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Just off the Port Bow—a place of uncertainty, adventure, and insight. Thank you for your ears, eyes and hearts. I hope to bring compassion, grace and beauty to your day.

Antagonistes Part One

I am a bystander, watching a quiet debate. My passive role in this debate is a reflection on both my retired status and my retiring persona. I call the debate a quiet one as I hear only a few voices actively squared off against one another. They are big voices, but their subject matter has not made the news.

You might say that this is a matter of no concern, a trifling over theological, homiletical and pastoral distinctions which have no bearing on the everyday life of everyday people. Those engaged in the debate know otherwise, and with them I think otherwise. The issue at stake here, and the underlying dynamics which this short essay will attempt to flesh out, is central to the human experience.

Would I be trifling with the reader's sensibilities if I asserted from the start that there is no greater issue for all of humanity; that this debate might well be considered of First Importance, no matter who you are, where you are, or what you believe?

The Issue? It's all about Grace.

This brief summary of the debate does not necessarily pique one's interest; it does not appear to be relevant to any but a handful of religious types. So, let me reframe the matter.

The Issue? It's all about Black Flies.

Spring, here in Grafton, comes in three shades: Mud Season, Allergy Season, and Black Fly Season. Somewhere between April 1st and Memorial Day you can count on maybe six glorious days of sun, low humidity, green freshness and hopeful plantings. One makes the most of these lovely days, and reckons the rest are preferable to snow, ice, and darkness.

Excepting the matter of Black Flies.

When these creatures fully embrace their calling you have no choice but contend with them. There is nothing subtle about these beasts. They lurk on the wings of every zephyr, and beneath the blush of every blossom. One must go to quite elaborate lengths to escape their pernicious pesting. In fact, one must go indoors. There, with framed glass vision, you may behold and enjoy the beauties of your garden, and imagine the sweet smell of new mown grass. You have had enough contesting with Black Flies, and settle for an indoor experience of Spring.

Over the years, knowing what May, and the receding mud, will bring, you steel your mind, body, and soul against the reality of swarming midges. The basic truth is that you dread the wretched things. They ruin picnics, ruin gardening, ruin a walk through the field or the woods, and ruin a trip to the lake. The sharpness of their bite is quite out of proportion to their size. They draw blood. They leave welts on your skin which uncomfortably persist for nearly two weeks. They get in your ears and eyes. One really does dread any hint of their presence.

(For the record, I am writing this from inside on our couch, on a lovely, sunny, afternoon, escaping from the horde of wasps who are here expressly to get us on edge for the arrival of the accursed BFs later this week.

Let me get to the point, which has to do with the things we dread; things that tend to color our experience of much bigger and more important things.

Black Flies are the dread antagonists of Spring.

Does this pattern hold with the more important things in life, things like human striving or human compassion?

One hesitates to divide people into categories, but if one must, one might say there are two kinds of people: those who gainfully strive, and those who compassionately tend. Plenty of people do both, simultaneously or in turn. Some people do neither. These are generalizations, so bear me out.

The first sort measure, manage and muscle their way through life in a loud or quiet manner. They know that they are aiming for something, and aim to get there.

The second sort are mostly aware of needs round about and within. They are not necessarily driven by causes; they are intuitively drawn to the heart.

A person of the first order, in the presence of a person of the second order, feels anxious. What is this anxiety all about?

Not too many years ago I went on a rant in reaction to the growing penchant of my colleagues to tell me what they felt instead of telling me what they thought. We were teachers, given the measurable task of compiling and transmitting reasonable knowledge to our students. Our feelings, it seemed to me, were irrelevant.

So, I ranted. Something inside me was cringing at this culturally driven parlance. It was a perceived, and real, antagonist. No one was threatening my feelings. They did seem to be diminishing my rational thought rules. So, I irrationally ranted.

But was I just dealing with a choice of words in a particular context? Or, was I dealing with something deeper?

A person of the second order, in the presence of a person of the first order, feels anxious. What is this anxiety all about?

I was recently in a meeting where the organization's rules were threatening to strangle the life out of the organization. Were I a cursing man I would have cursed. (I certainly did so under my breath.) Others, sharing my cringing reaction to this legalism, to this gainful striving - perfectly legitimate given the nature of the organization - did curse; and did so with feeling. Most of our group was there to tend the heart of our gathered mission. To hell with the rules.

Sure the rules being discussed were annoying, but was that the only thing I was reacting to; the only thing making me curse?

In both of these examples, the cringing reactions make complete sense. In both examples one might have skated through the situation with silent groans, and nothing more. But the cringing in both points to deeper issues in me. Distressed with my own feelings; such that any hint of feeling in others makes me quiver. Chafing against the pricks of the Law; such that my organization's harmless by-laws seem to throw me in harm's way.

I'll put it more plainly. My own feelings frighten me. My own failures in the face of The Law, writ big, make dealing with any law an encounter with shame.

This debate then, that which has me so curious, and troubled, is really more than religious nit-picking; it is about some basic and universal human dynamics.

I have just scratched the surface here, and will go a little deeper in Part Two of this blog post. There I will flesh out, to the best of my ability, the debate and the curious "cringing" I see. I will tease out, in the process, some examples of antagonisms which, I suspect, lurk within. There is more to this debate than meets the eye, more to the cringing than a dread of tiny insects.


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Location:Hemlock View, Grafton

Antagonistes - Part Two

Let's talk about SIN...or not!