To Brother Mac Campbell – UC Forum 20th January 2021 in response to the posting 2021 – Thinking about Resolutions | Open Discussion on Progressive Christianity (unitingchurch.org.au)
Your thought-provoking ‘Reply’ posting of January 2021 is timely. It is relevant to some discussion I have been in with my colleagues In (SOFiA) about the faith we live by.
Your resolution presumably comes from a life time of experience and it is interesting that it contrasts so differently with mine over perhaps a comparable lifetime. What each of us ends up with depends on our world views and the way from this that we develop the faith which drives us to do what we do – or don’t do.
One of the major divisions of people in this world, I find, is between the optimists and pessimists. To soften the edge of negativity from any grouping into “pessimismistic” people with that inclination have been described to me as “realists”. Your statement, it appears to me would see you putting yourself squarely in the pessimist/realist camp.
Do these orientations come from our inherent nature or do they build up over a lifetime? A favourite aphorism of mine is that “good judgement comes from experience and we gain experience from bad judgement”.
Anyway, I am an optimist. That leads to my strong focus on being a peacemaker. This is expressed as a philosophy of loving my enemies. For many people this stance is highly impracticable. From what you are saying, it doesn’t get the desired result.
This then raises the question, “What is the desired result?” For you, reconciliation is one desired result. The weakness of this for me is that it takes two to reconcile and those two may or may not agree on what needs to be reconciled. It may also require an underlying assumption of reciprocation and compromise.
To be loving, however, requires only one party, ourselves. It, of course, incorporates forgiveness. One has a different attitude to one’s adversary if one sees that person as a friend and not an enemy. It means seeking to understand what the other party needs. To identify and meet those needs can very satisfying.
You have linked your conclusion to what Jesus would have done. Of course, we can all quote from the Bible record to support our own view. I am as guilty of that as anybody. If we read the New Testament one way, we see Jesus coming across as a rather cranky fellow. On the other hand, he is also recorded as proclaiming “love your enemies” and also as forgiving his murderers. What we do is take our pick.
One way to examine the validity and relevance of the ethics of Jesus. Is to make a list of virtues which we see as making up a good person. Do they fit what we know of Jesus? If he seems to have possessed those characteristics which we see as making a good life and society, then we may find him worth following. If not, we can either go and follow someone else or just depend on our individual experiences and personalities to live day to day.
It would be good to have you outline some of the experiences which have led you to have a somewhat disheartened view of peacemaking. You could spell out the “great cost” of attempts at peacemaking.
- I trust you will agree that being a peace-maker is not the soft option. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Count Bernadotte provide some evidence of what a dangerous business it can be. At the personal level I have found that loving my enemies can result in the risk of losing my friends.
- I wrote a little article many years ago of how I spent a couple of years pondering the virtues of love and forgiveness as against reciprocation. – give and take. That is “I’ll only do good things for you if you do good things for me”.
- With the current kerfuffle over our relationship with China one might ask as a friend, “What Does China want?” Someone spoke with people from China recently. The answer given was that what China wanted from the West was “respect”.
- I had a little experience this week just after I had written the above notes. The anecdote may illustrate the point I am making.
I have a friend who over the past year or so has kept asking me for money – pretty much on a weekly basis. I give him the money with no expectation that it will be paid back in full. But there is a moral issue in this for me. The money does not matter too much. I can afford to make the gifts. He is adequately catered for financially by his Government benefits. The trouble is that by these gestures of mine he is not learning how to manage his money effectively. I won’t be around for ever to help him out. So last week, despite his pleading I said, “No! No more money until you have paid me back what you owe me.”
Then, a day or two later we were to meet at the church for a routine morning tea. I was a bit anxious, that he would want more money from me or be upset with me for refusing him. I was strongly tempted to avoid him so as not to have the discomfort of his badgering.
But, “No,” I concluded. “This was not the sort of person I wanted to be; nor the way I wanted to operate.” I approached the veranda, noticed him sitting there and “forced” myself to wave a warm welcome. We greeted each other (no handshake with Covid 19 being around) moved into the kitchen and organised a cup of tea. There followed a pleasant full hour of conversation with him as satisfying as it has ever been. There was not one mention of money. I felt buoyed up by this experience of choosing to nurture a friendship and not run away from a potentially difficult situation.
To me this typifies a moral of approaching “enemies” as “friends” which can apply to all relationships right up to international dealings of the major world powers.