I heard once there are two kinds of people in the world: people who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and people who don’t.
Lately I’ve been wondering if there’s really only one kind of people in the world: the kind that sees two kinds of people in the world. People for whom everyone registers according to a certain set of criteria, whether intentionally or not, or even consciously or not. The “like-me’s” and the “not-like-me’s”, perhaps, or the “desirables” and the “undesirables”. For example:
Fat people and skinny people
Pretty people and unpretty people
Pretty girls and everyone else
Rich people (aka “people who have something I want”) and average people
Intelligent people and stupid or ignorant people
Conservatives and Liberals (or pick your political dichotomy)
People who might be my friend and people who probably wouldn’t
People with authority or influence and people without it
People who appreciate me and people who don’t
Black people and white people
White people and minorities
Now surely no one thinks of everyone as always in one category or another. But everyone I think has a set of categories like this, or more than one. I know I do. It’s a sort of blindness, like walking through a breathtaking park and only seeing how much it needs to be mowed.
I’d like to be the sort of person with only one category of people around me: people who need love. Love sheds a lot of light on a person, or group of people, and makes it pretty difficult to relegate them to a category. And I think it’s a tall task to uncover someone who doesn’t need love. In our own ways we are all hurt, or forgotten, or angry, or alone in ways that only being loved can address.
I had an unexpected encounter with someone this week whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, someone who during her time in my life abused me emotionally in a fairly significant way. I don’t speak of her anymore except sometimes with others who know her, and then usually with a certain mutual understanding, like one speaks of a crotchety grandmother, or maybe Hitler. We rode the same elevator, she and I, and the people we each were with, and it was as tense a dramatic elevator moment as any Greys Anatomy writer could have devised.
I’m trying now to tie this story to the topic at hand and honestly I’m having trouble figuring out where I land on it. I can say with relative confidence that I have very little love for this person, and I can also say with the same confidence that that really bothers me. And not in a religious guilt sort of way, but in a way that goes right to the core of my faith. If what I say I believe is true, if there is a God who is all that is good in the world and whose nature is centrally love, then somehow this woman is loveable – and even loved.
Now would be a good time to bandy about the “love thy enemy” command, as though I knew what it meant. But that’s not the sort of command you just up and do, as with “fold thy laundry,” or “haveth some coffee,” two of the lesser-known biblical commands (at least around my house). As with most of the teachings Jesus delivered in the Sermon on the Mount, this one falls under the pretty-much-impossible category, the sort of task that’s unaffected by determination and willpower, that I can’t just rouse myself to do. In fact, I don’t think that overall the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are things I’m meant to do at all, so much as be.
Be the sort of person who loves the people you want to hate.
Be the sort of person who doesn’t hold judgments over others.
Be the sort of person who does the things that are good, rather than just learning and talking about them.
Be the sort of person who only sees one sort of person in the world.
Be the sort of person who is perfect, like God.
If I were a master web coder I would have put checkboxes next to each of those things to illustrate how ridiculous they are to do. Jesus has left absolutely no room to think I am capable of these things under my own abilities and motivation. What he is describing is a person with a fundamentally changed world view, and I clearly can’t just up and make that happen.
I believe it’s possible though, which must be why my feelings for this person bother me. Being in an elevator with her brought back many of the feelings of dread that she previously inspired in me, though this time noticeably without the anvil that used to rest squarely on my chest long after she would leave. She was a significant part of a season of hurt, disappointment and loneliness in my life, when I lost much of my youthful optimism and dreams. I don’t blame her for that, because that’s the sort of thing that no one can really be blamed for; on the other hand she did do her damage. So my context for her doesn’t help her much – I’ve sometimes wondered how I would have felt differently about her had I known her five years earlier, when I was well-supported relationally and better resourced emotionally and spritually.
Eh, I could go on about what her upbringing may have been like from what little I know, and find some other reasons to sympathize with her, but this is perhaps all an exercise in meaningless pity. The inescapable reality I keep coming up against is that no matter what she has done or what was done to her, she is either loveable or she is not. Either love can see beyond any evil or it cannot. I am banking my life on the former.
Complaining has been a problem for me recently. Or rather I’ve had no problem complaining, it’s the toxic fallout of stewing, criticizing, looking for worst-case scenarios and playing out arguments in my head that has plagued me. I discovered this quote from Richard Rohr today that resonates with me:
“I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain—even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it?
We all have pain—it’s the human situation, we all carry it in a big black bag behind us and it gets heavier as we get older: by betrayals, rejections, disappointments, and wounds that are inflicted along the way. If we do not find some way to transform our pain, I can tell you with 100% certitude we will transmit it to those around us.
At the end of life, and probably early in life, too, the question is, “What do I do with this disappointment, with this absurdity, with this sadness?”
I have known people who carry their big black bag on their chest and open it up for you as often as speak to you. And I’ve known other folks whose bag somehow seems to have a perpetual hole in the bottom.
I was talking with a friend the other day about responding to pain. And to another friend about adjusting our attitude. And with both the consensus was this is no small matter. It is one thing to practice the habits that essentially amount to squeezing my eyes tight and whistling along with Monty Python (come on, you know it),
Always look on the bright side of life…
It’s quite another thing to make a fundamental worldview shift and learn to deal with the vast quantities of pain and disappointment I encounter in a transformative way rather than deny it and/or transmit it. On the other hand, as I admitted in yet another recent conversation (interesting how most of my processing these days is through conversation), I used to be the sort of person who who contributed more positively and constructively to my world; lately I seem to be trending toward the negative. So on these terms at least my worldview has already shifted at least once.
In an article on suffering, a Harvard Law Professor writes about his own suffering ,
“Cancer and chronic pain remain ugly things, but the enterprise of living with them is not an ugly thing.”
This strikes me as close to reality. The “enterprise of living” with pain, disappointment and tragedy is not by definition a bad thing, though the pain itself is notably convincing to the contrary. Is misery as much a self-chosen mantle as joy and hopefulness then? Is a profound worldview change as simple as a deliberate series of choices? I figure if I got myself here somehow, then somehow there is a way out.
A New York Times article by a woman married 20 years to hear her husband say one day, “I don’t love you anymore.” Her completely unexpected response here. Worth the full read.
It’s not that I haven’t been thinking. I just haven’t been writing it down and sharing it with you. Of course of the two it’s the first part that’s more difficult.
I had several paragraphs following that one just now, which WordPress and Chrome swallowed whole with no remorse as soon as I hit “publish”. WTF. Note to self: don’t blog in Chrome.
So now all you have to read is this, because I am going home from work. It’s raining and cold.
On the one hand it feels like faith and spirituality have been in the forefront of my mind recently, as though my awareness is heightened and my expectation for something, somewhere, is growing. On the other hand, I am not thinking about it – that is, I have no new thoughts on the matter. Or many thoughts at all. I am not pondering the nature of God, I am not reassessing my value system or deconstructing my cultural mores. Mostly I am just being, just inhabiting the strange space that is my life in Cincinnati, with its many wonderful components and its several frustrating aspects, but which for once has lately been uncontested by outside stressors – pending or recent births, moves, job changes, church hops, or financial crises. Well, ok, I can’t entirely rule the last one out, but it’s not stressing me at the time of this writing.
I suppose it’s my nature in this void of sorts to look for other things to stress over – parenting, my performance at my job, my inadequacies as a husband, father or friend. But in reality nothing is wrong with life right now. In this welcome lack of inner turmoil I have found myself instead looking at my forward boundaries in the arenas of friendship, spirituality and even finances, and musing on ways to advance them. Actually this most often becomes a general mushed up feeling of desire rather than any actual plans, since I can usually convince myself fairly quickly that I don’t know what I’m doing.
This blog often reads like a journal more than a series of essays on topics, something I think a good blog in part should be. If you don’t know me and you have read this far, send me an email and we can have coffee next time I’m in your neighborhood. I have occasionally toyed with the idea of writing more formal posts in a systematic way – music reviews or apologetical topics, for example. Apologetics is a strange and uniquely Christianese word, by the way – it makes it sound like we have to say we’re sorry to the rest of the world for the things we believe. In any case, as with all worthy ventures in life, making the time for more systematic posting is the hardest part. Most of my posts are fired off in between renders at the office or compiled over a period of several days as I find time to steal for them. (Now that’s apologetics. Or just bad excuses.)
And if you’ve forgotten what the subject of this particular post is, well then I told you so.
From Jonathan Brink‘s “Chaos vs. Order”:
There is something about order that seems to feel right, at least in principle. Order implies the world is working right, that things are aligning and people aren’t hurting each other. …Yet for some reason God doesn’t choose to establish a controlled order in the universe. He allows chaos… He could have assumed control and brought order to the world. But to do so would be to go against love.
…The sad thing is, it’s just easier to live in control than it is in love. It’s just easier to establish a law that keeps you from stealing from me than it is to practice and teach love, which accomplishes the same measure by choice.
A quote I ran across from John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man:
The system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary; that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation.
From “A Clean Shot” by my latest favorite band, The Myriad:
I would die to be your lover lost at sea
And I’d fly to hear your arid sirening
And I’d scream “My love!” through bloody hurricanes
Would you say so if you thought of me?
And would it crush you if you saw me bleed?
And would you dance the same if you knew that I could see?
Do you feel the same for me?
Remy the rat was told he was BORN a certain way… into a certain time, place, and culture, and he must accept this as his reality and truth. At on point Remy says “No. Dad, I don’t believe it. You’re telling me that the future is – can only be – more of this?” His father says “This is the way things are; you can’t change nature.”
Can our nature be changed? If we are rats on this ship called life… trapped in a sociopolitical situation like Hindus in the untouchable caste, or genetically predisposed a certain direction – are we locked into that? Is our identity FIXED? Is our destiny dictated by our birth and/or environment?
The message of Ratatouille is NO – it CAN be changed… and there IS hope.
And for whatever reason, the first stanza penned by Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
And finally, the fact that Kirk Cameron never takes his wedding ring off or kisses another actress not his wife. Cute, perhaps, or stubbornly moralistic of him, especially given the realm of moviemaking he inhabits these days. I find it admirable however, because if it were me, I don’t think I could do any differently.