Because I did not get my act together enough to create a blog post for this week I thought I would simply do a reprint of the article I wrote for the last White Rose Catholic Worker newsletter (just got it yesterday Rosies and it looks great!).
Outside, in the icy drizzle, a man rummaged through trash cans on the street corner. He pulled out paper cups of old, cold coffee that he quickly drained. I sat on the other side of a plate glass window, hands encircling a ceramic mug, sipping the same beverage, fresh and warm. I imagined going out to him – “Hey, want to come in for a coffee?” but only sat and stared. That clear glass was an impenetrable force field, separating us from each other. He walked on, and I walked to the bathroom; weaving between crowded tables wondering, what held me back? Why didn’t I cross that line?
Above the bathroom sink, I noticed a sign about taking responsibility for your belongings. “It is extremely unfortunate that there are those who exploit our sense of trust and community…” This sign implied that a sense of trust and community enables us to feel safe, to feel free to be unguarded. A sense of togetherness, and the trust that this is mutual, allows us to be vulnerable with what we value, whether that is our property or our selves. Where does that trust and togetherness come from, and how to function if it is not present, or if it is betrayed?
Responding to the imminent G8 and NATO summits, Marie posed the following question to our community, “What makes us feel safe?” What came immediately to mind was trust and mutual care, with the sense that the two are closely joined. But what do these terms mean? How are they embodied? Where are they seen? Trying to pick out thematic threads of trust I found it interwoven everywhere. So much is bound or rent by either its presence or absence. The following is an aphoristic endeavor to begin expressing some of my questions and theories on trust and love.
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Loving relationship makes us strong and loving relationship is built on trust. Destroy a person’s trust and you can break her into pieces that no longer know how to come together, to togetherness. There is perhaps no practice as vicious as the intentional dismantling of trust, the violation of vulnerability.
Trust is dismantled systematically in acts of violence like torture, which takes advantage of the ensuing precarity to assault the victims’ memory and identity, planting a perpetual seed of doubt in the process, inhibiting future trust → relationship → healing.
In the absence of trust, it is easy to think everyone is ‘enemy’, to feel endangered, to react either in attack or defense.
Even when spared torture, we are not spared from the doctrine of enemy which is often subliminally or explicitly, inadvertently or intentionally, injected into cultural rhetoric and reinforced through divisive social systems. Trust is assumed present among like circles, absent among unlike circles. Social contracts are developed on these assumptions, privileging those presumed trustworthy and suspecting or outright rejecting those presumed unworthy.
Reliance on war for “national security” belies a lack of trust in the human dignity of those with opposing interests or disparate grouping. It implies a belief that trust is impossible; a belief that, when acted upon, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Belief in human dignity is foundational – trust in the value, the goodness, of beings and Being Itself. This allows the development of a subsequent trust – that it is worthwhile to put love even where love is not found, and trust to find it. A belief in human dignity (indeed, a reverence for all life) makes love of enemy, of victim, of stranger, of self, worth the risk.
Trust in human dignity, human goodness, is a troubling task. Humanity’s capacity for cruelty and destruction is far from ‘dignified.’ Perhaps this is why the church is so careful to reiterate it, to remind us that against all appearances it is so. If we are able to trust in this foundational principle, might we find that acts of violence are a chain of reactions, not essence-based actions? That what is inhumane is actually inhuman?
Trusting beyond the reactive logic of reciprocity – trusting in an abiding potential for good that attributes dignity even to the undeserving – allows us to care for each other even when the other seems unworthy, unlike, suspect, or when we ourselves feel inadequate.
Trust is initiated through threads of fragile fibers sent out by one to connect with another. If received, an additional thread is sent, and then another, weaving together, forming a strong chord of connection. If broken, one must trust in something beyond the worthiness of the other or the ability of the self to send it out again. There is no hope for strong ties without a willingness to expose oneself to this risk, whether with friends or enemies. Strength comes in relationship, relationship requires trust and trust is always a risk. This is the paradox of vulnerability: exposure, or the risk of it, causes one to feel the need for defense; conversely, exposure to others opens one to authentic relationship which frees from the need to defend.
When we trust in our own needs being met, the rigid wariness of risk disintegrates, the walls of self-preservation crumble, we are open to love. Trust is easily taken for granted in loving community. It is almost invisible, quietly making rough places smooth and weaving unlikely relationships, even between like and unlike, friend and enemy.
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“Love casts out fear,” Dorothy Day wrote, “but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love.” We need a trust in something that overrides, that exceeds the fear so seeds of love can be planted. I believe the Christian ideal is one built on trust - trust that supersedes the fumbling fallibility of humankind - trust in the system that God established, articulated by the prophets, reiterated through the gospels: give drink to the thirsty, invite the homeless poor into your house, share your bread with the hungry, cloth the naked as though their body was your own, attend to the sick and break all yokes of oppression.
G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It is difficult and often untried because to welcome a stranger and to share from our closet or pantry, to eschew bondage, means loss of privacy, of property, of power. Or does it? Practicing these behaviors – the Works of Mercy – breaks the law of trustworthy like and suspicious unlike, breaks the glass between those drinking coffee in a café and those drinking it from a trash can. Trusting in this ideal, living as if it were so, creates an opportunity for individual and social healing. Security that comes when we offer goods instead of guarding them. Freedom that is gained by being given. Community that comes through being a neighbor. Peace that is created when we see enemies as neighbors and love them as ourselves. A strong chord is woven, a garment of trust and mutual care that envelopes the world, makes us safe, sets us free.