Deacon Blog Nov. 12, 2019
I Think they call It Heaven
Some of you may remember that I was a guitarist, mostly for liturgical celebrations. I would read the scripture passages for a given Sunday and select songs along the theme presented. It would involve selecting the songs, assembling the binder for Mass and familiarizing myself with the melody. Of all these efforts, maybe three hours a week, practicing guitar received the least attention. I learned to play initially as a high school student, developing my ear for music listening to 1960’s folk. Over the years I have played primarily at Mass (over 30 years) and occasionally some secular venues as well. As time went on, I began to settle into my particular level of proficiency and to this day I still reside there. I seldom play anymore. Once a month at a Taizé prayer service and occasionally at home. While my skills have not diminished much (except for the callouses), They have no avenue to improve either. They just are what they are now. For many years I would lament “If only I was born with long slender fingers (instead of short stubby carpenter hands), then I could play like James Taylor or John Michael Talbot”. Or “If I just had the time to learn how to read music, there are so many more songs I could learn, and do better”. These “If only’s” are the crack in my door of regret. What’s the truth here? I was not willing to put the work into my art. I could have been much better, but I chose not to practice enough to truly improve. There is nothing I can blame this on besides the guy “in the mirror” who mocks as I lament my missed opportunities. Thirty years worth.
I realize we can’t do everything in life. We can’t, as they say, “have it all”. I’ve always said I don’t want everything, just certain things I don’t have. It’s human nature. Especially in this country, most of us create lofty expectations in life. We set high bars for church, government, sports, financial institutions, schools, even nature. Before you scoff at this last one, how many times have you complained that the weather didn’t cooperate with your plans? How often are you disappointed with an article of clothing that didn’t fit just right or an automobile that didn’t perform the way you wanted? Shoes that caused you to walk awkwardly when you first bought them, or gloves that were hard to get off and on till they were broke in? Whatever the “struggle” may be, people in the West (Europe and U.S.) seem so prone to disappointment. Nothing is ever up to our “standard”. We expect our politicians to all be perfect, dedicated public servants…free of personality defects and securely rooted in virtue. The expectation for our clergy is even higher. I often witness patrons in a restaurant treat servers rudely because the meal or service was not what they expected. How would this change if our hope was to simply have a “meal” or to not become sick from eating it? These are “lofty” dreams in a large part of the world. I am increasingly concerned with the level of “perfection” we demand from practically every facet of our society, and…the growing level of intolerance. Every facet except ourselves. The mental violence we use to push our agendas is disturbing and uncontrollable once it is started. It all reminds me of a story about a gardener who witnessed a rabbit eating some of the flowers in his garden. To chase the varmint off, he trampled the plants all around the flowers to get at the critter doing the damage. He did succeed in getting rid of his plant eating scourge, but at what cost. The landscape around the “bunny food” was decimated.
In our world we have seen issues such as “Me Too”, “Black Lives Matter”, Pro-life/Women’s rights, Health care, politics, even global climate change all trample character values such as mutual respect, honesty, and basic human civility towards one another. All because “they” are the enemy. Please don’t misunderstand me, I believe in these causes as issues our society must address to become a better world, but in my view ALL Lives Matter (as in GOD’s LOVE shines on the just and the unjust). It is the path of “un-holiness” we are taking to get there that saddens me. These attitudes are causing us to complain constantly…about everything. Here I am complaining about complaining, but what it is doing to our communal “mood” is what I fear most. This is a concern not shared by “activists” today. We expect perfection not just in outcome but in every detail along the way and destroying the lives of “perpetrators” is “justifiable”. And when we don’t obtain our objective, the rhetoric we use turns into a cruel form of bullying. Whatever happened to “respectfully disagreeing”. Where did we lose “I hear what you are saying, but I disagree.? How can we move forward?”. These days it sounds more like “You’re a pig and I despise the air you breathe”. A quick but obvious sample of this is our current situation in Washington. Our President is not just in opposition on some issues, he is an “amoral”, pathological liar”, “a misogynistic bigot who hates women (especially of color)”, “a crude foul-mouthed Nazi lover”. Most likely, none of these is true but what comes from his mouth can’t be repeated here, either, so it’s hard to rebut. These are the leaders of our government… When, and how did this happen? In a world where respect of others was the mantra thirty or forty years ago, we have become the epitome of intolerance. And cruelty. I’m almost afraid to promote world kindness. We seem to use such efforts as a referendum to counter-punch ourselves into a 180-degree coma.
I recognize part of the issue here is the release of frustrations and anger over historical injustice. I get that. We all should get that, but we should use the energy of frustration to reverse trends, not amplify them. I feel the ambivalence we are experiencing, both in civil matters (government participation) and church, reflect this functional apathy. We are just worn out from the “same old thing” and feel helpless to find solutions. There isn’t enough room here to explore answers adequately, but merely to say it is our imperative to fight for changes, through peace and kindness. I loved the beautiful advice we read in Luke’s Gospel last weekend. Our reward will be found in our perseverance to seek Holiness. This is our primary duty to the next generation who will inherit the mess of sociological behavior we are modeling for them. We will have a world, someday, where all the expectations we have are met; where kindness rules our demeanor, self-less service to others is the norm, and where our entire focus is the Will of the FATHER. It is right and just that we desire a more perfect world, but …at the end of the day we are a society and church governed by human beings with a proclivity to imperfection. Instead of casting the “first stone”, in humility let us all work for change and accept that we are all flawed in some way or another. My point at the beginning of this article is we ALL hold the responsibility to work at our “ART of loving others”. We need knowledge of Christ’s life, we need regular meaningful worship, and we need to serve one another justly. So keep pushing for change, seek first the Kingdom of GOD, and some day it will be realized. I’m pretty sure They Call It Heaven.
PAX CHRISTI, Deacon Mike
Comments, Questions, Random Thoughts?