“To die for a religion is simpler than living that religion fully; battling savage beasts in Ephesus is less difficult (thousands of martyrs did it) than being Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ; a single act is quicker than all the hours of a man. The battle and the glory are easy…The coward proves himself among swords; the merciful man, the compassionate man, seeks to be tested by jails and other’s pain.” – Jorge Luis Borges
I like this quote because I get to put on the compassionate man of the year sticker. I like it up until the end where things involve other people’s pain. Some of those other people are assholes and I would prefer to see them not as fellow sufferers, but the undeserving opposition. I like my life with only my pain please because at least I can convince myself on good days that my pain is easily manageable (a beer or 2 should do the trick). The pain of other people tends to involve long silences and really uncomfortable questions from people that I don’t understand because I never bothered trying to understand them. I like the easy convenience of assuming that if I disagree with someone or don’t like them, it’s because they are bad and I am good. Easy-Peezy.
This is one of the primary sticking points where Jesus keeps ruining the life that I am theoretically trying to make more awesome.
The first among you shall be the last is bad marathon-running advice. It’s bad business advice. It’s bad advice in the advent of a stampede. It’s terrible advice unless maybe my conception of winning happens to be really shitty and remarkably short-sighted. There’s also a teeny tiny chance that the country that I live in has a few really poisonous conceptions of what winning looks like. So maybe I’m confused. Just maybe…
I mostly think that I hate it because I have this thing where I feel really good when I am just nailing life to the wall. I like that feel-good thing. That kicking ass and taking names thing. The fastest route to get there seems to be comparison to other people in the categories that I feel super comfortable using. However, the older I get the lower the winning meter seems to drop. When getting out of bed starts to hurt how helpful will all of that “change yourself, change the world!” inspirational commercial nonsense be anyway? What if I really screwed the pooch in a couple of places that are definitely un-fixable?
Or the way Francis Spufford puts it here:
“Taking the things people do wrong seriously is part of taking them seriously. It’s part of letting their actions have weight. It’s part of letting their actions be actions rather than just indifferent shopping choices; of letting their lives tell a life-story, with consequences, and losses, and gains, rather than just being a flurry of events. It’s part of letting them be real enough to be worth loving, rather than just attractive or glamorous or pretty or charismatic or cool.”
So what about all of those things that I did wrong? I let it sit heavy in the heart. Man, I wish that I could take back a couple of well placed words. I wish that I could take back novels worth of stupid, cruel, and indifferent sentences. I wish that I had been better at loving some people that I really, really hurt.
Then I take all that terrible weight that I carry and I look for it in the eyes of the asshole. Oh yeah, that person is back like white on rice. They are always lurking around the periphery waiting for just one person to see that life has done a number on them also and they might just want to been seen and to matter to someone. They probably don’t deserve it though. Worse yet, they might actively try to hurt me if I offer compassion. Then again, I sure as shit didn’t deserve some of the wonderful people who looked at me, took a chance and made it abundantly clear that I mattered. What if the whole “deserving” thing is just a great big kickstand for my huge ego?
Here is a thought. It will probably sting, but all things that carry weight tend to sting a bit.
“Unconditional love doesn’t wait for the correct response, it produces it. Grace comes first.” – David Zahl
I surrender. I would prefer the swords to being wrong or failing and feeling the weight of it. Folding to grace feels an awful lot like slowly dying to the shit that I really wanted to matter instead of things that actually matter. I like my enemies right where they are along my clearly defined lines of good and bad. Being last, opting for some kind of embarrassing servanthood…I’ll pass thank you. What if things are a bit more complicated and Jesus lives out a more interesting approach that results in a life that looks a little bit more like living and less like a quick, bloody round of Mortal Kombat? I don’t know the answers and Jesus seems hell bent on reminding me that my answers are too small and all too often conveniently fluid. Especially when it comes to caring for others.
Or Richard Rohr:
“Merely to survive and preserve our life is a low level instinct that we share with the good little lizards, but it is not heroism in any classic sense. We were meant to thrive and not just survive. We are glad when someone survives, and that surely took some effort. But what are you going to do with your now resurrected life?”