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Asking the clergy: Is it possible to love your enemy?

The families of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting victims surprised many with their message of love and forgiveness to accused mass murderer Dylann Roof. However, their example of faith in action has also inspired debate. This week's clergy discuss the obstacles to, and the spiritual journey of, loving your enemy.

Rev. Dr. David I. Robinson, pastor, Shaw Temple AME Zion, Amityville:

According to Scripture, we have to love our enemy. We don't love what they do, but we have to love the individual. You can only get that strength through God because, humanly, we can't do it. When we start thinking about the families that are hurting, as humans we will never be able to love and forgive Dylann Roof. We can only find the strength to love our enemies through the Christian experience, which encompasses going to church, reading the Bible, Bible study and prayer. All of us have sinned and come short of his glory, and even in this situation where this young man killed nine people, God still loves him, and, if he would seriously ask God for forgiveness, God would forgive him. It's hard to really wrap your mind around that because we're on the outside looking in. For those families to be able to say, "We forgive him," it's unfathomable that that could happen. And although our Christian beliefs do indeed tell us that we ought to love our enemies, usually that takes a process to get there. Even though the people in Charleston are saying, "We forgive you," that's still a process they are going through. While we offer words of forgiveness, that doesn't negate the fact that we want justice to be served.

Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, director, Jewish Life and Learning, Sid Jacobson Community Center, East Hills:

The Talmud tells a story: Rabbi Meir was very troubled by some criminals who lived in his neighborhood and so he prayed that they would die. His wife, Bruriah, said to him, "What makes you think you can pray a prayer like that? You should pray that they should repent. Then they won't sin and they will no longer be wicked." He prayed for them and they repented. While Rabbi Meir did not reach out to his neighbors in forgiveness, he did pray for them. And his goal, that there would be no more criminality in his neighborhood, was achieved. The criminals were no longer criminals. The story ends here, but who knows? Perhaps they became significant contributors to society. Perhaps they not only turned from evil, but did good. Perhaps they sought and were sources of peace and righteousness in their community. What would it mean if we really believed that every person is in the image of the divine, that every person is infinitely valuable? If we couldn't write off people as inhuman because they were inhumane? This is a tremendous spiritual challenge. It's particularly difficult because when a person commits a heinous act, we want them to be very different from us. We don't want to share anything, including humanity, with the person. Judaism's most significant teaching is that everything is connected; everything is part of the greater whole (in religious language, God). What might it be like to recognize our deep bonds with all people, with perpetrators and with victims? What if we saw ourselves and each other as part of the divine being?

Dean Andrew Telano, PhD, naturopath, Buddhist minister, True Living Yoga Healing Center, East Northport:

Simply, it begins with yourself. How often do you hear the statement, "You are your own worst enemy"? As it is said in Buddhism, your mind can be your worst enemy or your best friend. In Buddhism we practice transforming the five poisons -- anger, hatred, attachment, ignorance (foggy mind, unclear mind) and jealousy -- into the antidotes (joy, peace, love, compassion, happiness, wisdom). By identifying your "enemy" first, you may then look a little deeper and find the answer as to why they are your enemy. If you open your heart and mind (called heart-mind in Buddhism), you develop this love and compassion for yourself first. Awareness and realization by looking within is the first step. Focusing and learning the five antidotes transforms those five poisons. To identify where this enemy came from within you, one needs to examine and look within using a magnifying glass with compassion, love and kindness. When you do this, you will view your enemy differently. Through loving-kindness meditation (Metta) Buddhist teachings, and various kinds of meditation (such as walking, breath and exploring the Buddhist teachings), I teach, coach and guide my students how to transform, giving them their own toolbox of how to bring positive changes into their lives, emphasizing the importance of these antidotes. I have created Bon Buddhism of Long Island and True Living Yoga Healing Center, sacred places to practice. Transformation of your thoughts, actions, speech, being completely aware of how and what you do, think and say, this is a very important practice. You will then be open to love your enemy. As I tell my students -- it's simple, but not easy -- and a consistent practice is what it takes.


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