16 January 2014

Love: a heavy cross?

Before reading this (or maybe instead of reading this), go read Wess Daniels on "Getting Found in Translation." His is a far more positive presentation on the "flattening" effect of categorizing people than I might have given. My original title for this evening's notes, before seeing his post, was "On feeling trapped."

"Love is a heavy cross" only when I require reciprocity, only when I forget the words in the so-called prayer of St. Francis,
... Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
So it is up to me to work on not trapping people in convenient classifications, the more so because I know what it feels like--both when it happens to me, and when I have done it myself.

The Pussy Riot controversy here in Russia has been a festival of ruthless categorization: if you support these women, you hate Russia, you hate the church, you are in favor of blasphemy and vulgarity, of the corrupting influence of the West. If you criticize them, you are on the side of obscurantism, phyletism, totalitarianism. If you seek a safe middle ground, you must at least condemn their scandalous behavior; if you defend their scandalous behavior, do you have the slightest idea of what the word "reverence" means? (Actually, this is a serious question.)

I'm not much for labeling people,
but I have to make a living somehow. Source.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who describes her interactions with many church people this way. She has accepted Jesus and wants to enter a spiritual conversation with this other person. But if she cannot give an acceptable answer to the question, "Do you confess Orthodoxy?", the gates to conversation close with a clang. Not always, but too often.

Is this phenomenon peculiar to Russia? In my first months at Friends United Meeting, gates sometimes closed to me because I was from Canadian Yearly Meeting, identified as liberal, and worked for Friends World Committee, also labeled liberal. Other gates closed to me because Friends United Meeting defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Not liberal! How easily people assume that they know all that is important to know from a tacitly assumed set of markers.

But, honestly, it is hard for me to feel sorry for myself when I find myself doing the same thing! You are in favor of abortion? In my readiness to argue with you, I assume I know far more about you and your inconsistencies than I have any right to. OK, you are opposed to gun control ... I can feel the same sorts of assumptions click into place like tumblers in a lock. Resist!--I tell myself. Love!

Oh, but there's something so comforting about knowing more than you actually know.

The first time I planned a visit to a certain meeting in Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM), I knew I was in trouble. They had decided to let me meet only with a certain few in the meeting; clearly my reputation as insufficiently sound had preceded me. During our get-together, I was as honest and passionate about my commitments as I could be, but all the while beating down the temptation to emit reassuring cliches. The thing is, they were not right about me, but they had justifiable grievances about the organization. My task was to help establish a space where our "markers" could be put on the table, our cherished values safely revealed, and the real issues could be acknowledged--not necessarily solved, but simply separated from the noise.

Years later, someone in that yearly meeting said that "Johan says the same thing to all audiences." I wish that were literally true all the time, but she certainly caught my intention with her kind words.

Concerning the splits within Quakerism and the personalities behind them, John Punshon once said something like this: it's awkward when the people on the right side of the theological issues are the most obnoxious in conflict. Recently I saw a BBC documentary on Pussy Riot. I believe the Russian Orthodox Church was not treated evenhandedly by this documentary, but it was not difficult to see why. In one scene, a man carrying a sign with a truth I hold more dear than any truth in this life, "Christ is risen," was in a crowd expressing sheer spitefulness toward those punk-prayer women. Where is Jesus in this crowd?

I am a brother to all who cherish those signs and those icons ... and to those women, too.

Part two is here.

This post about marriage is pure joy to me, at least apart from the fact that it conflicts with a lot of conventional thinking. Comments are also worth reading. By the way, I don't argue with the possibility that a husband is a "natural-born leader," or that Candace Cameron Bure "chose" to accommodate his leadership. But as Paul VI said, only the strong can choose submission voluntarily. Who are we men to demand submission?

And while we're at it, let's defuse "the 1 Timothy 2:12 bomb." (Thanks to Rachel Held Evans on Facebook.)

"Kalashnikov inventor haunted by unbearable pain of dead millions."

I happily post this link as a devoted fan of Multnomah County Library: "150 Years of Library Love." Here, twelve time zones away, I continue to benefit from this wonderful library system by borrowing e-books through its cloud library.

Do you have time on your hands? The Canadian Friends Historical Association Web site, and its amazing archive of journals and newsletters, will take care of that!

Worthy tribute:

John Primer: Tribute to Muddy Waters from OXO FILMS on Vimeo.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Johan!

Johan Maurer said...

It's mutual!

Phil McLain said...

thanks for the link to 1 Tim "bomb" - very convincing!

Nancy Thomas said...

Here in Bolivia, being an "American" and a "missionary" are categories that put up huge barriers. Actually I'm not a missionary any more. I'm an FSA (and I have to keep reminding myself what it stands for--"Friend Serving Abroad"). But what do I do with the "American" bit? (This in spite of the fact that Bolivians are literally Americans, too.) Categories can be so frustrating.