Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recognizing connections

Well, I did not succeed in presenting my third petal without a bunch of Biblical terms. That's because I wanted to couch the expression in historical categories - like those intuited by the human animal as words were invented for them: so perfection, completeness, holiness, purity - why am I not pure? holy? complete? or perfect? For I am definitely not. Note I do not concur with the phrase 'total depravity' or the like. I make no appeal to 'original sin' - rather I would suggest original responsibility and a true but limited depravity that is a result of misunderstanding what is good. It cannot be 'total' or there is no appeal to responsibility. God cannot be unknown or the human bootstrap program will fail.

Now to the fourth petal. Discerning the other. Do I dare listen to those who are different from me, even those who in some measure might be seen as beyond the pale?

I am not sufficient unto myself. I exist only in community. Nothing that I am is knowable except as it is related to others. This includes my language, my culture, my biases and my beliefs. Even the relationships that I am found in are only known in relationship to other groups that I am not in. There is no escaping relations.

Nothing that I can say can be said without the contextual assumptions that are within my culture. Yet if I stick only with such parochial views, I am still stuck in a failure to see that which is truly other than me, my group, my cultural assumptions and so on. Not, mind you, that I accept or condone some other aspects of the other, whether within my own group or outside of it.

Nonetheless, I am connected, whether I am in or whether I am out. Even my being out is defined by relationship.

I am also connections. I am an assembly of microbes, all of which are essential to my life: there are 100 trillion bacterial cells living on and within our bodies, 10 times the number of human cells that comprise ‘us’. How can I think of myself as if I were an individual? Can you imagine yourself as so dependent on microbes? A full-blown ecosystem, run by domesticated bacteria called mitochondria?

Why then should we love our neighbour as ourselves? Why should we love our enemy and do good to those who hate us? Who is this neighbour who along with us is ruining the very space we are together inhabiting? Who is this enemy who stands against all we hold dear? All that we value?

On the micro level, if our own members war within us, we get sick and die? On the macro scale, we labour to eliminate our enemies and control our environment for our own sakes.

Think of some examples.

Do I blame / do I relate to an industrial catastrophe? Like the pesticide spill in Bophal, India? It is not hard to imagine my inadvertent complicity in the industry that supports my own desire for a pest-free garden? But having learned of such things, do I approve - e.g. more recently, of the awful working conditions in sweat shops for clothing around the world? I visited such a sweat shop in the 1970s in Toronto! I could see right away that there was no trust between worker and management - only dependency and exploitation.

The problems were not far away and I was in the middle of them. In those days, the exploited were refugees from Czechoslovakia.

What about kleptocrats and Russian gangsters today?  I do not approve of course, but I question whether economic factors alone can fix such a situation as we find in Ukraine today. They will change it, but not fix it. How does a bad relationship get fixed? And of course this one is beyond my immediate power or influence.

Here are some less bad examples - even good ones: Johnson Thomaskutty is an Indian preacher who is part of this conference in Pakistan,
The 2014 Church of God [its international headquarters in Anderson, Indiana, USA] Convention held at The Church of God Mission Compound, Lalmanirhat, Bangladesh, was a rich experience for the organizers and the participants alike. The convention was inaugurated by The Honorable District Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Habibur Rahman. A Muslim by birth and practice, the District Deputy Commissioner keeps a solemn relationship with the Church of God Missions in Bangladesh. The festival was convened from 24 to 26 April 2014. There were about 700 delegates (including children), mostly from sixty-eight rural Bangladeshi churches, gathered during this great event. The meetings were blessed by the presence of youths and office staff from Dhaka (Senpara), Lalmanirhat, Kaunia, and Kakina. The general theme of the conference was “Let Your Light Shine!” based on Matthew 5:16.  
This conference focused on "Love Your God, Love Your Church, Love to Give, and Love Your Family". There are several groups in this example, circles within circles, places to learn love. Love, of course, the ultimate connector, cannot be used to promote disaster. Ultimately it will call greed to account, even if it takes a lot of time.

Or consider the space between. I will do my own translation of this phrase: Deuteronomy 1:16
שָׁמֹ֤עַ בֵּין־אֲחֵיכֶם֙
וּשְׁפַטְתֶ֣ם צֶ֔דֶק בֵּין־אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵין־אָחִ֖יו
וּבֵ֥ין גֵּרוֹ
Hear between your kin
and judge rightly between anyone and your kin
and between anyone and the other among you.

You may begin with family, but must not neglect responsibility for right judgment with anyone including the foreigner (guest, sojourner) which I have rendered 'the other'. The white fire is as critical as the black fire. We never learned this easily. I recall the bullies I sensed when I was 50 years younger. Avoidance was my technique, not resolution. And the abuser? There was no escape for a child. And I might add, there was no good advice either and a lot of poor training in strength. The word 'sinner' was not applied to the ones who held the reins of power.

One could multiply examples, but it is not for our own understanding or abstraction. What is first of all important is how we act or not with the situations we find ourselves in. How do we learn to respond in love to what may be hateful to us, to inferred motivations, that we might learn to see responsibility in others, and our interconnectedness?

With David, however, I will not allow myself to take responsibility for actions that are not my doing. See Psalm 7:5-6. But I will admit my fault when it is required. Consider Psalm 6.

Why does consideration of 'the other' ultimately lead me back to responsibility for the brokenness of relationship that I see in the world? I am clearly not coming up with a simple answer to my questions. Perhaps the fifth and final in this series, maturing, will help. Perhaps the clue will be both in a corporate and an individual maturing, a coming to the fullness of humanity that we are called to.