Mutual respect and balance
A legend among the Sioux peoples, which is also considered a prophecy, says that a sacred woman long ago came bearing great gifts for the people. She taught them the way of The Peace Pipe and songs to heal the broken hoop of nations. The bowl of The Peace Pipe is made from red pipestone (representing the blood of the people) and symbolizes the feminine principle. The long stem is made of wood and symbolizes the masculine principle. When both pieces are put together, the pipe represents the creative power of masculine and feminine combined in mutual respect and balance.
Mutual respect and balance are urgently needed today as the country continues to be polarized by evil in its social structures and by incompetence in its bureaucracy. Strident voices call for quick fixes and short-term solutions —line the venal politicians up against the wall and shoot them or even behead them, as jihadists do to infidels in Iraq and Syria.
Mutual respect and balance characterize the SVD approach to mission to promote peace, justice and the integrity of creation. The 15th General Chapter of the Society of the Divine Word defined prophetic dialogue as the deepest and best understanding of the call to mission. Prophetic dialogue is carried forward through interaction with people who have no faith-community or religious affiliation, the poor and marginalized, those of different cultures and people from different religious traditions or secular ideologies—in other words, people who might not be like us in creed, code or cult.
Prophetic dialogue means rejoicing in the goodness we find in others, even those who think differently or even live in contradiction to our own moral precepts. We accept with gratitude what they have to offer. We accept their virtues and admire them, we accept their brokenness with compassion, and we hope we can learn more about God from them. It is an exercise in the disciplined practice of listening.
Prophetic dialogue is the dialectic between commitment and openness. Every point of view needs to be given a fair hearing. We open up to the “other,” not only to understand her or him but to understand ourselves in the “other.” It creates space for the encounter of commitments, a space where we can be distinctly ourselves in relationship with people who do not necessarily believe the same way we do or who we believe are in error.
Prophetic dialogue is where the stakeholders enter into each other’s world, grow in consciousness and understanding, strengthen their connectedness, and collaborate in transforming this nation. It seeks mutual understanding, not total agreement, between people whose meanings and values, creeds and interests might be vastly different but whose destinies are intertwined. However, it does not mean accepting their wrongdoing.
Openness to the world
In his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, Pope Paul VI declared that “dialogue is the new way of being Church.” Dialogue is speaking our hopes, expressing our fears, and mutually understanding and sharing our vulnerabilities. In discovering our common humanity, we should be ready to be surprised by the “other.” We create understanding without dominance or submission. This mutuality can lead to collaboration in the transformation of the country as it is endlessly being polarized into opposing camps where people no longer listen to each other.
Martha Nussbaum, in her book “The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy,” wrote that to be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond our own control.
The paradox of the human condition, Nussbaum reminds us, is that while our capacity for vulnerability — and, by extension, our ability to trust others — may be what allows for tragedy to befall us, the greatest tragedy of all is the attempt to guard against hurt by petrifying that essential softness of the soul, for that denies our basic humanity.
Being human means accepting promises from other people and trusting that other people will be good to you. When that is too much to endure, it is always easy to think, “There is no longer hope for this country. I will live only for myself, for my own pleasure, for my own anger. I do not want to belong to this nation any longer.”
And so you resign from the human race while gently sipping your latte and munching on your veggie pizza. Nussbaum believes that that really means, “I do not want to be a human being anymore.”
You see young Filipinos feeling that the system has let them down, that they cannot trust their leaders anymore, and that they cannot pin their hopes on anything outside themselves. You actually see them retreating to a life in which they think only of their own satisfaction or of migrating to another country. But the life that no longer trusts other human beings and no longer forms ties to the political community is no longer a human life.
There I am in the midst of them
Prophetic dialogue is the call to form ties, to extend the self to the other in hope, especially in these times when our futures have become inextricably intertwined by globalization.
To form ties means to recognize that I and others belong to a community of interconnection and mutual transformation. It is the sharing of knowledge and the sincere expression of what one stands for. It is the exchange of ideas and feelings, the sharing of feedback for communal enhancement. It is discussion, listening, engaging, caring, trusting. It requires life-on-life interaction and collaboration.
There are often people who have to be corrected so that the life-giving connections in the community will not be destroyed. We must make every effort, as the Gospel this Sunday enjoins us, to win our brothers and sisters back, to turn them from false paths. We should never correct out of anger, or a desire to punish. Instead our message must be that of today’s Psalm – urging sinners to hear God’s voice, not to harden their hearts.
In times like these, we sometimes find ourselves responding to the violence and impunity of others from a dark place, from a place of violence within ourselves. In these moments, we must immediately hold our tongues, stop our actions and go to God in prayer. We have to face the possibility each time that we might be the one who is wrong. We also have to examine our own personal failures. We have to examine areas in our own life where our frailty is evident.
Until we confront the violence within ourselves, we cannot confront the violence of our country and the world. If we do not first and foremost place our identity in who Jesus is as the Prince of peace, we are not fit to say anything constructive out of love to our erring brothers and sisters.
Without a healthy understanding of our identity and a trusted community to continually remind us of our own frailty, we would be lost. May we allow the mystery of the Resurrection to breath new life in the most unexpected people and place – beginning with ourselves. Only then will the creative power of every Filipino combine in mutual respect and balance to bring peace and justice to this benighted nation.