24 May 2006

Adventures In Missing the Point

Once upon a time there was a group of people who lived in the middle of a middle sized city. This group of people became friends. Very good friends. They shared meals. They shared their stuff. They laughed together. They cried together. They built things together. They saved things together. They pulled each other out of quick sand.

Some places in the city weren't terribly safe. So these friends accompanied each other through the dangerous spots. They helped each other over wobbly bridges. Sometimes they even had to carry one another through hard times.

As they did these things, they came to the attention of others who lived around them. Those outsiders stopped what they were doing and watched these friends care for one another, laugh together, talk together, and share life together. Gradually, oh so gradually, these outsiders started to make themselves known to the group. The outsiders liked what they saw and wanted to be part of this group. They began to talk to people in the group. Some of them were known to individuals in the group and others were complete strangers to all.

This was when things began to get difficult. The outsiders only saw some of the conversations and some of the activity. They didn't get to see it all. The group was only known to them in a certain dimension. They believed they knew the group, but the reality was more like an iceberg. Still they wanted to be part of it and so the group began to welcome them. And more and more they began to participate in the conversation.

The day came, however, that an outsider took what was percieved as "too much" ownership of one of the group members. On another day, another outsider stepped out of line with their sense of humor. Unknowingly, unwittingly, the outsiders had transgressed the unwritten rules of the group. And they were punished quite severely for their crimes. Because, as we all know, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

So ... my question for today is ... would you say that this group has a Christian ethic of love and grace or not?


Blogger emmegab said...

a beautifully written parable that should be taken seriously, especially by some "outsiders" as a warning to be careful where they tread. thank you. and yes, the group has a Christian ethic of grace and love to the extent they can in a fallen world.

5/24/2006 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

"He drew a circle that shut me out...heretic, rebel, a thing to flout..But love and I had the wit to win; We drew a circle that took him in."

I'm not quite sure who authored this, but I recalled it and thought it pertinent to this discussion.

5/24/2006 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

nice Ryan...

5/24/2006 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger kate said...

I know that some form of this inevitably plays out in any group. What intrigues me in this instance is the role of blogs on the situation. I don't have a lot of conclusions to draw from that, except that I think it invites intimacy from the get-go, whereas one would normally rely on slowly growing personal interaction (and/or gossip?) to get to know one another.
Don't get me wrong - I like blogs. But it's a new element that creates a new dynamic, one that takes some getting used to.
However, that skirts your question. Sorry. :) I'm also having a hard time concentrating, what with The Lion King II blaring in the background.

5/26/2006 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Schuyler said...

Isn't ownership of another person always bad? Are you saying you support slavery? Is that what you're saying? Is it?? Are you a racist?

VW=tepadoog. What the heck is a tepadoog?

5/26/2006 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger kate said...

Still thinking about this... Sometimes, when a friend has put him or herself out there and shared something personal, it's hard to know how to appropriately express love and sympathy. I guess sometimes it's easy to get carried away, especially when the forum is so public. But I suppose there are other ways. Much for me to think about.

5/26/2006 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

Schuyler, this is a serious post ...

5/26/2006 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Paddy O. said...

What is Christian about showing love and grace only to those already in the circle of friends? Even heretics and pagans and atheists will do this.

It is by risking ourselves to outsiders, not to condemn them but to teach them, to make the unwritten rules written on their hearts, and to gently pull back in those who voluntarily go outside which seems the example of Jesus. Peter who denied Christ thrice, was given priority over all the disciples.

If people do not know the right ways, who are to blame except the ones who had the responsibility to teach?

It is precisely how this group of friends treats the outsiders and those pulled by them that tells the world who they really are.

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

5/26/2006 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

"Even heretics and pagans and atheists will do this. "

And you're soooo much better than they are because you're Christian, right?


5/27/2006 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I can't say that I've been treated better by Christians than non-Christians, in fact often the converse is the situation in my life.

The original post sounds like a group that wants to hold the ideal of being kind or open or attractive without actually being inclusive. If they have values that are important to them and forms of interaction that are important to the integrity of the group, they hold the responsibility to somehow let some of those things be known to the newcomers that they seemed to engage on some level, leading the newcomers to believe they were being included? Or they need to stop pretending to be inclusive of others.

I think it's one of those painful moments when theories and philosophies come to a grinding halt and the true things we value come to the surface. Kindness and welcoming others are fabulous ideals, until they get in the way of our fun and joy. Primary friendships often trump secondary ones for most people. But not making those things clear enough can lead to some rather sticky situations.

Love and grace are broad terms. To some people they have an exact definition that can be narrowly and precisely defined. They can take each situation and say they know which is the loving response and which is not. I'm not really there anymore. Relationships and interactions are far more complex than that. Some people are able to see some of these things in simple terms. I applaud them. I wish I was able to look at every situation and say I knew what the loving and graceful thing was to do. I mean there is the obvious position that most think of as loving or full of grace, but sometimes that does more harm than good. Forgive the oppressor and send the message that the victim is over reacting to the pain they experience? Take up the cause of the victim and villanify the 'bad guy'? On and on the scenarios go. It's a difficult balance to walk and often the middle ground means doing nothing. Or to jump in and mediate situations that leave you with no energy for your family and primary/ lifetime relationships. We are finite people with even finite emotional energy. So it is with love and grace in many places.

So about the situation described, I too am guilty of loving the friends that make me feel good more than the ones that don't. It's a difficult balance and often adult relationships mirror elementary school ones in these respects. But if the group decided to expose themselves to a broader community and live their lives in such a way as to attract others, they have a responsibility to learn how to help others they are (pretending to?) welcome understand their social rules. Or to decide to not engage those relationships further. Otherwise, spare the rest of the world the pain and enjoy the friends who you really do like and don't decide to turn on one of your semi-members / half-in-the-club friends for not knowing the secret handshakes. Don't hide the boundaries if you're going to lash out if they're crossed. That’s what I’d say to them.

It's kind of like the kids who want to be popular and have everyone like them and think they're cool, but don't want to have to tolerate actually hanging around the nerds who worship them - only translated into the adult 'Christian' community.

I'm tired - it's been a long day. I hope that made sense.

5/27/2006 01:47:00 AM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

Interesting, Rebecca, but there are ways of letting people know the ropes without being hurtful. Maybe one person doesn't have time to mediate, but others in the group do.

My real point is, do followers of Jesus allow outsiders into their groups? Should they?

5/27/2006 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger Ross said...

I think that bumper-sticker christianity says "always consider other's needs before your own needs", but, as Rebecca says, that's a nice ideal that's really impossible for anyone to consistantly practice. And I would say that we christians are uniformly mean as snakes when we think that our spouses or children are being threatened (or even judged), especially in semi-anonymous forums like blogs or email lists. I think the best we can hope for, as humans, regardless of claimed faith-based values, is to let up on the gas a little and decide not to participate in literary road rage. Make a conscience decision to listen more than we talk, and hopefully we'll all learn something in the process.

5/27/2006 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

I like that ... "letting up on the gas a little."

I'd like to add to that a couple of thoughts. I think it's possible to both/and in these situations.

I think it's possible to defend friends and family AND be kind to people who are further outside the circle. I don't think that life is a zero-sum game where in order for friends and family to win, the outsiders must lose and be cursed or called names.

I think that's what the Apostle Paul was writing about when he wrote to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 13 which is so often quoted at weddings, but is really meant for all of us. If at all possible, it would be good to stop and breath and check our words to make sure they are not going to be a clanging gong that will hurt someone.

Should we never cry out in pain or anger? No, we all have the right to express emotion. But the response of our friends should not be to curse those who have caused it. Our friends need to find a middle road of helping us and helping to reconcile the sitution. The only thing that separates us from the world is our love. If we don't have that, we have nothing.

5/27/2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Paddy O. said...

scott, the guy who I was quoting was better, still is some might say. Even better than most Christians. His advice still counts for Christians, however, and anyone else who would listen. Course, it's hard to come up with an equivalent for "gentiles" so I used what I could think of.
Matt. 5:46ff.:
"46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

But, yeah, I've been rather pathetic at this sometimes. Being perfect is a hard command. Inconvenient really.

5/27/2006 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

Darned inconvenient.

Kind of goes along with "Take up your cross and follow Me." Nothing easy about that, but then we're only promised that the burden will be light.

So inconvenient ... and not easily understood.

5/27/2006 05:06:00 PM  

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