Last week's protests regarding possible racial bias in the treatment of six black high school students in Jena, La., who are accused of beating a white student into unconsciousness awoke memories of the civil rights movement in many people.
The beating was part of a chain of events that began when black students asked for and received permission to sit under a tree where white students were accustomed to congregate. Not long after that, nooses were found hanging from the tree.
Perhaps the white youths involved thought they were playing a mean joke, trying to intimidate the black students. They didn't have a visceral understanding of what those nooses represented to members of the African-American community and how their actions would affect their black classmates.
I might have felt the same if I hadn't seen a traveling exhibit on lynching at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, a few years ago. The fear, the degradation, the helplessness, the abuse of the victims, coupled with the animalistic attitude of those doing the lynching, left me deeply disturbed.
As I walked the streets afterward, thinking and praying, I found peace in two ways.
The first was the decision that I would strive to love more and to resist hate, all kinds of hate, and follow Jesus' example of loving even in the face of hate to the very best of my ability.
But I knew this desire by itself would take me only so far. What I needed was a conviction of God's presence, not just helping me but also lifting humanity steadily to a higher mental and spiritual place, erasing division and hatred. The Bible's message that while we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12, 13) encouraged me.
Those words made clear that God's will is for good toward everyone, not just toward particular races or religions. We are all His beloved spiritual ideas, and we are designed to bless each other. Neither hatred nor violence have any place in love, and it's important to understand that these false traits need to be resisted. They represent the kind of thinking that would keep us mentally enslaved to destructive behavior.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind," wrote in her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "Legally to abolish unpaid servitude in the United States was hard; but the abolition of mental slavery is a more difficult task" (p. 225).
Violence by any side isn't the answer, and this is made clear by what Mrs. Eddy said on that same page, "...oppression neither went down in blood, nor did the breath of freedom come from the cannon's mouth. Love is the liberator."
Looking at Jesus' life underscores the power of Love to liberate. His healing works – even raising people from death – were a massive testament to divine Love's power to heal. But when I think about a healing response to violence, I think of his willingness to put himself into the hands of those who hated him, and to trust God right up to the doors of death itself.
His willingness to prove that Love prevails, even over death, transformed the world. It set a standard for us to strive for and also revealed that Love does work with us, strengthening our abilities and removing our "inabilities" – the things that make it hard for us to love those who are different from ourselves.
At this point in time, it's hard to know just how the case of the Jena 6 will play out, but divine Love is a transforming presence, comforting and leading all involved to something better than before.
We can let our prayers guide us toward a higher standard of love and expect that this prayer will also touch the case of the Jena 6. The Love that liberates will have a good and just answer for all concerned.