Monday, November 18, 2013

Monty Python, Mercy and Freaks who Jump in Frozen Lakes



Reading the Gospel for yesterday, I couldn't help but be reminded of how much I dislike being uncomfortable. In fact, how much of what I do and don't do is probably driven by a desire to avoid discomfort. Whether it's who pays for a meal, how I deal with an argument or whether I talk to a stranger, my modus operandi is more often than not, what will make feel better?

And usually it goes a little bit like this:


And I was thinking about that and realizing, many of the worst things that have ever happened in the history of the world come down to that same desire. Like, when you get right down to it, pretty much every genocide has been because one group wasn't comfortable with another. It's almost never "This race did terrible things to us, so we're going to wipe them out." No, it's "Those (fill in the blank)...I just don't feel great around them. Let's get rid of them."

Every prejudicial law we've ever thought up -- who can sit where or do what, who it is okay to kill, who it is okay to marry -- could end with the phrase "because that would make me uncomfortable." "Blacks should not marry whites, because that would make me uncomfortable." "Boys should never play with dolls, because that would make me uncomfortable (except if they are action figures or super heroes)." "Japanese Americans should not be allowed to hang out with the rest of us during World War II, because that would make me uncomfortable."

If you want a fun exercise this week, just pay attention without judgment or trying to fix things to the times where you feel uneasy and how you respond. At the end of the week, look back, and see how often you chose whatever would let you avoid the discomfort.  (And then, if you really want to blow your mind, consider how often your choice ended up being at the expense of someone else. Like, it wasn't just, there was an argument going on around me, and I just stepped away. It was I was driving past a guy in a wheelchair, who was literally rolling his chair toward me with a hat out, and I was in no hurry, but I just shrugged and shook my head like "Shoot, I don't know how to roll my window down," and just kept driving.)

If you had to boil down the Gospels to two things, the first would hopefully be something about love and mercy, forgiveness.  But the second I think would probably be, following Jesus means making friends with discomfort.

Like dealing with your enemies in some way other than putting out their eyes or burning their reputations down in front of others. Or helping the needy... these are not easy things to do.

In fact, I would dare say this: if I went to a hospital or a shelter or an elderly home and helped out and at the end I bounced out there on Cloud 9, thinking I had made a big difference, and there wasn't also some small part of me feeling inadequate, feeling like I said or did the wrong thing at some point, feeling sad about the situations of the people I met, or just moved -- if none of that happened, even just a little, I'm probably doing it wrong.  I'm probably avoiding the real stuff. And likely after I left the people I was "helping" have a party, they're so glad I'm gone. If they prayed to Jesus right then and he showed up he'd say, yeah, I can't stand when he gets like that either.

If we're going to do this Christian thing, we have to get used to being uncomfortable. Make friends with unease.

Okay, maybe not this much. 

When we look at our lives, I think we see, we have so much opportunity to practice at this. The people we deal with in our lives who won't stop talking. The dude on the bus that sits next to us and smells really bad. The sudden fights we get in.   They're horrible, but they're all opportunity, too.

And all we have to do if we're going to practice, going to work that unease muscle, is not run away.  Just sit there in the muck of it and let it be a part of our lives.  And if we do that, let's be clear, it's not like we're going to get comfortable eventually--it's not like when you jump in the ocean, and you freeze for a few seconds and then you're like, ooh, that's really nice. No, it's like the crazy people who jump in the frozen lake--it's 30 below when they jump in, and it still feels like 30 below ten seconds later. (Freaks.)

No, it's not that we get less uncomfortable , but that we will get used to living with that feeling, and the next time, we might be a little less likely to immediately run away.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jim Keenan, a Jesuit moral theologian Boston College. Mercy, he says, is entering into the chaos of another. It's not fixing their problems (because fixing is usually really about me trying to make me feel better, powerful, strong, not them); it's not about doing.  It's about being in the mess of life, being present, like Jesus is with us.

That's what we're called to as Christians. But to do that, we gotta keep wading into that chilly water.


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