"May we not succumb to thoughts of violence and revenge today, but rather to thoughts of mercy and compassion. We are to love our enemies that they might be returned to their right minds." Marianne Williamson
In a time of political retaliation and venomous and callous social media attacks, mercy and compassion land like a cooling rain. But that's not what caught my eye. There are a lot of mercy quotes that do that. What bowled me over were the last two lines "We are to love our enemies [note: that's a Jesus thing] SO THAT THEY MIGHT BE RETURNED TO THEIR RIGHT MINDS." In a land in which debate has become winner-take-all war, in which the Twitter takedown has become normative, in which discourse is either weaponized against the other tribe or intended to lather up our own, here was a proper purpose for tolerance and attentive listening.
These words reminded me of one of my favorite articles, written by Notre Dame President John Jenkins almost exactly ten years ago: "Persuasion Is the Cure to Incivility." I spend my life helping people develop incentives for humanizing and hearing "them" -- the other side, the other tribe. This quotation gave a reason for doing just that. If we reject or retaliate to opposition, we will feed the beast of our political enemies and likely radicalize them. Listen to them, on the other hand -- love them, reply respectfully to them, and we will give them a shot at rethinking their position. All of us should have such enemies in our lives to keep us in our own right minds.
At this point, I know what you're asking. "What's the problem, Allen?!" you ask. "You like the words and you gave us the words. Move on." But you don't know the hurricane that broke out in my mind. Marianne Williamson, the author of the quote, is the woman who made a short run at the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. I have always branded her a sort of spirituality-lite peddler, whose (to me) mushy and new-age-ish sort of counsel can be, for some, a poor substitute for the whole Jesus. Suffice it to say that her religious teaching is not nearly my cup of tea. Add to all this Ms. Williamson's far-left proclivities, seen by a guy (me) who's hoping to help build a radical center, a common ground where Americans can meet constructively for conversation, and you start to get a sense of how the attribution of this quote challenged me. She stands for a part of American discourse that I don't usually like or find at all helpful. I almost opted not to use the quote at all. "What will my conservatives think?!" But I didn't want you to miss it, so, I wondered if I should include it anonymously -- an absolutely ludicrous and not-so-ethical idea.
I was in turmoil. I was humbled. And that's when I came to MY right mind and decided to practice what I preach. So there it appeared: the full quote with the author's name boldly printed beneath.
Friends, I hope you learned from Marianne Williamson's words as you read them yesterday. As I typed them, quotation and author, I myself learned that I'm not nearly home in this pursuit of mercy and humility. I learned that, as often as I tell people to "listen for what the Spirit is saying" I have a long ways to go in opening myself fully to God's voice, whatever its source. I already agreed with the words Ms. Williamson wrote. So the turmoil taught me much more than hearing the quotation again.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin a New Year, I hope you will learn from my foibles and failings. Humility is elusive. And it's what we all need right now.
Prayer -- God, you see through us. Help us to see through us, too, in Jesus. Amen.