... get used to loving and valuing things and persons irrespective of the fact that they won't be there for ever. Love them now, and what you would want to do for them, do now. 'Night is coming when no-one can work', says Jesus. (John 9.4)This passage from Rowan William's Easter Sermon (see below) jumped out at me when I read it. It is straightforward, simple, and heart-felt -- and raises the question of why this did not apply to his friend Jeffrey John and to all the other GLBTs and their families struggling with fear and prejudice against those with less "common" sexual orientations and all the social and legal barriers to living out a loving relationship with a same-gender partner.
To raise the question, especially from this context, may seem a cheap and easy shot -- but is it? Not if you are Lawrence King or one of the many youth or adults around the world for whom, according to Williams, the time is not yet ripe to recognize their full worth and dignity.
Elizabeth Kaeton, in a marvellous essay, The Radical Orthodox Rabbi, recently recalled with tears these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe?There are times, I believe, when one must dare to "love them now" regardless of the consequences. I admit that personally this is very difficult for me, in my own life and in my own relationships, as well as with the world at large. But it seems to me that this has always been the challenge of the Good News, the question we must ask ourselves.
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.
It is extremely difficult at times, not just because of our own limitations, but from not knowing what kind of radical action is called for. It does not usually or necessarily mean radical and violent overthrow of governments, as those early disciples of Jesus learned. And while I fear he is wrong, I do not doubt that Rowan Williams honestly and fervently believes his go-slow approach is what he is called to do, that it will achieve the most in the long run, that allowing persons to have only a fraction of their humanity recognized for now will somehow bring peace and reconciliation in the distant future.
I read this morning a blistering review of a new biography of the current Dalai Lama at Salon, a review entitled Seduced by the Dalai Lama by Louis Bayard. Bayard views the Dalai Lama as embracing appeasement with China rather than non-violent resistance. I suspect it is much more complex than that but, for all I know, maybe there is some truth of the criticism of the Dalai Lama, who like Rowan Williams, is a reluctant leader of his faith and, sometimes by default, his country. Nevertheless, I was startled at the vehemence of remarks such as this:
Hell, the Dalai Lama has forgiven China, so why shouldn't we? To hear him tell it:Indeed, these are important questions -- which kinds of danger must we or can we respond to and how? When should we to resort to political organization and action to fight violence with violence? But I wonder if the author has totally missed the point of what the Dalai Lama was saying, due to Bayard's own understandable frustration and anger with the lack of an effective response to or restraint upon the violence of the Chinese authorities.
"Our real enemies are our own habitual tendencies toward thinking in terms of enemies ... Our terrors are of our own creation. The world itself is not so frightening, if only we can see it correctly."
With all due respect to His Holiness -- and with all due apologies for my Western bias -- this is horseshit. And something very close to an insult to those who have lived and died in terror, the Dalai Lama's compatriots in particular. Would he have dared offer this counsel to the 1 million Tibetans who were directly or indirectly killed by invading Chinese? To the countless others who were raped, sterilized, electroshocked? What about those Tibetan parents who were forced to applaud while their children were executed? Would they be expected to believe their sufferings were merely illusory and passing?
If what the Dalai Lama professes is truly Buddhism, then it raises the question, finally, of whether a monk can be an agent for political change in such a complex and dangerous world.
For me, the Dalai Lama's words struck a chord with much I have read in recent months about global terrorism and the response of many in the West -- how Western governments and political leaders have manipulated fear of terrorism to use it in an Ahabian quest to vanquish what has been most recently named as supreme Evil -- or, as described in our Sunday Easter anthem, "crushing the serpent's head." Maybe the Dalai Lama is right, not just taking the long view for the sake of easy appeasement but confronting the real terrors within us as the only means that any of us can begin to overcome evil. It is not that the outside dangers are not real -- they are, quite real, as the death Rowan Williams spoke about so eloquently in his sermon. But the danger of physical death is not, in and of itself, the sum total of evil, but rather its awful instrument. Fr. Jenco knew this all too well.
I don't begin to have the answers to the age-old question of when and if violence is justified to avert destruction and mitigate suffering. But I do know that other kinds of fears -- deep internal ones, not fear of outside threats - sometimes impedes radical action to love one another. To suggest, as Williams does, that he cannot take such action but rather must wait until someday -- when we all may come to better understand each other, by a "listening process" which has long ceased to listen, when bishops and archbishops will cease their scribblings of covenants and treaties and plots, public and hidden, and finally agree that their peers are worthy of sharing Communion with them -- to wait until someday, in the long distant future, seems to doubt the power of what it means to "love them now," to do "what you would want to do for them" because the "Night is coming when no-one can work." So why cannot our leader stand up and say, quietly perhaps, but firmly, the time is now, we shall do it, and I will gather all I can at the table who will come, no one unworthy or too troublesome to be with me?
I do not know. All I can hope is that we all learn to better find and embrace that radical power of love in our own lives, and hope and pray that our leaders may as well.
Update: Since I wrote this I read the awful news of the violent attack during the funeral ceremony being held for the sister of Davis Mac-Iyalla in Nigeria. Jonathan, as usual, has expressed his sentiments about the role Rowan Williams should be playing with... well, bog-standard pith. Read it here: "An Evil Orthodoxy."
Also, this quote from +Gene Robinson:
"It's almost laughable - the premise seems to be that I could undo in an hour an entire lifetime of orthodox teaching," he said. "If I am so off-base in my thinking and in my theological reasoning, wouldn't that be apparent to people? So I think the fear must be that I will make too much sense, that I will actually describe the God that people know in their lives, and then that will demand change."From interview in The Boston Globe, hat tip to the Admiral of Morality.
And finally, this: Giles Fraser and "Putting an End to Scapegoating."
March, 25 Update:
Father Jake now has this on More Violence in Nigeria.