Archive for June, 2015

We continue. I can imagine the Scholar sitting there, amidst the other folks gathered around. His face, I think, reflects his being perplexed – perhaps it reflects ‘disturbance’ for he is ‘waking up’ or at least he is having a moment of being awake and aware (such moments we know can be quite disturbing). The teacher smiles the gentle smile of the wise and asks the Scholar: ‘So, who is the neighbor in the story?’ I can see the Scholar pausing, taking a breath or two, and then replying: ‘The person who helped the man in the ditch.’ To give us an idea of how difficult this was for the Scholar he could not even ‘name’ the helper (in this case a vile Samaritan). For us today, it might be that we could not ‘name’ the Muslim, or the Fundamentalist, or the African American or the Hispanic or the Homeless person or the Homosexual or the illegal immigrant or the . . . [gentle reader, I believe you get my idea].

Consider this: We define our neighbor by our love, by our compassion, by our empathy, by the depth of our caring. WE DEFINE OUR NEIGHBOR! By certain attitudes and actions we ‘name’ who is our neighbor. This is our gift, this ‘naming’ rooted in specific attitudes which are then reflected in specific actions.

I don’t first define a certain class of people and then choose my neighbor(s) from this group – leaving the rest to lie where they will (wounded in the ditch, for example). The great Teacher did not accept the question: ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The great Teacher presented us with a more powerful – and frequently more disturbing question – ‘To whom will I be a neighbor?’

As I reflect upon this second question it seems to me that I am able to respond to it only person-to-person and situation-by-situation. As I sit here this morning I am not able to know who might be my neighbor today. Nor do I know whether I will respond to the opportunity when it emerges; perhaps I will be asleep and not recognize the opportunity or perhaps I will be so busy that I will not notice or perhaps I will be so self-absorbed that I will not notice. It could be that the ‘priest’ and the ‘learned man’ did not even ‘see’ the wounded man in the ditch for they were not awake and aware – they were not seeking a neighbor nor were they seeking to be a good neighbor.

The condition of my heart will determine whether I have the ‘courage’ to ‘see’ and then ‘respond with love, compassion, empathy and care’ so that I become a good neighbor. It helps me to remember that ‘courage’ comes from the Old French ‘cuer’ which means ‘heart.’ This is truly a matter of my ‘heart.’

Today the Teacher might tell us, in our culture, the story of the good Muslim, or the good Illegal Immigrant, or the good Homosexual, or the good Hispanic or the good African American, or the good Abortion Doctor or the good Atheist, or the good Christian Fundamentalist or the good. . . (once again, gentle reader, you can fill in the name).

Will I have the heart, the courage, to be a neighbor today?

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We concluded Part I with the Scholar asking a crucial question: ‘Who is MY Neighbor?’ The Teacher, like many great teachers, responds to the question by telling a story – a teaching story, a parable.

There was a man who was traveling from a holy city to another city. Somewhere along the way a group of ‘ne’er do wells’ accosted him, beat him to a pulp, robbed him and left him in a ditch to die. A bit later a ‘priest’ (read Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Imam, Guru, ‘Holy Person’) came along. He had recently left the holy city after seeking ‘purification’ and he was traveling home, full of himself if not full of grace. He noticed the man in the ditch but not wanting to become ‘impure’ again he self-righteously and guilt-free passed him by. A bit later a learned man (think attorney, professor, ‘a person of letters,’ – that is, a smart person, not a mail man) was traveling along and he also noticed the man in the ditch. He too passed by – he was already late for a lecture – by the by, his topic was ‘compassion.’

The man in the ditch was now in more than a spot of bother. As he struggled to hang on to what little life he had left he noticed a third man approaching. This man also noticed the guy in the ditch. He immediately stopped. Grabbed his animal skin that was full of water and rushed to the man in the ditch. He spent some time tending to the man’s wounds. He then helped the man out of the ditch and placed him on his pack-animal. The traveler knew of an inn close by and so he took the wounded man to the inn.

As they were traveling along, the wounded man began to notice that the man who was helping him was one of ‘those types’ that he and his kind judged to be ‘unworthy’ or ‘impure’ or ‘outcasts’ or ‘evil incarnate,’ perhaps even ‘sub-human’ – anything but ‘holy.’ Although barely conscious, the wounded man also knew that the ‘stranger’ knew his ‘type.’ This knowledge confused the wounded man – ‘Why would this guy help me? He knows I despise his kind.’ His mind was ajar with another thought: ‘Why did the ‘holy man’ and the ‘learned man’ pass me by; I know they saw me.’ Both questions held their place in the wounded man’s mind, heart and soul.

They arrived at the inn. The ‘stranger’ obtained a room and for the next two days he tended to the wounded man. On the third day the ‘stranger’ had to travel on. He knew the inn keeper and in addition to paying his current bill he gave the inn keeper more money and told him to look after the wounded man – ‘I will pass by in a few days and settle up with you then.’

So, gentle reader, before we continue next time, I leave you with this question: ‘If you found yourself beat up (physically, emotionally, spiritually) and lying in a ditch struggling to hang on who is the LAST PERSON in the world that you would want to come along to help minister to your wounds? Would it be the ‘religious fundamentalist’ or the person of a different ‘humor’ (the gay, lesbian, etc.); would it be the person of a different race or of a different ethnic origin; would it be the homeless person, would it be the. . . ? [Most of us can fill in the blank here].

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When I was 18 I participated in a ten day silent retreat; this retreat was held in a monastery. The retreat focused on ‘teaching stories’ – that is, ‘parables.’ The monks drew upon teaching stories from many traditions and cultures. Each day we were told three stories; one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. After each story we were invited to reflect upon the story and write all that emerged for us during our reflection.

As a result of my ten days of silence and reflection I received a number of gifts. One gift was the gift of reflection. One gift was the gift of reflective writing. One gift was that I became ‘hooked’ on teaching stories. Since then I have continued to seek out and read and reflect upon teaching stories from many traditions and cultures (in previous postings I have shared a few of these teaching stories with you, gentle reader). For thousands of years we humans have been ‘taught’ via teaching stories. Sadly, there are few venues available to us in our culture where we can go and immerse ourselves in teaching stories.

One of the great teaching stories emerged in response to a question: ‘Who is my neighbor.’ I have had the privilege of spending time with folks from many cultures and I also have had the privilege of sharing a variety of teaching stories with these folks (and learning some new stories from them). One of the stories that resonated with each culture or tradition was the story told in response to the question ‘Who is my neighbor?’

The story I tell occurs in the Christian Gospel of Luke (what amazed me was the number of ‘non-Christians’ that knew this story). A powerful teaching story ‘speaks’ to all of us – and this story is one that continues to speak to us.

The teacher was a Jewish rabbi (that is, ‘teacher’). The teacher had been talking about ‘eternal life.’ A Scholar (that is, a ‘learned man’) asked: ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Like all great teachers, this one reflected the question back to the person by asking: ‘What is written in the law? What is your understanding of it?’ I can see the look on the Scholar’s face – he was not ready for this response. But he did know the ‘law’ and so he replied with a version of the ‘Golden Rule’ (the version that was rooted in his faith tradition). By the by, as I noted in a previous posting, the ‘Golden Rule’ appears in many, many faith and philosophical traditions – traditions that go back for thousands of years. It has, as we say, staying power.

The Golden Rule says: ‘Do unto your neighbor as you would have him/her do unto you.’ Simple enough. However, the Scholar was not satisfied and so he pushed his inquiry with: ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The teacher’s response was to tell a story (a common response to certain inquires by all great teachers for thousands of years was to tell a story).

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Recently my friend George reminded me of the self-violence called resentment. Resentment is a popular form of self-violence. For some, it is a favorite form of self-violence. Resentment and I are old friends. He is always waiting patiently just off the center stage of my life. If I turn my head just a bit to the right I can see him standing there, full of patience and energy waiting for his cue to move to center stage and take over the play that is my life. He is not grinning; actually he looks a bit stoic. I have always found it ironic as to how much patience resentment demonstrates – I guess his patience comes with knowing that I will indeed be calling him to join me on center stage. He doesn’t seem to care ‘when’ I will call him – he is just secure in the knowledge that I will do so.

Webster is helpful when it comes to defining resentment. Resentment = a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury. I have nurtured, grown and sustained resentment in response to a judgment about another that has ‘wronged me.’ More often I have nurtured, grown and sustained resentment in response to a judgment I have made about myself. When I am awake and aware I can feel the weight of resentment crushing my spirit, my heart, and my soul. When I am honest with myself I admit that being resent-full feels really good! On the other hand, living with resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other guy to get sick. I have never known anyone but myself to become dis-eased because of my resentment.

There is an antidote: Forgiveness. For me, it is not the ‘other’ that I have to forgive – the ‘other’ probably has no sense of my being resent-full (here I am speaking of the resentment I have carried for decades). Even for folks more recently in my life who have ‘wronged me, or who have ‘insulted me’ or who have ‘injured me’ my being resent-full does not seem to harm them. As Robert K. Greenleaf reminded us, over and over again, it ‘begins in here – not out there.’

Am I willing to forgive myself for nurturing, growing and sustaining resentment? Now, as I turn my head and look at resentment standing just off center stage I can see him smiling – not a smirk, but the smile that comes with someone who knows the answer (thus far in my life anyway). Resentment is sure of himself and he is sure of me. I can hear his words: ‘I am too important in your life; you have integrated me into your very being. You are not going to cast me aside.’ Forgiveness is not easy and self-forgiveness is perhaps the most difficult thing to embrace.

A therapist once asked me: ‘Do you believe that God forgives you?’ I responded with a hearty ‘YES!’ The therapist paused, then continued: ‘So, you believe you are greater than God!’ ‘God forgives you AND you refuse to forgive yourself!’ Self-forgiveness can be, at minimum, a challenge for some (I am one of the ‘for some’). For me, regarding resentment, it means that in forgiving myself I will have to no longer call resentment to move from off-stage to center-stage. I will have to let go of the pleasure of being resent-full. For me, I will also have to let go of other feelings like self-pity and self-disparagement.

Henri Nouwen offers me some guidance when he writes: Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.

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From 2000-2002 two world views and two different goals emerged. The first is still struggling to remain alive, the second continues to generate grave unintended consequences.

The first was offered to the world in 2000 by the United Nations. It is titled: ‘Millennium Development Goals.’ There are eight goals contained in the document:
1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. To achieve universal primary education
3. To promote gender equality
4. To reduce child mortality
5. To improve maternal health
6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. To ensure environmental sustainability
8. To develop a global partnership for development

The second was offered to the world in 2002 by our Administration and is captured in what it called the ‘Project for a New American Century.’ There were/are three primary goals contained in this offer:
1. The war on terrorism
2. The preservation of our economic prosperity and the American way of life
3. The promotion of freedom around the world

On the surface these three goals seem to be clear and important. However, here are three statements contained within the document that continue to contribute to the grave unintended consequences:
The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism.
• While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists.
• Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.

When we attempted to put these into action the majority of nations in the world refused to cooperate. These nations more often than not believed (continue to believe?) that an ultimate goal of the U.S. is the preservation of a ‘privileged American way of life’ rather than spreading prosperity or ‘freedom’ to the rest of the world. Such preservation requires strong forces – military, political and economic.

The U.S. focused her energies on the threat of terrorism, not on its causes. Are we still holding such a focus today?

An unintended consequence of this policy is that today there are more terrorists today. Our allies are more resistant to this policy than ever before. We are, too often, in it alone. The war on terrorism – like the war on drugs – continues to go on and on. For whatever reasons, we focus on the ‘war’ not on eradicating the ‘causes.’

The United Nations ‘Development Goals’ offer all of us a potential solution – and this solution will require a critical mass of nations to join in. The question I hold: When will we choose to join in?’

Martin Luther King, Jr. noted the need for this join effort; he wrote: ‘This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is really a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all humankind.’

For the ‘People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians, Muslims) God provided us an ‘out’ (and a challenge): they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid. . .’ [Mic.4:3-4]

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