A young man, Drummer Lee Rigby, was killed in a brutal attack on the streets of London.
I weep for his family, and particularly for his two year old son, Jack, who will not have his Dad alongside him as he grows.
I pause for a while to remember them.
I share many of the thoughts of my Twitter friend, Peter, on the reactions of the media to this terrible event, and would have hoped for more compassion and perspective; compassion particularly for Drummer Rigby’s family and friends who will not be able to avoid images of their loved one’s death.
Just because we have images does not mean they ought necessarily to be used.
Shortly after the attack masked men purporting to be from the English Defence League (EDL) were on the streets, and reports began to come in of attacks on mosques.
With an apparent connection of the alleged perpetrators with a violent Islamist agenda, there was immediate condemnation from leading Muslim organisations and figures.
There has also been, it appears, an increase in Islamophobic incidents according to the Tell Mama hotline.
Reflecting on the dreadful events in London, my sorrow for the victim, for the families involved, for the witnesses to what happened, and my anger at the loss of a young man’s life and of all that he and others hoped for his future, I posted on Facebook a quote from Martin Luther King:
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Now let me say, straightaway, that my feelings on this are as nothing compared to those of Drummer Rigby’s family and friends, and that my response is mine only. I do not attempt to speak for them or suggest what they should do, nor do I propose to speak for others.
I pause again to think of those perhaps in the army and beyond whose task it will now be to help Drummer Rigby’s family through this situation.
Also, while Drummer Rigby’s death was the catalyst for my thinking, the posting of the quote was an expression of where my thoughts had taken me regarding how we as human beings respond to events that cause us anger or sadness, that hurt us, or hurt those we love. Again, this is about my feelings and not a prescription for others. We each have to find our path through what life throws at us.
My posting of King’s quote received a goodly number of “likes” as well as a couple of comments that I thought most pertinent and worthy of further reflection.
One said: “Very hard after yesterday Julyan x”
The other: “Julyan how do we love through the anger we feel today? But so much love to all who have been touched by the terrible event in London yesterday.”
I did post a brief reply but I want to expand on it a little.
Love for most of us is best known in our feelings for partners, family and friends. It can be deep, intense, all consuming, passionate but it is not what I mean here.
We also use the word love to describe people’s attitudes towards much beyond our best human relationships: everything from football to shampoo it seems. We even talk about second hand goods being “pre-loved.” I suppose the suggestion is that that description rather than “used” “unwanted” or “surplus to requirements” will add value. Thus devalued, that is certainly not what I mean by love in this context.
What I mean by “love” here, as I am sure King did, is not what is drawn from us by the attraction of another, nor is it any sort of soppy sentimentality.
When I marry couples I often talk to them about love as being not what they are feeling at that moment but what they will for each other. I suggest that that is what will sustain their marriage through the hard times that afflict most relationships, and not mere emotions, altering as they do in changing circumstances. And, as I often say to my congregations, because I write this as a Christian and a minister, we are asked to love one another, not to like one another!
The sort of love I am thinking about is often referred to in Christian circles as “agape” (from the Greek).
There’s a link below to a Wikipedia entry:
I like the suggestion of Thomas Jay Oord that agape is “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.” I would want to go further, however, and suggest that while it is intentional in the promotion of the well-being of another it is not reactive only, but pro-active and directed to all.
Such love may be seen as an outworking of what some of us discover or choose to see at the heart of all our living, a divine love directed towards all creation, all humanity. Those of us who experience such love may then attempt to reflect it in our own living. That means that we will seek the best for all with whom we come into contact, regardless of our emotional responses to them – we seek to love them even if we find we cannot like them.
I was asked, “How do we love through the anger?” That is recognition that anger is a natural and right reaction to wrong.
It is important to say that seeking to act out such love does not mean we do not feel anger. I have often said that one of my driving emotions is anger, anger at injustice in particular, anger at the abuse of the innocent or weak, anger at the exploitation of the poor, anger at the marginalisation of the different. But, and it is a crucial but, I cannot let my anger create hatred in me. I must allow my anger to be refined by love, to be defined by it, to be channelled for good by it.
Anger unrefined by love explodes in all directions; it loses focus and it risks damaging others innocent of any wrong; unchannelled it develops into hatred, clouds reason and damages not only others but also the one feeling hatred.
This is, of course, no easy path but it seems to me to be the only constructive one. If I give in to hatred, I damage myself and others. I damage any opportunity for positive change in my relationship with the other, hatred inevitably blinding me to my own faults, perhaps entrenching the other in their position and certainly preventing seeing any moves towards reconciliation they are making.
Jesus says (in Matthew’s gospel): “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It is a sound invitation. Hatred leaves no room for reconciliation, starves peace of oxygen.
Suggests Dr Matthew Feldman of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies soon to come to Teesside University, “extremist Muslims and groups such as the EDL “need each other” (Guardian 24-5-2013).
Something must break the self-perpetuating cycle of hate which brings forth more hate in return.
Love of the sort I describe can do that. That one loves changes the dynamic of a relationship. Said Gautama Buddha, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” The hatred that feeds on the hatred of another is met by love and cannot feed.
As well as not being easy, it may not bear immediate results in the cessation of another’s hatred. St Francis of Assisi recognised this, perhaps, in saying: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Seeds sown take time to grow.
Surely, however, they are worth planting. I speak for no others. I speak only for myself. But for myself: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
This is a rather hasty blog to which I suspect I shall return but I wanted to get my thoughts down for those who’d asked but also for myself.
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading! Peace.
Thanks to you all who take time to come and visit my blog, and also to those of you have responded. I haven’t opened this up to responses yet because of the way that some blogs tend to attract some very negative thoughts and people get into quite nasty arguments. I don’t mind if you don’t agree with me or would like to expand on my comments, ask questions, or maybe even suggest where occasionally I might be near the right track. I always welcome your thoughts. The best way to share them with me is through the page’s contact button which will send me an email or find me on Facebook and PM me or Twitter and DM me. Thanks.
Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth contains what is sometimes described as a great hymn to love. I include here my slight paraphrase of it. I use it as a test of myself, putting my name in place of love. I fail often but it remains my aim for all that.
“I want to show you the very best way. I may be able to speak any language known to humanity or even the language of angels, but if I have no love my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I may be gifted with inspired speaking; I may be knowledgeable and wise; I may have faith enough to move mountains – but if I have no love – I am nothing. I may give up everything I have, but if I have no love – that does me no good. Love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but delights in the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope and patience never fail. There are many things of great value. They will all disappear; but love is eternal. When all is done these three remain, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.”