This is our truth, tell us yours
I was not going to do a Sunday Sermon this week, since Carters incredibly powerful post seemed to deserve the front page so to speak. But then I remembered how much he likes my musings on faith, people and being all we can be. Make of that what you will.
As I have already mentioned Carter wrote wonderfully of how when we forgive we move the power dynamics of abuse, and are able to see our lives in wider terms than victim and abuser this weekend. The piece by Desmond Tutu he linked too is equally powerful. Archbishop Tutu speaks with such honesty of his own struggles to forgive, and how they led him to understand that his Father did not belong to some subsect of human being called “abuser”. One paragraph seemed to crystallize this wisdom .
No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me. But on any given day, in any given situation, in any painful life experience, this glory and goodness can be forgotten, obscured or lost. We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.
The word abuser seems to have become the modern equivalent of heretic or witch, especially online, once it is thrown at someone then we are supposed to think of them as lesser, other. It becomes OK to treat them in ways which would be considered inhumane usually but which are considered justified, moral even because of the label given them. Thinking of the danger of this, of seeing an abuser as someone who has no connection with us, who could never be us, my mind wandered to a bible story that is oft quoted but rarely understood in context.
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c]and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
I have seen this story used to justify capitalism (the Samaritan would not have been able to pay the innkeeper) which was an eye rolling moment of missing the point, and it is familiar to many I am sure. However the fact the term good Samaritan has entered the language as someone who helps a stranger blinds us to nuances the original hearers would have understood.
The relationship between the Jews of the first century and the Samaritans was one of deep distrust and enmity. As is so often the case it is those who are most like us who we turn our hate on. Jews would detour rather than even setting foot in Samaritan territory and the Samaritans returned the hate. They worshiped the same God, and this seemed to fuel the fires of hate.
This was not simply a story of a stranger helping an injured man then, but of someone seeing past that othering, the years of war and distrust, to the common humanity beneath. The Samaritan was not good because he helped someone, that is pretty basic behavior and hardly worthy of comment, he was good because he helped someone he had been taught to other and despise.
Now am I saying here we should go out and help those who abuse others? No, but simply because most of us do not have the strength and courage to do so. Those who do like the Quaker circles are incredible people who understand what it is to be a good Samaritan. What we all can do though is recognize the truth Desmond Tutu spoke of, the world is not split into humans and abusers, we all carry the capacity for great good, and great harm in us. When we label someone as an abuser, and determine that makes them other, outside the pale, and demand they be treated as Untermensch (and yes I choose that word very deliberately) we allow our own capacity to abuse to be ignored. He had the courage to consider how he might have behaved in his fathers place. In doing so he was able to see that he was not morally superior, just a different person.
In my own life the revelations about abuse in seminary colleges and boarding schools have led me to see that the person who abused me as a child probably suffered even more than I did. It does not excuse them, but I can safely say I cannot know how I would have dealt with systematic abuse in places like Fort Augustus. What I do know is that by refusing to other, to use the term abuser to reduce a human being to one thing I am not only more at peace, I am less likely to perpetuate the viscous cycle of harming others to dull my pain.