I shall never forget the time Kate came back from school one day with a story regarding one of the ‘bullies’ in her class. She had found him in tears, and when she asked why, he answered most indignantly,
“He hit me back!”
It’s amazing how early that we learn this response to someone doing something to hurt us, or something that we perceive to be wrong. It is easy to do this, and may even be satisfying (am I wrong to smile smugly when people recklessly speed past me in their cars, only to see them a minute latter at the roadside having been hauled over by the police?
Trouble is, seeking retribution or revenge in this way only breeds further hatred and strife, it doesn’t really solve the problem. I loved a story I discovered on the BBC News website this week
which promoted a radically different response. Stickers have started appearing around the Tower Hamlets (London) with an aggressively homophobic message, with messages along the lines of “Arise and warn. Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment.” How have the local inhabitants responded to this? One group has said that they have had enough, they pride what has been an ‘all accepted’ attitude of their area, regardless of culture, class or sexuality. Rather than retaliating with anger – as would be all too easy to do – they have decided to respond in a subversively loving way. Meeting together at Shoreditch Town Hall, they walk around the nearby area, and whenever they discover a ‘gay free zone’ sticker they deface it, either by replacing ‘gay free zone’ with the word ‘love’ or by covering it with a poster saying ‘help yourself to love’, including tear-off quotes expressing messages of love and tolerance by various poets and authors.
One of the group, Wendy Richardson, explained their rationale,
“Rather than get angry with the people who did it, we decided to counter it with some love,” she said. “We’re a cross section of people; of all races and sexualities – gay, straight and bisexual – saying it’s just not appropriate. But we thought- you know what? We’re not going to hate you back. It sounds a bit wet, but takes a lot of courage. With all this bad news and negativity in the press, we thought it would be nice to see a sticker on the street that makes you smile.”
This group share a similar philosophy to that of Martin Luther King Jr. the anti racism campaigner, who once wrote,
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ’
Of course these words echo the subversive words of Jesus himself,
‘But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ Luke 6:26-27
Church newsletter article for Sunday 27th February 2011