The Space Between (Part 2)

The Space Between (Part 2)

So we can re-frame our individual, personal suffering as another form of camaraderie between us. And yet it is only one of many. Even in the midst of our chaos we find profound moments of joy and acceptance at whatever the world may bring.

As we endure hardships we press into some magical space. Exhausted, broken, weary - perfect conditions for a magic spell (which is really just life bringing around a small taste of the harvest for which we long). We have a moment.

And in those moments time does stop.

The Space Between (Part 1)

The Space Between (Part 1)

So clearly humans don’t always get it right. Most of us could come up with a list of the offenses perpetrated against us fairly quick. We know those things have left emotional scars that still bear on who we are. Who are we?

Are we the sum total of those things done to us, especially at young ages? Are we able to wipe free the slate of our childhoods? Can we possibly erase the damage left by our parents? Or is that all part of making us who we actually are?

Are the things that happened to us essential to us?

Facing the Dark Suffering of the World (Addendum)

*Ok, here is the bottom line: can we boost economies in developing countries without distorting or destroying the good things about those cultures? Is that even the right goal? Are we really to be about economy boosting or people loving?

Or neither? Do we do people in developing countries the greatest good by staying out of their way (and keeping other people out too)? Do they just need time to figure it out? Or are the needs in such places so desperate they demand action from us?

Clearly that seems to be the case. In such rabid instability the conditions are created not only for extreme poverty but for violent crime that soon leaks out beyond the borders. If we do nothing, we pay the price so to speak.

But do what? Where there are over-crowding, limited natural resources, and little to no local economies people are left with very few options. Being very poor is normal, but can be sustainable, and is not in all cases the worse existence. 

Better to be poor and maintain cultural identity than to have too many options and risk being lured away into other traditions? OR is cultural compromise a necessary condition of globalism? IF we are to take the opportunities afforded, is there a necessary price to pay?

It seems that is the case. The price is the inevitable pull toward materialistic life. Things become more important than people. Comfort takes on all new precedence. People get economic mobility but tossed in with it are some inherent vices.

So is it worth it? Starvation and extreme poverty on one hand or compromised traditional culture with a few scattered bottom of the global barrel jobs on the other. How does one know? How do honest business men in Cambodia know?

The bleakness of the picture or the frailness of the system serve to remind us, if nothing else, that there are other forces involved. The world is not merely or only economic. There are other values to consider, there may even be other worlds to consider.

That otherworldliness thing is probably the expertise of poverty. Those in its grips are almost always gifted with a healthy "far way" detachment from daily life. And, to be honest, for us caught in the throes of first-world navigation, that can be a welcomed reprise.

For most of the world's poor [not speaking here about extreme poverty] there is a remarkable sense of contentment. Certainly this could be seen as weakness, a result of ignorance, but sentimentally there seems to be an envied simplicity that goes beyond this world.

Contentment is not something to be "educated" out of the poor, perhaps it is a gift to the world. Perhaps the poor offer those of us with material resources retreat from that awful first-world poverty Mother Theresa noted (loneliness). Perhaps we need the poor.

Even more than we need them. At the risk of sounding exploitive, we must note the willingness of almost all great spiritual leaders to be poor. There are some freedoms we find only there in poverty, some inner resources the whole world could use. 

Facing the Dark Suffering of the World (Part 6)

Finally what keeps most people away from human relief and development work is the overwhelming magnitude of the problem. It is hard to know what we can do. And, frankly, it feels very serious, almost like we can’t enjoy life if we do it.

What if the opposite were true? What if we couldn’t enjoy life unless we are doing it? In other words, what if mission work is not a cosmic kill-joy? What if it actually is great fun, great community, great adventure? What if we forgot we were doing mission?

Of course there comes a time in any mission that the weight of the poverty and the physical strains take their toll. But there is also something luring about the whole thing, giving life meaning and bringing people together in very unusual ways.

What if mission is actually the great community developer of the future? What if the loads of young adults not sure what to do with life could somehow engage with and belong to a mission community (sort of like a monastic order of sorts)?

It may sound idealic to think of a communal sort of living situation (similar maybe to hotels) but why not? What is stopping us from really pursuing such a living situation? They exist in so many other parts of the world as realities.

Now, of course, those who actually do live in such mission communities would be the first to tell you of the enormous challenge. It is not an “easy” way or an “escape” sort of life. It is a commitment to sharing, giving, living with others in mind.

Americans are absolutely scared of that. We love our privacy. We love our freedom to do what we want when we want. Those certainly are not bad things. But are they that good? Is the return on those ends that great? Look around.

It seems younger Americans particularly are ready for a new sort of life. They are tired of chasing a dream that may not exist, and if it does may not be that worth it. They want more. There is so much more, just outside of our grasps.

Who will brave enough to try? Of course there are intentional communities throughout the states already, many doing very interesting things with the arts and social action. Most under the radar. Most not hip, sexy, or cool.

That’s the hard sell. At the end of the day, community, like actually making a life out of the arts, is not all that fun. It takes hard work, intentionality, long nights, lousy sleeping situations, and so forth to make dreams happen, who really wants that?

But what is the alternative? What are our other options? In this current culture we have only to try, to see what can become of our ideas. They may translate, they may eventually sort of pay for themselves, but they may not.

This is not for the faint-hearted. This is exclusively for those who refuse to barter with social systems that counter their ideals. It’s for those who care too much, who love all but must make hard choices now for a future world that is worth all the sacrifices!  

Facing the Dark Suffering of the World (Part 5)

The “world” for so many is a system of self-centered gain and ruthless carnage for all who get in the way. It is a built on taking things at whatever cost for oneself. Self-interest is the really the only motivation in such a world.

Yet there is another world. It is one we share with all humans. It is the “one blood” reality. No matter our language, no matter our culture, no matter our gender, no matter our perspective, we are all one race sharing the essential quality.

In this sense the world is not necessary evil it is latent potential. It is first article “good.” It is the reminder that God is Creator of all (and therefore it’s Father). It pulls us beyond our creeds to see the humanity of individuals from so many various backgrounds.

How do we get from one world to the other? How do we know which one we are dealing with? How does it go from being basically good to being downright evil? Perhaps this is just the question to get us launched into our discussion on suffering.

What is clear is that “the world” in the bad sense is a pattern of thinking, a perspective, and way of looking at life. Generally speaking, it is to see life as non-spiritual, merely material, humans in that sense are stripped of soul (or at least it is minimized).

People become a means to an end. Sometimes this end can be methodically intellectual, an idea or belief system taken to the farthest degree (think Naziism, Communism). People must fit into this system of thinking.

Sometimes it is only loosely rational. People are simply props to my ever-unfolding dream. They are here, real, and possibly meaningful, but only in the sense they help me achieve my goals, namely survival of the fittest.

People are not, in this version of the world, spiritual beings - profoundly human, a mystery to be celebrated. They are temporary means to an end. The world tends to deal only in the most concrete currencies, namely survival.

Often the leaders of this version of the world are extremely determined, powerful men. Though their ideologies may be at times abhorrent, they have one thing right: we can do what we want. We have the power to do amazing things as humans.

If we decide to end poverty we could. Not that we can actually get in and make people change, but we can change the conditions, systems, and structures that perpetuate cyclical poverty. We could, with concerted effort, actually change this.

Are we determined enough? Do we care enough? Do we believe enough in the power of transcendent ideas to motivate people? Do we believe the innovations of technology can foster more than economic development for first world countries?

Who gets to determine what kind of “world” this will be is largely up to us. Are we willing to remain in the Way, slowly and steadily working for long-term peace? Are we committed to believing the power of good is worth it?  

Art as War (Part 2)

Some will undoubtedly see art as compromise, escape from the brutal reality of true relief and development work. Can anything actually replace the fierce truth of holding the hands of those who are dying, forgotten and forsaken by their people?

Is anything as real as that? Perhaps not. And as immensely important as it is, the workers are few, and the harvest overwhelming. So the logic of pulling one off the line so to speak to pursue art seems more than mildly narcissistic and crude.

In the face of brutal reality how is pursuing artistic impulse a legitimate way to be “part of the solution/cure?” Artistic vision is by nature very isolating, very consuming, and very persistent. Once given credence, it all but devours one’s life.

But, if artistic vision is truly born in the cauldron of compassion, in the tensions of brutal truth and what could be, that vision can literally birth justice bearing fruit. The art literally bears the longing, the hope, the suffering, the pleading.

That sort of art carries with it, embodies, incarnates the very Spirit of God. It moves people beyond flimsy, mild intentions, or philanthropic charity. It profoundly messes with their vision of reality. It draws them into the suffering. It penetrates their comfort.

This vision of art as agitator, as literal voice of the voiceless, can be over-bearing, unseemly, aggressive, almost obtrusive, but it does not have to be. There is still style and tact; if executed well, the average person initially won’t know it is wrought with such. The real tension with artistic vision often comes in the marketing. In other words, creating a compelling, prophetic piece of art in one’s basement is one thing. It has merit in its own right. But how does one get an audience for such a piece of art?

We’d laugh to think of the Biblical prophets on the street corners today with no serious audience. In the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah the words of the prophets, though not always heeded, were heard all the way to the throne of the kings. In other words, the message had an audience. It may sound silly or unremarkable, but the difference between Jeremiah and the guy on the corner today may be context, or audience. One was called into a significant role, one was not really.

Can we think of making art without an audience? Can art be made in isolation of an audience? Will compelling art make a way for itself? Will it wriggle itself into a place where it can infect a group of people with holy discontent?

How can we free art to be an agent of change? How can we release it without being sucked into a system of selfish ambition that tends to favor things that are flattering to the system? Does ambition for our art to succeed necessarily taint the art?

Can art be experienced as more than promotion for the artist? Yes. Yes. Yes. If done well the art will take both artist in creating and audience in receiving well beyond the realm of cash flow. The business reality will be overshadowed by the eternal presence.

This, after all, is sort of the goal of art: to transport artist & audience beyond cause and effect, to transcend transaction, to on a soul level actually connect deeply to what is important and eternal. If not this, we have not art but mere temporary distraction.