First Parish Blog

Stronger Than We Think We Are

By , February 7, 2017

“We’re Stronger Than We Think We Are”

A minister who retired recently said this to her congregation many times over the 29 years she served them. She said it when they needed to find a place to worship because their building was affected by mold. She said it when they stood up to community condemnation for supporting same-sex marriage. She said it to congratulate them when they raised the money to build a new meetinghouse. She said it when they faced challenges and when they overcame them. She said it to individuals in the dark nights of their souls.

“We’re stronger than we think we are.” I find that this is a message people share in all faiths – from the ideas in Buddhism to the People of the Book. — Christians and Jews and Muslims.

If we could believe in our own capacity to endure, to stand up to injustice, to support both law enforcement and Black Lives Matter, to raise up temples and mosques and meetinghouses – if we could believe it, we might be able to overcome the bloodshed and violence that so stain our world today.

It seems to me that violence emerges from shame – from humiliation and a feeling that there is nothing you can do to fix the things that are broken — mostly broken relationships. Some people walk away from shame and sorrow and loss, but when we snap, we can become blind to right and wrong, and only want to hurt the people we see as our “enemy” — whoever it seems to us has wronged us.

If only we felt our own potential strength! If only we could absorb the messages of the world’s great faiths, and realize that at the base of each is the message that the love we long for is already within us. Stephen Mitchell puts it like this: “The central message… is that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing.”

The great A. Powell Davies wrote, “When religion tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, on the face of it the command is good, but when we come to look into it we are struck with a shocking sense of irony. Because our trouble is that we do love our neighbors as ourselves — we love them in just about the same way. For all too often, we do not love ourselves, we hate ourselves. We hate, that is, our real selves… We hate our inferiorities, our instabilities, our cowardice; and we hate the fact that we are not as talented, not as beautiful, not as graceful, not as gifted as other people. We hate ourselves for not being more than we are and we transfer this hatred to the world about us… We form a fantasy, a very pleasing fantasy, of what we are really like, of what we could do if only we had the chance that other people have. We tell ourselves that these other people represent an injustice done to ourselves. And we become conspirators against them. That is where the trouble begins.”

(A. Powell Davies, 1902 – 1957)

Finding love within our hearts, we can then love our neighbor as ourselves — and if this spreads, perhaps we will see how strong we are, and no longer need to hurt each other.

We can only hope.

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