One Love

green leaf plant

On Sunday April 21, 2019, I watched in shock and horror as the BBC brought the news of the deadly bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels into my living room. Sadly reports of acts of terror like this are all too common but this one hit me a little harder as I am Sri Lankan by birth. I could not help but reflect on how much evil is committed in the name of separating people into “them” and “us”. It led me to reflect on many ways in which I could be classified, and the ways in which I have blurred the boundaries in order to live as a member of the human race, which I think is the most important group one can claim membership in.

I am by way of ethnic background Sinhalese. I am the child of an Anglican father and Buddhist mother, born in Sri Lanka and Jamaican by naturalization. I have Christian and Buddhist aunts, uncles and cousins in Sri Lanka, Australia and the USA. My sister is the pastor of a Lutheran church in Canada. I am married to a Jamaican whose ethnic background and family is a living testament to our Jamaican motto “out of many, one people” with pretty much every major ethnic group being represented. My parents-in-law belonged to the Rastafarian faith and actually lived in Ethiopia in the 1970s. I have in-laws who are devout church attending Christians, as well as ones who are locks wearing Rastafarians. The pork-eaters respect the views and beliefs of the non-pork eaters, and Sunday worshippers respect the sabbath keepers, and we all see each other as part of a pretty big family. One might ask where I fall in this mixed bag of religious affiliations and beliefs…

All my pre-university education was exclusively at Christian schools. My primary schooling was at two institutions supported by churches, and my high school was founded by Jesuit priests. So in school, I grew up learning more about Christianity than any other religion. At home, we did not strictly follow any particular religious teachings, but working hard, being honest and helping those in need were values that my sister and I absorbed from our parents. On reflection I realise that both my parents treated their relationship with religion as a private matter…it guided their actions but they did not feel the need to proclaim their beliefs in loud words. We were left to choose our own path when it came to religion. The two schools I attended in Jamaica endorsed the same values and also provided me with an environment and the tools to think deeply and to educate myself not just in maths and science but also on the ways of people and the world. What I have learned is that there is a common thread in all religions: compassion and respect for oneself and one’s fellow human beings. I discovered that spirituality is neither confined to nor defined by buildings, holy books and clerics but is founded in love. This love is at the heart of every religion, before it becomes corrupted by misguided humans seeking to divide into “us” and “them”. In the words of Ziggy Marley :

“All my life I’ve been searching,

To find out what this life is worth

Through the books and bibles of time

I’ve made up my mind…

Love is my religion”

So my guiding principles in life have become to treat others in the way I would want to be treated, with love and compassion, and to seek the truth always. These principles have allowed me to understand and celebrate the differences and the similarities of the other human beings that I share this world with.

The events that began with the Easter Sunday explosions in Sri Lanka have made me wonder what the world might look like if we all could find a way to see how much we have in common, instead of trying to separate ourselves into groups of “us” and “them” based on what we name as our religion, or nationality, or ethnic background or gender or political affiliation or any of the myriad of ways we find to sow division and discord. Regardless of where one may live and worship, the need for shelter, air, food, water and human companionship are universal. Can we not find ways to allow each other to freely access these essentials, and support each other to become all that each of us is capable of becoming of becoming? The timeless words of John Lennon’s “Imagine” come to mind…”imagine all the people sharing all the world”. I am one of those dreamers he sings of.

As the news reports continue to roll in, amidst calls for people to remain calm, there are vows to hunt down the “animals” who planned and carried out the bombings. As heinous as these acts were, and as angry as we are at this needless loss of life, when we refer to the perpetrators as animals we are taking away their humanity. When we deny the humanity of another, I think we lose a bit of our own humanity. We cannot end violence by enacting further violence. That will only delay the healing process. Something happened in the lives of the perpetrators to make them choose to commit these crimes, and I think it is important to to try and understand the details of that “something” so that it can be addressed and corrected. It is easy to label the perpetrators of any particularly henious crime as animals and lock them up and throw away the key. If we don’t actively seek and eliminate the conditions that incubated the perpetrators, it will only be a matter of time before there is another crop of them. There is a line of the Lord’s Prayer that speaks a powerful truth: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us”. It is by forgiving that we complete the healing, but we cannot truly forgive without first understanding what would lead human beings like us to commit such acts of violence. For people like me who believe in love, that love must extend to all, not just the ones who are easy to love, because in the end our common humanity is the thread that binds us all for better or worse. From Bob Marley’s lips to the rest of the world : “One love, one heart, let’s get together and be all right.”

Photo by Anton Atanasov on Pexels.com

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