Sunday, July 12, 2015

There is a Mountain

First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is
Caterpillar sheds its skin to find a butterfly within

A few weeks ago, I heard a long-time friend declare that he no longer believed in God.  I had known some of this friend’s spiritual struggle, as we struggled together for a time, so this news was not surprising.  Nevertheless, hearing it out loud did cause me to ponder.  At a different time in my life, such news would have been distressing.  Perhaps it is the times, or the time in my spiritual course, or both, but I had a different reaction to my friend’s declaration. 

I also recently upgraded the iOS on my iPhone that came with the new Apple Music.  After signing up and selecting my preferences, one of the first playlists offered was Intro to Donovan.  I have always liked Donovan.  I highly recommend him if you are into 60’s and 70’s folk rock.  Although I never bought one of his Albums during my teens, I certainly heard a lot of him at the time and enjoyed his music.  As I listened to this playlist, Donovan’s catchy tune, There is a Mountain, came up.  As I listened, my thoughts immediately went to my friend.  The convergence of these two events has triggered some reflection. 

Spirituality, like other human qualities, develops through stages.  In the early stages, we are often taught and can only absorb things at the level we are capable.  I recall my teenage daughter becoming upset when she heard me give my explanation of a common bible story. 

“What?!?!,” she exclaimed.  “That's not what I remember being taught about it.  How come you never told me that’s what it meant?“

“Because you were 5 years old at the time.  Now you’re a young adult so I can explain it in a different way now.”

We can only understand what we are developmentally capable of understanding.  As we develop, earlier conceptualizations need to be discharged and we need to wrestle with our new understandings.  Much of our certainty is unsustainable.  Understanding the nature of existence must be wrestled with over time.  As we do, old ways of perceiving will pass and new ones will arise.

All types of existential crises, including crises of faith, have been part of the human experience from time immemorial.  It's what it means to be human.  It has been written about for ages and is a part of all religious heritages.  Current beliefs and behaviors are always at risk as a result of these crises, and there are no guarantees that one will progress or be better off as a result.  But attempts to avoid such inevitable crises by distraction or denial are equally perilous, if not more so.  The path to an authentic breakthrough and transformation of belief and behavior is through such crises.  A church worth its salt should anticipate, teach, and uphold all stages of spiritual development, including crises of faith.  

I am not discouraged about my dear friend’s declaration.  My feelings are more like apprehensive anticipation of his course and what lies ahead.  I am all too familiar with this feeling.  We are all riders on the storm.     

I hope to respond to my friend no differently now as I should have before, with steadfast love, support, and patience.  I will mourn if my friend’s spiritual development becomes a casualty of this existential process.  I maintain hope that my friend’s current spiritual place is right where my friend needs to be at this point in development.  And I will celebrate the goodness and new understandings that will come as a result.  

The lock upon my garden gate, a snail that’s what it is…

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Protecting Against Liability versus HelpIng

Today the chair of a non-profit board I belong to that serves the unsheltered homeless resigned over concerns about liability. 

This brings up an interesting issue.  Seems that concern about liability is essentially the same as concern about self.  How compatible is it with love and helpfulness?  Is love concerned about our liability?  I suppose it could be if what we are protecting is our ability to care for the ones we love.  One sure way to be free of any liability is to not help anyone but yourself. 

I understand that we need to be wise and careful in our efforts to help a group with problems.  It may not be healthy or right to cross certain boundaries, whether they are legal or personal.  But how do you, or can you even properly balance concerns with liability with the desire to be helpful?  Seems you can't have it both ways.  Often to be helpful you have to expose yourself to some liability.  This may be especially true with those that our system has failed or even ostracized.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I am learning that God loves those that are oppressed by poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, family problems, and all the other factors that make one not fit into the dominant culture.  Many are burdened with several of these factors at the same time.  They are so deep in their mess. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tonight at the NCCZ

We have been working with a group of women that are transitioning out of homelessness.  They come into the home as the are, with only one rule - no violence.  All other issues can be worked on when they are in the house.  This housing first approach is different than the typical shelters which require a person to get their act together before they can be housed. 

So, you end up with some women that are fairly well bogged down in the quagmire of a life of dysfunction.  They are so mired in their own stuff that our connection with them is tenuous.  Keith had a vision where they were drowning inside a small fishbowl and he was standing outside banging on the class to get there attention and tell them how to get out, but they were so absorbed and emeshed in their quagmire that they barely sense your presence and cannot hear what you are saying.  What do you do in a situation like this?  You could boldly preach the gospel to them, but it might come with a truckload of manure.  That is, they would be unable to attend to you message.  They are so self-absorbed in thier own muck that they would be incapable of hearing your message of truth.

So you stop trying to rescue them.  Instead, you place your hand on the glass and wait.  Maybe they will notice and pull themselves enough out of their own quagmire to place their had on the opposite side to the glass up to yours.  A connection.   

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tonight, Under the Bridge: Final Edition

I met a pitiful man under the bridge tonight. He was in his 50’s and living on the streets of the city he grew up in. He admitted to having an alcohol problem. As he was talking, I could see the few teeth he had in his head and the tremor in his jaw. His nervous system was clearly jacked up, maybe from drugs, but just as likely from his broken brain.  He described how he has suffered from manic-depression for most of his life and how he has been on multiple medications to no avail. In some ways, mental illness is worse than physical illness; it tends to have moral connotations and stigma. I have seen firsthand how medications frequently are not specific or effective enough. Although there has been progress, we certainly have not arrived in mental health intervention. When the system fails, too often self-medication becomes an effective, if temporary and ill-fated, means of stopping the pain; unfortunatetly the alternative is not much better.  We should have compassion on this poor man. Until then, he is thrown out on the streets until such time as he is able to pull himself up by his bootstraps.

* * * *

Tonight was somewhat of a circus. I counted at least 4 different groups under the bridge. Three different meals had been served between 5 and 7 pm. There was the obligatory sermon prior to the third meal. There were the overly ebullient workers and a niave leader walking around with his shoulders back. There were the TV cameras, of course. Lots of egos got stroked tonight at the expense of the poor, with minimal inconvenience. Was anyone helped? 

I think they will do fine without my presence down there.

Not far from the bridge, I saw a group meeting to strategizing about how they can be of help to the homeless.

I apologize for my cynicsm.  I speak from firsthand experience.  I too am guilty.  Guide us please. Offer an alternative for those who want to help.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Education of Mark

I have been helping run the house meetings for a transitional home for homeless women.  They have been teaching me some interesting things about life on the streets, living a life of tragedy, and trying to pull oneself from the quagmire.  If I get the time, I hope to blog on some of them. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Interesting than Rob Bell

My last post was some pretty crappy writing, but it was late and it was a blog (which are all "shitty first drafts"). 

As a follow-up, once there was a lot full of tents, then there wasn't.  And tent-giving away guy wept.  Not all of the tents and sleeping bags were sold for drugs.  Some of them were just sold for cash.  There were better things they needed then a tent or sleeping bag.  The homeless are pretty resourceful.  If they want a sleeping bag, they can get one.  The issue here is the difference between what we think they need versus what they think they need.  It is some sort of projection to transfer our needs onto someone else.

Keith told me story of a rich person in town who decided he wanted to buy every child in the East Gate housing project a new bicycle, which apparently, STEP agreed to do at the time (though I think they have since learned).  So, every kid got a brand new bike.  Rich guy was proud and felt good.  Kids were on bikes everywhere for a week.  Gradually, less and less kids were seen on bikes.  Trash cans became full of bike parts.  Within weeks, no bikes.  Not sure if rich guy hung around long enough to see and weep. 

I am certain that some of the handmade beds we built and gave away were sold.  I could tell you some wild stories about some of them.  We too were naive.  We wanted to be the kind of people that gave away beds to poor kids, just like the rich guy wanted to be the kind of person who gives every kid in a project a new bike, just like the tent/sleeping back guy wanted to be the kind of person who gives away tents and sleeping bags.  Good intentions, they make good paving stones.  We got something.  We accessed compassion within ourselves.  That compassion motivated us to put in lots of money and work.  In terms of helping, though, we missed the mark.  They knew we missed the mark.  They see lots of this.  We train them. 

I hope the rich guy and the tent/sleeping bag giver guy are still in the game.  Perhaps we can meet and swap stories around my fire pit after building some beds.  We could talk about what we learned.  When you do something that radical, things happen, maybe not what we expect, but they do happen.  And what does happen does a number on our attitude.  It can either further entrench us in our stereotype and drive us from the game, or we can confront the experience head on and examine our own stupidity and self-interest.  The later is a great place to start.  Feedback is a key mechanism for change.  The tent/sleeping bag guy got help from God through a crack dealer.  He saw the wrongness of the situation and cared enough about what tent man was doing to give him feedback.  A little prayer of examen and prayer of consciousness would be a dynamite thing to do after getting that feedback.  It would be transformative.

So, what do you think rich guy and tent guy?  If you are still in the game, come hang out with me and let's learn together how to love exceptionally.  Let's go give things away again, only this time, lets be responsive to the feedback we obtained.  Let's go find out what they need that would help, they let's give it to them.  Then let's come back my fire pit and process it together.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Man with the Love Grass in his Hand

Last week, a homeless man under the bridge relayed a story about a local Christian person handing out tents and sleeping bags to "anyone."  I think I know what the tent and sleeping bag giving person was doing.  Like me, he probably was just trying to be a different person, one who would give freely with no questions asked.  A noble spiritual formation goal. 

A crack dealer finally went to the tent/sleeping bag giving person to tell him/her that many of the tents and bags were being sold for a fraction of their worth and the money was being used to buy crack. 

A soul started a noble journey alone with out a guide.  He needed some feedback from someone that could sense the Wind.  I guess none of Jesus' followers were paying attention.  No problem.  The Spirit moves, undeterred, like the wind looking for an attentive and willing soul to establish a beachhead for the kingdom.  Someone was paying attention.  He was an unlikely character.  He had tapped into the goodness and obeyed.  He must of been a crack dealer, you know, the man with the love grass in his hands, rather than a pusher (who is not a natural man, GD).  Just like the Wind, impartial about who carries out the work of the kingdom, they just need to be attentive and willing.     

The Wind used a crack dealer to direct the tent/sleeping bag giver, and a homeless man to direct me to not be so naive.  First do not harm.  Let's not pursue our own spiritual formation at the expense of some poor addict.  Part of what we need to learn is how to really help.  Helping is a means to spiritual formation.  Let's not let spiritual formation get in the way of helping.

Thanks homeless man.  Thanks dealer.  You did the right thing.  Maybe someday we can recline at table and smoke some of that love grass in your hand. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sin is In

We live down the street from a small church that felt a need to spend their money to put up a sign so they could post cute sayings on it each week.  (I bet a church could buy a book of cute sayings to put on their church signs)  A recent cute saying on their sign was "Sin is Sin."  Each time Jack and I drove past the sign, we were determined to dress up in black and, at midnight, go take off the second S.

At the NCCZ a couple of weeks ago, we were discussing some problems a person we were helping was having. At one point in the discussion, G. said, “You know, it’s a sin issue.”

I had an aversive reaction to the statement initially. I wanted to disagree with the statement, that way I could avoid having to use that language. I did some research on the definition of sin so that I could formulate my argument against it. I went right to the source of true definitions,

1. transgression of divine law: the sin of Adam.
2. any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.

–verb (used without object)
4. to commit a sinful act.
5. to offend against a principle, standard, etc.
I actually like #2 and #5, the idea of a violation of some principle. Darn it, this wasn’t helping my case. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked those definitions of sin.

Lots of principles, if violated, will create problems for us. If you violate the physical principle of your body needing sufficient sleep, your life will not go as well as it could if you followed the principle. There are many physical, psychological, and social principles that, if followed, will result in a better life. Similarly, there are moral principles that, if followed, will result in a better life. With this definition, I found myself agreeing with G, it was a sin issue; however, I still do not like to phrase it that way.

If you want to kill a helping relationship, tell the person you are helping that they have a sin issue. Try it this week. When you notice someone who is suffering in some way because they violated some principle, go up to them and tell them that they are sinning, and then see how it goes.

I was in a therapy session last week with a teen who was complaining about some physical and psychological symptoms. He had been reading up on a disorder that he thought he had. After asking him some questions about his life, it became apparent that he was not getting enough sleep. He was getting less than 6 hours a night because he was doing the teen thing. Of course, he was yawning as we were talking. Principle: teens need more sleep than adults, as much as 9 hours.

He had a sin issue. I could have told him that he was sinning and needed to repent, which by the above definition would have been true. God designed us to need at least 8 hours sleep. Life is better when you follow the design. But, of course, I did not state it this way to him. I told him that at least part of his problem was that he was not getting enough sleep. We talked about how much sleep people need and the effects of sleep deprivation.

He reflectively stated, “Could it be that simple?”

I said, “Yes, it may not solve all your problems, but it is a good place to start. Do an experiment; try getting at least 8 to 9 hours sleep and see how you feel.”

K. accuses me of making up words or phrases to replace church words. I do that because of the baggage that has become associated with church words. When people hear you talk about their sin, the word that is conditioned to come up in their minds is moralize.

mor•al•ize: to reflect on or express opinions about something in terms of right and wrong, especially in a self-righteous or tiresome way.
Or maybe they have thoughts of judgment, condemnation, and angry god, or some sour prude with a bible in one hand and hatchet in the other.

Who wants any of those associations?

Rather than kill the relationship with sin talk, maybe we should help them see the principle they are violating, or, preferably, help them see how following the principle would lead to a better way of living.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let's Destroy a Bed

The Bed Project meets again on Thursday night at 7:00 pm.  For a change of pace, we will destroy a bed.  We need to test the safety of the new design and find the failure points.  Always wanted to have a dog-pile and jump on a bed, but your momma wouldn't let you?  Now is your chance.

Here are the tests and pass/failure criteria per our resident engineer.

1. Static load test. (gradually apply 800lbs one body at a time)
• No sign of failure at 800lbs. Some creaking allowed to be audible

2. No load scoot test. (push and pull on carpet from different points on the bed with the bed un-loaded)
• No sign of failure unloaded. Some creaking allowed to be audible.

3. Loaded scoot test. (push and pull on carpet from different points on the bed with the bed loaded)
• Minor stress cracks allowed with 100lb load. Some cracking sounds expected.

4. Dynamic load test to failure (apply a bouncing load one jumping body at a time for 3 minutes each until failure)
• No sign of failure with 100lbs bouncing for 3 minutes. Some creaking allowed to be audible. Expect failure between 200 and 800lbs.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tonight, Under the Bridge

Several fights broke out tonight. Drugs and alcohol don’t help when it comes to controlling your emotions. Although the fighting certainly was discouraging, what was more impressive was the reaction from the other homeless. Three homeless people came under the bridge not to get a meal, but to watch out for the us. They helped break up the fights and calm everyone down. I guess they knew something was up.

One homeless woman appealed to the fighters to stop because there were children present. I liked her sensibility, but even innocence does not easily break through alcohol.

Several of the homeless (not the ones that were fighting) made a point to come up to us and apologize. They have to live with this type of violence every day, yet they apologized to us. Amazing.

I met an interesting man tonight. He had a painting strapped to his backpack and a painter’s easel strapped to his belt. He was from California and came to Little Rock by train via Washington DC. He was headed to Texas. I asked him how he knows where the train goes. He said he looks on Google maps. He found out that trains run in three directions from Little Rock: one to Missouri, one to Pine Bluff, and one to Texas. This past week he has been to Missouri and back and to Pine Bluff and back. By process of elimination, he found the line he needs to Texas. He was a young, clear-eyed, articulate man. He had seven cans of tuna that he was living on that ran out on his train ride from Pine Bluff to LR. He was hungry and happened upon the meal we were serving. He made a point to express his gratitude and visit with us in a friendly way.

The contrasts were striking tonight. Even in the darkness, lights do shine.

So, so you think you can tell/heaven from hell/blues skies from pain/can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail/a smile from a veil…

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Working in the Gray

In my previous career, I was a mechanic. For about 10 years, I worked at various shops working on cars, heavy trucks, and forklifts. There was a certain beauty and simplicity to the whole process of working on a machine. It was broke, you fixed it, and then everybody was happy. Although it had its challenges, the end goal was clear and you knew you achieved it when the machine worked like it was meant to. But the machines did not talk back to me, so I decided to change careers. I wanted to fix broken people. So at 27 years of age I went back to school for a decade and then started working with people.

I miss the black and white simplicity of being a mechanic. Machines are either broke or fixed. Success is easy to judge. For the past 20 years, I have worked in the gray. People operate at points along a continuum of pathology (or vitality, from a positive point of view). In working with people, the end point is not always clear; you just know it is somewhere to the right of where they started. Success is often hard to judge. After your efforts of helping, sometimes things get better, but sometimes things seem unchanged or worse. In the later case, maybe your efforts contributed to making things worse or maybe they will ultimately be helpful, but it will not be evident in the short term – you often will never know. With improvement, you get to hug each other’s necks. When things don’t seem to improve, you get to question and second-guess. Helping is that way.

Yesterday, S. chose to return to homelessness. We tried to help. Now we just get to be sad.

Perhaps in the kingdom, to help and love is the end in itself and not just the means to success.  Godspeed, S.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Misguided Effort? For Sure Final Thoughts

I do tend to overthink things, but if an unexamined life if not worth living, maybe unexamined acts of supposed goodness are not worth doing.  Case in point.  Remember the scene in the movie Slumdog Millionaire where the children were intentionally disabled and forced to beg for money for the perpetrator?  Were the people that gave money to the poor children helping?  In their case, the children needed help not money.  I know it is an extreme example, but how is it different for us?

I guess I want to make the point that some level of self-reflection is a good thing.  Self-interest is bred into us.  I think we are capable of indulging the self for a long time without much awareness that we are.  I am not making the case for not acting to help, just stopping from time to time to reflect on weather we actually are.   

Monday, February 14, 2011

Misguided Effort? Final Final Thoughts

I think it may be a leadership issue. It appears that many people are motivated enough to step out to be helpful, however, well-intentioned, self-interested, or injudicious. Some attempts to be compassionate (e.g., short term mission trips, serving meals under the bridge, or take your pick of redundant efforts) that have limited helpfulness to the served have value as means to spiritual formation for the servers, but not any more so than actually being helpful would. Perhaps with a little less emphasis on spiritual formation and a little more emphasis on alleviating suffering we would produce more help and more spiritual formation.

Jesus threw down the gauntlet for his followers to be compassionate. Compassion, by definition, is an emotional reaction in response to someone’s suffering accompanied by a strong motivation to alleviate the suffering. It is something else to have an emotional reaction in response to someone’s suffering accompanied by a strong desire to grow spiritually because of hanging out among the suffering doing something that does not sufficiently target the suffering. For it to be compassion a primary component should involve trying to actually alleviate the suffering. Seems some intentional thoughtfulness about what’s causing the suffering, what would be helpful to alleviate it, and questioning our own efforts would be needed to move into compassion.

When we are off the compassion mark, a leader would be helpful to bring us to compassion. I don’t necessarily mean a trained or institutionally appointed leader, just someone who knows (through experience) something about the people and what would be helpful. It would also be helpful for those that are off the mark to seek out such a leader and learn from him or her before joining some misguided effort. And maybe it would be helpful to have some scary, wild looking dude screaming some prophetic reprimands at the rest.

The compassionate leader helps those that desire to be compassionate by guiding and directing them in their efforts to alleviate suffering. Seems like a win-win. Previously well-intention, self-interested people learn to lose the self-interest part and gain something better – compassion – and the person suffering is provided with the type of help that is actually needed. In this scenario, the leaders need to step up in the midst of misguided efforts and do some transformation. I think they would find some willing to go along. The others can continue to stroke their egos and build their kingdom. Leave them alone, if they are not against us, they are for us.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Misguided Effort? Final Thoughts

Exceptional acts of love and mercy are hard, but better than our ordinary acts. I have reluctantly stopped waiting for it to rain down, though. It apparently does not come from the outside, but the inside. We have been invited by Jesus to follow him in the way of exceptional love and mercy and he has set the spirit deep within us to help us. In faith, we have to assume Jesus thought we could do it, that progress was possible. I don’t think he wanted us to set up camp on the good side of the human good-evil continuum. He would be happy we made it that far, but I picture him saying: “What are you doing? Why have you pitched a tent? We’re not there yet. I’m out a here. Who’s coming with me?”

It starts with getting out and trying to help. If you take the trial and error approach, expect lots of stumbling around. Trial and error is an inefficient way of learning, but it is a start. The journey starts when you just do it. Next, you need to pay attention when you are doing it. If you do, good chance some significant spiritual formation issues will smack you right in the face. For me, it often is with seemingly little things and my attitudes, such as the taxi fare series.

Practice with feedback is much more efficient way to learn and change than trial and error. That is where mentors should come in. I know they are in short supply, but first you have to determine to seek one out where you can find one. It does not have to be as dorky as asking someone to be your mentor. Just find someone that is doing good and hang with them. Watch them and learn what you can from them. Go deep when you can. Between self-reflection, modeling, and deep interaction, you will get your feedback. Then go back and do it again. It is an iterative process. Confront you attitudes, contemplate and get to that place that is deep beneath the attitude and just stay at that place for a while. Directly challenge the attitude if needed. Afraid you will get ripped off if you give physical help or cash to someone ostensibly in need? Face the fear and let yourself get ripped off. It is only when the fear is gone that you start being smart about what you do.

We are not so good at perceiving our own motives. It requires brave self-reflection, a sort of repentant reconsideration of our efforts. It is easier to see the motives of others. Makes me wonder if I wear my motives on my sleeves like others I see. Someone would have to engage with me on that one. Which brings up the whole community thing, find a few people that are brave enough to want to go on a similar journey with you. Then start having NCCZ’s.

Finally, drop the happy blessing part of serving.  Make your goal to actually help someone.  Most every night, there is someone that is suffering, in need of, and ready for help, that cannot make it without someone coming along side of them and helping.  Yes, it will be inconvenient.  The self will push back.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Misguided Effort? 9 (second to last!)

I think I can safely get back to my original point in this series. The push back I tend to get on this topic usually relates to discomfort with being too critical about the good works of others. It smacks of judging. Fair enough. I think I have sufficiently reexamined and qualified my thoughts on good works. I will now split hairs on the good end of the good-evil continuum. I think I am sufficiently on record that it is all good. To the degree that I have chosen sides and want to be associated with goodness, my critique is more of a self-reflection and of one speaking from within the family, so to speak.

The self-orientation seems to be our default, thus our expressions of love and mercy are often ordinary. To this, Jesus seems to say: “Your ordinary love is good, but big whoop. Follow me and I will show you something better.” This is hard, though; because what seems best to us is… well, by definition, about us. Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and other important people do provide us with examples of exceptional love and mercy, and there undoubtedly are other, less public, quieter examples around if we look. However, if we are honest, the church is not exactly blowing us over with this stuff. If Jesus’s exceptional love and mercy is more than a hope, it is incumbent on his followers (at least the ones that have figured it out) to demonstrate it and show us how to attain it.

I think there are some qualitative differences between good works where the primary focus is to help the other and those good works where helping is a secondary purpose, even if a close second. If helping the other were the primary purpose, the help would be better and more. If egos and organizational promotion were secondary, help would be better and more. As one who has been hanging out with good people for a long time and has had a career in the helping profession, when push comes to shove, I don’t often see the exceptional.  I did not say I never do; I revel when I do and occassionally report on them here.  I need to see more.

To frame it more specifically, imagine what would happen if we went under the bridge with the primary purpose to help someone? For one, we wouldn’t be tripping over ourselves feeling good about serving meals to people who just ate an hour earlier; we would take the time to find out how to actually help and do it. What would happen to the gaps and redundancies that pervade homeless services if we kept helping the other primary? How much better and far reaching would be the help? Unfortunately, I can only imagine. Until then, I will rejoice in the ordinary and search out and hold up the exceptional. 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Misguided Effort? 8

… Do it enough and you will start to wonder.

Helping people is a good thing. Do it and hang out with people who do and you will learn something about yourself. One of the things you may learn is that, even in helping the other, self interest is there in the background. We are good on our terms. We will do good, when it coincides or at least doesn’t clash with self-interest. We shouldn’t resist this observation; we are after all talking about behavior on the good side of the good-evil continuum – perhaps even the highest human good. To expect more may be to expect too much.

Several years back, when my daughter was in our church youth group, she related an interaction she had with H., the daughter of one of the other adult volunteers in the youth program. On a school ski trip, riding up the chair lift, H. stated to my daughter something to the effect: “I do not think it is possible to live the way the adults are telling us we need to live.” Were we setting the bar for them higher than we were setting or able to attain for ourselves? From that point on, I was determined not to “lay trips” on the youth. It wasn’t fair, and, perhaps, it was worse than unfair.

I am willing to assume that most all of our behavior, ultimately, is self-serving at some level; at least that is my own experience and what seems to be the case as I look around. If that is granted, then helping the other as a close second to self is the highest form of human good. Again, we don’t need to resist this notion. All one has to do to see the nobility in it is to contrast it with the behaviors as you move away from the good side of the good-evil continuum. So, let’s spur each other to do good works. Let’s marvel at the good we see others doing, even when the motives are worn on their sleeves. This may be as good as it gets. I would be content to be on a journey to that place and rest there.

But then Jesus bungs up the program. He seems to both be happy for such ordinary, human goodness, and invite us to a more exceptional type.

Crap. I think I know how H. felt.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Misguided Effort? 7

So here is my theory.  Helping someone as a close second to some other primary purpose (take your pick of self-focused primary purposes) is the highest form of human good on the good-evil continuum. Do you agree? 

Secular psychological and evolutionary views of altruism seem to agree.  To them, Santa got it wrong.  We can't be good for goodness sake.  We can be good, but just for some other primary reason, usually related to our self. 

So, when we see people trying to do good, we should rejoice and celebrate it, even when the motive is apparent on their sleeve.  No judging needed.  Often our pathology cannot be hidden.  Sometimes motives are apparent but implicit, but often they are said out loud.  So what, rejoice.  Better that a selfish person try and help someone than getting those desires fulfilled with a sex slave.  It also beats what the selfish dude who is complacent does.  

Ordinary human goodness is doable and it's the best we have to offer.   We should give a prize when we see it.  These are the ones to hang out with.  They are showing us the best.  Some of them have interesting things to say about why they choose to help the other.  We could swap stories.    

This is step 1.  Do it and you will learn something about the other and yourself.  Do it enough and you will start to wonder.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Misguided Effort? 6

So I am thinking that to focus on the other requires that we try to focus on the other.  Brilliant. 

A simple test of whether we are doing that is to go into a situation with the resolve to keep "helping the other" the primary purpose.  If you start to feel inconvenienced or miffed because things are not going the way you want them to, you've just bumped into another purpose, unless it is related to helping the other, you keep it secondary. 

Okay, let's go try that.  Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Misguided Effort? 5

I am not getting much traction from my homies on this topic.  If this were on Facebook, I would not have any likes, and if there were a dislike button I would probably get a few of them.  This makes me think either I am wrong or I haven't communicated my point sufficiently.  I will assume the later, because I blog.  That's what I do, or, as Malia reminds me, I like to hear myself talk.

To be honest, I pursue this line of thinking because I have my doubts that it doesn't get better than this (this being the ordinary type of helping I talked about in one of the previous posts in this series).  I see enough of the way it is all around me.  There are exceptions, there's Jesus and Ghandi and Mother Teresa, and even some modern day examples of their kind, but they are just that, exceptions.  I want there to be something better, both in myself and in the world around me.  It is quite possible that there is and I have not learned to see it. 

If the answers at the end of 4 were rhetorical, it is incumbent upon Jesus's followers to demonstrate that it is possible.  My next question, that is not rhetorical, is how do I (we?) move in that direction?    I have some ideas, but cannot speak from much experience.  One thing that has been helpful is seeing others that seem to be doing it (exceptional helping).  My friend, Dennis, posted the other day that he got a phone call at 3:30 am from one of the homeless.  He was sick and had thrown up all over himself.  Dennis went and got him from his camp, took him home, bathed him, and washed his clothes.  I am astounded by a couple of things.  First, that he answered the phone at 3:30 am.  I would have looked at the caller ID and probably let it ring.  Secondly, this man knew who to call at 3:30 am.  Third, he seemed to have a good attitude about it.  I don't need to have lengthy discussions about how to do it.  Just hearing about it and seeing this type of stuff in action has been helpful and encouraging.  

Good is good.  I am happy for good.  I will concede that ordinary good (that done as a secondary purpose with some other self-serving purpose being the primary, even if a close second), is, I would argue, probably the highest form of human goodness on the good-evil continuum.  But, I am thinking Jesus was inviting us to something beyond this.  The rest of Luke 9 seems to demonstrate that vs49 and 50 were not the end of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples.  He seems to be inviting us to something exceptional, something wholy devine.  If so, I don't want to settle.  I don't want to be complacent.  

Like I said, I may be wrong about this, but I hope I am not.