“The Practice of the Better”

croatia-migrantsThe October 10, 2015 cover of Time magazine is unforgettable. Men with children on their shoulders, women carrying children, children struggling to keep up – they are all marching across a field to yet another border. They are on the move, as are 60 million others, from the horrors of the wars in the Middle East and Africa to the promise of safety and opportunity in Europe. The Time special report is entitled “Exodus.”

The photo reminded me of pictures I have seen of  Jews and other unwanted people being marched to the concentration camps and usually to their deaths. That image was reinforced by a serendipitous choice of a movie to watch and a book to read last week.  The movie is David, the heartwarming story of a young child separated from his family who escapes from a concentration camp and walks across Europe to Denmark. The book is The Nightingale (by Kristin Hannah) which fictionalizes the stories of real women who fought with the resistance in France, in peril at all times.  Two sisters find ways to serve. One leads many downed English RAF pilots in long and dangerous hike across the Pyrenees into Spain and safety.  The other  saves Jewish babies from being taken with their mothers to concentration camps. I highly recommend both  the movie and the book.

The Time cover story, the movie, and the book converged to flood my mind with the pictures and stories of hate and injustice throughout history – not the least of which is the real “Exodus” pictured in Scripture. It reminded me again that 70 years ago, my chaplain- soldier father dealt with the same miseries and the same horrors and remained true to his calling and conscience until his death by friendly fire. (See my blog post Communion in a Corral in the category, My Journey). How do we, the ones who live in prosperity and safety, deal with such horrible images?  How do I watch this go on and do nothing? What do I do with the guilt?

Then I read in Richard Rohr’s meditation the story of Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian archbishop in the Catholic Church and a non-violent crusader for  the rights of the poor and against military dictatorship in Brazil until his death in 1999.carara quote

In a gathering at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque in 1991, he said, “We need to use the intelligence God has given each of us to see one another as brothers and sisters. We must take the time to understand other people and not let the barriers of race and language prevent us from seeing each other as members of the same family. God embraces all human beings. The heart of faith is the call to love one another.”

In his meditation about Dom Camara, Richard Rohr gave me an answer to my question,”How do I live with the horrors of our world?” He says:

Dom Helder is a saintly example of not wasting time fighting something directly, or you will become just like it. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Just go ahead and live positively; go to the side and do it differently. Don’t waste time with oppositional energy. In the short run, you will have to hold unresolvable tensions, symbolized by the crossbeams on which Jesus was crucified. In the long run, you will usher in something entirely new and healing.

Rather than criticizing the bad, we practice the better.  I know that not wasting time with “oppositional energy” is difficult; I just have to remember my considerable berating of Donald Trump in the past few months.  But Fr. Rohr is reminding us about how of how Jesus responded to the injustice and cruelty of his time. The Gospel accounts make no mention of Jesus bemoaning the events of the day with his disciples.  He either goes to speak with his Father or presents his usually paradoxical view of how to deal with the situation or goes into action. Practicing the better is the behavior he would expect from his disciples.  I’m trying!

image of Dom Helder by quotepedia.com; image of mother and child by cbc.ca


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2 Responses to “The Practice of the Better”

  1. “Oppositional energy” is my new favorite term; it applies in many situations – families, church politics,, disagreements between friends and neighbors. It’s a good philosophy to break down false narratives like needing to be right and needing to be perfect, etc.

  2. Coral says:

    Outstanding perceptions. Oh, to live like that….and we just keep trying…..

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