Monthly Archives

January 2024

Hugging hands. Arm embrace,

Lessons in Love

By Talks

In today’s homily, Jess expands on our theme “Being Rooted in Love Together” as she reflects on some lessons in love she’s picked up from her former self, (90’s evangelical teenage Jess) her current self, the apostle Paul, and everyone else. She suggests that greeting our differences with a loving embrace (instead of trying to convert each other) might be the only way to melt our barriers away.

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pic of Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton adds a PS on “Loving Enemies”

By Articles

When I was preparing the second week of my workshop on “Loving Enemies in a Time of Polarization,” I was struck by a sense that I should pick up my copy of Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1968), my favourite among many favourites of Merton’s. It’s probably not overstating to say that this is one of the handful of books that has transformed my life, confirming a contemplative direction integrated with peacemaking.

I browsed through the countless dogeared pages that marked passages I never wanted to lose. Before long, pic of Thomas MertonI knew why I had needed to pick up this book. Of course, in a few pages, he was saying things more profound than my notes. When I summarized my workshops in earlier posts, I took this section out because I decided that I would just let Merton stand alone. So, without further ado, here are some of Merton’s thoughts on why we need our adversaries (all of the many emphases are mine and I’ve chosen not to update all the unfortunate male pronouns):

The basic falsehood is the lie that we are totally dedicated to truth, and that we can remain dedicated to truth in a manner that is at the same time honest and exclusive: that we have the monopoly of all truth, just as our adversary of the moment has the monopoly of all error. We then convince ourselves that we cannot preserve our purity of vision and our inner sincerity if we enter into dialogue with the enemy, for he will corrupt us with his error. We believe, finally, that truth cannot be preserved except by the destruction of the enemy – for, since we have identified him with error, to destroy him is to destroy error. The adversary, of course, has exactly the same thoughts about us and exactly the same basic policy by which he defends the “truth.” He has identified us with dishonesty, insincerity, and untruth. He believes that, if we are destroyed, nothing will be left but truth…

The one who can best point out our error, and help us to see it, is the adversary whom we wish to destroy. This is perhaps why we wish to destroy him. So, too, we can help him to see his error, and that is why he wants to destroy us. In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth. Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth….

We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all. Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as “an intelligent being”!) But actually, what we desire is not “the truth” so much as “to be in the right.” To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature. What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not “the truth.” It is only an argument strong enough to prove us “right.” And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong? Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned. We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as “truth.” What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved “right,” and our iniquity be vindicated as “just….”

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war! And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us. Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

― Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

To Merton and to readers, I apologize for ending this lengthy passage on a pessimistic note, fitting as it may be for our day.

So, perhaps I’ll just repeat some of the hope from the middle:

In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right.

If you missed the posts in this series, you can begin the first one here.

Suckers with different emotion-faces

What’s Not To Love?

By Talks

Rachael dives into our new theme, “Being Rooted in Love Together,” with some thoughts on our barriers to love and how to approach them, a guided reflection with Psalm 139, and an invitation to adopt the phrase, “What’s not to love?” as a love-barrier-melting tool!

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Sculpture of two men arguing

More on Loving Enemies

By Talks

At our 2nd Breakfast service, Walter followed up on his fall workshops by inviting discussion of how we can stay in good relationships with those whose views differ greatly from our own on many issues of the day. We concluded that we’re tired of referring to these folks (often family members, co-workers and neighbours) as ‘enemies.’

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Ottawa monument to the unity of the human family

Loving Enemies – Pt.3 (Truth and Common Ground)

By Articles

One of my passions in recent years has been re-centering the concept of truth around “honesty” rather than “factuality.” This has partly been to distract from the pointless defence of theoretical “absolute truth” that is perceived, interpreted and communicated by flawed humans.  The crucial notion of truth is that we bear honest witness to our experience.

A huge benefit of this shift in understanding truth is that dialogue can respect that two parties are aiming at truth even when there is wide disagreement, varied interpretations of reality, and different memories and experiences. We expect these differences and can be enriched by them. Honesty, open-mindedness, and inclusion of marginalized voices can all add up to hopes that a larger “shared truth” can result.

In this third part on “loving enemies,” I am suggesting that a dedication to truth as bearing honest witness can make a significant contribution. We invite others to a similar honesty when we create a safe enough space in dialogue for others to share their full experience. Hopefully, the compassionate curiosity and invitation of personal stories emphasized in the previous part are a part of creating that safe space.

We can then increase the motivation in this direction by intentionally seeking “common ground.” You may recall the suggested questions:

  1. What’s your biggest/deepest concern in all of this? What are you mostly concerned about?
  2. What kinds of things do you find matter the most to you in all of this?

These are the kinds of questions that can begin the search for common ground. While our imagined solutions and positions may seem like they’re poles apart, very often the deeper concerns at the root come closer to values that we all share. After all most of us are seeking a world in which our loved ones can thrive in peace and safety. We may define the concepts differently, but most of us are hoping for a world in which beauty, justice, courage, faithfulness and compassion can increase.

Ottawa monument to the unity of the human familySo we ask compassionate questions about deeper concerns in order to dig down to the place where we find common ground. If the first layer of concerns that emerge still divide us, we may need to dig a little deeper. “OK, I hear those concerns that you have, but how have those concerns come to matter so much to you?” If we trust in our fundamental connectedness as human beings and that goodness (even the Presence of God!) is found within all, then we are determined to persist at this until that common ground is found.

Before exploring a few other tools for finding common ground, let’s be clear about what common ground does NOT mean:

  • Not uniformity – the blessing of common ground in conflict is that you get diverse points of view on a common concern. Common ground celebrates diverse thinking and multiple perspectives.
  • Not “meet in the middle” – it’s more about seeking a third way. If we start to find some common ground, we avoid the limited perspective that has locked us into the opposition of two rigid alternatives. Creativity sees more possibilities.
  • Not sacrificing passion for justice or truth – it’s (usually) about channeling emotions and motivations away from opposition toward seeking the best path to fulfilling the hopes that we care some much about.

With some hope then that finding common ground is both possible and valuable, here are some other ideas that can help us to find it:

  • Communicate vulnerability and movement – Aggression, rigidity and defensiveness tend to be mirrored in combatants. When we model vulnerability and movement, we invite the other to follow our lead and risk vulnerability and movement as well. By “movement” I mean demonstrating that one is not locked into a position; we concede a point or show openness to a new perspective. It’s much easier to find common ground when there is vulnerability and movement.
  • Leverage passions on both sides – Once a few common concerns are glimpsed, this opening can be expanded by reframing and leveraging the emotions that are present – We recognize the other’s passion as a shared desire for family, for peace, for autonomy, etc. Emotions can draw together instead of push apart.
  • Seek and name common (non-human) enemies – We’ve all heard of the unifying potential of finding a common enemy, and there is truth behind this. We just need to be careful that this does not create a new human enemy. Instead, we look for common “enemies” like: violence, family or societal breakdown, fear, etc.
  • Creatively seek common heart space – This takes more effort and skill, but there is huge potential in finding common symbols, music, art, and ritual – and having those become transforming shared moments – especially when these enable a celebration of small gains made toward mutual understanding and imagined future pathways.

A dedication to seeking and building on common ground does not naively expect that this will make entrenched conflicts disappear, but it can transform the long, patient work of building peace.

Sculpture of two men arguing

Loving Enemies – Pt. 2 (Stories and Compassionate Curiosity)

By Articles

In the first part of this series, the focus was on a two-part commitment aimed at helping us to avoid dehumanizing the other in the midst of conflicts and challenges. In this part, I want to focus on how personal stories and compassionate curiosity can help the opposite of dehumanizing: the building of Sculpture of two men arguingempathic connections with others, including those who so frustratingly see the world differently from us.

But first, I just want to name the fact that a lot of other factors besides our tendency to avoid difficult emotions can make us lean toward dehumanizing the other:

  • Decontextualization: so often we are interacting and relating to people whose histories and contexts are nearly completely unknown or very misunderstood
  • Depersonalization: it’s hard enough for us to remember the unique individuality of the people we live with, let alone remembering that the billions of people on our planet are just as much unique individuals
  • Unfamiliarity: it can be hard for us to see what we have in common with people whose lives are so different from ours
  • Capitalist exploitation: from algorithms that keep us in social media bubbles to systemic demands for cheap labour, there are huge forces at work that benefit from and encourage dehumanization
  • Prioritization of abstract principles and beliefs: ideological principles and religious beliefs can demand such loyalty and passion that we don’t see when they are crushing humanity

There are so many obstacles! And I will suggest that one attitude to help us overcome them is the development of “compassionate curiosity.”

Curiosity has occasionally had a bad reputation, but compassionate curiosity is “de-weaponized” curiosity. This is not curiosity that is used against others or even at the service of our own agenda, but curiosity for the sake of mutual compassion and growth. This is a desire to learn honestly and fully with open minds, with courage to see what can be seen.

Here are a couple examples of questions that grow out of compassionate curiosity when we disagree. Or when we hear someone say something that we hate, and we wonder what we can say or do:

  1. What’s your biggest/deepest concern in all of this? What are you mostly concerned about?
  2. What kinds of things do you find matter the most to you in all of this?

We can then deepen the potential of this compassionate curiosity by listening for the human, personal stories that form the context of people’s lived experience and the mix of prejudices and worldviews that understandably grow out of them.

In the early days of our most recent trajectory toward polarization, Parker Palmer made a post shortly before Thanksgiving. He’d heard that many people were dreading holidays and a shared dinner table surrounded by sharply opposing views. I’ve lost his exact words, but he encouraged us to ask each other about the stories that gave rise to the strong feelings we had. Listening to these stories and deepening our understanding of family whose views have felt toxic to us would be far more beneficial than argument around the table. I’ve had enough experience of both to know that he was right.

So the encouragement in this second part on loving enemies is to practice compassionate curiosity and use it to invite stories that help you understand why the points of view that you find so difficult matter to others. Asking with genuine compassion is far more potent than opposing.

If you’d like to read more about this, I’d encourage you to read this OnBeing post by Sharon Salzburg, and, of course, continue to part 3.

The adoration of the Magi - google art project

Being Rooted in Love Together

By Talks

Jess introduces our new teaching theme for the season ahead, ‘Being Rooted in Love Together’ and reflects on some of the ways she’s experienced this happening at SCC over the last year. She also shares some verses from Ephesians 3&4 that the Leadership Collective have spent time contemplating as we work on putting new language to our values, and nods to Epiphany and what it could mean for us today.

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Rockwell's painting of the Golden Rule

Loving Our Enemies – Pt. 1

By Articles
[In November, several of us gathered for three workshops to explore this foundational but difficult invitation. In three posts, I’ll summarize the content.]


Is it human nature that we gravitate toward dividing the world into “us and them.” It seems like it begins when we’re a few months old and start to fear strangers. Social psychologists have determined that you can divide people into groups based on insignificant reasons (e.g. preferences for one painting over another) and that’s enough to make us start idealizing our “in-group” and start seeing the worst in the “others.”

It may be human nature, but wisdom traditions around the world have invited us into something better; perhaps this is best known through the various versions of the “Golden Rule.” And Jesus, in particular, made sure to clarify that this includes our “enemies,” and he invited us to “do good to those who hate us” (Luke 6.27).Rockwell's painting of the Golden Rule

This invitation is a huge challenge. To remember the humanity of our enemy is to risk all kinds of confusing and risky emotions. And it unsettles so much of what is familiar and homey. What if we’re wrong about stuff! What if our enemies have some good reasons for hating us? And what if we start listening to them, and our friends and family start to hate us?!

It’s so much more convenient to stick with our inherited prejudices and dehumanize those whose sufferings and worldviews would be so troubling to acknowledge. Then we can bomb them when “necessary” or pretend our sanctions are non-violent. Or we can just turn off the friggin’ news and hope it all stays away from us!

If we’re going to take the invitation to “love our enemies” seriously, we’ll need a serious commitment to take up the challenge. We will face inner and outer resistance, and we will sometimes fail, but a commitment helps us get up, dust ourselves off and continue toward a better place. It is very hard, but it’s also very invigorating and inspiring! This is the kind of thing that can help us get out of bed in the morning and hope that there is something worth working for.

I’m going to suggest that a two-part commitment can get us started:

  • I will see and treat all other individuals as human beings worthy of consideration, compassion and respect equal to myself, and

  • I will not let my emotions, or my limited (skewed) perceptions, memories, or beliefs lead me to dehumanize those who oppose me or inconvenience me.

This commitment to avoid dehumanizing the other is really a modest one – a beginning, but it’s still very difficult. I have found that one real key to the second half of this commitment is the practice of creating a safe enough space for us to accept those emotions and limits. In our rushed and competitive world, we often feel too stressed to handle difficult emotions and acknowledge our weaknesses. We can intentionally slow down and remind ourselves that hard feelings are ok; they can be survived. In fact, facing and accepting difficult emotions strengthens our personal foundation, grounds us. It gives us the capacity to enlarge our world to the point where we can see everyone’s common humanity.

We’re so used to a panicky reaction aimed at stopping our painful feelings that we miss the larger world that they are trying to open us up to. Many of the best ways to slow down and accept reality are to be found in what are called “contemplative practices.”

When it comes to conflicts and disagreements, I like to think of contemplative practices as being the equivalent of getting well-coached in the corner of a boxing ring – except that our contemplative coach is not trying to help us defeat our opponent but to use healthy conflict to transform our enemies into fellow humans, worthy of compassion and care.

With the help of contemplatively accepting our difficult emotions, we can stick with our two-part commitment as a starting place to loving our enemies. We’ll explore a few other resources in part 2 and part 3.