Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Paths of Compassion

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”Thomas Merton

Merton sought to pave a road between his two good masters, Jesus and Buddha, but it is at this very point that the two masters diverged. Buddha's philosophy of compassion is to create peace by first placing oneself into a place of peace, and then enacting compassion out of that place. Should one find oneself out of that place of peace due to acts of compassion, one must return into peace in order to maintain compassion.

Jesus' philosophy was different. Compassion is a gift of God and must be given at all times, in all circumstances. Compassion can come from a personal place of peace, but it does not need to. Compassion is done to the detriment of oneself and, in the end, if the world is going to be changed, some must sacrifice themselves-- through allowing violence to be done to oneself.

These are two different philosophies of how the world can be changed for the better and those who seek peace must choose one or the other, the path of the Dali Lama or the path of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What we must avoid at all times is the third path toward peace-- that peace must be won by sacrificing others. By dividing the world into good people and bad people and the "bad" people can be harmed or destroyed in order to create peace for the good. This is the philosophy of suicide bombers, of racism, of war. This is the dangerous philosophy we, as activists, can fall into and this is what perpetuates injustice on the earth.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

My Problem with Prayer

Henri Nouwen, in his book The Way of the Heart, speaks of two main problems pastors have when we think about prayer.  We consider prayer to be talking to God, but we don't get a response.  Or we consider prayer to be thinking about God, but that wears down over time.  He suggests to think about prayer as appreciating God's presence and being, to get out of the intellect.

I've never reached the place where I experience God's presence and being in prayer.  Maybe I need to try harder, or that's just not what I'm looking for.  I am certainly in the "talking with God" category, but I rarely have the difficulty of not having a full conversation.

In a purely selfish way of looking at prayer, which seems to be how Jesus approaches it, prayer is requesting a more powerful lord for a boon (for example Luke 11:1-13).  We are requesting something.  Sometimes this prayer is found in a formal request, but sometimes this prayer is in a life of dependence on God.  

Jesus promises us that if we pray in this way (life and request) God will provide us with three things:
1. Our basic needs (Matthew 6:25-34)

2. The power to love others (Mark 11:24-25)

3. Wisdom (Matthew 10:19-20)

These are three main categories that the Holy Spirit works in us, which makes sense, since Jesus said that prayer results in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).

I live the life of radical faith.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to descend.  But I daily have trouble loving.  I daily struggle with any wisdom that would be helpful.  Why should I pray when my prayers are not answered?  I have no control over my reactions, which the Spirit is supposed to grant me.  So why pray?

When I speak to God, for the last six months, he's only told me one thing: Rest.  It is as if he's been saying, "Your head is addled by too much work, too many needy people, too many issues, too much suffering.  It is time to find your calm."

Of course prayer won't do me any good if I have no context in which prayer can work.  I have no fertile soil for the seed of prayer to grow.  I need silence, I need solitude.  From there the Holy Spirit can grow love and wisdom.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"It Was Good for Me to be Afflicted"

I knew I was heading into depression, and here I am.  

I have an addiction to adrenaline, so whenever I step out of the serious crisis-oriented occupation that causes me to face suffering people daily and hear their stories of woe and oppression, then I go through withdrawals.  I am a drug addict, it's just that the drug that I long for is created within my body.  No need for pipes or needles.

And so I read about suffering in the Bible.  And there's a lot of it.  And I'm trying to figure out just how true it is for me.

Some may say, "You're an addict! That's not the same as the suffering for righteousness."  Well, I can understand that point of view.  But I'm not really an addict any more than Jesus was.  Jesus was supposed to take a time of rest, but when faced with the suffering of his fellow humans, he was "moved with compassion" and so worked more than was good for him. That's what gets me in this place.  So indulge me for a moment, and consider my depression-- the deep sickness in my stomach, the uncontrollable outburst when I look into a human face-- a form of suffering that might be acceptable in God's sight.

Paul and James and Peter have a pattern by which they prove that suffering is beneficial:

Suffering causes endurance
Endurance causes character
Character causes hope. 

Let's break this down.

The hope that they speak of is the hope of the Beatitudes-- the peace and mercy and kingdom of God in it's fullness.  The suffering and poor and mourning and persecuted do not experience it now, but it is the promise of God, the result of the sufferings they now experience.

The other NT writers spell out the secret steps between suffering and the future hope.  They say that suffering produces endurance.  That we persist in doing good and mercy through the suffering.  And that endurance produces character-- we display who we really are through remaining loving and pure in the midst of trials.

But what if we don't?

The patter assumes that the sufferer will endure.  But not everyone endures through suffering.  Some endure, but some break. I think they are correct that suffering is the step that indicates the character of the one put on trial.  But we make a mistake when we think that the NT writers were saying that suffering automatically leads to a display of positive character.

I know that my internal suffering causes me to be impure at times.  I am not loving through my suffering.  I sometimes endure, and sometimes I clearly do not.  And I think that's most of us.  Our lives are messy, not so clean cut, black and white to stamp "enduring" or "not-enduring" on our foreheads.

I think Jesus knew that.  Pretty sure he did. So he had us pray "Lead us not into trial."  It is often translated "temptation", but the Greek word periasmos in the gospels has a fuller meaning of, "a trial or suffering that causes us to fall away from faith."   It's a specific temptation-- a suffering that we can no longer endure through.  

Jesus is saying that we should beg God that such trails that break us be cast out of our way.

However, I am here to say, that such trials certainly come our way, despite our prayer.  It came Jesus' way in the cross.  It came Paul's way in his thorn of the flesh.  It came Peter's way when he denied Jesus.  We get caught in an affliction, a trap that causes us to fall.

I guess the real test of endurance is not that we break.  We will have times of deep failure.  Times when our love crumbles like a sand castle under a wave. That is a given.  

Endurance happens when God gives us the strength to step over the corpse of our failure and keep walking anyway.