As I stood on our steep hillside shaking out a rug, a mom and her three children waiting at the bus stop caught my attention. The eldest, a boy of about 7, had gathered pebbles from the rocky mound beside them and, as I watched, he whipped them at his little brother. One at a time. The younger boy turned his body away from the force of the stones. Their mother, preoccupied with removing their little sister from her stroller to prepare for the bus, either didn’t notice or chose to ignore them. The boy continued without reprimand. I stopped beating the rug, wanting to yell down at him from my perch on the hill. Suddenly he stopped and turned his attention to his sister. The toddler now stood beside him while their mother folded up her stroller. Instantly he changed from a relentless rock thrower to a tender caregiver as he enfolded his arms around his sister and pulled her against his waist, as if protecting her from an oncoming storm. His sweet actions, in stark opposition to what I had just witnessed a moment ago with his brother, rather than surprise me, resonated within me.
Maybe that’s because when I was about his age, I picked up a metal toy shovel and threw it full force at my sister’s head. She’d pissed me off, after all. That was my natural reaction.
But the boy’s actions created something stronger than that memory — a recognition of the capabilities within myself.
I am this living paradox.
And I’m not the only one. Within each of us lies this propensity for both darkness and light — a false self and true self, lower self and higher self — whatever you choose to name them.
This recognition is particularly meaningful to me in light of the overblown negative reactions I’ve been reading in response to President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. To tell the truth, I don’t think it matters what the president would have said at that prayer breakfast. The pundits would have pounced.
But in his remarks, the president noted that religious groups have distorted and twisted faith or used it as a weapon to justify violent acts. He warned us that these actions are “not unique to one group or one religion.”
Honestly, I think he was trying to get us to pause and look within ourselves. At our own negativity and intolerance.
But some people, most of whom I imagine are Christians or politicians — or both — took offense. They didn’t like being included in this “club.”
A former governor of my home state of Virginia, Jim Gilmore (R), even went so far as to say, “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”
Well, I consider myself a Christian, and I’m not offended.
Because even though I strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, I readily admit that I fail — every day. Following what Jesus taught, and how he lived is just downright difficult! And it requires humility — something I didn’t see at all in any of the negative comments I read about Obama’s remarks.
I did, however, find the word in the president’s remarks:
“…we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards [God], and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.”
The truth is, still today, and in this country, people say and do terrible things, justified by their version of God, or justice. And some of these people call themselves Christian.
Somehow I can’t see Jesus condoning religious intolerance, the death penalty, and torture — all of which have occurred in or by our country. Recently.
I think the trick is to look within ourselves first.
I’m remembering these wise words: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)
If we continue to point to evil and darkness as being “out there,” we will never reconcile these realities. We will completely miss that log lodged right in our own eye. I almost did. Thanks to a little boy at a bus stop. Just being himself.
To read the full script of the president’s remarks, go to: