Sunday, January 3, 2016

Upon Us All, a Little Rain Must Fall

In the silence of Quaker meeting last week, I listened to a steady rain patter down on the roof. As I sat there, a verse from the book of Matthew kept rolling through my head and wouldn’t leave: “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” The idea in Quaker meeting is that we can all minister to each other, and all are free to rise and address the meeting as the spirit moves us. There is no clergy. But I’m not a member there, just an attender, so I kept quiet. I’m also a big believer that one shouldn’t speak unless it improves upon the silence. I’ve never risen to give vocal ministry during meeting, and I really doubt that I ever will.

But the thought stuck with me on the drive home, so I let myself ponder what it meant. And I think for me it’s a call to check our own tendency to think we’re always right, and to also try to find a little bit of goodness in the people we find the most challenging and infuriating. Quakers believe that every person has “that of God” within them, a concept I find similar to the idea of Buddha-nature. We all have a kernel of goodness in us, and some of us have it buried more deeply than others. The image it brings to mind for me is the Chinese tai-chi symbol, or what we call yin and yang. Black and white, two opposites, swirl around each other to create a unified whole -- one could not exist without the other. And in the deepest part of each half of the yin and yang, there’s a circle of the opposite color. I explained the meaning of the symbol once to my 4-year-old, and her simplified takeaway of those dots in the opposing colors was “Every good person has a little bit of bad, and every bad person has a little bit of good.” And that’s basically right.

So when I thought about how the rain falls on the just and unjust, it made me think about how we’re all in this together here on Earth, even if we don’t want to be sometimes. It’s easy to decide we’re the good guys and the “other” is the bad guy, but how good are we, really? Do we not often fall short of the standards we set for ourselves? Does our own sense of having to be right prevent us from seeing someone else’s point of view? Are we too quick to demonize those who are different, or whose views offend us? We may find other people unpleasant, but do we ask why they’re like that? Or what it is about them that bothers us so much? Do we ask if there’s anything we can do to help ourselves see compassionately why somebody is perhaps judgmental and angry -- what made them that way? And is there anything we can do to remedy it, while also looking at ourselves to see if anything within us also needs remedying? To bring this back around to scripture, can we see the log in our own eye before noticing the speck in our neighbor’s eye?

In other words, who really are the "just" and "unjust"? We probably think we know, but on deeper reflection, do we really? Aren't we all a little bit of both? And isn't that the essential point of the verse?

So I think that verse rolling around in my head was a call for me to act with more tolerance and humility -- calling out injustice in the world when I see it, certainly, but maybe with more of an eye toward what I, or what any of us, can do to fix things. Complaining is easy. Self-righteousness is easy. Actually doing something to change the world for the better, and cultivating harmony and understanding between people, is a lot harder.

But certainly, no one ever said doing the right thing was easy.

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