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We subscribe to the newspaper. It arrives on our driveway each morning. I've never met our delivery person, but I'm quite thankful for their early morning forays -- especially in these very cold days of winter. Additionally, I keep a few apps up front and in heavy rotation on my iPad -- including Longform, Reuters, Digg and Instapaper, all of which are designed to help me stay up to date on news from a variety of sources both national and international.

My problem, however -- as a pastor and as a person -- is I don't always know what to do with the news I read. Certainly, I can take time to pray. If nothing else, reading the newspaper becomes the basis for expanding the prayers I pray, extending prayer support to people and places I wouldn't otherwise encounter.

And, yet, there is also a burden in reading the news. A certain kind of powerlessness is engendered. There is so much we now know about and seemingly so little to do about it. I can be confused and hurt and angry, for example, by the recent news of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. I can despair of interfaith relations, wondering if we will ever understand and truly empathize with one another, or whether cultural misunderstandings of various sorts will always be so endemic and deep as to eventuate in violence -- world without end.

I can post "Je Suis Charlie" in my social media, standing in solidarity with all those like the imam in Paris, who called the journalists at Charlie Hebdo martyrs for liberty. I can also sympathize with those of various religions who feel like some free expressions by journalists and cartoonists go beyond the pale. There are things I've read and seen I'd like to unread or unsee. Perhaps we all have.

A secular world is no easy world to live in. It is a world in which the possibility of belief, and the possibility of unbelief, are all possibilities -- in every place, even within every person. It is also a world in which the possibility of extremism is ever present. It is a world in which we can confuse extremism of whatever stripe with the faith tradition it purports to represent.

The logical dictum -- "abusus non tollit usum" -- is worth memorizing: Any abuse does not take away use. In other words, even if some journalists go beyond the pale, publishing deeply offensive images or texts, this does not take away from a proper understanding of the value of freedom of expression. Similarly, even if some religious extremists kill in the name of their faith, this does not mean the faith tradition they claim is invalidated in total because of their violence.

Extremism is extremism. It is the constant work of those of us who value peace, faith, integrity and the middle way to stay to that middle. It is our job to empathize as much as possible with those who have -- for whatever reason -- gone down the road of extremism; to do the hard work of healing society so fewer extremists are made; to sympathize with those who suffer at the hands of extremists; and to seek to create policies and situations in which such extremism cannot win the day.

Part of our work, then -- as readers of newspapers, as informed citizens and people of faith -- is to become even more informed. For my money, this means reading not just the newspaper, but also books that help us understand the faith traditions of others. One of my favorite recent books that helps Christians understand Muslims is Miroslav Volf's "Allah: A Christian Response" (HarperOne, 2012). Volf, a Christian theologian, approaches Islam in a deeply empathetic and constructive way.

A great movie evoking a similar level of empathy is "Of Gods and Men" (2010), a French movie about nine Trappist monks who lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Algeria -- up until their kidnapping and assassination during the Algerian Civil War of 1996.

Reading one book won't change us. Nor will viewing one movie. And, yet, all of these steps -- from praying over the news, to engaging cultural resources that deepen our understanding of others -- will take us steps down the road towards listening better to those different from us.

If you find yourself enraged, confused, full to overflowing with desires to take action that remain unfulfilled, let me recommend these steps. Allow those feelings to push you into actions of empathy and sympathy and understanding. We might want revenge, and we might wish to directly right wrongs. But, in most instances, we will heal ourselves and heal the world much more faithfully if we do the hard work of turning our unresolved emotions toward deepening understanding of the complex world and the complexity of our neighbors -- in which and among whom we find ourselves.

NAN Religion on 01/10/2015

Print Headline: Abusus Non Tollit Usum

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