Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Much has been written in social media and news outlets on the subject of George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis Police.  What I want to discuss here are the broader related topics that permeate our culture in the United States of America and how we Christians living as the “fragrance of Christ” to the world might offer hope.

While I appreciate reading the varied perspectives currently peppered throughout social media, what seems to be missing is mutual respect for people regardless of their ethnicity or position on the topic being discussed.  I suppose that could be said for social media at large; but if reconciliation is truly the goal, every perspective represented must initially be treated as valid, even if it is incorrect, because it is based on that individual’s experience, learning, psychology, suffering, nurturing, etc.  Disagreement, even vehement opposition, is not legitimate grounds for mocking or silencing those perspectives.  Growth in someone’s perspective and understanding has never been accomplished by wielding inflammatory labels or a dismissive or insulting posture against them.  Engagement, active listening, respect, and dignity must be exhibited by all parties if growth is to be realized; and growth almost always occurs simultaneously to varying degrees in all parties who are willing.

While it is certainly true there remains inequity in the social systems of the USA, and that this inequity, combined with violent dispositions of human beings, frequently results in harm or death, I honestly don’t see how we emerge from this present agony closer to a healed, reconciled society while engagement and listening are minimized and provocative labels and terminology continue to be used.  Despite the persuasive and energetic arguments from those passionate about these topics that have recently produced pithy terms like “white privilege” to describe the inequity, this does injustice to the spiritual and psychological reality of human existence.  As a Christian, I believe from reading God’s word in the Bible that each human being, no matter how repulsive their actions, bears God’s image, no matter how obscured. Modern science and psychology have revealed that every single person is a complex being, not just those we agree with or like or find tolerable. Every person has intrinsic value, not only those we endorse or are in relationship with.  Every person is capable – indeed, desperately needy – of giving and receiving love, even and especially those it is so easy to categorize into binary terms or a meme because of a few words uttered in frustration, or foolish mistakes made or even acts of ignorance, violence or atrocity.

I must honestly ask myself: What is my interest here? What am I seeking?  If the answer is justice, my vision is very short-sighted and inadequate.  Pure justice is not enough, because pure justice can only be applied equally to all, and I must evaluate whether I truly want that for myself before answering too quickly.  Pure justice is mathematical; it does away with mercy.  I find it much too easy to cry for justice for others who offend and then plead for mercy and grace for myself.

I believe we must not put our hope for a healthier society merely in disruption, assuming we’ll somehow be at least a little better on the other side. This is fantasy. We also must resist joining the world’s urgent efforts to find some blamable symbol or person or group of people or political leader, all from a desire to discover a simple, rational explanation and solution.  This denies all we have learned of the complexity of human spirituality, psychology, emotion and reason.  There is certainly legitimate anger, confusion and scrutiny that arises when a person is flagrantly mistreated, even to death (especially by those in the role of protector) and the visual capture of that event is available to watch over and over.  Imagery is so powerful because it instantly shapes perception.  Visually observing one shocking, horrifying action gives birth to interpretation and then forms a knowledge, the imagery cemented in our minds as the truth of the event.  It’s not easy but it is simple, manageable.  Unfortunately, I have to admit, I’ve seen many things in my life and formed many opinions and passed many judgements on actions I wasn’t present for, words I didn’t hear and, worst of all, people I don’t know. And I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right. Each of us is susceptible to my error, especially when we are immersed in the kind of outrage erupting right now.  To deny that susceptibility is to choose arrogance and illusion.

Our grieving process as a society has been re-ignited, and that process is an essential prerequisite for true healing and reconciliation, but it does not constitute those.  Rage, additional violence, hatred, vengeance – though all are understandable, none of these bring healing but rather guarantee more suffering, agony, loss and division, pushing us all further from what we claim is our goal. Without dialogue filled with the humility to accept that we may not actually know enough about another human being to categorize their value and true nature, I fear we will circle in the grief, oddly savoring the pain, and curdling it until it is hardened and our society’s mindset is trapped, growth stunted once more until the next horrible act of violence to be visually captured goes viral.  This is an opportunity to breathe love and grace into pain and sadness.  We must keep the eyes of our hearts on the prize we seek:  reconciliation and healing.  The restoration of all human beings to each other and God, in the name of Jesus Christ and his love for the world.  That is where abundant hope waits to sooth our grief.

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Gratitude feels like a lie when I’m suffering or struggling.  Remembering reasons to be thankful during trouble and hard times can be tough, because it sort of rubs across the grain of my expectations, my silently but dearly held belief that when circumstances are pleasant, God is loving me, and when they are miserable, he is angry with me.  I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in carrying it.

I suspect this concealed belief hides inside my selfishness and self-centeredness.  The “me sin”, encouraging me to turn thoughts, events, conversations and even prayers toward what I want, what I feel I deserve, what I’ve decided I’m entitled to, though I’d rarely describe it so explicitly.  After all, would anyone claim that self-centerdness is a virtue?

That’s really the heart of it, right?  We all already know that demanding our own way, insisting on what we want regardless of the consequences, is not good.  That’s certainly not how we want people to interact with us.  So how do I get from here to there; from selfish thinking to thankfulness?

I believe it begins by acknowledging that, while my needs and suffering are sharply real, I am not alone, or even the worst.  In fact, everyone, every human being alive and who has ever lived has suffered.  No matter what has happened in my life, I share it with many, although it can often appear that others are not suffering as much or even at all.  This is the birthplace, I suspect, of the belief that I’m entitled to a better life than what I have – when I look around at others and their experiences (of which I’m usually more ignorant than I realize), I set out to use their apparent lack of pain and worry as justification for resisting, even rejecting the idea of being grateful.  Grateful for what?  My pain?  That I don’t have their life, their freedom, their wealth, their family, etc.?  No.  Grateful for those I do have in my life, no matter how few or how many.  Grateful for any relationship, no matter how distant.  Grateful for forgiveness of my selfishness and the many foolish, even mean-spirited, words and actions I’ve expressed.  Grateful for the ability and freedom to even share these thoughts with whomever is willing to consider them.  Grateful for shelter, heat and food, whatever form they take, be it a cozy home or blankets and just enough food for the moment.

See, that’s the secret of being thankful.  It isn’t borne in having the right things, or having what others have; it’s borne in recognizing there is always another person who doesn’t have what you have, doesn’t know what you know, or is suffering more intensely.  Thankfulness comes from discovering I am not alone, no matter my circumstances, because when all else is lost, when all others have abandoned me intentionally or otherwise, the one who created me and gave up everything he was entitled so that I could live and enjoy his indestructible goodness and riches forever is still there, loving me and ready to listen.

I pray you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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