Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Living and Loving through Unfairness


In Jean Vanier’s wonderful book, Becoming Human, he quotes the African-American writer Patricia Raybon about how the oppression she experienced in the United States had taught her to hate white people. She writes:

 “I hated them because they have lynched and lied and jailed and poisoned and neglected and discarded and excluded and exploited countless cultures and communities with such blatant intent or indifference as to humanly defy belief or understanding.”

But then she goes on to talk about how she came to recognize that her hatred, no matter how justified, was eating away her identity and self-respect. It blinded her to the gestures of hospitality and friendship a white girl in high school offered her. She realized that instead of waiting for whites to repent of the atrocities they had inflicted on blacks and ask forgiveness, she needed to ask forgiveness for her own hatred, for her inability to see a white person as a person and not just as part of a race of oppressors.

Only forgiveness can break cycles of hate and resentment. But forgiveness can be a very difficult process, especially when there is no repentance or acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrators and oppressors.

But without forgiveness, there is no fullness of life. We can become our own oppressors when we carry around bitterness and resentment. Resentment poisons our own soul as well as the relationships we have with the people who respect and love us. For our own inner peace and wholeness, and for the development of flourishing relationships, we must come to a place of forgiveness.

This, I think, is true of life in general: we must forgive the world for being what it is and we may even need to forgive God for God’s part in the evolution of life on this planet. Life is not fair. Some folks have it much harder than other folks. And this has absolutely nothing to do with personal worth or value.

It would be easy for those who experience the unfairness of life to become bitter, resentful, and angry. And some do become cynical and hardened. But there are others who are able to transcend their circumstances and become generous, gracious, and joyful people, even while having to cope with life’s lack of justice.  

What makes the difference? I think that the resources of faith and hope play a major role. The quality of spirituality we pursue and develop has much to do with how we respond to life’s unfairness. Jesus encountered a landslide of injustice that swept him up on a cross, rejected, hated, and crucified by the powers that be. But he refused to allow his circumstances to diminish his worth and sense of who he was.

Jesus did not become bitter. Even when he was in agony in Gethsemane as he contemplated his fate, he resolved to do the will of God and be faithful to God’s cause to the end. The intimate relationship with God he had nurtured sustained and empowered him. He was still able to love.

John’s Gospel puts it this way: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1b). I hope that the quality of our relationship with God supplies us with the resources we need to continue to love, to work for peace and restorative justice, to be grateful, generous, and joyful, even when we are bombarded by the injustices of life. 

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