Living with myself is hard sometimes. Almost as hard as it is to live with me. I need lots of help to be a better person.
This morning, Anthony de Mello‘s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s reflections featured in William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings brought me up short.
Saʿdī of Shiraz tells this story about himself: “When I was a child I was a pious boy, fervent in prayer and devotion. One night I was keeping vigil with my father, the Holy Koran on my lap. Everyone else in the room began to slumber, and soon was sound asleep. So I said to my father: ‘None of these sleepers opens his eyes or raises his heart to say his prayers. You would think that they were all dead.’ My father replied, ‘My beloved son, I would rather you were asleep like them than slandering.’” (Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird)
My own father and Saʿdī’s father were much the same. I can’t help wondering what Dad might say today of all the slandering and the sleeping.
To my unredeemed slandering heart and mind, the sleepers (those who refuse to stay awake to what is happening in America) are readily identifiable by their choice of a news channel. The sleepers, I say to myself, are not awake…like me. Oops! The voices of Saʿdī’s father and mine alert me to my habitual slandering. They call me to a lead a more gracious, fuller, life.
But the way of living with myself and others consciously and respectfully seems impossible. It’s not simple. Slander is a sin of commission. Consenting to evil is the sin of omission. One is still called to act, but without slandering.
“Who stands firm?” asked Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his German prison cell following a failed plot to assassinate Hitler to end World War II. “Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call” (Letters and Papers from Prison).
While the masses had fallen asleep to the horror of the German Third Reich, Bonhoeffer “stood firm” and paid the ultimate price — state execution — for committing the sin of commission: resistance to Hitler and mass madness and slaughter. One might suppose that a man like Bonhoeffer’s disdained the character of those who fell asleep. But it was this same Bonhoeffer who instructed the students of his underground seminary the lesson Saʿdī’ father and mine tried to teach us.
“By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace to which others are just as entitled as we are” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
It’s hard to live with myself! I need all the help I can get. Bill Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings is a hidden treasure worth the price for anyone feeling the need to “stand up” without slandering.
- Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, September 12, 2018.
It seems to me that things have turned around in a strange way. Back many years ago the strict Bible believers said that they hated the sin but loved the sinner. And back then I thought “SURE”, and saw that this was untrue every time someone who had broken those laws was beaten or killed and their reaction, clear though unspoken, was “Well, served him/her right.” Now the shoe is on the other foot. And I find, to my shame, that I most definitely do NOT love 45, and I would feel no loss if he were — say — struck by lightening. I certainly don’t want him murdered or beaten; it would likely create a martyr’s following. But when I heard about the children at the border and the treatment of all refugees; when I heard he had withdrawn environmental regulations making life that much more difficult for the world’s children and grandchildren, especially the poor; and when I heard that in the face of a terrible hurricane’s approach to North and South Carolina about $10 million would be taken from FEMA and even more from the National Guard (whose members worked so competently rescuing people in previous hurricanes) and that money would be transferred to ICE to build more detention camps for immigrants, including children I found myself wishing mightily that 45 and all cooperating members of his administration owned expensive property right on the shore, and they didn’t get out, but were forced to ride one of the storms they created. Not very Christian, I guess, but they have grievously injured so MANY people, and I don’t think any of them care. Of course it is apparent that 45 doesn’t care, nor do his children and son-in-law, but I don’t think any of his administration care one iota either. Well, I err; they care for their wealthy white friends. Yes, BJ and I agree that in addition to all their other crimes against humanity, we hate that they have often made us feel hatred to them, and, as you so rightly say, it can make it hard to live with oneself.