Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Extremes and Forgiveness

The radio interview was with a New York Times reporter held captive in Afghanistan for seven months by the Taliban. He eventually escaped and has written about his experience. One statement stuck in my brain. "Moderate Muslims cannot cede Islam to the Talibans. ... (The Taliban) should not be allowed to portray themselves as the true defenders of that faith...."

Having spent too many years out of step with my own formerly Episcopalian Bishop, I am all too familiar with one set of views far different from mine portraying itself as the true defenders of my faith. In the case of the very conservative Episcopalians, as with the Taliban, the weapon of choice is knowledge -- knowledge withheld. Without additional knowledge, without exposure to the perspectives of the outside world, the general population takes the word of the leader as absolute, final. There is no basis for opposition, no room for questions. There is no room for independent thought.

Extreme liberals are just as guilty as extreme conservatives. I see the spectrum as an arc rather than a line. Figuratively and in reality, the two ends seem to reach towards each other at least in style if not in belief. "Believe me," they seem to say. "Ignore what the rest of the world tells you. Do it my way, or die." Both ends of the spectrum ultimately resort to shutting out, exclusion, death.

Another recent radio interview focused on a member of the IRA who planted a bomb in a hotel in Brighton, England many years ago -- and the daughter of a man who died in that bombing. Years after the bombing the daughter and the bomber had an opportunity to meet, and are now working together in The Forgiveness Project a UK-based charitable organisation which explores forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution through real-life human experience.

This is not to say that there is no place in religion (or politics, or whatever) for the very liberal and the very conservative. That's why we have so many Christian denominations, so many political parties. But (at least as Episcopalians) we pray, "For all who fear God and believe in you, Lord Christ, that our divisions may cease, and that all may be one as you and the Father are one, we pray to you, O Lord." Those divisions cease, we are able to achieve unity, somewhere along the midline of the arc, not at the ends. There we find our points of agreement, there we focus, there we can come together.

Growth comes as we search for those points of commonality, of shared belief. Growth comes as we struggle towards forgiveness and, ultimately, inner peace.

Give thanks for those who actively work for reconciliation, conflict resolution and forgiveness. What conflict in your own life needs resolution before you can find peace of mind and heart? Don't forget to pray ....

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