25 August 2016

Yes and no

Last week I came across this post by Yakov Krotov, priest/essayist and host of the talk show From a Christian Viewpoint: (translation and links are mine; original is on this page)
In defense of words: the yoga of no.

Let's take the case of that unfortunate woman, 56 years old. who refused to participate in the United Russia primary elections. Her boss yelled at her, put pressure on her, demanded that she resign. She resigned, returned home, but on the next day was hospitalized with a minor heart attack. Two weeks later, she died in the critical care unit.

Right now there are lots of stories like this. Saint Euphrosinia Kersnovskaya comes to mind -- she could herself go right up to the secret police and demand to be arrested, but she would not sign any paper if she did not agree with its contents.

To an American or a Nigerian, the story of the 56-year-old woman would not be comprehensible. What does it mean to be "pressured"? If she's already of retirement age, what's the worst they could threaten -- to fire her? So, fire her -- what's the point of demanding her resignation?

But then, as the above-mentioned Kersnovskaya would say, the Bolsheviks don't let you live and they don't let you die. Psychological torture is still torture, and all the more if the subject has a living soul.

However, if the soul has only managed to preserve the ability to tremble, it's not exactly dead, but it's not completely alive, either. It's in an infantile state. Adulthood begins with the ability to say "no." Firmly and irrevocably. As with baptism, sin has been put away, Christ has come.
Adulthood begins with those first small refusals. There is a yoga of freedom, and its first asana is a negative side-to-side movement of the head. If you can intimidate a 56-year-old, it means that person has never said "no" to anyone. Sadly, there are such people. That's why it's important to train ourselves in this ability -- saying "no" to oneself and to loved ones and to bosses. We continue saying no on various minor occasions for the very reason that they're minor -- there won't be unpleasant consequences, and the soul comes to realize that peace isn't found in servility but in dialogue.

So: here's to the yoga of freedom!
A few years ago I wrote about the power of the word "no", and how it relates to my life theme, which is the word "yes," from 2 Corinthians 1:20. My main emphasis was the analytical power of the word "no" -- how it can expose contradictions and conceits as practiced by the powers that be. But as I read Yakov Krotov's brief essay, and the human dramas he mentioned, I thought about a dimension I had underemphasized: the relationship context. The woman who died, Tatiana Kuznetsova, didn't say "no" in the abstract; she didn't say "no" to her computer screen or in the near-anonymous safety of a mass petition. She said no to her own director and, as a result, lost her job. A short time later, her life came to an end.

Could I risk a "no" when it really counts? There was a time when I said "no" to paying war taxes, but the risk was relatively low and I never actually faced a specific person in making that decision. Instead I had the support of my dear mentor, Gordon Browne. One "no" that I vividly remember saying at age 18 resulted in losing my home. A short time later, another "no" got me disinherited. A few years after that, another "no" probably resulted in not getting a particular job.  But I honestly can't scrape together very many examples. This also means I don't have much practice in maintaining relationships after the "no."

What about being on the receiving end of refusals? When people say "no" to me and my obviously very reasonable requests, how do I respond? In one case I can think of, my initiative was actually poorly thought out, and that person's "No!" probably saved the relationship. But in another case, we never spoke again.

Finally, what about learning to say "no" to myself? As the Valparaiso Project on "practicing our faith" says, "We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and yes to a way of life that makes space for God." (At the same time, "Christian asceticism is not spiritual boot camp....") One of the biggest gifts of the church for me is the reality that I don't have to discern alone, and that mistakes are not fatal.

Friends,—Whatever ye are addicted to, the tempter will come in that thing; and when he can trouble you, then he gets advantage over you [2 Cor 2:11], and then ye are gone. Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think, but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed, and fly away. Your strength is to stand still, after ye see yourselves; whatsoever ye see yourselves addicted to, temptations, corruption, uncleanness, etc., then ye think ye shall never overcome. And earthly reason will tell you, what ye shall lose; hearken not to that, but stand still in the light that shows them to you, and then strength comes from the Lord, and help contrary to your expectation.

G. F., from Epistle 10.
I also appreciated this sermon on saying yes and saying no, from the Open Door Community's Web site.

Among this week's quarter-century anniversaries: The world-changing failure of the USSR's August 1991 coup.

Also: Happy 25th birthday, Linux! (How Linux changed the world. Where to next?)

The church militant: "... Violence is the norm." (Sadly, we know that this tendency isn't unique to one country or confession.)

This link, embedded in Yakov Krotov's essay above, bears repeating: E. A. Kersnovskaya, "How much is a person worth?"

As violence rises again in eastern Ukraine (right! Ukraine -- another 25th anniversary!) ...  a glimpse of daily life and death.

Are white evangelicals in the USA losing an entire generation?

Colombia's peace agreement is signed, awaits October referendum. I needed something positive to end this list!!

Sweet dessert from Hamilton, Ontario via the YouTube time machine....


Daniel Wilcox said...

So tragic! You wrote about "The church militant: "... Violence is the norm." (Sadly, we know that this tendency isn't unique to one country or confession.)"

This is one of the most incomprehensible questions which has troubled me since the 1960s--Why do the vast majority of Christians and other religious people, especially evangelical ones strongly support war?

It reminds me of the tragic book on early Christian history, Jesus Wars, by the historian Philip Jenkins.

And of the American Christian leader who said that "God's gift" to the U.S. was the atom bomb:-(!

And even of many Quakers such as conservative California Yearly Meeting (where my wife and I used to be members) which supported nuclear weapons!

And of very liberal Friends which also support lethal violence.

And, lastly, that reminds me of the powerful lines in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, where the character Ivan says:

"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

Daniel Wilcox said...

Wow! I just finished reading "E. A. Kersnovskaya, "How much is a person worth?"

Thanks so much for posting this incredible, tragic, yet hopeful story!

Johan Maurer said...

Daniel, thank you for following that link. It's so powerful!