Ten Commandments for Working for Change (Kingdom of God Version)
I am not sure why I started this. I have been thinking, at 57, about how disappointing the world, other people, the church, society, politicians, even myself, are. And yet, I hope. I still think things can be better. This is mysterious. I went to Mount Thinkaboutit to consider this, and came down with two tablets carved in sand, so they can be easily revised if needed, but these are some things I have thought about in my experiences thus far.
- First Things First. The ministry of healing requires clear priorities. The First Commandment is always the First Commandment. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” “Let God be God,” is redundant. God IS
God. The only question is, “Will we rail against God and the universe and the Way It REALLY Is or not?” All of our spiritual traditions say God doesn’t care for human deities running around lording themselves over the rest of us. This keeps motives clear, priorities arranged and a healthy dose of humility in all of our efforts.
- Caring IS change. We are changed the moment we care. The poor are my neighbors, friends, or estranged kin, not problems to be eliminated or solved. Helmut Thielicke, the theologian, once said that sin entered the world when God was first spoken of in the third person by Satan: “Did God REALLY say?” Maybe the same is true of our neighbors—when we talk about them in place of “I-Thou,” as Martin Buber called it, we get, well, what we have. Listening, being present, loving our neighbors has already changed the conversation. Until you care, nothing changes. Not caring is a tempting way of protecting from the hurt, but it is ultimately impossible for being really alive.
- Politics alone cannot heal. It can facilitate genuine healing or get in its way. The same can be said of all the “principalities and powers”—economy, power, business, civic life, and even religion. They are instruments to occasionally use but never of eternal value for themselves. Sometimes it is the obstacle to go around, sometimes the opposition to ignore but never a god in whom we trust wholly. Politics is pretty important, which is why it is always overestimating itself
- Epiphanies are doorways! Real change begins with ideas, relationships, and genuine connection. Money, power and importance can only follow them if the change is genuine and the commitment unwaivering. Money, fame, and power are not usually agents of change so much as instruments of resistance. They get on board when it suits them, and left to themselves tend to prefer comfort, control and micromanaging (i.e., spiritual anesthesia). Because change will always bring the Unholy Trio into question, they become anxious because they will decrease if things do change. They do not like this, but sometimes the numbers just aren’t with them any more. Epiphanies are fast track connections.
- The Power of the Question. Before transformation was the question and it must be asked by right person at the right time. “Questioning” can be a somewhat self-righteous exercise, however, even a delusional self-perception (this was franchised in the United States in the 1970s, causing the number of people who were at Woodstock to quadruple). Real questions, like real change, have the element of self-involved investment/caring/suffering.
Part Two tomorrow…
Napoleon Dynamite. It’s been seven years and I still laugh at this movie. I have it on DVR so I can speed through to favorite moments. A friend and I were laughing as we sent quotes back and forth this week.
- Napoleon Dynamite: Do the chickens have large talons?
- Farmer: Do they have what?
- Napoleon Dynamite: Large talons.
- Farmer: I don’t understand a word you just said.
His dialogue is so painfully true to life. I knew kids just like him, and he talks like them. The humor is not cruel, slapstick, humiliation or vulgarity–it’s recognition and insight into irony. You feel the pain and wince because you’ve been there as one of the characters in that movie.
- Napoleon Dynamite: Stay home and eat all the freakin’ chips, Kip.
- Kip: Napoleon, don’t be jealous that I’ve been chatting online with babes all day. Besides, we both know that I’m training to be a cage fighter.
- Napoleon Dynamite: Since when, Kip? You have the worst reflexes of all time.
- Napoleon Dynamite: Well, nobody’s going to go out with me!
- Pedro: Have you asked anybody yet?
- Napoleon Dynamite: No, but who would? I don’t even have any good skills.
- Pedro: What do you mean?
- Napoleon Dynamite: You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.
It’s the little details–Don the Jock, mocking and threatening but never actually doing anything but sneering and shaking his head; the bully who kicks Napoleon’s pants to mash his “tots” when he refuses to share them; the kids in the bus screaming when Lyle shoots a cow without thinking about who’s watching; the town rich girl who always wins everything because she was entitled from the get-go and the faceless mass of kids who never have a chance. Then the principal—lecturing Pedro for his “cruelty” for mocking his opponent with a piñata and later leering at the Happy Hands dancers do their skit bare-footed at the assembly. I could go on.
Napoleon grabs onto a new kid from Mexico in the desperate hope for a friend who might stick by him. I winced. I was that kid. I spent most of my life as an outsider, since I moved throughout childhood. I attended seven different school systems in five states before I graduated high school due to my father’s job. I get “not belonging.” I had to fit in and figure out a world others created, often obliviously, before I arrived.
I am actually grateful for these experiences. Any capacity I have for empathy and compassion owes a lot to this experience in my life. While America is throwing trillions around I think we ought to move everybody in the country at least once, some of us to a foreign country, for at least a year so we can grow up a little and have some informed opinions. The lack of imagination, openness to others and real knowledge of what it means to be “dislocated” probably has a little to do with our trivial politics and fear-based anxieties about the rest of the world. Once you’ve been the powerless, unimportant and an outsider, you never see life the same again.
I tell young couples pondering marriage that friendship is one of the most underestimated predictors of marital success. As I approach 38 years with the same woman, I credit some of it to a sense of humor and the fact that we like each other. Once when she dramatically said, “Sometimes I just want to RUN AWAY, I asked, “Can I go with you.”
My version of, “I caught you a delicious bass.”