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Loving the Enemy

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After more than a month away from my Sacred America writing series, a time filled with equal parts romantic adventure, spiritual exploration, and rest, I find myself wanting to return to this series with a different spirit - less intellectual interpretation of political patterns and more visceral honesty about navigating these times.

This is edgier territory for me. My heart wants to recoil from the evening news, with stories of accelerated global warming, terrorist threats, and the ever-tightening vise of fear. It is easier to be aloof, seeing it all as the perfect unfolding of the human race growing into a new stage of maturity. It is far harder to open fully to the people and animals of our planet as they face apocalyptic horrors. It's simply devastating to immerse in the grief of a Lebanese widow, the outrage of an Iraqi youth stripped of dignity, or the desperate hunger of a Sudanese refugee. How much can I open to these situations and retain a positive outlook, one infused with trust and a spirit of possibility?

One of America's gifts to the world is our visionary optimism, but that gift often carries a shadow of hubris and indifference to the plight of others. President Bush's recent stance that an "enduring" cease-fire in Lebanon could only happen after Lebanon's infrastructure was sufficiently devastated serves as a case in point. The belief seems to be that we and our allies need to be heartless and brutal, strong-arming the world into submission to make us "safe." Noticeably absent has been a sense of true compassion for the Lebanese, which might have led to a more balanced embrace of the troubled psychology on both sides of the conflict. The end result is that the Lebanese people are devastated, Israelis are even more reviled in the Middle East, and America's credibility has been dealt another crushing blow.

Perhaps the saddest part is that much of America's aggressive posturing in the world is paired with a supposed dedication to Christ. Last month's vacation with my wife connected me to a far different side of Christianity, the side that could build the splendor of the Chartres Cathedral, inspire the prophetic peace of St. Francis, and fuel the extraordinary service of St. Patrick, who returned to the land in which he had once been enslaved to dedicate himself to ending slavery and uplifting the Irish people.

Jesus' most radical teaching was to "love thy enemy as thyself." This teaching is at the sacred core of his work, challenging us to open our hearts so wide that we exclude no one, even those who attack or wrong us. Instead, we are asked to forgive those who wrong us not just seven times but "seventy times seven times."

Who among us has lived this teaching fully? It is certainly not easy - millennia of biological survival programs drive us towards domination, violence, and revenge when threatened. But with humanity's amplified capacity to destroy, if we let ourselves be driven by our biological codes, we accelerate the forces that are taking humanity over a deadly cliff. I believe that we have no other choice but to take seriously Jesus' radical heart practice if we want to survive. If we cannot find love for those we now see as our enemies, the spiral of retribution and fear continues, thereby preventing us from rising to meet the great challenges of our day.

The golden possibility of a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable planet will remain out of reach so long as we squander so much of our money, talent, and time on defense and aggression, protection and control, dominance and fear. The 21st century is humanity's time of reckoning. We will evolve or we will self-destruct. I believe it is as simple as that. The difference between the two paths is not technological or even political but psychological and spiritual. Ultimately, it comes down to the question of how wide we are willing to open our hearts. Only when we extend our love to all of humanity can we begin to collaborate effectively on the otherwise unsolvable catastrophes that loom before us.

So as we hear of terrorist plots and watch devastating wars, let us dare to practice what Jesus taught. Instead of feeding the cycle of fear and contraction, let us instead encourage a spiral of love, holding both sides in a vision of sacred healing. It is indeed a practice and may not come naturally. But when we speak, think, and act from this stance, we can begin to reverse the downward spiral of humanity's heart. This includes extending our love even to the very politicians and leaders who sound the drumbeat for war and retribution. Can we include them in our compassion as well, sending them blessings of peace and love? Even if they take the role of the aggressor, they too are stuck, afraid, and wounded. "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do."

The ripples may seem small from opening our hearts wider at the very moment when our biology screams for protection, but the acts of healing and compassion that result are the only thing that can propel us beyond our wounded reactivity to discover our shared humanity.

Will we be part of the spiral that uplifts humanity? Or we will allow fear to seduce us towards our collective demise? We make our choice with every breath, every thought, and every deed.

Sacred America Series #24
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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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