Saturday, July 30, 2011

What a fool I was, what a dominated fool

I ran into an older gentleman a few days ago who knew me from my previous time in Portland, 1977-86. “You were that wild guy,” he said. That’s not at all how I remember myself, of course, so why he would have remembered me that way? As our memories become more distant, often enough, we gain perspective on who we are and are becoming and how far we still have to go. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” So says Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard.

What a shame. How much easier and less embarrassing it would be the other way around. If only true understanding preceded behavior! In my early twenties, for example, I was convinced of my own infallibility. Whatever I might do, think or say was absolutely correct, because I possessed absolute wisdom. I had little tolerance for people with differing points of view. I knew I was right.

Such rubbish! With today’s better understanding of the whole, what I know best now about my twenties is that I didn’t know much. I can see, understand and repent the arrogance of the past, yet I also know that today is tomorrow’s past. Will I also be embarrassed then by what I am convinced of now? Yes and no, I think. Now I know what a self-righteous fool I was then and still can be. But as time goes on, I become less and less convinced of my own infallibility, so my embarrassment about the immediate past lessens. Instead of thinking myself a fool then through my insights now, I know to expect to see mistakes as I look back. But I have grown in accepting that I am not the perfection I used to think I was. So instead of focusing on my embarrassment and hating who I was then, I can admit that I was wrong a lot sooner, and then focus on how to live now.

It is not that we become less certain of ourselves. It is that we become more humble, living the present while knowing it and the past are only part of life’s journey. We acknowledge that we are still on our way. We accept that we are still becoming our true selves: the image and likeness of God. We reconcile the past are then able more quickly to see our signposts into the future. And I am not sure that I could have known all this in my twenties and saved others and myself from experiencing the pain of who I was then. Probably not. Still, I am sorry, and I move on.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Emerging Realities

Stunning. Absolutely stunning. That’s what they would call their yacht, and I would agree with them completely. But we would each be using the word differently. You do not have to work for the poor to be stunned by the fact that someone just had a $4.5 billon dollar private yacht built for himself or herself. It is half gold, half platinum with amenities that make one wonder why they don’t just stay home, if they need all that stuff with them wherever they go.

I could not have been more stunned if I had been tasered to learn not only that such a thing could be made functional, but that someone would actually have it made. Why? Forget what 4.5 billion dollars could do in the world. Forget the difference it would make in the lives of those who don’t even have shelter, much less a rowboat. The first reaction is a question: “Why?”

I spent a week recently painting our kitchen cabinets and counter because they needed freshening up and each attempt to clean them made them look worse. So I bought $20 worth of paint, and felt a twinge of guilt. Who would I—who would you have to be to not feel even the slightest twinge having such a yacht? Who does someone have to be to be comfortable having a yacht worth even a mere billion in a world where the only reason anyone goes hungry is not lack of food but inequitable distribution?

I don’t know. If I did, perhaps that is who I would be. I do not think it is unfairly judgmental to say such a person might not have a soul, or such a person could not possibly profess any of our beliefs related to communion and service. But where should one draw the line? A million? One hundred thousand? Having a yacht at all?

The parish is getting a vehicle to help with all of the pick up and delivery and getting here and there that we do. I looked at one today that really fits the bill. It is within the budget we had set for the purpose. It is not made of gold and platinum. But the standard package includes such necessities as illuminated cup holders and an auto dimming rear view mirror with compass. And did I mention the camera to see what’s behind when backing up? Nice. But necessary? I guess so, since it cannot be bought without those amenities and even more.

It is not reality that demands that such things be standard. It is us. No manufacturer would make such things commonplace if consumers had not demanded them. So where do we draw the line? Will we expect our transportation to come standard with automatic pilot before we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and so on? Will we first need our gold and platinum yacht? Who are we becoming?