Much of the front page news recently is about we citizens of the United States being encouraged to focus on ourselves first (being nationalistic). But we are a people who welcome the “tired and the “poor” and the “energized” and the “rich”! Pondering this I remembered a novel from the 1950’s that became a best seller, The Ugly American, co-authored by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. It is credited as motivating President John F. Kennedy to start The Peace Corps, whose purpose is to serve persons of other countries.
The novel takes place in a fictional nation in Southeast Asia (that somewhat resembles Burma or Thailand, but which is meant to allude to Vietnam). The book was about the United States losing its historical struggle against Communism in that part of the world due to the ineptness and bungling of the U.S. diplomatic corps, stemming from innate arrogance and failure to understand the local culture. The book implied that the success of the Communists was because they practiced tactics similar to those of protagonist Homer Atkins.
Atkins refers to himself as an "Ugly American" because he is a plain-looking engineer whose calloused and grease-blackened hands always reminded him that he was, indeed, an ugly man. Atkins, who lives with the local people, comes to understand their needs, and offers genuinely useful assistance or service with small-scale projects such as the development of a simple bicycle-powered water pump.
How like Jesus and his teaching about the God of human existence being called “Emmanuel” which is “God with us” experienced through the human behavior of agape-type love: serving human needs and, in that process, having one’s own human needs addressed. The book advocates such existing is the successful way to be a diplomatic corps. The corps pattern of serving came across as America acting as arrogant with its “nose in the air”. Such an attitude made the corps really come across as “ugly” arrogant persons, who tended to keep the American help from being accepted, causing it to build hostile relationships. It was their attitude!
Jesus’ message was about the attitude of arrogance. Our Founding Fathers heard this message for they felt oppressed by British arrogance and drafted documents accordingly. But like a fever, we catch arrogance occasionally. Like all persons, we forget the calloused and grease-blackened hands of the more genuine way of living. Yes, we know “in our bones” that “calloused and grease-blackened” ugly hands that work with other hands are not only Jesus’ way, but the true democratic way! When not ‘with fever’, we know the attitude of humility is Divine. Arrogant nationalism isn’t us! Let us be rid of Nationalism’s fever and be us! Right! Well?
This tendency may start early. A preschooler takes a playmate’s toy with which to play and when confronted will say, “It’s mine!” Okay, to be generous, maybe he meant at the moment it was his, because the idea of ownership hadn’t yet taken shape in his brain. But, if ownership has taken shape, there is a tendency to justify his unacceptable action. “Mine” versus “Yours” is a powerful drive that is somehow, I think, connected to our sense of security feeling like we are “counted” as significant in a situation of challenge.
The event can become a “problem”, if and when, a young child assumes they are not “counted” as significant, and so they assume they are only “counted” as significant if they win the confrontation. This can encourage lying, as currently routinely seen in some politicians. But hopefully a lying child eventually decides the toy can be used by both; he loses interest and while not apologizing verbally unless a parent insists, he decides the “fuss” isn’t worth it. But I want to observe that the power to make him feel “counted” as significant is that of the lying child. He decides (neither the other child nor the parent) if justifying himself is the best way to prove he “counts” or not. And the event is filed in his consciousness, hopefully under “handling brain-freezes” under sub-file “Apologizing” not under “Justifying”. The two children move on without bloodshed with a sense that each “counts” as significant from being honest with themselves and others. Lying just isn’t worth it. Apologizing, even if motivated by a parent in the room, is more satisfying and less of a hassle.
Recently, a situation much like that of the two children reportedly occurred during a meeting in a White House office meeting over a White House desired pending Congressional vote. Someone said, since a national “hero” in Congress whose vote was needed is suffering from cancer, that person’s vote would soon not need to be depended upon. It has caused a public turmoil. The White House person could have said, “I apologize! I had a “brain-freeze” (justifying like the above child) that sometimes takes over my mind for a moment.” But as of this writing nothing like this has been reported. Instead, the victimizer still acts the victim and we all get drawn into arguing over “whose toy is it?” Instead of justifying, why not just admit that the child inside got loose: “I messed up. I was wrong! I want to believe I’m more than my brain-freeze!”
It’s Easter! The message of God’s silent peace rather than loud vindictive protestation of the lying that caused Jesus’ crucifixion was this: “I made you better than vindictive victimization of others. Apologize (confess) and you will begin to rise up! You will begin to feel ‘counted’!” Well?
May 8, 2018
As a male and as a Father, permit me some general observations about mothers for Mother’s Day this Sunday! For instance, I wonder if females aren’t genetically and hormonally empowered prior to knowing about Jesus, more than are men, to act like Jesus. He revealed God’s true love power that is stimulated by needs, served with attitudes of self-controlled patience, kindness, generosity and gentleness. Consequently, children seek their mother’s face in a crowd, when they are in sudden need of comfort or protection and yes, to see a mother’s glee of celebration for a child’s accomplishment. Oh, and women have 9 months of pregnancy as a head start on men to begin developing these inner attitudes. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying!
May 1, 2018
I was startled recently when a commentator said, “The United States has now been at war for 17 years! That is longer than any other U.S. war!” The commentator observed that he thought that we are increasingly emotionally invested in war (the use of guns) as the normal option to deal with disputes within as well as beyond our borders. And I wondered, how come?
This is not Jesus’ message to the Church! His message is to use “shovels of compassion” rather than “hammers of war”! Has the church forgotten Jesus’ mission is to use “shovels of compassion” rather than “hammers of war” to confront human Needs? Needs which are often created by vindictive (get even) thinking religious and secular autocratic authorities with autocratic images of gods. Yes, Jesus also used violence, but it was non-vindictive violence, of both verbal and behavioral forms to confront varieties of wrong perpetrated by both religious and secular entities. But Jesus used “shovel” language and activities (like clearing the Temple), not “hammer” language and activities to deal with sinful, less-than-human existence.
So, why don’t “Shovels of Compassion” even as verbal non-vindictive violent confrontations prevail more often over “Hammers of War” vindictive violence? First, hammers seem quicker and more consistent with human anger to stop evil in the “short run”. It’s the lesson from childhood when we have little patience, kindness, generosity or gentleness so typical of that age! Second, “shovels of compassion” draw less public and private “press” (conversation). Aren’t we humans more timid about paying attention to and talking about “Shovels” than talking about “Hammer” actions and behaviors? I think so!
The Biblical ideas to correct this are the humility of self-control followed by repentance from “hammering” to embrace the slower thought and action of “shoveling”. At least until our discipline makes “shoveling” the first and quicker thought and action! It requires developing the conviction that the power of God is in us to feel God’s Glory within as Joy and serene Peace from choosing to live our most complete selves by addressing persons with needs! If we want to feel this Joy and Peace we must start being more aware of “shovel” over “hammer” actions toward others and toward ourselves! It is this by which the “friends” of Jesus felt empowered calling it the “Good News” over the news of their Temple theologians who used the “hammer” image of God as their motivating conviction!
And, oh, the experience of the power of the “shovel” is like no other, because it is the experience of God’s Holy Spirit exhilaration! Give yourself such an experience just by recognizing more often the “shovel of compassion” when you see people filling a NEED on their jobs or in casual encounters and in every form serving, even if they are also financially paid for the service. Oh, also notice your own service of others, motivated by God in you to want to meet human needs, just for the inner personal exhilaration that God guarantees! Folks, ain’t no better “Guarantee”, bar none! So, might such “shoveling” stop a 17 year war?