Father Richard expands upon the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Third Core Principle: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”
There seem to be two typical ways to avoid conversion or transformation, two diversionary tactics that we use to avoid holding pain: fight and flight.
“Fight” is what I’ll call the way of Simon the Zealot. It describes people who want to change, fix, control, and reform other people and events. The zealot always looks for the political sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person over there. Zealots consider themselves righteous when attacking them (whoever they are at a given time), hating them, even killing them. When they do, they believe they are “doing a holy duty for God” (John 16:2).
Zealots often have good conclusions, but their tactics and motives can be filled with ego, power, control, and the same righteousness they hate in others. They want to do something to avoid holding pain until it transforms them. Such people present Christianity as “a cult of innocence” as opposed to a movement for solidarity.
As long as they are the problem (whoever they are), and we keep our focus on changing them and correcting them, then we can sit in a reasonably comfortable position. But it’s a position that the saints call pax perniciosa, a dangerous and false peace. It feels like peace, but instead is the false peace of avoidance, denial, and projection. The Peace of the Crucified comes from holding the tension.
This brings us to flight, the second diversionary tactic. This is the common path of the “Pharisee,” the uninformed, and the falsely innocent. Such people deny pain altogether and refuse to carry the shadow side of anything in themselves or in their chosen groups. They allow no uncertainty nor ambiguity as they scapegoat and project their own wounded side somewhere else! There will be no problems. It is a form of narcotic, and at times probably necessary to get some people through the day.
Both fight people and flight people are subject to hypocrisy, projection, or just plain illusion: “We are right; you are wrong. The world is divided into black and white, and we alone know who is good and who is bad.”
“Resurrected” people are the ones who have found a better way by prayerfully bearing witness against injustice and evil—while also agreeing compassionately to hold their own complicity in that same evil. It is not over there—it is here. It is our problem, not theirs. The Risen Christ, not accidentally, still carries the wounds in his hands and side. The question becomes: How can I know the greater truth, work through the anger, and still be a life-giving presence?
That is the Third Way beyond fight or flight, which in a certain sense includes both. It’s fighting in a new way from a God-centered place within, and fleeing from the quick, egocentric response. Only God can hold such an act together within us.
Adapted from “Zealots and Pharisees,” Third Core Principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Walter Wink on Jesus’ third way of nonviolence.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Claudia Retter, Three Fish (details), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.
This week’s image appears in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: We might find ourselves swimming against the current, but we’ve made a conscious decision to practice something different in response to an inner call.
Story from Our Community:
The other day I was in my backyard with my 15 month old granddaughter. As she was exploring the yard a blackbird landed on a tree branch above her. She squatted down and looked up and said “Hi.” In that moment I saw it through her eyes not as just a bird but as a fellow living being with as big a part in this world as she and I. I thought of all I have learned from Center for Action and Contemplation in these daily readings. —Robin S.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.