To take an eye, or not to take an eye, that is the question (and the answer is long)

Someone who is a member of the Methodist church is a Methodist, and also by definition a Christian, and possibly a Pelagian, Arminian, or other theological strain. In the same vein, I am a Unitarian, and my theology is very much classical (read: English) deist, as expressed most succinctly in Lord Cherbury’s 5 articles of English Deism. This makes me more theologically conservative than the dictionary (read: poorly fleshed out) definition of a Deist. It also means that I am among those Deists who pray.

Prayer for most Deists is not taken with the intent of asking God to change the natural order and rearrange the cosmos to suit our individual likes or dislikes. The football game’s outcome is not going to be decided by the Eternal One, no matter ho hard we might plead for our team.

For me as a Deist and a Unitarian, prayer is a spiritual exercise in which I turn inwardly to connect myself to God, expressing my thanks and my concerns, but always knowing that the answer to my problems lies within my own God-given abilities. Prayer helps me to see more clearly how to address a particular issue, or gives me new insight into something quotidian that I might normally take for granted.

So why am I rambling on about this subject? I am the president of my Home Owners Association (HOA). I don’t like HOAs, which is why I’ve tried to maintain some connection to or influence on mine. For those who have experience life in a community run by an HOA, you know that they can become petty little tyrannical quasi-governments who harass home owners about ever little thing out of place.

As a member of the board that manages the community, I and the rest of the board have the responsibility of enforcing the myriad rules that all homeowners agreed to when they bought their homes. Several people are selling their homes or preparing to do so. We are a small community of about 30-odd houses, so anything that anyone does is very evident throughout the community. Real estate agents are always eager to get attention to their particular property, and sellers of course want this. However, neighbors (especially other neighbors who are also selling) may not particularly care to have a small circus set up next door when a house is for sale. Therefore, we have rules regarding how a house can be advertised for sale.

Yesterday I sent an email to the community reminding them of those rules, and the need to get board approval for any deviation from them. Long story (too late!) short, a whiny, prickly neighbor took this opportunity to complain about the board’s enforcement of other rules, and her perception that we were being unfair in enforcement. Again, anyone who knows life under an HOA knows how strict rules can be, and that usually the board is empowered to grant exceptions to rules. Under my leadership, this board has tried to be reasonable and flexible so as to balance the good of the neighborhood with the needs of any particular home owner.

Anyway, her response to me was rather curt and rude. I responded in a very precise and legalistic manner, only to have another curt and rude response from her. This made me both angry and stressed out. I don’t like battling with people over stupid things, and engaging in pissing contests. I’m a reasonable person and have the (unreasonable) expectation that others will act in an adult manner.

So I went to bed all fired up about this situation, and decided to do some meditation to calm myself. After meditation, I prayed. In my praying, I began to understand the situation from the point of compassion-this neighbor is a middle aged divorcee whose son has caused her some grief of late. She seems to have no friends within the neighborhood and rarely attends social functions. Perhaps her rudeness is motivated by a deep seated hurt that she manifest through her interaction with others. Perhaps she feels unempowered, and unloved. Maybe she has other problems in her life of which I am not aware, that may influence her interaction. Or maybe she’s just a grumpy unhappy person. In any case, compassion helps me to understand her better, while not excusing her behavior, but does make me want to reach out to her in a more kind and loving way. By using compassion as my tool, I not only give her the potential to change her behavior, I release myself from the stress and anxiety of engaging in a juvenile war of words.

This realization through prayer made me grateful to God, and I expressed my gratitude through prayer. What a great gift, and a wonderful tool compassion can be. The Buddha taught that “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Jesus taught that we should pray for our enemies. Tom Paine said “I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.” These are reminders for us to use the power of compassion and understanding rather than hate or anger in dealing with others. How valuable this gift is from our Creator, and how grateful I am for it.

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