On Planks and Motes

Once again our country is torn apart by the actions of a racist. Once again pent-up rage is unleashed and images of stores and fire and of looting fill the news screen. Our country appears more polarized than ever as we approach an election. This amidst a pandemic.

Most so-called common citizens can feel quite overwhelmed and it becomes tempting to lapse into a certain detachment that can arise out of a sense of powerlessness.

Violence is never acceptable as a solution but anger has its place as do demonstrations. Individually one’s voice doesn’t amount to much but collectively we can make a difference.

Here is a clip from the great film Network in which a deranged news caster challenges us to “get mad”:

We all need to have a part within that can say on our behalf “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” We need to be able to say this on behalf of ourselves as well as our brothers and sisters.

But that’s only half the task. We need to balance this righteous anger. We need to face the planks in our own eyes. We have seen and are seeing the results of leaders who point fingers yet do not keep their inner houses in order. Televangelists who warn us of the fires of hell but then spend an evening with a prostitute. Law enforcement professionals who become so enamored of power that they can’t even recognize when that power becomes abusive. Politicians who selectively quote from the Bible while ignoring most of that Book, using the Bible to justify decidedly un-Biblical policies.

We are no different if we do not also look within and uncover and heal that which festers inside. I am in danger of being part of the divisiveness if I do not acknowledge the racist within me, the abuser of power within, the looter. These Shadow elements are never easy to face but, unless we heal them, we become part of the problem.

Many of the spiritual mentors I value have tried to point us in that direction. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who courageously confronted the evil of Nazism, also said “All change must begin with me myself.” Thomas Merton wrote “…when one is firmly convinced of his own rightness and goodness, he can without qualm perpetrate the most appalling evil.” Jesus said “First get rid of the plank in your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the mote if your friend’s eye.” And then there is the poem “Call Me by My True Names” by Thich Naht Hahn. This excerpt speaks to the challenge:

“I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.”

The easiest spiritual path is either to not care or to point fingers. The real challenge is to courageously speak out against injustice, be it police violence, rampant looting, border fences, political corruption, ecclesiastic dishonesty while at the same time also pointing my finger within to uncover that within me which, like my beloved country, is in need of healing.