From The Rector…
There is a scene in Hotel Rwanda in which an American reporter has interviewed and filmed several Rwandans concerning the genocide that is playing out across the country of Rwanda. The footage plays on the television and the reporter assures the people in the hotel that people in America will see it. The Rwandans express their excitement and hope that now something will be done. But the reporter quickly dashes those expectations when he tells them that, at the most, Americans will look up from their TV dinners and see the appalling scenes taking place halfway around the world. They will express their shock and remorse. They may even say, “something should be done about this.” Then they will start eating again and soon forget the images and atrocities committed so far away. It is a depressing scene to say the least.
Last night and this morning as I saw the graphic images from Ukraine streamed on the internet and morning news programs, I was reminded of this scene from Hotel Rwanda. I felt the all-too-familiar horror of the unspeakable atrocities humanity is capable of. And then, I felt the hopelessness in knowing that there is nothing I can do about it. Its not that I clucked my tongue, turned my head, and went back to my meal—but after a brief pause and the wave of horror washed over me, the despair and helplessness required a response.
What can I do? I am only one, small individual with no money or power or weapons training or anything that can make some sort of significant material difference in the lives that have been lost or the grief of those affected. I can send money and though that is important, it doesn’t feel enough. Prayer is vital but at worst, seems like a cop-out, and at best, I am still removed from any action that might help change events. Or am I?
I can’t get on a plane and try to convince Vladimir Putin to release whatever is driving this war for him. Nor can I go to the Ukraine and try to comfort the grieving or say mass over the dead. But I can do something. I can treat others with compassion. Whenever someone hurts me, offends me, cuts me off in traffic, insults me, falls short of my expectations, makes me mad, makes me sad, or causes me any sort of suffering—instead of responding from a place of frustration or anger or hurt, I can respond from a place of compassion. I can intentionally seek to understand and connect to that which makes you and me and everyone else in the entire world the same—that thing which is common to all humanity—instead of differentiating myself from others and holding on to my individualism.
By diminishing my self in lifting up the other—regardless of the pain and suffering they may have caused me—I can release my ego which drives my thoughts, beliefs, actions, and interactions. When I am willing to do that, then I can begin to truly connect with the other from a place of compassion. That compassion understands four basic desires common to all humanity: 1) the desire to be free from suffering; 2) the desire to be free from fear and anger; 3) the desire to know peace; and 4) the desire to know joy.
We all desire these four things—every single one of us. It is the most basic, driving factor in every decision we make and every thought we think. None of us wants to suffer or be afraid—not the most wealthy, powerful individuals in the world nor the poorest people among us. No one. Every person in this world wants to find and know peace and joy—even happiness. Most of us make less than desirable decisions in pursuit of that happiness and freedom from suffering. We all too often make choices that don’t play out as well as we had hoped. We think that money or power or fame or glittery jewelry or fancy cars or beautiful homes or the perfect body will make all the difference for us. But the truth is, true peace and joy and freedom from suffering are rooted in only one thing, compassion. A compassion for oneself, for family, for neighbor, for stranger rooted in Jesus Christ is the only way to realize those desires which bind us together in our own life.
So, what can I do in the face of genocide and suffering a half a world away? I can pray. I can give. And I can act in compassion toward every person I meet this day. It won’t change the deaths and atrocities in the Ukraine—but it will begin to transform the world and help it to discover peace.
Light and Life,