Sunday, April 30, 2017

What's Wrong With Perfection(ism)

Many of us who seek God are perfectionists. We want to be as good as possible. What's wrong with that?

Let's consider one area where we could excel: the world of knowledge and facts. When it comes to facts, we make every honest effort to be accurate. Accuracy is a good goal; it shouldn't lead us wrong. But the quest to be error-free can lead to fault-finding.

When it comes to people -- including ourselves -- the risk is much greater. The quest to be error-free can lead our minds to cultivate a constant stream of evaluations and judgments. A perfectionist attitude looks at our own actions (or those of others) to find something wrong. Perfectionism easily becomes an instrument of hurt, of attack. When perfection causes harm, perfection isn't even good.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

St Francis' Prayer: Sowing Love In My Own Heart

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love. 
The climate of hatred is thick like a fog, intense like a desert -- and about as friendly towards our health and well being. I can hardly sign on to facebook without seeing a collection of people who want to use that as a platform for explaining why the people they hate are stupid, or looking forward to the evil people getting some poetic justice, or just practicing their favorite insults against their favorite targets. In some cases I actually belong to one of the vilified groups; in others I find myself identifying with people who are despised and marginalized.

But before that sounds too noble: I also find myself angry -- furious -- and tempted to hatred when I look at all the unfairness and abuse. I find myself resenting the arrogance of the people who presume they know so much better than everyone else. I find myself outraged at the hypocrisy of people who claim to be loving and tolerant but who speak of other people with open contempt without bothering to understand their point of view, gleefully assuming the worst of them to justify their hatred.

All it makes is a level playing field. Every injustice and hatred that we see is a temptation to respond in kind. People tend to copy the way we are treated when we respond to others. And sometimes we even adopt the emotions that came with our action. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, there comes a time when justice brings us down to that awful level where the good guys are indistinguishable from the bad guys. Those of us who think we're better than the others are probably kidding ourselves.

If we found some action really unfair or intolerable when the other side did it, why exactly would we want to copy it?  How could responding in kind do anything except make it so that there is no moral high ground?

Instead of copying the wrongdoers, Jesus challenges us to something radically different, something that could actually change the game: treating people decently whether they deserve it or not. Because people tend to copy the way we are treated when we respond to others. And sometimes we even adopt the emotions that came with our action. Treating other people with decency and respect changes us. And if it changes us, may it also humble us that we were not already treating people with decency and respect.

Does that even apply to our enemies? Of course it does. Where's the credit in being good to people who are good to us? Even the worst people on earth may be kind to their own, as Jesus points out. And if that's all we've got going, we're no different. Jesus' words "Bless those who curse you" could only apply to someone who hated us; exactly who else would be cursing us?

The work will be to figure out how to bless the people who are cursing us.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Observing Good Friday: Forgive them

"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." -- Jesus, at his execution
Of all the words spoken by Jesus from the cross, three are prayers -- but only one is a petition: forgiveness. He did not ask forgiveness for himself (which many dying people would pray earnestly), but for the people involved in killing him.

To observe Good Friday, and to observe the longer season of Lent, many of us fast on certain days and abstain from all kinds of self-indulgence. But how much of Jesus' point in Lent is about forgiveness? How much of his teaching is about forgiveness?

To observe Good Friday right, I'm thinking of all the people Jesus had occasion to forgive, and thinking how many people just like that I could forgive today:
  • The people who didn't know what they were doing, and thought they were doing the right thing (like the soldiers at the crucifixion)
  • The people who talked a good game, but didn't come through (like Peter at the Last Supper)
  • The ones who didn't do what they could, when we asked for support (like Peter, James, and John in the garden)
  • The ones who didn't stand by us when we needed them (like the disciples who ran away at Jesus' arrest)
  • The people who tried to score personal points at our expense (like Pilate sending Jesus to Herod)
  • The no-shows at our big moments in life (like Thomas on the day of the Resurrection)
We're all the criminals on the other crosses. Lord, forgive the people who have wronged me, so that when my time comes I may die in peace.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

St Francis' Prayer: Let Me Sow Love

I've been praying St Francis' prayer fairly regularly lately, where the beginning runs:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
I found myself wondering: How do I sow love? I know so many people who are full of hatred, or plagued by hateful thoughts, or (at any rate) what they say is reliably about their hatred of others. If we want to be an instrument of that peace, how do we do it?

Love is easier to sow where there isn't hatred. Where there isn't hatred, love can be planted by people getting to know each other: showing common interest and common ground, showing admirable traits or honest struggles. Those things tend to build a bridge. But where there is hatred ... how do we sow love?

I have to start by saying that I've seen it done badly. I've sometimes seen one person who is determined to force another person to say something nice about someone they hate. They maneuver their target into a position where they must grudgingly admit some small decency in someone they dislike. I've never seen it work in changing attitudes; it seems to be more about scoring points. It's about making the other person lose. After that, they have even more resentment. And it ignores that there might be a reason or a history behind it in the first place. Very few people come into their thoughts and feelings without a reason. For hatred, there is often a history of distrust or fear, or someone may have harmed them, or they may have believed an accusation without knowing whether it was true. Or it may have even been true.

So here are my first thoughts on how to sow love where there is hatred:

If there is legitimate reason for someone to be angry with the other, I want to acknowledge that the complaint is valid. If there is legitimate cause for fear of harm or loss, I need to consider that and give full weight to their voice. If I belittle someone's real concern, it will only increase the resentment and decrease my credibility for not recognizing it. If I haven't listened, I haven't earned the right to speak.

There is another angle here: Depending on the cause of the hatred, and the target of the hatred: Does the person have regular contact with someone who nurtures and encourages the hatred? Almost every news outlet, and a growing number of other TV shows, promote hatred of some group or person or viewpoint. There are some groups of like-minded people that seem to exist, or fuel themselves, by encouraging hatred of people with opposing points of view. Sometimes the hatred would fade if it weren't fed.

If someone regularly reinforces their own hatred, we may need to start by simply not getting caught up in it. I've come to appreciate people whose facebook posts are about things that are wholesome and not divisive. Anything that is divisive, if done badly, promotes hatred. Anything that is unifying, if done well, promotes friendship and love.

Monday, April 03, 2017

What Happens When Faith Is Silenced (Humor)

With good news
Without good news

Ok, I skipped my humorous post on 4/1 this year, but still wanted to post something on the lighter side. The lower of these two pictures is also meant as a standalone as a picture of A life without "spirituality". (It's still not free of spiritual influence, just free of good ones.)

This particular post I've tagged  as creative commons; the artwork is original likewise the words. If anyone should be interested: help yourself, & enjoy.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Upcoming 500th Anniversary of the Reformation ... Depressing?

Later this year will mark the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther posted 95 debating points about purgatory and indulgences, which led to either the Reformation or a schism, or maybe both, depending on your point of view. Here's the thing: He never intended to split the church. Actually neither did Rome; they meant to excommunicate a cleric who wouldn't bow to the official line on purgatory, indulgences, and (behind that) the right of the church to say what the Bible meant and to decide what truths should be taught with or without having been taught in the Bible.

The "solution" of excluding each other from fellowship permits each group to continue in faithfulness as each understands it. It prevents us growing in understanding from each other on areas that we have in common. It prevents us from the solidarity and strength of being in union with each other. It divides our communities, and fragments the culture of Christendom. We have become the house divided against itself.

Each side is convinced that all the fault lies with the other side. (Didn't Luther use unnecessarily incendiary language almost as his trademark? Didn't Rome at least go too far in calling for Luther's death?)

Once Christ taught us: If you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your own gift aside and be reconciled to your brother before presenting your gift to God. Honestly, no matter where we stand, our brothers have something against us. When will we seek out our brothers?