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Lent 2017

President's Letter - Lent 2017

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Lenten Message - 2017
 
For the past several weeks I have been contemplating our current condition-in the church, our country, and our world.  I have commented in the past on the incredible divisions we face.  My distinguished colleague, Dr. John Dick, has also pointed out this phenomenon of extreme division.  It is one thing to bemoan the condition and recognize how destructive it has been and will continue to be.  It is quite another to consider solutions or, at least, some form of response.  For answers, I turn to two sources: the first, of course, is the Gospel; the second is a little-known book called The Outward Mindset.

In the Gospels, we find Jesus of Nazareth repeatedly reminding us that we must love our enemy (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27, Mark 11:25).  Even more profoundly, Jesus is described as forgiving those who killed him (Luke 23:34).  This must be the greatest challenge that we are called to follow of all.  It is so counter-intuitive that for most of us, it is simply impossible to consider.  How can we possibly love those who do us harm?  Don't we have the right to strike back?  
 
That is perhaps, the most interesting notion of all - what are our rights?  After all, that is why ARCC exists.  We believe that people have rights in the church itself.  Brian Orend in his book, Human Rights: Concept and Context, lays out the philosophical basis for the idea of human rights.  In that work, he emphasizes that the existence of any right places an obligation on others to honor it.  That is, if I claim a right to being innocent until proven guilty, for example, there is an obligation on all others in society to assume my innocence and treat me accordingly.  Or if I claim a right to free speech, it places an obligation on everyone to allow me to express my point of view without fear of reprisal.  It also places an obligation on me to not use that right of free speech to cause harm to another.  So, in the church, our  Charter of Rights lists the same kinds of expectations that every Catholic should honor.  It places an obligation on the leadership to uphold those same rights.  It applies the obligation to me as well, to respect the rights of those who disagree with me.  
 
Respecting the rights of others while still advocating my point of view is a crucial element in loving my enemy.  The seeming paradox is how we do just that when those who are in opposition to us intend to deny any such rights.  Parker Palmer referred to it as part of the "Paradox of Promise."  Nevertheless, the only way we can begin to move in a constructive direction is to do exactly that, love our enemy.  This brings me to The Outward Mindset.  This book, published by the Arbinger Institute in Utah challenges us to move away from an inward mindset to an outward one.  We tend to remain in an inward mindset when we don't honor our core values.  A key value in our case is to love our enemies.  When we fail to do this, Arbinger refers to this as "self-betrayal."  Once the self-betrayal happens, we immediately seek to justify our choice.  This is accomplished by assuming the other person(s) are to blame-in effect, we make them into objects.  We may consider them as obstacles or irrelevancies, which justifies our failure to love them.  After all, we are good people and they are the unreasonable ones.  Our justification becomes more important than our results.
 
Instead, we are challenged to let go of our justification and seek to be helpful.  When in conflict, the typical situation is both sides are waiting for the other to turn to see things their way.  When operating with an outward mindset, we recognize that the only turn that is possible is the one we make.  The solution rests in our being willing to try to see the other person's concerns-to seek to understand.  This does not mean we surrender our values.  Rather, it offers that if we are to move toward resolving conflict, we don't seek to justify our failures but instead meet to get the perspective of the other.  As we model this behavior, it becomes increasingly difficult for those who we have described as our enemies to persist in their obstinacy.  I know this is something I find incredibly difficult.  It seems to be so much easier to take a stand as being right and the other person being wrong.  Unfortunately, I would argue that this is the situation we find ourselves in - it is more about winning and losing and less about loving one another.
 
Lord, grant that I may not seek so much to be understood as to understand.
Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA
   
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