15 June 2010

Staying Off Love's Hook

"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, 'FOLLOW ME, AND I WILL MAKE YOU FISHERS OF MEN.' And they straightway left their nets, and followed him." (Matthew 4: 18-20)

". . . for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew 7: 2)

". . . but speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up into him in all things . . ." (Ephesians 4: 15 - all KJV)

One often hears talk of how hard it is to reach people with an urgent message. Of how difficult it can be to "get through." You can hear this complaint from people with every sort of message, from all walks of life, at every level of success and endeavor. Sometimes even, amazingly, from some very grumpy, disagreeably-mannered individuals. Folks whose whole presence, tone and demeanor are enough to make you wonder how they ever manage to stomach the people they're trying to reach - much less ever get round to reaching them. Misanthropes are always despising the human creature and then wondering why he doesn't take their advice. As if the fellow who is perennially disgusted with me is sure to have the best idea of what will give me real joy, real fulfilment, real wholeness and peace. Indeed, it's rather a fair bet that, however good or necessary his message may be, I'll always find a way - conscious or unconscious - of fortifying myself against it.

No, whatever the reason may be, disdain of ordinary people, and virulent disgust at all their pathetic little vices and failings, remains a sorely ineffective way of convincing them that you either know or want their best interest. And here you'd think the great god Contempt, with his singleness and ferocity of purpose, could easily batter down any human defense but the most implacably hardened and wicked.

And yet - again and again - I find that, no matter how wicked or well-fortified a given heart may be (my own included), somehow Love always finds a way in past the sentries. Even when it winds up being utterly expelled - ridden out on a rail, as they used to say - Love always manages to secure a foothold of some duration, large or small. And not just any foothold, but as often as not, I'm told, one reaching all the way into the citadel of our most august, resolute, indomitable ambitions and life-strategies.

I mean here, of course, not just any old clumsy, overbearing, obnoxious love, but the very oldest kind - otherwise known as the kind that gets results. I mean that wise, patient, watchful, stand-ready-and-waiting-to-act-when-bidden sort of love, which most of the time is so quiet you barely know it's there. The kind that knows you better than you know yourself, and doesn't despise you for it. Indeed, from what I hear, it actually enjoys the knowledge - at least after a fashion, and no doubt, again, a very old fashion. After all, what is the love that works, if not the power to see past the glorious mess you and I have made of ourselves, to the exquisite blueprint the Knower had in mind in the first place? It works, again, because it's got something to work with - in this case, the very same work from which God rested on the seventh day. You remember, that work of which He said (and apparently meant it) that it was "very good."

Now from what I gather, that includes even you and me even now - or at least until we get our grubby fingers in the pie. For some reason it almost never occurs to us children of Adam, that the One who made us very good might also know how to make us even better.

And so He does. Though exactly how Love gets past our noses, and sometimes all the way into the heart of the camp, remains a mystery. Indeed, it's likely just as well we sapient humans are not able to get His particular method down to a scientifically repeatable formula - as in lather, rinse, repeat. In no time at all our Scientific Love would become, like almost everything we do, a matter of mere power, technique and manipulation, eventually coming to resemble something much more like - well, hate - in our ever-so-industrious hands. As it is, our most sophisticated precision instruments remain very poor tools for following, much less charting, Love's movements.

And so, partly because He moves so quietly, and not only seems but is so useful, Love maneuvers past all our best sharpshooters, extends to the proud watchman the countersign, and slips in. And unless our command centers move quickly to intercept Him (as we usually do at this point), we'll find He has changed - quite beyond recognition - not only the plan and point of attack, but lookout points, supply lines, battlefield, indeed the enemy himself. After all, the very worst enemy - of anyone or anything human - is that one who, however good he may be at massaging our self-importance, is even better at (to use Mick Jagger's immortal phrase) laying our souls to waste. Love knows that. Love understands our real enemy. He knows it is something, and someone, far bigger than those familiar, annoying weaknesses of ours that stand in the way of our most cherished self-images and self-projects. Love remembers, and not just the outward impressiveness but the inward hatefulness of Satan - and particularly in those busy, world-depends-on-us moments when we're most apt to forget.

But now suppose instead we're on "God's side," to put the matter very loosely. Suppose we're on the other side of the line, and trying our darndest to get in to somebody's heart. Not all the way in, which might actually move us to greater kindness than we'd planned on, or greater mercy than we'd made provision for. But just enough to make our chosen target seriously uneasy, without inflicting much of any real discomfort on ourselves. Suppose, in short, our plan is merely to "use" love to "get at" or "get through to" somebody - to make our indelible point, to drop our verbal bomb, and then move on. It may even be someone with whom we have a standing "issue": perhaps somebody we still find, after all these years, very hard to forgive, or haven't found the time to ask forgiveness of. Remember, there's nothing like the double-pointed arrow of Truth spiced with offended grievance for driving home one's point - besides making it doubly painful. Nor is there anything like the cudgel of blunt, heavy-handed Truth for covering over the offenses we've caused, or papering over the wounds we're much too busy too heal.

In either case we do well to keep one thing in mind. Love never goes anywhere - not even deep inside the most landmine-enclosed, barbed-wire-barricaded heart - without taking us with. Once inside, of course, and under His direct orders, we'll also be under the very strictest directions as to where we go, and for how long in each place. But once in, we're in it for the long haul. And that's true regardless of how weak or strong our own native capacity to love may be. Even the feeblest, most primitive love doesn't mix well with "hit-and-run," and then going off in search of new, more exciting war-fronts. Though it remains a formidably effective recipe for keeping communication and supply lines open. Besides being the worst of all bacterial cultures for nursing the war-germs of unforgiveness.

In sum, if your aim is to cut to the chase, get in and get out, etc, etc, by all means do not add love to the mix of your various motives for speaking the Truth. Especially if you have some difficult or painful truth to impart, be sure to convey it in the bluntest, most in-your-face, right-between-the-eyes, "it's-all-the-same-to-me-if-you-accept-it-or-you-don't" manner you can. Also be sure to choose all the most door-slamming, lay-down-the-law, "now-listen-that's-just-the-way-it-is" words you can think of for the occasion. Above all, do your level best not to understand what's it's like to be that individual: what she's afraid of, has to contend with, etc. I mean, that's God's department, right? Besides, really savage bluntness not only vastly improves the odds of that door's being slammed in your face, but actually helps to ensure that it stays slammed. In addition to making it that much harder to reopen from either side. And of course the greater the lapse of time, the harder it will be to reopen. Nobody waits forever. And then, before you can say "Prodigal Son's Elder Brother," one of you will be safely dead, and the other of you will be - dare we hope? - off the Hook.

Oh, to be sure, the other way - the Way in which we choose to convey an urgent message - must have some measure of importance, however hard to determine. But then again, really - in this fast and furious Age of not-a-second-to-lose deadlines, and life-or-death profit margins, how important can that measure be?

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