Tuesday, January 23, 2007

big-talking golden rulers

"Now I know a lot of this doesn't jive with the way many ministries are run today.In most cases we (the church) have given the impression that you must convert, or at least listen to our preaching, to benefit from our charity."

to which hineini responded with a whole nother blog:
I think this is a really interesting idea and one I'd like to speak with you all about a little more. Much has been made in previous posts about how easy it is to criticize the church, maybe more so in terms of its service to those "outside". I have been curious why this is so for quite some time. What I was thinking of offering here was maybe a form of question as to why this is. The simplistic version of the question is "Why doesn't the church do what it says" (as a nod to jollybeggar I will concede that this question already assumes the church guilty as charged) but I want to encourage anyone to pose that question anyway they'd like and offer any thoughts they have.

On my own behalf, I'd like to speak briefly about a distinction that I think offers very hopeful possibilities for a turn around for the church, or, the church's repentance if you will. I want to start by returning to the quote above, specifically the second sentence;

"In most cases we (the church) have given the impression that you must convert, or at least listen to our preaching, to benefit from our charity" (brotherken)

The problem I see here, and of course this problem offers a hopeful possibility, is the concept of charity. Now it may look like I'm playing semantics here, and to be fair I may have asked brotherken to clarify what he means (and I hope he will) but I think many of the difficulties the church faces currently in regards to "the least" is the church's inabilty to transcend charity, to move beyond charity to charity's better, solidarity.

Let me explain. As mentioned above in the conversation regarding the "golden rule" I mentioned that although the golden rule offers a helpful tool for generally peacable and charitable conduct towards those who surround me, it still uses my desires, how I would like to be treated, as a rule in determining how I should treat others. I must first decide what I want before I act and in acting, I in a sense, impose myself on the other, assuming they will want what I want. With charity the giver is never at risk, their position, their beliefs, their life are held in reserve from the other. They are giver, and the other is receiver. A one-way transaction, that in this world's economy cannot but create a debt in the receiver.

In order that this doesn't drag out I will get to what I see as the hopeful possibility. The step beyond charity (which is actually a step back for the "I") is solidarity. Now what do I mean by solidarity. Well, solidarity is the radical humilty of the self that seeks to empty itself (kenosis) of itself and instead privilage the other. The self keeps no interior fortress of unassailable beliefs or doctrines but seeks to move beyond the distinction between I and they. As an important side note, this rejection of the "us" and "them" distinction is not a collaspe into a collective "we" instead its a privilaging of the other. It is the embrace and pursuit of St Paul's words to "count others better than yourself".

Obviously there is much more to say but I'd like to hear what others have to say. (hineini)

...by the way, jollybeggar says 'thanks for the nod!'

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Blogger jollybeggar said...

the enthnocentricity of using one's own desires to determine how to behave towards another is dangerous, isn't it? i mean, the reality is that people receive different expressions of charity in different ways, and while one person may think that he or she is doing a kind thing for another, he or she may actually be driving the other person away with this well-intentioned charity.

in doing some pre-marriage counselling, i have found myself encouraging couples to remember that the other person's needs and the meeting of those needs are different from one's own.

for example, if one partner loves to give stuffed toys and continues to do so in complete ignorance of the fact that the other doesn't really like or need any more of the things, it is a wasted expression of love (not wasted because it doesn't yield any big romantic fruit, but simply because the whole point of an expression of love is to remind the other person that he or she is cared for, and to do so in a 'language' that is understood and therefore interpreted correctly.) a more regrettable scenario (than the whole stuffed toy thing) unfolds as the guy (yeah, stereotyped, but spin it whichever way you would like) gives his beloved a box of chocolates, only to have her burst into tears because she's (again with the stereotypes) been trying to lose weight and he hasn't even noticed. it's classic.

so take it to the third world now, with the recipient of the gift being the people of a developing country and the giver of the gift being a missions organization or church from one of the economically richer nations of the world... and the box of chocolates? oh, it could be anything well-intentioned that has more to do with the desire of the givers than with the needs of the recipients.

so when we read about doing unto others as we would have done unto ourselves, it is important to note that a broader reading of this is going to be more useful to everyone: all people have need and there are, among us all, the resources to meet the needs of all, provided the exchanges are mutual in nature. as soon as you have designated haves and have-nots you have an environment that is ripe for the onset of condescension.

i really resonnate with my denomination's stated 'missions focus'... it articulates what i believe is an approach rich with two-way interaction (paraphrase coming):

that we would live amongst each other, making Jesus more real to each other in the process.

i'm not sure that this is completely where hineini is going with his post, but it's my take on it...

Blogger SocietyVs said...

"it still uses my desires, how I would like to be treated, as a rule in determining how I should treat others. I must first decide what I want before I act and in acting, I in a sense, impose myself on the other" (Heinini)

The actual intention of the golden rule is to do away 'with selfish motive'. It is to say as Paul said 'count others better than me' - which is why I find Heinini's take a little weird - the two things mean the same in the light of the teachings of Jesus. I mean the parts prior to this lay this out fairly clearly (that whole do not judge thing, take that toothpick out of my eye, and God counts all as equals). But in this golden rule there should be no selfish desire - and it exists - but it isn't the golden rule - including our selfish desires in the rule makes it a more silver rule (still alright but not the intention). But how do you read 'treat others how you want to be treated?' - isn't the idea the basis for real love?

But I like Heinini's take on giving as finding the person in the action - the caring and compassion - the love of the other as the point - counting ourselves as less for the sake of the next person. Once you've tried it - well - you never really look back.

I found something JB said that peaked my interest and I thought I'd throw this talking piece out there. I just found out the North Central Family Centre is raising money for the Darfur crisis (and the NCFC is run by some nice Christian people). But is there something wrong with this picture? We have a group of people in 'the worst neighborhod in Canada' trying to help a worst neighborhood elsewhere in the world? Is this even happening?

So we'll take money from our city and give it elsewhere - meanwhile the NCFC almost closed their doors last year for mis-management of funds - and they also say they wanna support North Central. I am not sure - am I as an Aboriginal person from the neighborhood supposed to be cool with this idea of 'giving'? I mean if they want suffering - just knock on a few doors - and they will find a worthwhile charity in their midst. I guess it's just easier to give elsewhere - where you have little to no interactions with people you're helping. Call me bizarre - but I don't like this.

Blogger BrotherKen said...

"in doing some pre-marriage counselling, i have found myself encouraging couples to remember that the other person's needs and the meeting of those needs are different from one's own." (JB)

I would have to say that the reality of this statement (and the examples offered) prove that the golden rule requires an effort by the giver to understand the recipient. Love usually takes an effort, but there are times when we must make a discernment on the spot as to how to show love. We can only do our best and if you are sincere the recipient of an inappropriate gift will usually know what is in your heart. Jesus often expresses the highest ideal, but does He knows we are not able to be perfect, which is no excuse not to aim for perfection. And perfection is sometimes just recognizing that there is nothing you can do.

My Mom and I worked on my alcoholic Dad for about 2 years and finally gave up and put him in God's hand. For a while I felt like I had failed but I know now that if God wants my Dad saved, it will be so regardless of my efforts. All I do now is show my Dad I love him. This may seem a bit off topic but maybe not. I think what we need to do is simply try to love and understand others without any attempt to bring God or our faith into it. If the person sees true sincerity in us they may be drawn to know what drives us. Until that point, are we not just intruders in their life?

Blogger hineini said...

"The actual intention of the golden rule is to do away 'with selfish motive'. It is to say as Paul said 'count others better than me' - which is why I find Heinini's take a little weird - the two things mean the same in the light of the teachings of Jesus." (societyvs)

I'm not trying to insert into the golden rule some sort of insideous motive of the self. I'm not saying that the golden rule doesn't have concern for the other. My point is that in how the rule is structured, in its very blueprint, in what its terms imply, is that the individual is urged to try and think of the other as they think of themselves. The golden rules seeks to put the other on my level, to draw equivilance between us. Its a RULE and is used to measure my responsibility to the other, my self serving as the measuring stick.

What I am trying to argue is that this is very different from what I read in Paul's phrase "count other's better than yourself". This is an attempt to move away from self towards the other by privilaging the other, by understanding that me, my self puts the other at risk by my existence. What I meant by selfishness in the original post is not the selfishness that we associate with greed or manipulating the other for our gain, I'm not talking about a fiendish plot. I'm talking about self-interestedness, a stubborn desire to justify our actions and desires in the face of the other's need. Again, this is not that these actions or desires are bad, they may be an intense righteous striving and a desire for good but yet they are ours.

To descibe this another way that Christianity seems to be somewhat familiar with, it is the kenosis of Philippians 2:7a, the emptying ourselves of ourselves. Being dis-interested as opposed to self-interested. This understanding carries with it an assumption of a distinction of right action from ethical action. Right action is based in the self, in our judgement as deciding what to do. This is not "bad" or "negative" in the common sense of the term, thus the confusion in the discussion of selfishness. But beyond this is the ethical which goes by no rule and is totally at the mercy of the vulnerablity of the other. We are hostage to this call of the other and nothing must be held in reserve, even our selves.

Blogger hineini said...

hmm, I just posted an example of this under the "rabbinical yoke" post if ya want to take a look.

Blogger SocietyVs said...

Here is my official take on the golden rule and this interpretation cannot fail - unless you choose to lie to yourself in some elaborate way - or self-justify it in some selfish manner...either way the saying speaks loud and strong.

'Treat others like they deserve to have every single thing you have in life - and more (since the future is not done)' If you treat them less than this - you treat them less than you.

What it means is that every single person I meet should have the right to be equal with me in every regard - holding nothing back from them - not that they will have my same life (some might) - but that I will help them get there also with all my strength, soul, passion, and might. This ideal being firmly rooted in my view of God (the teachings being the paradigm) - that God gave it all so we could be his friend. So if you meet someone that can't be your friend - then someone is still lesser than you. It's my challenge from the gospel - the golden rule is simply stating the obvious - our role in compassion and in the structure God has laid out - God loves us - we love others - others notice.

Plus Beggar hasn't done nothing on this blog in a while.

Blogger hineini said...

"and this interpretation cannot fail" (societyvs)

Yikes man!

Moving onto your next point...
"'Treat others like they deserve to have every single thing you have in life - and more (since the future is not done)' If you treat them less than this - you treat them less than you." (societyvs)

I think this is a great step in the right direction. It still doesn't address the central issue for me though. Why do I get to justify having the stuff I do? I can try and help everyone around me get everything I have but I am still being non-critical about what I have, I'm still justifying having whatever it is I have. We need to question this too.

It seems to me that a basic understanding of justice is if someone has two and another has none then there is a fundamental injustice taking place. Seeing there will always be someone with none. Seeing I am always called to give my cloak (and not only my cloak but my tunic too!) then I am always on the hook for everything I have, there is no justification possible.

Blogger SocietyVs said...

"I'm still justifying having whatever it is I have. We need to question this too." (Heinini)

I would say 'why' to this statement? I know exactly why I have what I have - from the new bed, to the tv, to my car, to the x-box, to the computer, to my guitar, to my clothes, to my food, to my drink, to my plate collections, to the plants and fish, etc. I had the money to buy these things so I did - some for convenience, some for comfort, some for leisure, some for travel, some for eating and drinking, etc. The bigger question is 'am I selfish?'.

On the level that counts - no - I don't think any of these things can't be used for the benefit of others and I am more than willing to put a lot on the line to see another succeed (even let them live with me and share in everything I have). I could sell it all also but that does nothing for nobody - without a good program to help re-distribute that money. So why do I have? It sure isn't becuase I never cared about the poor - it just was the breaks in the system that allowed me in. Now I have a good job that allows me to give to my well-being - but also give to another's well being - which I see as a command.

"then I am always on the hook for everything I have, there is no justification possible." (Heinini)

I would agree - there is no justification for me hoarding what I own - to another's demise. The way I see it is quite simple - if they ask, and I do nothing - then I am not listening to the voice of God or even following a single teaching from Jesus (break one - break em all). I have forgotten to love the other as much as I love myself - apparently I have healthy love for myself (see all the shit I own in paragraph 2) - but loving myself just seems selfish after awhile.

Can't say I don;t agree Heinini with what your saying - I do - and I wish this was taught more in churches as a way to help problem solve situations in our city. If we developed the mentality you are talking about then we might use our computers for so much more than just this - maybe we'll be writing resumes, petitions to gov't, developing program proposals, letters of referral, etc - for others too.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

"Plus Beggar hasn't done nothing on this blog in a while" (societyVS)

ha ha- fair enough. sorry to abandon my post. have to say that it will be for a bit longer too, as there is a whole lot of weird going on in the physical realm to which i have been called.

looks like you guys have still got some kick in your step.

much love, even in absentia.

Blogger hineini said...

I would say 'why' to this statement? (societyvs)

There really is no why. For me its a call of justice like I mentioned. If I spend 500 dollars on my TV and my neighbour gets evicted I have to reconcile this within me. And to be honest I can't. I have become very much aware over the last few years that I have no interest in justifying what I have in relation to my neighbour, the other. Its a personality thing for me that means any attempt I make at convincing myself that I am justified in having the things I do is dishonest and unjust. I have a warm house when there are plenty of others that don't and that I'm allowed to have a library of books amongst other things while there is even a single death from malnutrition or starvation (not having enough), there is no justification possible for this. Reasoning like, "I am a good steward" or "I can bless others with what I have" or even "I and my family are entiled to a little something" ring extremely hollow to me when I can save lives by giving even a fraction of that to others. People are dying because they need and do not recieve the things I have. I am responsible for these deaths, I have murdered the other, broken the command "Thou shalt not murder" and killed my neighbour.

It must be stated that these ideas cannot be attributed to Levinas, they are my own readings of his ideas. He was extremely suspicious or any normative morallity and declared explicitly that his observations or phenomenological observations were not a call to some new morality but simply the reality, the ontological reality that faces us.

"The bigger question is 'am I selfish?'." (societyvs)

This is indeed the "bigger question". For Levinas the very first question we need to ask ourselves is "Is it righteous to be?" This is because in our very existence, in our perpetuation of our being, we break the command "Thou shalt not kill". Our existence threatens, to the point of death, the existence of the other. We take the very food from the mouth of the other who is vulnerable to me, infinitely vulnerable and I have a responsibility to this other to do what I can not to kill them, not to allow my "self", my "I", to murder them. Levinas points out that this isn't simply stabbing them with a knife, there are many ways in which we murder, and all of these are "self-ish" pre-occupied with self, justifying self, perpetuating self, always at the expense of the other.

I realize this is complicated. It takes Levinas hundreds of pages to hint at all the complexities going on here but I suppose we have some time and it seems I have people who will listen (God knows why) so I figure if you're going to listen and post back then I'll just keep writing.

much love

Blogger SocietyVs said...

Heinini, in essence I agree with you about the 'have's' and the 'have nots' and learning to go back to when we played as kids - and sharing. The idea is not an extremely hard one to understand from the gospels and Christian writings - it's there in red and white a lot of times. So in essence, I agree with the concept.

At the same time it's a little too much un-needed guilt to live with the idea since 'you have' and another does 'not' - that you are responsible for their demise (ultimately making you a murderer and all that) - basically due to not helping. But I get what you are driving for here and I am on board with the idea - however knowing only condemns the hearer - it doesn't free him/her.

I think we need to develop programs and ideas that will get people to think along these lines - programs that find a way to use what 'we have' to help the people that 'don't have'. I think to have the ideas you have and have little avenue to express them (via action) has to weigh you down in some regard. The ideas need something - a plan - so that we 'no longer have to another's demise'. It's all great rhetoric but we need to get people activated!

I agree with you - and I can see the power of the point of view - working with one another is of the highest importance Many people are so heaven-bound they forgot about their responsiblities here.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

i find it interesting that the root of the word 'justify' is found in the word 'justice.'

having just BRIEFLY SKIMMED (a bit of qualification there, because i want to go back and read these comments more carefully, but am interested also in participating again, having figuratively 'risen from the dead' now) the comments above, i find the words 'justify' and 'unjust' intriguing.

is justification simply our attempt at bringing justice and harmony (and ultimately the silence of a kind of bogus peace) to hearts that are troubled by the disparity that surrounds us, and our lack of involvement in any kind of solution to it? is justification simply our talking ourselves out of social conscience? hmmm.

i do like what you say, hineini, (and hope that i am understanding you correctly) concerning the importance of not playing the justification game with reference to what i have that my neighbour has not. i find, in particular, the excuse of entitlement mentioned a little further on to be a bit too familiar and sickening. our great friend bono pontificated in a recent song that

'Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
Three to a bed
Sister Ann, she said
Dignity passes by...'

and, while being incredibly wealthy and all that, is using his influencial 'celebrity' and his wealth to try to bring about change in the world for the 'have-nots' without ever apologizing for, by dumb luck and ambition, being a 'have.'

i remember a strange conversation a friend of mine and i had in the early 90's about this on a bus. (funny, we were actually going to see u2 play in vancouver) he was busy beating himself up for living where we live and being rich enough to pay $100 to get on a bus and go see a concert and all that. eventually i had had enough and said 'well if you hate being here so much, why don't you leave? i mean, either use what you have to serve people (and God through serving people) or sell it all and give away the cash... just don't sit here whining without doing anything about it. that's too easy.'

yeah, it was kinda quiet for awhile after that.

Blogger BrotherKen said...

Welcome back JB :-), you said "just don't sit here whining without doing anything about it".

To re-iterate my position on this, I feel that, without special prompting, we are to do what we can for others whenever possible, without worry of not being able to do enough. But I would like to state that I feel there are times when God intervenes in the normal course of things and basically lays it on the heart (conscience) of someone to do something out of the ordinary (special prompting). There are many examples of this in the Bible, what Jesus asked of the rich person (to sell everything and give it to the poor) would in my mind be a special and circumstantial request. So, if you can agree that God may call certain people to do things out of the ordinary at will, then we must be open to some pretty demanding assignments. If my spirit was constantly disturbed by my wealth, I would have to try decide if this was God trying to tell me something, and do something truly sacrificial with my wealth (not just whine as JB stated).

That all may sound hokey but it is the best understanding I can get from scripture.

To throw a little fuel on the fire (it's darn cold out there today!), I will add that I believe that when we become overly concerned that we must be everything to everybody, we reject the power and authority of God. To state that in a positive way; Unless you feel a special prompting, let God be God and do what you can - when He gives you the means and the opportunity to do so (in a loving and caring way).

Blogger SocietyVs said...

JB makes a call for action - That's my lingo right thurr, right thurr! Hooray!

Ken I get your drift here but there is a wrench in it. What if God has given us all the talents and wealth (as a whole church body) to supply for those in need out there - using us to make a difference. What if the scripture talking about God has provided for all the needs (of all people) in Matthew 6 is true - but what if the division of that was slapped in our hands (in our control). What if to some he gave 10%, to some he gave 30%, and to others he gave 60% - all of those resources to make life better for the next person - as part of our worship of God. What if all they had to do was 'ask'?

It's a wrench but there is something to this idea - I just read an Alliance budget for the past year - guess how much they raised? $23,000,000 last year - and these are the dollar figures they deal in year after year. I then looked at other churches and figured out nationally (in Canada) if 7 churches total congregations gave 3-5$ a month they could raise $60,000,000. What happens with that money? What if we gave $50-$100 a month for projects in our cities for the poor and broken? I don't think the God hasn't provided the resources - we just aren't united or focused enough to know much of this. I just decided to check the budgets.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

"when we become overly concerned that we must be everything to everybody, we reject the power and authority of God. To state that in a positive way; Unless you feel a special prompting, let God be God and do what you can - when He gives you the means and the opportunity to do so" (brotherken)

two thots:
1) trying to be everything to everybody usually means that you are taking opportunity away from another to be actualized. i mean, often people don't get involved in something because somebody is already doing it and they feel they have nothing to offer. sure, it's an easy copout, but a copout nonetheless. if i can quit enabling others to copout by actually attending only to the things that i am in the position to address in community service, then these others can also see involvement opportunities- knowing that joejollysuperbeggar is attending to something else right now, the person looks to the left and to the right and realizes that there is no superhero on hand and both responsibility and opportunity have just presented themselves.

2) if we are waiting for a special prompting, we might be missing the big chance to be found faithful in attending to the need of another. it's like God is speaking in sign language, but the mystics in the crowd have their eyes tightly shut so as to hear him better when he speaks. it appears to me in a reading of matthew 25 that the Holy Spirit prompts us to service using the voice and circumstance of the needy in conjunction with, as is mentioned above, the means to meet the need. but let's not forget that there are secondary and tertiary means. the means i have may be an ability to gather resources from elsewhere and elseone...

Blogger BrotherKen said...

He he, let me add that I do feel that right now we have a special prompting to do something more with the money that is offered in church. I was thinking more on a personal basis, but it works on a group basis also. I just think that while we are doing what we can with the money, lets not forget that money was never a big factor for Jesus or the disciples. Yeah, yeah, you need money to brush your teeth nowadays, but you can lose sight of what the real goal is.. to serve. One poor servant will show the light of God better than a rich donation. Think of what a church of a few dozen servants could do - IF they don't get caught up in worrying about where the money is coming from. I have heard it said - a ministry that requires money to exist is not of the ministry of Jesus Christ. A bit harsh, but you get the drift. If you have money to be charitable with then be charitable, if not just serve (be a friend to someone at least).


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