Thursday, October 1, 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Sanity is No Excuse for Hate


 Last week my blog post was a video in which I shared a couple of stories that disturbed me. They remind me that no matter who we are, we are not immune from behaving in cruel ways. If you didn’t see the video, you can find it here. I want to spend a little time today reflecting on why it is so important that we not turn away from stories that make us uncomfortable.

One of the things I thought about, especially as I read the story of Stephen Biko and the cruelty inflicted against him, plus the government official practices that sought to make black South Africans feel inferior to whites, was that these practices were likely created and enforced by people who considered themselves Christian. Certainly not everyone involved in their creation or implementation would have considered themselves a Christian, but I’m pretty certain that there would have been white churchgoing South Africans who were actively involved in perpetuating the belief that black South Africans were inferior to themselves. And they may have excused their behavior because they were “obeying the law” or “doing their job.”

We certainly have our own history of such belief in the United States. And that belief was held by people who called themselves Christians. Beatings, killings, racial slurs and derogatory thinking about people different than we are does not get checked at the doors of the church. Sadly, it persists today.

We have to be better. We have to do better. Hatred is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. Arrogance and a belief in your own superiority cannot be supported by the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot justify calling other people, who are, like us, created in the image of God, any derogatory name, whether it is “animals” or “heathens.” (And I’ve heard church leaders use both of these to describe others).

A meditation by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann” should give us all pause. Merton says this:

One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. . . The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.

Merton goes on to say:

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own?

Along with Merton, I wonder how we can fail to apprehend the pain of others as our own? If we claim to follow Jesus, we can neither condone or keep silent when policies and practices developed (and often made into laws) create and perpetuate systemic hatred and demeaning treatment of others. We cannot hide behind sanity. That is not a sufficient standard for Christians to follow.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Choice to Love

We are capable of encouraging life or destroying life. The choice to love matters.

 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Armor and Clay Pots: A Reflection on the Story of David And Goliath

 My favorite part of the story of David and Goliath is when Saul puts his own armor on David. The armor was too big and heavy for David to move well, which tells me just how small David really was compared to the soldiers in Israel’s army, much less Goliath.

 When I read this story, I think of Paul’s words in in 2 Corinthians 4:7: But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We have a hard time admitting that we are clay pots, fragile and easily broken. We encase ourselves in armor—the armor of financial security, moral superiority or respectability—to present a confident self to others. We do not want to be seen as weak and vulnerable.

 Yet it is reliance on such armor that God criticizes when he condemns the lukewarm church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:17: You say, ‘I’m rich, and I’ve grown wealthy, and I don’t need a thing.’ You don’t realize that you are miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.

What God wants is not our strength or respectability or morality. God wants clay pots—weak, vulnerable, fragile pots—so that we rely on God, not ourselves. Watchman Nee, In The Normal Christian Life, recounts what he said to a man who struggled to please God: “The trouble with you is that you are weak enough not to do the will of God, but you are not weak enough to keep out of things altogether. You are still not weak enough. When you are reduced to utter weakness and are persuaded that you can do nothing whatever, then God will do everything.” . . . A drowning man cannot be saved until he is utterly exhausted and ceases to make the slightest effort to save himself.

When we recognize that we cannot save ourselves, that our goodness and morality and wealth have weighed us down like heavy armor until we are utterly exhausted, we may finally realize that freedom is found in weakness. The very first Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, says that we experience heaven here and now only when we live in poverty of spirit, which is the acknowledgment of our own helplessness, coupled with complete trust in God’s strength.

Armor keeps God out. Like David, we have to be weak to know God’s strength.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

It's Okay to Rest

Maybe we would be more inclined to rest if we viewed it as a spiritual discipline.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Learning to See

We’ve all seen images that represent more than one thing. We see something immediately and then we struggle to see the other image portrayed in the picture. When we are children, these images that fool the eye are great fun, and yet, we don’t always do a good job of carrying the lesson they teach us into adulthood. We forget that there is often more than one way to see something.
A Native American profile?  Or an Eskimo entering a cave?

Our rigidity is a form of violence, not only violence against others whom we can only see in one way, but also violence against ourselves. By choosing to limit our ability to see and understand, we lose our capacity to grow. In essence, it is as if we have decided to enclose ourselves in a box in the dark, starving ourselves of any stimulation, any movement, anything that might lead us to change. If we actually did this to a child, or someone else we were caring for, we would be prosecuted for abuse. But when we figuratively do it to ourselves, no one will arrest us, but we still are guilty of violence against ourselves.

 Sometimes even when we know better, we let ourselves be influenced by an image that, if we paused to consider it, is inaccurate. Prior to an out of town trip, I made a to do list that had not just what needed to be done prior to leaving town, but also a list of projects, some of which were not due for several weeks. My reasoning was that I didn’t want to forget them. However, the day I made that list, every time I looked at it, I got anxious. It was long and I was leaving town and how would I get all that stuff done? I knew it didn’t all need to be done immediately, but the image of that long list still caused me anxiety.

 The next day I made the same list, but I put the immediate needs at the top, left a large blank section of paper, and put the longer term items at the bottom. The separation made a big difference in my stress level. The list was no different in content, but I saw it differently. There was more than one way to see the list but I had to take the time to allow myself to imagine It differently.

 Why are we so unwilling to expand our seeing, to use our imaginations to understand people and situations in different ways? What are we afraid of? Is our pride, our reputation so fragile that we are afraid of losing our identities if we change?

 Jesus says, in John 12:24-26:  I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me.

 Jesus invites us to change. A seed “dies” to being a seed, and then bears fruit. Letting go of our certainty opens us up to new life, new seeing, and becoming more like Jesus. Change is a death of sorts, but it can be the death that leads us into a larger life, a life lived for others, a life that is not weighed down by the burden that pride places on us to be and act in ways that win the approval of others.

 A willingness to change, a desire to see things differently, and compassion toward self and others, can make the world a better place, a less violent place, a less angry place. Rather than sit around wishing for things to get back “to normal” so we can check things off our bucket lists, why not replace the bucket list with these three aims and find more joy and richer life bearing fruit in a world that needs more joy and less pride.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Ahimsa

Though many people think that yoga is predominately about physical poses, the actual postures of a yoga practice are only one limb of the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is a way of being in the world. The first limb of yoga consists of ethical principles to guide how we live in the world among others, and the first of these is ahimsa, which means nonharming. 

 For those of my readers who are familiar with the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, you may know about his three simple rules, the first of which is Do no harm. Nonharming is a universal ethical principle. 

 I have thought much about the importance of practicing ahimsa as we continue to be in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The opportunity to practice nonharming is always before us, but it is hard to deny the importance of not doing harm to another right now. Harm is front and center, not only because of our unwillingness to take simple steps to slow the spread of Covid-19 but also in the continuing inequities toward people of color in society, especially when it manifests in being killed because of skin color. 

We do harm when we fail to be sensitive to the life experience of people whose experience differs from ours, when we choose not to listen, when we do not seek to understand. We do harm when we stereotype—whether by race, gender, age, nationality, religion, or any other way we box people into categories. 

 What if, for one day, we could practice ahimsa all day long, in mundane, invisible small ways that no one sees? If we could choose to not say the unkind word, share the inflammatory social media post, wear a mask in public, or learn what life is like for someone different from ourselves—by the end of the day we might discover a gentleness within ourselves that had been obscured from view. 

 For you see, when we practice not harming another, we reap the reward by a greater sense of well-being and inner peace. When we are practicing ahimsa toward the world, we experience ahimsa toward ourselves. Imagine how much better you can feel just by choosing to not do harm to another.