The roughly 250 years between 475 to 221 BCE in China are commonly referred to as the Period of Warring States. During this time, independent states and sub-states were nearly constantly at war, for power and hegemony. Social cohesiveness crumbled as self-interest within these factions began to rise. There were different views about the best way to stem the tide of violence. Some (sometimes named Realists) called for more force; the armed power to enforce law and order. Others disagreed: Mohists (after Mo-Tsu) called for love and compassion – to love one another and work to get along. Some thought the answer was to go far away, to other places. Others stayed to try to re-weave the fabric of society by teaching the values of community and right relations. This history has happened many, many times, in many places. Often these days I think that the USA has entered another Period of Warring States. With the recent Republican convention, I think we have gone far beyond culture wars. The options seem much the same as in ancient China. It is indeed unsettling, and some days quite frightening.
Yet, these are the days that are given to us. These are the times in which we live, and try as we might to live instead in realms of the imagination (a function of either privilege or denial or both), we cannot escape to a different reality. A well-known Chinese proverb (perhaps manufactured in an American fortune cookie factory) says: “May you live in interesting times.” Let’s just say that we do. Another bit of wisdom is this: that the Chinese character for the idea of “crisis” is made of the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” Our current dangers are highly visible, and becoming more so every day; bombings, killings, hate speech and terrorism, racial tension and violence, Brexit and Donald Trump.
We cannot ignore the opportunities, however. Perhaps seeing opportunities is what matters most. Everyday we have an opportunity to live from courage. We have opportunities to practice what we preach, to give up unnecessary things, to share, to meet people and get to know them better, to speak out when we see or experience injustice. Everyday we have an opportunity to really love what we say we love.
There have always been frightening times, and frightening people, and horrible events. And there have always been those who learn to stand on the side of love, who keep compassion and beauty and justice alive. We are not entitled to any life other than the lives we have been given. We are here to learn, and opportunities to learn abound, especially when we help each other, and learn with and from each other. That is the purpose of our religious community. A year of both danger and opportunity awaits us – let us make it a brave year.
See you Sunday! Jill