Monday, September 21, 2009

Hope and Outcomes - Part Two B

For this wondrous world you created, and are creating still, mountains and seas, lands and peoples beautiful beyond all telling of it, we thank you, O God of us all.
For the common humanity you created us to be, our family joined in the mystery of you, yet babbled into many branches to challenge and enrich us all, and deliver any from arrogant over-reach, we thank you, O God of mercy and wisdom...
For your insistent call to hallow our lives by loving our neighbors as ourselves, our enemies as our neighbors and you above all, we would thank you with out lives as well as our lips, for only so will we become does of your will, fulfillers of your dream, members in truth of your human family, and beautiful beyond all telling of it, O Judge and Lover of us all ....
Excepted from My Heart In My Mouth: Prayers for our Lives.

Before I temporarily suspend posting my blog until later in October, I decided to try to finish the one on Hope by concluding Part Two with section B. So here it is.

I think Cormac McCarthy is one of the most probing spiritual, Christian oriented authors of our time. In his novel, No Country For Old Men, tells the story of a tough old sheriff trying to catch a vicious killer. At one point, the old sheriff says, "People complain about the bad things that happen to 'em that they don't deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things. I don't recall that I ever give the good Lord all that much to cause to smile on me. But he did."

To me, that seemingly simple observation tells a story of the grace of God. And it reflects something essential about Christian hope. People do complain about bad things that happen they don't deserve but seldom mention the good or what they did to deserve them. We all do that. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe we get some benefit from presenting ourselves as victims when we don't get what we want; or by claiming good things are our due, or should happen because of our virtues and efforts. But whatever the reasons, deep inside we know it ain't necessarily so, as the old song has it.

All of us really know, or surely can imagine, what the old sheriff meant when he said he didn't think he gave God much cause to smile on me but he did. We can all say that, too, can't we? Just for starters, being alive is one obvious example of being smiled on by God. The natural world is another. Beauty, music, being forgiven by others, being loved by someone -- the list is long once we honestly start on it. I used to ask my wife, Jan, why she loved me. You see, if she told me, then I'd assume it was all about irresistable me. I could emphasize whatever reasons she named and so "possess" her, to use a common term for a destructive and dehumanizing way to treat another person. But her answer was always, "Why do I love you? Just because I do."

Grace is God's "just because I do." It isn't something we do, something we earn or deserve, even if we claim it because our faith is so strong, or our good works so many, or our cause so right. Even though those claims we make might be partially true, they aren't even close to completely so. Life is a gift, each one's life, and loving and being love, and work, and struggle, and learning, and being creative, merciful, compassionate and being related to others. Its all a gift. It's all grace.

That's why Christian hope is based in gratitude, not in outcomes. Or to put it another way, hope is based in our being an outcome ourselves, that is, our living gratefully in the present, what the theologian Paul Tillich called "the eternal now." Ultimately, the engine, the fuel of ethical action isn't duty, or obedience, or some self-defined goal, though all those can be contributing motives or influences. But all of them are still primarily about us, our scorecards, so to speak. We act morally because it makes us feel good and that's not totally irrelevant. But as the novelist Francine du Gray Plessix put it so provocatively, "The greed for salvation is pretty much like every other form of greed." I'd argue that it isn't quite like every other kind of greed because at least it's pointed in the right direction, which is toward God, even though it needs a mid-course correction. Gray's point is an accurate correction and worth heeding. Since the truth is that our motives are always so mixed and rarely if ever pur, our mid-course correction is back to God's grace, and back to gratitude.

Gratitude is expressed not by what we say, considerate and appropriate as that is. Gratitude sharpens how we see the world, and how we understand ourselves, and so how we at least try to live. It generates courage, humility and honesty. It unbinds imagination, as Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynmen, described it: Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things that are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which really are there." Gratitude is the dancing partner of imagination and helps us discern what is really there in life. A result of that is several degrees of self-forgetfulness and so of freedom and joy. Hope is its staple ingredient because God never ceases to smile on us.

What I mean by the freedom and joy of it is that we can work, and keep working with indomitable good will and against whatever the odds about getting a particular outcome we measure as a success, whether it be for badly needed health care and climate change, or helping rich countries like ours to find ways overcome poverty that kills children and mothers even if it means cutting back on our wanton consumerism, or establish clinics and personnel to deal with kids and adults who have curable diseases, or respect and appreciate people of other religions and cultures than our own while at the same time rejecting the destructive ways of their terrorist fanatics as well as our own fanatics who advocate killing people we consider enemies. That list could obviously go on. It's about helping each other, helping the human family, to realize God does smile on us all. At last, maybe even at first, that's what hope means. We are outcomes of it.

Think about it. And please honestly let me know your thoughts about my blog Ted

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