Friends, it’s time to abandon your self-care regimen. This is especially true of those of you in helping professions but frankly it extends to everyone. The suffering you feel is largely self-imposed because you’ve caught yourself in a wish. I wish a man hadn’t burst into flame on my shift (apologies to Ryan), I wish that man didn’t hit that other man in the face three times three feet in front of me (that one is in my lane), I wish the world wasn’t hurtling inexorably toward climatic catastrophe and mass extinction.
You’re addicted to your wish about the way you think things should be because it creates meaning for you. The secret you keep from yourself is that if your wish ever came true the meaning you create would collapse. Your wish is crushing you and your feeble efforts at bandaging the wound are failing (by design).
Change is necessary, justice ought to be done but the question for you is, what can be done within the capacity of your own will? Probably very little! But with a firm handle on your will you have a chance to see what might be done inside your sphere of influence. If your sphere doesn’t extend very far, well you’re going to need a few friends aren’t you?
Doting after our precious self is getting us nowhere. Time to come to terms with our own poverty, get real about our very limited personal capacity, build power and coalitions more broadly, and face the world optimistically about what is set before us.
A few things published in 2019 that I’m proud of:
Last week I had lunch with a Catholic missionary and an Episcopal Friar. They were talking about church polity and doctrine. Kind of comparing notes I guess. It was interesting because they’re both quite convicted/convinced re the rightness and importance of doing things in the right way based on the correct interpretation of doctrine, scripture, and tradition.
There is something quite attractive about conviction in an age primarily characterized, as it is, by doubt. Many post-liberal-post-modern-post-post-irony so-called “Progressive” Protestant Christians (like me) want to chalk up this general inability to come down strongly on any particular claim about truth as something to do with divine mystery. But really we have to say that doubt about what’s true—doubt that something can be true—dominates the culture from top to bottom. So when someone appears to be confidently convicted about something it’s a bit of a surprise.
This is different than stridency, which is so widespread, especially in our politics, and which is a reaction against the age of doubt we’re living through. Stridency screeches because it’s filled with doubt while conviction quietly stands on ground it is confident will not shift under its feet.
So, I’m like this vaguely Wesleyan lapsed Methodist guy. My view is chronically infected with doubt and I often feel myself resisting the rising spring of stridency struggling to fill the void. Now, obviously there are Methodists out there who can go toe to toe with anyone on polity and doctrine and all that but I found that I was sitting there thinking, all I really care about is mercy. If anything gets in the way of that I’m just really ready to toss it in the bin.
Perhaps that is my conviction: that anything getting in the way of communicating grace to the person in front of me ought to be left in the dust, including—paradoxically—my own conviction that mercy is all that matters. I’m happy to affirm someone’s deeply held conviction that communion ought to be carried out in just a certain way if that conviction is what they need to experience grace, even though I think the whole song and dance gets a little bit too heavy for the ritualization of a simple meal to bear.
When I explained all this to a friend he replied that utility is a deeply held Wesleyan value, so it may be that this is no surprise. Do my doubts loom larger than they actually are? Are my theological convictions more solidly supported by tradition than I know? These things are really only borne out in practice, which is one reason why I continue to show up in spaces where marginalized people gather—to see what it really takes to communicate grace to people who need it most, and to see what it means to accept grace from them in turn.
These are books I technically finished in 2019 insofar as I read every word on the page. But what is “reading a book?” In grad school I learned to “break” a book: that is, not to read it but to systematically break it down into introductions, conclusions, chapters, headings, main points, thesis statements, and themes. Is that really reading or is it some kind of brute force data extraction?
So I have a long list of nonfiction books in my “reading” category but some part of me feels I haven’t “finished” reading them. I’m still breaking them. Or maybe I go break a piece off now and then when I need some data.
Fiction doens’t really work like that though—not for me. So the fiction list here is longer.
In part, it is so long becuase over the summer I accomplished my goal of reading the entire Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Except for a one novella I couldn’t find in the library and a couple of short stories, I finished every book. The whole series is dying for a breezy TV adaptation.
Here’s my ideologically motivated historical gloss on the divide between establishment Democrats and the Bernie wing of the party:
There was almost a European socialist revolution in 1848 but the (GUESS WHO!?) liberals sided with the conservatives and all the socialists got thrown out of Germany. The only people left in power were blood and steel conservative Otto Van Bismark dickheads. Fast forward 66 years and Europe is throwing its entire male population into the meat grinder.
Meanwhile those German socialists came to America, fought for the Union in the Civil War, started making cheese and sausage in Wisconsin and got a bunch of unions going.
So I guess vote for Biden at your own risk.
Until last year the space this building is on was 20 parking spaces. Now it’s 60 one bedroom units of Permanent Supportive Housing for chronically homeless individuals. The Epsicopalian Cathedral across the street gave the land and helped finance construction.
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Arvo Pärt (1935- ) Since 2011 Pärt has been the most performed living composer in the world. No big deal.