The Ten Commandments of Change (Part Two)

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.  Commandments 1-5, unless I have changed them, are in yesterday’s post.

6.  Let it Begin with Me.  A changed world begins in changed people.  Changed worlds can also change people.  But the most powerful change is when outer and inner converge.  Watch out.  Right person, right time, right opportunity and the right choice is a recipe for something the world is waiting for and doesn’t know it.
7.  Technique isn’t enough.  At some point, there is this mysterious power called, “Inspiration,” which comes from the words for “breathe into.”  Change is part analysis, part prescription, and big part art.  Technicians and engineers are often in danger of attempting to work without value, the artistic, the visionary.  Visionaries, on the other hand, must also be guarded.  They are like the Little Girl with the Curl.  When they’re right, they’re very, very right, and…(see # 1 in Part One, “humility”)
8.  Suffering is Being Alive.  “Passion” is the word that gets used a lot, but now we tend to see it as “overwhelming love for,” and even “desire,” without the medieval meaning so often connected with it—submission, suffering, being subject to something.  Originally it referred to the crucifixion of Jesus, “the passio”, in Latin, thus, “suffering love.”  If the medieval mind was too heavily on the “being subject” part, I wonder if we have severed love too much from it.  Grieve, suffer, ache, long, these are all the aliveness of love.  Change begins when we let ourselves “love” the world passionately, and therefore suffer inevitably with and for it.
9.  Change alone, Rejoice alone.  You will love your neighbor as yourself, a friend of mine used to say.  Self-loathing people loathe others.  People who want to fix the world in an external way never really connect to the human and utterly involved nature of this enterprise.  You can stand at a distance, of course, and lob grenades at the foibles of humankind.  This is called, “commentary.”  It can be a tiny piece of change if it really changes minds, but the object of words to change must be connection and communication and ultimately a summon to understand and join together, not merely celebrate a superior mind in a hopeless world.
10.  Assessment is Necessary and Impossible.  You cannot finally know the good you do any more than the evil that you are doing, not fully.  This is never an excuse not to act.  Christians talk often of “faith”, and too often as a noun rather than a verb.  That is, it is too often a thing they “have,” like a AAA membership in case of a spiritual flat tire.  This “thing” is something they possess, a rabbit’s foot and a lucky charm that can be tossed aside after one freshman philosophy course, because it is not really faith at all.  Faith “trust” is more like a “conviction,” a belief about the way things are that is so deep that nothing so superficial as mountains of consensus and cultural agreement can shake it away.  Results are good.  They are not required to act and sometimes dissuade us from what must be done.   Get busy.  Do something.

The Other Two Sides of the Coin

Do you remember the old television show, “Newhart?”   It lives only on reruns now.  Bob Newhart and actress Mary Frann played an author and his wife who owned an inn in a weird little rural Vermont town. Among the strange characters who inhabited the town were three goony looking brothers, only one of whom ever spoke, named Larry.  Larry introduces the group the same way every time they make an appearance: “Hi, I’m Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.”

It’s crazy.  How can there be three brothers with two names?  Life tends to be flat in our minds a lot of the time.  A friend recently told me about something an old fellow told him one time:  “We often say, ‘There’s two sides to every coin.’ But there are actually three—heads, tails, and the edge.’”

Three-dimensional space is a geometric notion. These three dimensions are length, width, and depth (or height).  The edge of the coin is most frequently forgotten part of things—“depth.”  For me it represents the narrow place that many false polarities might share.  There is only one edge on a coin, not two.  It is, in a sense, its own place.  It gives a third dimension.

So many complex questions and problems require the edge for solutions.  First, the notion of creativity and depth requires the capacity to see the other side as well as our own, to truly sympathize with an opponent’s positions if they are not simply disingenuous.  Second, it means holding out in our deliberations for the idea that there may be a “thicker” set of possibilities than first appear in the “coin flip” approach to theology, ethics, and politics.

There was an episode of the old Twilight Zone called “A Penny for Your Thoughts.”  The main character, Hector, is a timid guy who’s never advanced in his job at the bank.  He’s likeable, but his life is stuck.

Watch out...there's the sign up ahead!

One day he buys a newspaper, and flips a coin into the collection pan, where it lands on its edge. As a consequence, all day that day, he can hear people’s thoughts, and it changes his life.  He discovers love in the thoughts of a woman who is attracted to him that he never had the courage to ask out.  He reads the mind of an old teller who is stealing from the bank and turns him in.  He negotiates a better position and a raise and even gets help for the old teller who had stolen the money.

At the end of the day he stops by the newsstand again and buys a magazine and throws in another coin, this time knocking the coin off its edge and his telepathic powers are gone.  But he is a new man.  He has seen into the depth of his life, discovered things he did not have the courage on his own to see.

A lot of public issues turn into coin flips these days—somebody wins, the other guys loses.  Never is there the possibility that it could land on the edge and find another possibility.  This is different from compromise.  Compromise is resolving without the coin—both of us agree to be mildly unhappy.

Gandhi

The creative depth of life offers possibilities yet unimagined.  We have to learn to look there.  Who would have thought that the 2,000 year old teachings of Jesus about non-violence would bring down British rule in India or Jim Crow laws in the American South?  But it happened.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King saw a new possibility between violent overthrow and acquiescence and discovered the creative possibilities.

It makes me wonder in our political landscape of the moment—what are we missing?  If ever we needed the dimension of depth to apply to problems of economy, work, immigration, homeland security and the other vexing issues of our time, it is now.  The great problem of politics is not merely electing different people from the ones we have at present, but in putting forth solutions that move beyond the impasses.  For that, we will require a level of creative possibility that is largely unknown in the landscape of the culture wars, limited as they are to the  “heads” of progressive change from what is on one side and the “tails” of conservative resistance on the other.

Hope resides on the edge.  May the creative leaders who can see it find us for this time.