Monday, December 30, 2013

Love Hurts

Researchers put a group of random college students (poor college students!) through a game, which was a test:     (You can read about this study at ars technica)

The first stage of the game, the students are placed in groups (with some of the players being computer players, unknown to the humans). The goal of the game is to be one of three participants that end up with the most points, and they get an Amazon gift card. Each individual is given 100 points. These points can be kept or put into a group fund. If all the points in a group go into the fund, everyone gets double the points.

After that, everyone sees the other's points. If you don't like what someone did, you can take points away from them. But for every three points you take away from someone else, you get one point deducted from your own kitty.

After that, each participant ranks the other players from 1 (hated them) to 9 (loved them).

The researchers had one computer player which was the "stingy" player. This player gave 10 percent or less of their points. Needless to say, they were punished heavily. 70 percent of human players punished the stingy computer player at least one point and he was ranked low.

The strange thing is this: they also created an overly generous player who placed at least 90 percent or more of his points in the group fund. This player was also punished severely! Not only did more than 50 percent of the players take away points from the generous, but they also only ranked him a 3 (firm dislike)!

What does this mean? That generally, we don't like people to be too nice, even as we don't like them to be mean. If we are too generous, then we are likely to be dissuaded or even mildly punished by people around us.

However, Jesus warned us that if we acted in love, we would be hurt by those around us. Jesus wants us to surrender ourselves to love. But he also wants us to be realistic. If we pour ourselves out for those in need, then we will be punished, occasionally by those whom we help! That doesn't mean we shouldn't act selflessly, but we shouldn't expect rewards for it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Poverty and Power (Poverty of Spirit 4)

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11

God is not opposed to the self-sufficient.  He does not hate those who rely on their own strength to make their lives what they are.  God has blessed them with a created world which he called “good” and set them in it to make their way.  They make their lives, they create their comfort, they establish all they are on their own and God blesses them.

But not all are able to establish themselves.  Some work all their lives and never escape suffering.  Some have established themselves, but through tragedy or disaster their well-made lives have crumbled.  Some are torn apart by others, seeking to establish themselves on the backs of those vulnerable to their power, leaving them nothing with which to establish themselves. There are some who have no choice but to recognize that they are poor and helpless.  They have done all they can, picked themselves up, stepped forward, only to find themselves fallen again. 

It is these whom God offers not just a casual blessing, but overwhelming support and real help. 

God is the judge who listens to the widow.  God is the healer who heals the bleeding woman whom the doctors cannot help.  God is the father who welcomes the starving prodigal home.  God is the one who feeds the hungry in the wilderness.  God is the one who grants the barren woman a child.

God is the power, the strength of the poor.  The self-sufficient do not need help, they are fine on their own.  But the sick who cannot be healed, the poor whose hunger left them weak, the sinner who can’t escape their shame, the immigrant who does not see a friendly face, the outcast who doesn't know why they can’t make it on their own, the mentally weak who cannot make decisions on their own… God is there to be their strength because they have no power.

What about those who do not do all they can to help themselves?  What if they are just dependent on God because they decided that it is better to rely on Him than on themselves?  These lazy religious fanatics, who think they can tempt God and get away without standing on their own, what does God give them?
He gives them all they need.

There are those who sell all they have and give it to the poor, at the command of God—God is there to provide for them.  There are those who surrender their well-paying jobs to help the weak for nothing—these fools are also supported by God.  The one who loves God’s ways, despite their family’s hatred and become homeless because they have no support, no help on earth—God is there for them.   Those who refuse judgment in God’s name and will not do violence even to those who do violence to them—God is there to support them.

This does not mean that they do not suffer.  They may hunger, they may be cold at times, they may be occasionally friendless, they may even die at the hand of their persecutors.  Yet, somehow, they know they can rely on God. 

The persecuted David, who faced death, was confident of God’s support.  “The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him will praise the Lord… All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive.”  Even when faced with death, even when one goes beyond death, God does not forget his promise of protection and life. 

In this is the resurrection.  The resurrection is not for those who are religious enough to prove their worth.  Rather, it is for those who suffered so much for good and for love that God determines that they must have a second chance on life.  Resurrection is for the hopeless suffering who deserve a life of comfort.  For those who have surrendered all comfort for the sake of Love.

God never forgets his promise to be the power of life for the poor.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor

For a year and a half while the someday great author was in her early 20s, Flannery O'Connor had a private prayer journal.  Well, it is called a prayer journal, but they were really just notes to God, confessing her doubt, anxieties and personal struggles.  Don't expect any of these prayers to show up in collection of great prayers, because they are decidedly not devotional.  We might expect it of the author of A Good Man is Hard to Find and Wise Blood, but she is as brutally honest toward her own soul as she is later of her society at large.

Here are some quotes which give us a sense of her spiritual life:

"My thoughts are far away from God.  He might as well have not made me... Today I have proved myself a glutton-- for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought.  There is nothing left to say of me."

"Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don't know if I've ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary.  All boils down to grace, I suppose."

"One thing I have seen this week-- it has been a peculiar week-- is my constant seeing of myself as what I want to be, but the right genre, the eternal embryo-- and eternal in no false sense.  I must grow."

"My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something.  Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us.  I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful pray may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted."

"Sin is a great thing as long as it's recognized.  It leads a good many people to God who wouldn't get there otherwise."

"I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make me lonelier by reminding me of God."

"Am I keeping my faith by laziness, dear God?"

A Prayer Journal is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Peacemaking Hands

Peacemaking is anger at injustice
   And choosing to heal instead of punish

Peacemaking is the war against hatred,
   Judgment and apathy, harming none.

Peacemaking is entering into another’s life
   By listening to their story

Peacemaking is welcoming the outcast
   And creating a safe place for them

Peacemaking comes from inner peace
   Inner peace comes from silence

Peacemaking is making a plan for the needy
   In order to help them thrive

Peacemaking is choosing the one-down
   In order to support others

Peacemaking is standing with the outcast
   By yourself

Peacemaking is creating a community
   Of the hated and the lovers

Peacemaking is confronting the wrongdoer
   And forgiving them

Peacemaking is living for oneself
   By living for others

Peacemaking is rejecting rejection,
   Judging judging and turning away from apathy.

Peacemaking is healing one’s own soul
   By restoring others

Peacemaking is Jesus on the cross
   Bringing God into this world through surrendering oneself