Sacred Activism - Part 2
by, 03-19-2011 at 11:04 PM (2085 Views)
I heard of this term as the subtitle of a book: The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism by Andrew Harvey. I should note that I have not read Mr. Harvey's book other than the excerpt that he shares at his website.
In the excerpt he talks about forming groups (which he calls cells) to pray, meditate and work on causes that are important to them. One example he gives: "Imagine ... concerned lawyers working together to see that people trapped in foreclosure get proper legal representation."
This is a particularly striking example in that lawyers have an obligation as part of their profession to perform work for the good of the public (pro bono publico), work which is almost always done for free. It is laudable to encourage lawyers to go further unite their good works with prayer and meditation, as indeed it would be to encourage anyone else to do the same. Doing what one ordinarily does but explicitly for the purpose of helping others and doing so prayerfully and mindfully is what I think of as sacralizing activism (or at least one's work).
How then can we get to acting (another way of saying "activism" I hope) for the sacred? That all has to depend on what is meant by sacredness. This is a deep topic and indeed sacredness has to do with the dimension of depth spiritually speaking. Let's think about sacredness for now (and hopefully in not too shallow a way) as being that which really matters. This is meant to be as ecumenical a statement as possible. "What really matters" is probably not what is on the surface but relates to deep truths, whether they come through revelation, personal experience, or the exercise of reason.
Think about the people trapped in foreclosure. What do they really need? It would be easy to say this depends on the particular facts surrounding a borrower. This in itself is a clue. The borrower is valuable in and of herself, perhaps because we believe that each person is precious in the sight of God or perhaps because with Kantian universalism we think that reason dictates all humans are to be treated as ends and not means.*
What else do we know about borrowers in the aggregate? They have homes. They are not current on their payments. Some lack the ability to pay, some lack the desire to pay because of a steep decline in their home's value, and some both. Some are having legal action taken against them because of their non-payment.
What do these borrowers really need? All of them - all people - need justice. There are definitely those borrowers who are being removed from their homes because of faulty paperwork and not because they have fallen behind on their payments. It's pretty easy to say they deserve legal representation. In this case, it's the quickest road to justice. But what do we do to effectuate justice for those that have decided to stop paying because their home is now a bad investment? Do they deserve free representation? What about those who took on a bigger loan than they could afford? What of them? What about those tricked into taking on a bigger loan than they should have? *You can imagine many more cases. Is the way to justice in all of these cases through the courts, through the door of a lawyer's office? Of course not. The law and justice may coincide but they are hardly identical.
Justice isn't the only thing that really matters. Each of needs mercy as well. Some of these borrowers may have made bad decisions or even committed fraud on their lenders. The strict demands of justice may require that they should lose their homes. Mercy tells us maybe they should be helped anyway. Maybe what they need is a home, a place for themselves and their children. Representing them in court - which is an appeal to justice - may not be the best way to achieve mercy. It might be better to repay the loan in the borrower's name.
There are spiritual principles which might guide the action of this group of lawyers. Maybe they believe what Maitre Phillipe of Lyons believed (as he was quoted in the book Meditations on the Tarot):
"Pay your debts! Pay your neighbor's debts! Because each will pay his debts, and it does not matter if it is paid in this world or in the other, provided that it is paid."
Debt in money is just one kind of the debt we incur. By paying one another's debts - and even giving money to the poor - we pay our own karmic debts. Thus, representing debtors in court may be the least good option because the court could release them from their debts, but only as a legal matter and not a karmic matter.
If our group of lawyers uses the moral consciousness that led them to undertake sacred activism in the first place, they will have to admit that the above discussion sounds slightly monstrous. Who are they to decide who gets mercy, who gets justice, and the measure of each to apply? Why should they get to decide which set of spiritual and moral principles to use?
And yet, there is suffering in the world. Who are we not to act?
This is the place for prayer and meditation. We will make mistakes. The best we can do is to unite our wills and hearts with God's, or if you would prefer, to access that part of ourselves that can see farther than our everyday vision can. We can only humbly and carefully - yet with boldness born of faith - proceed based on our inner guidance.*
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