My Methodist pastor wife, Lib Campbell, delivered a sermon last week that deserves our attention right now. As her text she used the familiar Old Testament story about Joseph being reunited with his brothers, siblings who had thrown him into a pit and sold him into slavery. Joseph had become Pharaoh's number two in command when his brothers, suffering from the drought in Canaan, came begging food. How easy it would have been for Joseph to turn them away empty-handed, sweet revenge for how they had wronged him. But Joseph chose another path.
Sourcing Desmond Tutu in "The Book of Forgiving," Lib acknowledged that revenge is a natural impulse, hurting someone who has hurt you. We believe we must pay back in kind someone who has wronged us, an "eye of an eye" way of thinking. She stated, "Retaliation leads to more hate, more harm, more loss. Rhetoric amps up to angry hate." Tutu terms this the "Cycle of Revenge."
Stoked by others, sometimes outside agitators, this anger can often lead to violence, vandalism and ugly mobs unable or unwilling to consider more peaceful solutions. Lib's sermon went on to say we need not look very far to see the damage done by the lack of forgiveness, notions of supremacy, and hate filled words that fan the flames that threaten to rip us apart. "How,"
she asked, "are we to step off this merry-go-round of revenge and hate, onto a more positive path of grace, and mercy and love?"
Joseph was a powerful man who set an example we could do well to follow today. Joseph chose to break the cycle of revenge and look toward a greater good, not just for his brothers, but also for all. We need leaders today who will look beyond political gain, corporate profits or power and call us to our better selves. And while it would be ideal if that leadership came from those in powerful positions, you and I can stand and raise our voices. If enough of us do others will surely follow.
Crossing the bridge to reconciliation and peace does not require that one side take all the steps. Author Robert Benson says that if all will only walk halfway across and meet in the middle we can find common ground.
What will happen if we cannot find this place where we can talk and listen together, where we look beyond our political persuasions, where race, religious beliefs, status, gender or place of birth are not our primary focus? If we continue on our current course the future looks frightening and might reach a place where there is no turning back.
In the frontispiece of Desmond Tutu's book he asks pertinent questions for these times. "Is there a place where we can meet? You and me? The place in the middle? The no man's land where we straddle the lines? Where you are right and I am right too? And both of us are wrong and wronged. Can we meet there? And look for the place where the path begins, the path that ends when we forgive."
For the sake of our nation, our state, for our families and ourselves let us pledge to choose the path for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Publisher's note: Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN
, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 11:00 am on WITN-TV
. Contact Tom at NC Spin.