June 10, 2015


Such a contrast.  Reading the essay, “Open Thy Hand Wide,” in which Marilynne Robinson quotes John Calvin in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion:”.

The Lord commands us to do “good unto all men,” universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving, but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates, that we must not regard the intrinsic merit of men, but must consider the image of God in them, to which we all owe all possible honor and love.”

Here is the great teaching reiterated in Genesis that, as Robinson writes, “every human being is an image of God and it is another exploration of the unqualified requirement of generosity to be found in Deuteronomy: 15.”

I think about these broad-reaching acts of “generosity.”  I am mindful of how polarized and “ungenerous” so much of our rhetoric is today.

So much of this stems from our own sense of insecurity, our desire to elevate ourselves by deflating or negative altogether the values of someone else.

We do so much damage by having self-fulfilling negative expectations of one another.  We start out assuming the worst, perhaps because it makes us look strong or at least superior.  Nowhere was that in greater evidence this Sunday than in the coverage in The New York Times brought to the relations between Russia and the United States.


In striking contrast to this call to honor others as children of God, to start from the presumption that we can live together not at war with one another, were two articles in Sunday’s (June 7) New York Times dealing with the relationship between the United States and Russia.

The first article carried the invidious headline:  “Obama Seeks To Reinforce Isolation of Russia.”  Written by Julie Hirschfield Davis.

The caption under the picture of President Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State John Kerry talking in Sochi states, with absolutely no evidence to support it, that Putin had claimed the meeting “as a diplomatic triumph, creating a challenge for President Obama.”  How is that for taking what could be an opening for constructive discussion as a negative development to be feared? 

The article was filled with innuendo and unsupported allegations.  Referring to the economic sanctions, the writer states, “they evidently have not forced him (Putin) to give up his designs on Ukraine or to surrender Crimea.”  As if anyone ever felt that they would result in the surrender of Crimea or that there is evidence to support that Putin, in fact, has “designs on Ukraine,” beyond those that have been well registered in providing appropriate autonomy for Eastern Ukraine.

The article goes on stating that the visit by Kerry has been “questioned even by some inside the White House,” again a statement totally unsubstantiated.

Obama’s “immediate task” is stated as stealing “the resolve of European powers” to keep sanctions in place.  Mr. Obama’s intent, with again no support, is stated as signaling to our allies that the U.S. “is willing to go even further should Russia escalate its aggression in Ukraine.”

Who knows.  Behind this wall of negative assessment of Russia’s and Putin’s intentions may be at least a glimmer of constructive dialogue of the kind we know Lavrov and Kerry tried to carry out in Sochi.  I hope so.

I’m struck by how the press and some spokesman in the White House in the United States seems so intent on stoking the fires of conflict between Russia and the U.S.  As one reads the transcripts of what Putin and Lavrov are saying, I see far more intent on reaching an accommodation that will provide for a unified Ukraine and a subsiding of this conflict.

It was more than an interesting coincidence that on the adjacent page to the article on Russia in Sunday’s New York Times we read of Pope Francis urging a divided Bosnia to heal, declaring “war never again!”

Some in Bosnia and around the world continue to foment “conflict between different cultures and societies” for their own political purposes, the Pope said; others to make profits on arms sales.  They ignore the human price paid in lives lost, refugees uprooted and property destroyed.  All things occurring right now in Ukraine and, yes, to many other parts of the world. 

“You now this well, having experienced it here:  how much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain!” Francis said.  “The cry of God’s people goes up once again from this city (can’t hear    ), the cry of all men and women of goodwill:  war never again!”


We know that there is evil in this world, evil characteristics that affect us all:  greed, envy, self-righteousness borne out of some combination of fear, insecurity or unbounded pride.  But we also know there are those noble instincts:  generosity and love.  We must act to advance the “better angels of our nature.”  I think our Christian faith is an irreplaceable foundation for doing that.

In our relations with other nations, we must be realistic.  We must recognize that our interests will not always be the same as others, but we should never lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of people and all nations seek one thing:  peace, the opportunity for a full life of reasonable if not great prosperity, for themselves and their family.  There have been cases, like Nazi Germany, and there will undoubtedly be some in the future or for whatever reason another nation or group of people have become so inflamed that there is no recourse but to use force to thwart their dominating ambitions.  This is undoubtedly the situation with ISIS today.  But we must beware at all costs of turning relationships which have the potential of going either way, toward a more war-like or more peaceful solution, to be more warlike.

We face such a situation today in our relationships with Russia and we do as well with China.  There will be a lot of instincts that are served by taking a more “warlike” posture.  Some are frankly commercial (the arms industry), others will be based on what is seen as a courageous and “realistic” decision to hold ground against a looming, growing threat which, in fact, if we had handled it differently, would not have turned out to be a threat at all but rather an opportunity to work collaboratively against greater needs and opportunities.  This is precisely the situation with the relationship between the United States and Russia for our working together on such issues as nuclear proliferation and terrorism and is by far the higher calling.

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