On Lawlessness and the Saint of the Gutters

I wanted to say fear begets fear. Violence begets violence.  All the same, that wouldn’t achieve anything to undo the thousands dead, whether by the hands of our police, the lawless or even ourselves.

The deed is done, the doers undone.

Terror means the “instilling of fear.” And if this consuming fear besiege us, we will fight back with more violence or fly back into the solitude of our gated homes.

Our President has just declared our entire state as without the rule of law. He may call on men in uniform, to “the country according to [his] specifications.”  A state of lawlessness is a pronouncement that we are without any civic order and that we may need soldiers to battle against anarchy.

This bombing, this explosion, is shaking us awake.  But instead of waking up, the bombing is inflaming our fears, our distrust, our prejudices, and our sense of insecurity. It is terrorizing us. And If the intention of those who bombed Davao and killed 14 was the sowing of fear, the hatred, and the warring of all sides; then they have already won.

And yet this shouldn’t be our story. This isn’t the narrative one yearns for.  Wasn’t our strongest suit our big-heartedness as a people? The EDSA revolution is still the world’s exemplar for a peaceful revolution. Isn’t it our very people’s compassionate hands that care for the world’s sick and elderly? And aren’t we the most merciful people in the planet? 

It is uncanny that on the same day our headlines proclaim our country in a state of “lawless violence,” the same headlines trumpet Mother Teresa of Calcutta, as “saint of the gutters.” 

[Mother Teresa] was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded…She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity. She made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created… ~Pope Francis

And so, there is another way. There can be a lance of light in the gutters. How do we duel with thousands murdered in a “state of lawlessness?”

The root word of courage is “couer” the Latin word for heart. Courage asks us to take heart. To cleave to love as a force. Do not take out your swords from its sheaths, your guns from the armoury, or build higher gates.  Instead, find the good, the God-given dignity, in every man, woman and child. Speak and listen from the heart. Ask why. Why this conflict? What is at the core of this senseless waste of life? Where do we find the common ground?

Photo credit: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Our narrative should be about awakened compassion.  Rage, aggression, condemnation, or finger-pointing, this is not our story. Terror leads us to the temptation of condemning others, with yellow armies and fist-fights, with proving who is right and who is wrong.  Darkness cannot cast away darkness. Hate cannot cast away hate. How can evil be the necessary path to crime free streets? We are what we make. And so we need to cease hunting and make our way searching for truth and social justice.  We need to desist critiquing the absence of humanity in others, and then unearth our own capacity for empathy and compassionate action.

This is how we can rewrite our story.  This is the same way we have battled and tamed every storm that has come our way.  This is the same way we stood up to each conqueror, dictator and tyrant we have come up against.

And so let your love stream through. Have courage. And take heart.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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