I was having my home decorated three weeks ago which did not go down too well with my cat Crystal. In fact, she climbed over my balcony and dropped about seven feet to escape the upset, she was absolutely terrified. Since then, I’ve been trying to trap her using an actual trap from Cat’s Aid and doing what any animal owners do, when their animals go missing.
This triggered a lot of reflection but dare I say, my thoughts aren’t fully crystal-lised but do bear with me as I endeavour to unpack my thinking.
One evening, having set the trap for another night, I sat down to watch an incredible documentary called Exodus on BBC2. It recounted the lived experiences encountered by refugees fleeing Syria and their efforts to get to Europe – all of which was filmed by the refugees themselves with some support from the professional team. It was harrowing. This was a different kind of escaping. As their awful journey progressed so did the exploitation by smugglers which was compounded further by the closed borders of Europe. With each step they were abused, rejected and their story ignored.
This was followed by the non-stop media coverage of Nice and the attacks in Germany, Afghanistan, Turkey resulting with more victims of violence. Topping it off was Donald Trump and his Gospel of hate, separateness and wall-building.
With the non-stop violence and radical shift in society, seemingly wanting to retreat into one’s own corner, away from the rest of the community at large, I kept singing the Chris Tomlin song: “Lord I need you” to help me cling to the Lord while looking for the Lord in all of this.
In the ‘coincidental’ which we all know is never ‘coincidental’, I found myself listening to a Fr. Greg Boyle who over the past thirty years developed a programme of post-gang, prison recovery in L.A. called Homeboy Industries (http://www.homeboyindustries.org/) which provides “hope, training and support for formerly gang-involved incarcerated men and women allowing them to re-direct their lives and to become contributing members of [society]”.
All the participants in Homeboy/girl Industries tenderly call Fr. Greg: “G-Dog” and invariably all ask for his blessing eloquently saying: “Hey G – Bless – yeah?”
Greg Boyle in his Ted Talk entitled “Compassion and Kinship” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipR0kWt1Fkc) recounted how Mother Teresa said: “The problem in the world is that we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. Greg then poses the question: “How do we stand against forgetting this?” “How do we imagine creating a circle of compassion and imagine no one standing outside that circle?”
He continues talking about how we, can inch our way out to this margin so we can stand with the poor, with the powerless, with the voiceless.
I receive an online ‘magazine’ called Onbeing which Parker Palmer and Omid Safi contribute to weekly. Ironically Parker’s blog was on: “Five Stories about Otherness and Me”. He says: “When we talk about ‘otherness’, it’s important to remember that we are all ‘other’ to someone”
(http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-five-stories-about-otherness-and-me/8823). “If you believe, as I do that diversity is to be welcomed and not feared, you’ve probably heard some version of this adage:
“The more you know about another story, the less fearsome and the more human that person becomes”.
From having listened to the words of these fine, wise men, in my mind’s eye, I looked again at those refugees highlighted on BBC2 alongside those families so terribly bereaved by the acts of violence visited upon their loved ones in Nice, Germany, Afghanistan and Turkey, and now the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel in Normandy, all this against the backdrop of the emerging global politics of “ethno-nationalism”.
This time, my reflections led me to hear the depth of that small still voice beckoning me to listen to the prayer: “That they all may be one Father, just as you and I are one.” (John 17:21) followed closely by “Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than this” (Mark 12:31).
It would seem to me that this oneness that Jesus speaks of is predicated upon our willingness to forgive, to pray for those suffering from this violence but also to pray for our enemies (Matt: 5:44) and as exhorted by St. Paul: “Over all these clothes put on love” (Col 3:14).