During this season of giving thanks, I reflect with deep thanksgiving upon German theologian Dorothee Soelle, who reminds us that the most important part of our work on this planet is to “develop a different relationship with the world -- one that has borrowed the eyes of God.” I wonder what would happen in our community, our country and the world if people of faith and goodwill would make a greater effort to borrow the eyes of God through which to view one another?
Saturday, I watched the amazing new film “Lincoln” and found myself deeply affected by it on many levels but was most struck by the profound message of how we demonize one another and the devastation resulting from such behavior. When we lose sight of one another as equal human beings and set up dualistic ways of seeing reality and one another, the result will always be discontent and violence. We have done this in our country since its beginning and it continues to happen across the world.
Dorothee Soelle was a child during the Nazi regime. The war ended when she was 15. As she learned more of her history, she questioned her teachers and elders about how the Holocaust had happened. She generally received the answer, “We didn’t know.” She viewed this as a very unsatisfactory answer to use to explain the horrors of the war and the Holocaust. She vowed that her life would be about knowing the truth and not putting her head in the sand when the truth was challenging.
She speaks to us now, especially during this season of being thankful and celebrating all that we have done in our country. We have so many blessings, and yet we have so much work to do in order to see our world with eyes borrowed from God. If we would do this, it would be highly possible to see many more of us willing to work together as a nation to fix some of our massive problems. We would be able to begin to move toward being a nation that will not tolerate poverty, racism, sexism or anything that creates a “them” and “us” construction and to work on building bridges across all of our differences in order to make a nation where everybody can thrive.
Though Soelle was highly educated, the author of 30 books, visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary six months of every year for more than 10 years, she took a stand to work for peace as one of her ways of developing “a different relationship with the world.” This stand caused her to spend time in jail for civil disobedience, but she continued to be tireless in her effort to challenge the churches to take action during all of the preparations for war after NATO made the decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Europe in the late ’70s.
There remains too much war and commitment to war, too many mean-spirited attitudes being expressed in our communities and too much racism, sexism and classism being touted for any person claiming faith or goodwill to act as if this is unknown or that it is something that can be ignored. The way in which we demonized one another during the era of Lincoln and the effort to abolish slavery is closely akin to our current behavior about many issues, particularly health care and taxes. A shift in our national energy needs to occur and it will happen one person at a time. Each of us has to decide what our contribution will be. We can always choose to be negative or positive. We can always choose to see with eyes borrowed from God or with eyes of malice and demonization. The choice is always before us, and our dear sister Dorothee Soelle provides a marvelous example for us.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.