Forgive me father, it has been a lifetime since my last confession…
Given that I grew up Mennonite, a religion that eschewed all things other than the plain and the basic, I missed out on the chance to take part in the confessional aspect of the Catholic religion. I think I might have liked to sit in a darkened partitioned box to spill out my meanest thoughts, divulge my most emotionally unintelligent screw-ups, to confess, to reveal, to disclose…wherever I’d fallen – to speak it aloud and then to have the belief that reciting some prescriptive words would absolve me of my shortcomings.
There is definitely an appeal to the idea of applying a rigorous prescription to fix where I have failed.
I also like the idea of clicking my rosary beads, mumbling a mantra or kneeling to face Mecca. Postures, props and pilgrimages – each religion has its outward signs of tribal inclusion with symbols of devotion to indicate adherence to a larger vision.
The Old Order Mennonites wear clothing that harkens back to the ‘old country’, modest and plain for both sexes as if God found that particular moment in fashion to be superior to all others. Orthodox Jews stroll through the heat of Jerusalem wearing woollen long coats meant for the freezing winds of Eastern Europe.
How did these symbols endure except for our feverish hope that our outward trappings would remind us, help us, guide us and inform us of a better way while signalling to others our intent?
Horse-and-buggy driving Amish, the bluish-bruised foreheads of the devout Moslems pressing their foreheads to the floor five times each day, robed Buddhists and ash-laded sadhus – all wearing the symbols of their beliefs.
But what about the rest of us?
Each of us tells the world something about ourselves, whether intentionally or not. Tattoos, shoes, hairstyle, piercings, our cars, our speech, our habits. We then gravitate toward our own, to form our own tribe. Seekers find other seekers, artists find other artists, nerds unite.
And everywhere those who feel sure they have found the only right path, gravitate toward fundamentalism.
These people, the certain ones, are too often the ones who think they have all the answers. They often feel compelled to use ugly persuasion to convince others of the rightness of their particular beliefs. We only have to see burning crosses or the stiff-armed salutes to a swastika to know the brutalism of those kinds of beliefs. These are the people who have long ago lost sight of the essence of the teachings they purport to follow. They have ignored the lesson of love.
Love never preaches hate. Nor does love encourage people to hate themselves. Love doesn’t preach sermons of exclusivity. It never perpetrates ‘us’ against a sinful ‘them’.
There is a divisive ugliness that has once again been unleashed in the world. CNN, in a November 2017 article tells us that, “Hate crimes in the United States have increased to a point not seen in recent history…”
Division and walls and a ‘me-first’ attitude is being trumpeted around the world. It is an ugly call for protectionism and a misguided righteous assault on anyone who looks or sounds outside of the chosen ones, a self-declared tribe.
These are dangerous times and it seems that the simple act of kindness is too small a prescription against this tidal wave of ugliness.
But kindness and love have always been the quiet counterpoint to bullies.
Quantum physics tells us that nothing happens in isolation. That the very act of observing affects the outcome.
In other words, our actions have consequences. In fact, our very existence has an effect on everything around us. Therefore every kindness truly does ripple outward. Every loving gesture begets another and another, tipping the balance back to love.
So yes, we must stand up and resist the ugly ideas that are being promoted. But it is equally important to dig deep into our souls, no matter what we believe, and ask this one simple question: What would love do, right now, right here?
How would love treat the cashier? How would love treat the homeless man asking for help? What would love ask of us in every interaction?
Will we screw up? Of course. Therein lies the ridiculous beauty of being human.
Whether you help yourself to stay on the path by clicking your rosary beads, your misbahah, the latest mantra you learned in yoga class, or by simply taking a deep breath…it matters not.
What truly matters is remembering that we ARE the world.
We matter. Each one of us. Our actions spread. We are a complex interrelated system. It is both a humbling and heady realization to know that everything we do has consequences. None of us, even if we never leave our homes, operates in isolation.
Our thoughts, words and beliefs create this world.
Let us create something beautiful. Spread some kindness. It’s contagious.