We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

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Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

Starling Murmuration (Catalyst Notes)

Starlings are startling in their ability to create these beautiful formations. Scientist truly couldn’t begin to understand them until they had the high-tech capabilities to analyze their movements in computers. What they discovered was amazing: the flock transcends biology. Every single starlings movement is influenced by every other starlings movement. Known as scale-free correlation, it can be best understood (although not perfectly) through looking at things like avalanches or crystal formations – on the verge of instantaneous change.

Because there is no LEADER of the formation, any starling has the ability to change the path of all starlings in the flock. Regardless of the size of the flock they remain equally responsive to all other starlings: velocity and orientation remain consistent regardless of the number of birds participating. We still cannot understand how they are able to process and respond to signals of the surrounding birds so quickly.

The most fascinating thing of all, perhaps, is that this is all in response to a predator, and the greater the threat, the more phenomenal the synchronicity. The all have and share the same goal of survival, and this singular goal allows them to create and perform at unfathomable levels.

Empathy and Being a Voice for the Marginalized

“When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy…” I struggle to understand people that have lacked empathy in the face of the fear and concern of minorities and marginalized people which rose out of the recent election; people who think it’s about who won/lost. I’ve often heard it said, “Those who voted for Trump but insist they aren’t racist/sexist/etc. are really only saying that I don’t matter at all; their wealth matters more than the wellbeing of others.” If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Let us make sure we strive to maintain the innate human dignity of every person.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

 

Things to Communicate on for a Serious Relationship

This was a checklist that I just found tucked into my Bible from a group I attend sometimes that covers a variety of topics. This was obviously on relationships and I can see how this would be worth holding onto.

  1. Who are they?
    1. Health Status
      1. Can be a big deal knowing what you’re dealing with time-wise and financially
    2. Assessment of Personal Attributes
      1. Best and worst traits about yourself, defining experiences, etc.
    3. Dating History
      1. With others and the person you are marrying
      2. Also includes relationship roles and expectations
    4. Sex (Boundaries: will they wait?)
      1. Any history here with other person or anyone else? Abuse? Physical reasons this might not function normally for you?
    5. Friends/Recreation
      1. Types friends, from where (church/work/sports/neighbors), expectations on time spent, prioritizing making new friends vs. current friends, which friends of partner do you get along with/not get along
  2. Where are they going?
    1. List of Goals and Values
      1. Individually and for your relationship/future family
    2. Employment/Career Plans
      1. Natural gifts/expectations for salary/longevity (including if either would stay at home with kids), future schooling
    3. Financial Goals/Priorities
      1. Current savings, month spending debt, giving, bank account status (shared vs. separate), level of insurance, goals for size/expense of house, car, etc.
      2. Full page itemized annual budget sheet
    4. Description of Parents and their Relationships
      1. Like it or not, definitely trend toward emulating roles of your parents
      2. Helps establish your baseline view of “normal” relationship, including responsibilities (e.g. who takes out the trash?)
    5. In-Laws
      1. Similar questions to questions about parents
      2. Also how you saw similarities in partner’s character/personality relative to that of their mom and dad
    6. Kids
      1. Number, in how long, birth vs. adoption, spread out or in a row
      2. Parenting roles
    7. Residence
      1. Location, environment (city/neighborhood/suburbs/country)
      2. Size (short and long term)
  3. How do you see God in them? (Throughlines of JUSTICE and COMPASSION)
    1. Types of Things you Communicate About
      1. Conflict styles, how you convey excitement/anger/worry, how you communicate your stress, etc.
    2. Motivation/Reasoning Behind Decisions
      1. Good indicator of priorities
    3. How They Treat People/How People View Them
      1. Can seer humor, how consistent their behavior is around different kind of people
      2. Can learn about qualities that they have in environment you haven’t had a chance to interact with them in yet
    4. Faith
      1. Frequency for church/devotions/discipleship/service/community?
      2. Why is this valuable to you?
      3. Spiritual gifts/testimony?

Centering, Emptying, Grounding, Connecting

The fourth chapter of Brian Seaward’s Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water looked at the seasons of the soul and I found many of his reflections profoundly helpful. Centering, emptying, grounding and connecting are the four processes reviewed and are all deeply rewarding and necessary but also have challenges that accompany each of them.

Centering, or entering the heart and quieting the mind, is the first step and for some the hardest. It is creating a quiet space for the divine to speak into. “In the words of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” (pg. 125) It is important to do this activity daily, even if only for a short time, to try to have a designated space, and to have it be quiet.

The second is emptying, where we let go and release those things we no longer need.  It can be thoughts, ideas, memories, etc. but they are weights that hold us down. Emptying out creates space for new ideas, insights, and growth. The author claims this is the hardest and often is accompanied by grief and avoidance. “Stressors are not so much a spiritual breakdown as opportunities for a spiritual breakthrough. Our moments of despair are the soul’s attempt to take that first step into the void.” (pg. 139) This is not a place to get stuck, as many do, but to rest in the momentary but profound freedom this brief emptiness offers. “When we understand and appreciate the balance, we can see how necessary the emptying process is to becoming whole.” (pg. 143)

Third is the grounding process, the space in which we are reminded of our basic connection to God; when we seek for insights from something beyond ourselves. Dreams and vision quests are paths used but there is always communication happening outside of these two things; it is often a matter of receptivity which is more a process then an outcome. “Just as you cannot push water uphill, you cannot demand enlightenment. Discipline and patience are essential in the grounding process.” (pg. 153) Another space you will find this is in moments of synchronicity, where we see that all things are linked and that the divine can speak to us through those ties. In other words, two events that might separately have no great meaning together speak a greater truth to us. This is, in part, what Sophy Burnham refers to when she, “…eloquently suggests in her acclaimed bestseller A Book of Angels, the voice of God has many mouths. Insights, inspirations, and revelations can come from relatives, friends and even strangers.” (pg. 157) To hear from God provides stability through the divine instead of our own foundations.

The final process is connecting, relationship. From the Apostle Paul to African Proverbs to Chief Seattle, our interconnectedness to each other and the world is impossible to deny. “From a Taoist perspective, when we see ourselves as separate from the whole, we not only distance ourselves from nature, we isolate ourselves from other people as well. In turn, this distance weakens our spiritual health and suffocates our very essence.” (pg. 161) As science began to recognize that we were all energy, Jung with Einstein formulated the idea of a collective unconscious, a universal mind. Later, in his autobiography, Jung noted that which he had labeled the unconscious could just as well be God. Shifting from grounding to connecting is found in both receiving and giving. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, “…wrote in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning: “We had to learn from ourselves and we had to teach disparaging men that it did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (pg. 164) This communal, interconnected life we all share asks something of us, and we give to it, enter into community and this final phase, through and out of love and compassion.