"Our lamps may be different, but light is the same"

By Rob MacPherson

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Pakistan earlier this week, community leaders in Adelaide, Australia, organized a peace vigil to honor the innocent lives lost. Drawing a multicultural, interfaith crowd of over 300, all who attended came together to mourn and to heal. Minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia, Rev. Rob MacPherson, offered the following words at the vigil, printed here with permission.


Rev. MacPherson speaks at the December 2014 vigil.

Good evening. I want to offer a thought that might kindle some light for us in this dark time.

Just last Sunday, a beautiful thing happened at our church—I wish you all could have seen it. We held a service in which Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Ba’hai, Unitarians, and Muslims came together to worship as one body--an interfaith service. This service was followed by a shared meal, during which people of these different faiths broke bread together and shared fellowship.

Guess what happened? No one died. No one made threats or was threatened. No one feared for their safety. No voices were raised, except in laughter. The peaceful fellowship we enjoyed that day was more than cordiality, more than the politeness that goes with the religious practice of welcoming the stranger at your table. It had more to do with really seeing that, as the poet Rumi said, ‘our lamps may be different, but light is the same’. And so we could let the diversity of our faiths just be, together knowing that abundant plurality is how God actually expresses itself in this infinite, expanding, and varied creation. And for a brief time, we looked at the light, and we saw that it was good.

Then, of course, Monday happened. Then Tuesday happened. But by the light of this evening’s event, I can see that although our lamps may have flickered in the cold gusts that have come, the light still shines. Look around you. This is this shared future we must work toward.

What is that light known to all, the light that shines from so many different lamps of faith? Every religious or spiritual tradition that ever has been, has known it, though it is refracted differently. Here is but one way of putting it: “Love your enemies. Do good to those that hate you. Pray for those that persecute you.” We may know it as the Golden Rule, and its golden light shines through the lamps of every faith.

Friends, I cannot know what terrible inner crucifixion of spirit leads people to commit the cruel acts we’ve witnessed this week. I do know that hate-filled souls will always be among us. I also know what it is to fear them, and I know too the anger that comes after the fear, the urge to be rid of those who frighten you. My birth country, when it was attacked on 9/11, flailed around like a mad and wounded beast, and rained down blood and death with abandon--and tortured remorselessly--even those who had nothing whatever to do with the attack, killing hundreds of thousands of innocents. That was our old brain talking, insisting we make a quick, either/or choice--‘fight or flee’. Both are futile strategies to make the world utterly, once and for all, safe. This will never be. Our best hope is that we neither fight, nor flee, but do something else.

If we learn nothing else from the events of recent days, we must see the practical sense of the golden rule—(in #Illridewithyou) not to allow our sadness, outrage, fear and hatred serve as a justification for us becoming the very things we deplore. And yes, even toward those filled with xenophobia (stoked by our irresponsible profit-driven media), we must not offer them our hate as a response to their hatred. This is not an empty piety. Think about it: If you hate…a hater…for hating, wither goes any moral authority? What does that do but make the hater feel more justified in his/her hatred, deepening and further inflaming it? And what happens to you, do you not become full of hate yourself? Instead, as Dr. King reminded us, we must offer love for hate. This is the light known to all faiths, but how hard it is to see!

Does that love mean we remain utterly passive doormats, praying in private for God or governments to fix things? No. You love your children, but when they stray from the light, your love for them requires you to confront, challenge, and gently admonish them, reminding them where the light is. So let it be when we are confronted, as we will be, with bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and vengeful hate, active, non-violent resistance is the path that love illuminates. What is the alternative to this light? The one and only alternative is the world we have—division, mistrust, rancour, and violence. Love is the only way to break that spiralling race to the bottom. You have to find a way to offer love to those who offer hate, if only out because those we hate haunt us, possess us, and ultimately become us. This is indeed our only hope as a species or we will go into the dark.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Let our shared grief tonight blossom into resolve, that we may we seek the pure light of love and let it guide us--together, forever, in peace. Thank you.

About the Author

Rob MacPherson

Rob is the Minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia (est. 1854). He is an ex-pat US citizen who has lived and worked abroad in the UK and Australia for over 30 years. Follow him on FB (Rev Rob Macpherson or SA Unitarians) or on his blog "Will Preach for Food".


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