Thursday, July 01, 2004

The difficulty of embracing others

Found out recently that a priest who I'd known in high school was accused of sexual abuse of a teen. I was floored. I always had great respect for him. He was very kind, and went out of his way to help me. He never engaged in anything even remotely inappropriate in my presence-- he did hug me on occasion, usually when I was clearly either crying or near tears. I saw that as entirely appropriate.

Here's my question: can good people have weaknesses? Can otherwise good people engage in reprehensible behavior? Does one behavior (or series of behaviors) nullify any and all goodness in a person's life? Here's a less extreme example: Can someone whose politics we disagree with be a decent parent or spouse? Are we justified in completely "writing off" people whose behaviors or ideas we find reprehensible? Isn't it difficult to consider a political figure with whom we usually disagree and feel anything remotely resembling love? [insert the name of your least favorite pundit here, and try it yourself] How about the other people in your life that you find "offensive" or incompetent or disgusting or...

I'm struck by the outrage expressed toward priests who've gone astray in this way. Don't get me wrong, I'm not apologizing for their actions. Preying upon those who should be able to trust you is wicked, should be prevented when possible, and punished when discovered.

But where does Christian forgiveness fit in? I think we need to separate understanding a behavior from condoning it. Can we try to understand what might lead someone to commit such acts, even though we don't condone them? And can we move beyond "these people are evil and vile" as an explanation? Is it possible to love them, even as we despise what they've done? This one is trickier: can we move beyond theoretical "love," and appreciate any part of their being once they are "outed"? Is it possible that they have done good and worthy things in their lives?

Back to my less extreme example... if you dislike a particular radio talkshow host, is it possible that s/he has good things to contribute to the world? Can they be a good Christian? Parent? Human being? I find most people are polarized; once they determine that they dislike someone's politics, they become cynical about that person. Period. Seems a bit like passing final judgment, doesn't it? A bit like using "mental ad hominem attacks" when they come in contact with the person in question. Not too productive, and I'd hazard, not too Christian.

I suppose one could start a sort of "Hall of Fame" for the kinds of people who are hardest to love; these folks would be charter members. Christ anticipated this difficulty when he said, quite succinctly: "Love your enemies." This kind of love is harder for some than others; those who have been victimized themselves will clearly struggle in this regard. But I KNOW that God is aware of that, and understands. Nonetheless, even as a general proposition, it seems almost shocking to suggest that we should approach these folks with an attitude of Christian love-- but I don't think it is. I believe it is expression of Christian love at its best. If we can love sex offenders, especially who abuse the powers of their office as part of the offense, we are clearly listening to a voice that does not eminate from within ourselves. That is a healthy thing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Painful Truth about Gongs

I read this comment just now on YBMT?. It is extremely painful to read, but I simply could not agree more.

"I knew if I brought an outsider into the church, they would immediately see through the facade of people "acting out a role". It seems that we're blinded to it until we are provided with this revelation of "reality". WAKE UP, CHUMP... SEE THINGS FOR WHAT THEY REALLY ARE!!! What a blast of cold air in the face that was for me! A bunch of people, acting out their role, putting themselves through the motions of religious obligation. Hating it, but pretending they love it (because it's the proper thing to do, so they think).

My son never liked going to church. Sometimes, I think our youth have an advantage over us because they have the maturity to recognize reality, but still hold on to some of their childlike innocence. What a combination for "truth discerning". In his mid teens, whenever we could get him to come to church with us, he was always polite about discussing it afterwards, but when pressed, he would reluctantly tell us that the church was a bunch of phonies and hypocrites. His thinking pained me for many years, but looking back on it, I see that he was right. It was simply a lot of "play-acting" to look good for God."

Couple this with Fr. Jake's recent queries about why we seem to ignore Christ's rather direct commandment to care for others, especially the poor... We do seem rather phony, I think. Reality is a difficult pill to swallow at times.

I guess I'd temper this reaction with an acknowledgement (apology?) that many of the folks in institutional churches mean well, and are genuinely nice people. They just need to be shaken out of their slumber. I don't think that getting dressed up and parking one's butt in a pew every Sunday means much to God... not unless it is coupled with a meaningful change in one's life-- and especially one's approach toward others. Otherwise, we are nothing but noisy gongs (1 Cor 13:1).

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"Around the horn..."

Some interesting things to ponder from the blogosphere… the are plenty of folks doing some excellent writing about the nature of faith and the world around us. So much to read, so little time.

Jimmy Carter is still sounding more wise and presidential than anything else that has come down the pike in the last 25 years. Found this via a post at the Gutless Pacifist.

The Faithful Skeptic considers democracy in Iraq, and includes a link to a Stanley Hauerwas interview. This is an incredible blog… truly good stuff to be found there. In another powerful post, the relationship between poverty and violence is given thoughtful treatment.

Chuck Currie considers the separation of church and state. This is again an excellent treatment of a dicey issue. He includes substantial text from the United Methodist statement on social responsibility, as well as text from a sermon Martin Luther King, Jr. gave on the relationship between faith and his political endeavors.

Richard at connexions recently blogged about the fact that we seem to need enemies, real or manufactured. A bit hard to argue that one. This simply isn’t part of political discourse—but should be. (And just as an aside, I love those Wesleyan hymns that he posts! I like seeing them as text.) WAIT! I just plundered Richard's archive a bit more... THIS has to be one of the best things I've read lately (yeah, I know it is stale news. Sorry!). Richard posted about this here.

Fr. Jake considers the relevance of the Bible to economics—capitalism in particular. Extremely thought-provoking, as are several other recent posts on his blog (check on the one on loneliness as well, while you are there). This post on capitalism really has me thinking...

Monday, June 28, 2004

Monday musings

Does anyone else feel completely used by both terrorists and the media when we see media coverage of terrorist events? I suspect that networks LOVE to have their "live breaking news" coverage that attracts viewers; the reporters all seem to be experiencing quite an adrenaline rush. And terrorists of course love the attention. I'd mused in a previous post about what we could do... what if all of us organized and decided that when such coverage starts we will turn off the television and avoid the sensationalism? What if we collectively convinced the media that we don't want to inadvertently encourage terrorism any more by providing a platform and audience? What would the terrorists do if they really believed that people weren't going to be following their acts?

If we think "sure, this would probably work," how could one get the ball rolling in a grassroots sort of way, to band together? Could the Internet play a roll? Blogs?

Is this our duty as a Christian? If we do NOT, are we unwitting (well, "witting" now that I've called your attention to it)participants in acts of violence? How much of our interest in such coverage is concern, and how much is the "slow down to take a look while passing an accident scene" voyeurism?