Interfaith Insight - 2023

Permanent link for "Learning to Love Others, Even One's Opponents" by Doug Kindschi on March 7, 2023

Less than two weeks ago, we hosted Valarie Kaur, the award-winning film producer, lawyer, social justice activist, and best-selling author. Her inspiring presentation was attended by over 300 people in-person and by livestream. She shared the principles from her Sikh faith tradition that she believes can be used successfully by all persons. What she calls “Revolutionary Love” begins with loving others, seeing every person as “a part of me that I don’t yet know.”

Her book,  See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love , addresses the second practice of loving opponents by seeing them not as enemies and evil, but as persons who have been wounded in life. Valarie then adds what she calls “the feminist intervention,” loving ourselves. Her mantra, taken from the experience of giving birth, is “breathe and push.” It enables us to go through the sometimes-painful process of transition to a new reality. 

Her challenge to us all is to not be overcome by the darkness around us that might look like the “darkness of the tomb” but to see it as the “darkness of the womb” giving birth to a new reality. If you missed her presentation, or want to view it again, it will be available via this link through this Friday, March 10th.

In a recent book by another person drawing from his Sikh faith and tradition, Simran Jeet Singh deals with his struggle in trying to forgive the killer of the innocent Sikhs gathered in their gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. His book,  The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life , describes his growing up years in Texas as a turban-wearing teenager son of immigrants from India. He dealt with the prejudice and insults hurled his way, which increased significantly following 9/11 when Sikhs, because of how they looked, were often viewed as terrorists.

He was motivated to do what he could to change this culture of hate that led to his studying at Harvard Divinity School and completing his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He became a leader in social justice efforts to combat hate and religious bigotry, leading to his appointment as the director of the Religion & Society Program at the Aspen Institute.

The killings at the Oak Creek gurdwara, however, presented him with a significant challenge in living out his Sikh teaching of love for all people, especially for the white supremacist shooter. The killer had killed himself at the end of his massacre of six people, and Simran writes, “He was cowardly and hateful and unapologetic.  Could I really forgive someone who never felt remorse for the harm he caused? ... Forcing or feigning forgiveness didn’t seem like the right answer for me."

After considering all of the advice and suggestions from friends and experts, he finally found his answer in the survivors of the massacre. He writes, “The Oak Creek Sikh community had every right to be bitter and demoralized after the attack. And yet its members showed a kind of resilience I had never seen before. One theme rang consistently throughout my dozens of conversations with the survivors: Each and every person I spoke to referred to the Sikh teaching of chari kala, a phrase that translates roughly to ‘everlasting optimism.’” He notes how it became the rallying cry and “became the community’s unofficial slogan.”

Even when many called on Sikhs to abandon their turbans to “blend into mainstream society,” they refused and “some young Sikh women across the country did the opposite: They decided to start wearing a turban daily as an act of defiance and resistance.” Simran explains, “If we see people as evil, then we will be drawn to anger and pessimism … we are susceptible to negativity: negative thoughts, feeling, actions.”

So how did the survivors maintain the chari kala? “There was one practice that every survivor mentioned: gratitude,” Simran writes. They commented on the many things for which they were thankful: “I have my life” and “Many people I love are safe.” They referred to the many ways it could have been much worse, the bravery shown by members of the community and by the first police officer who appeared and survived 15 shots to his body.  

Simran concludes, “I learned about the immense power of gratitude from these survivors – that it can be an attitude, but only if we choose to adopt it as such and practice it every day. In this way, being thankful is the source of inner light in even the darkest moments we encounter.”

As a Christian I am influenced and moved by the teachings of Jesus to love your neighbor and even your enemy. Building on his own Jewish scriptures, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. His stories of compassion, such as the Good Samaritan, illustrate the power of loving even when it extends to persons from a different ethnic or religious community. 

When I observe the lives and stories of people like Simran Jeet Singh and Valarie Kaur, I am challenged and moved by the ways in which these Sikh leaders can articulate and live out these teachings of my own Christian story in ways that have profound impact.  Can we each see truth, not so much in statements or creeds, but in lives lived with compassion and love?   

Posted on Permanent link for "Learning to Love Others, Even One's Opponents" by Doug Kindschi on March 7, 2023.

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