. We have to know when to stand up for ourselves and when to stand down, when to stand aside, for the sake of others. This is an essential part of the work of growing up, knowing when to stand up for ourselves and when to stand aside for others. This is not something we can get from books or lectures, discussions, resolutions or keeping the rules. We have to trust our own judgment here, our own instinct and intuition and sense of what needs to be done, when, where and how.

But this is frightening, terrifying, painful. Trusting ourselves is not what we do best. Living with uncertainty, insecurity, not-knowing is not what we do best. Running, hiding, denying, pretending, faking it for the sake of safety and security is what we do best. But, if we are not here in good faith, we are doing terrible damage.

We want to run from the moment of uncertainty, of indecision—to hide in comfortable patterns and traditions, to not face what is to be faced, not do what needs to be done. When to do what??? That's what we want to know! We yearn for consistency, constancy, regularity, dependability, predictability. Laws! Rules! Same Old Same Old! The church of our experience! The Tea Party Doctrine! The most difficult truth of life is: Sometimes it's like this and sometimes it's like that. Sometimes we do it this way, sometimes that way. This is more truth than we can handle.

We want to numb the pain of being alive, of bringing ourselves forth, of birthing ourselves anew in each moment, situation, as it arises. Refusing to live, refusing to pay the price of being alive, saves us from the pain of life but we're just hanging out until we die. The pain we would avoid is the birth pangs of our own becoming, which we assist as we step forth into this mess to do what can be done here, now.

We help one another to do the work that is ours to do, squaring up to how things are, doing what we can about it, in each moment, situation. Our work in helping each other do the work that is ours to do is providing communities of innocence for the work that we all must do alone.

Communities of innocence are disinterested in the sense that they have no interest, nothing at stake, in us or the outcomes of our living. Communities of innocence are the source of grace, mercy, and peace in our lives in that they aren't trying to manipulate outcomes. Communities of innocence exist to help us see how things are and help us think our way through what is to be done about it, and do it. And communities of innocence stand at the opposite extreme from the inflammatory rhetoric that castigates and demonizes and puts itself forward as THE way of seeing, thinking, believing, doing, being which is polarizing the world into camps of Good and Evil and creating an atmosphere in which everyone is suspect who is out of line with the Party Line. That would be the Tea Party Line.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said this about the Tucson shootings: "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

We have to oppose inflammatory rhetoric at every point and become aware of the degree to which it impacts our lives. Here follows a prayer of confession that Salem Presbytery recommended to the congregations in the Presbytery on January 9, 2008 in approving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force Report. It becomes increasingly meaningful and appropriate day by day as a watchword for communities of innocence and the work of becoming true human beings:

We acknowledge and confess that we have failed to create an environment that is compassionate, just, and tolerant of the differences which exist among us. We have not learned to oppose what we consider to be evil without becoming evil in our opposition to evil. We too easily “become what we hate” in using violence to confront violence, in allowing our rhetoric to determine our actions, and in using all means necessary in the service of ends we declare to be good. We have closed our eyes to our responsibility to care for those who are belligerent, obnoxious, and inflammatory. We have allowed the anger in others to cultivate anger in ourselves. And, we have failed to create an environment in which our children might live peacefully with the children of those who see things differently than we do. In all of this, we are deeply ashamed, and commit ourselves to the construction of a future in which intolerance is unacceptable and “justice for all” is an abiding reality. We pledge ourselves to the work of making life together truly good on all levels for all people. Amen! May it be so!

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