It troubled me to hear on the lunchtime radio news on Wednesday about the demise of free speech in India. India, a nation born of protest always valued the ability to dissent. Under the Hindu-Nationalist government of Narendra Modi this is becoming increasingly fraught and dangerous. This was no real surprise to me, as anecdotally my Indian friends involved in ministry have noted increased difficulty in their home country regarding expression of Christian faith and advancement of particular ministries. Things get tied up in red tape, corruption and even violence.
That same day I also heard a US correspondent describing the impending debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The reporter cheerfully announced Trump was not bothering with preparation, and was just going to 'wing it'. He also seemed to relish the fact that this was going to get personal. I tuned in and was able to stomach about ten minutes only. Trump seems to have single-handedly removed anything resembling dignified speech and rational debate from the presidential contest. Naked narcissism coupled with such power and influence is frankly disturbing.
It seems enemies are there to be ridiculed, made fearful or imprisoned, not treated with empathy or compassion.
Just today at the hairdresser some of the North Shore ladies were expressing some interesting views in response to mischievous goading by the chief stylist. They were lurching disturbingly close to the conspiracy theory that all of the Covid alerts were part of a Marxist plot to take over the world. I remarked that at least they had their tin-foil hats on ready to combat the enemy.
In this Covid year, I have at times been more cranky than usual, for which I apologize to those traumatized in any way. The uncertainty of the times and the cancelling of events is agitating for many, myself included. The temptation to lay blame has been high. As I kind of antidote I've been reading Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by the religious scholar and former Catholic nun Dr. Karen Armstrong. I'm not sure it's working yet but certainly tuning out the vitriol of polarized Covid and political debate to read about compassion has been quite soothing.
The twelfth step in the above book is love for enemies, which of course is central to our faith and critical in the innovative teaching of Jesus. To understand and occupy the headspace of those we oppose in any sphere of life is difficult. We need the Holy Spirit to assist us. Armstrong writes; 'Jesus is preaching an openhanded, openhearted attitude designed to disarm the enemy. Such love expects no personal recompense.' I demand no recompense for my cancelled marathon. Are the regulators and organizers my enemy? Will I demand a refund? No, instead I ask; 'What will God teach me in this disappointment, and what new opportunity will arise?' I am at peace with their dilemma. Perhaps I am taking steps to compassion and empathy, finding my peace in God's way, not in my own achievements and wants. I hope so...