15 October 2010

Is There Always an Angle?

It has been a while since I last posted a blog entry. Much has been happening, both in my parish and in my personal life. All of it is exciting in its own way. St. Andrew's has begun a Restoration Campaign that I have been praying would take place since shortly after my arrival. It is a massive undertaking, and we have incredibly gifted and passionate parishioners leading and working to make it possible for us Restore, Rebuild and Renew our internal and external fabric as well as our faith community's spiritual focus. As we prepare for the next one hundred years of ministry in our part of metro Kansas City, we are doing so with a truly renewed sense of being an integral part of life beyond our walls.

As part of the above work, we began a strategic planning process about eighteen months ago that set us on a journey of answering the question, "What is God calling us to major in as both a unique faith community and part of the diocesan family of West Missouri?" Again, we had been praying about the timing of doing this work since my arrival in 2004. Again, there were a number of energetic, bright and forward looking parishioners who worked hard to produce the final strategic plan that has just been published. We "rolled it out" in mid-September and will embark officially at our Annual Parish Meeting on 24 January 2011.

Then, along came this unexpected journey. I am growing accustomed to "paying for" the rough and tumble aspects of my youth and young adulthood. Injuries and damage add up. I was not expecting, however, to be advised by my orthopedic surgeon that I would have to have an entire joint replaced....soon. We knew it was a fait de'accompli in the next few years. But, in mid-August -- just before Denise and I embarked on vacation -- I found that the deterioration in my right shoulder joint was moving faster than anticipated. So, as I write this, I am nine days out from the surgery that replaced the joint and did additional work to bring future tightness and added stability to the supporting musculature. Upside: pain management is way better than anticipated. Downside: recovery will be longer due to the extra work -- and, I have to be at home for two weeks. That means at home...inside....going nowhere. Infection is a big deal with these things.

There is something of an upside to mandatory "confinement." I have time to think more about what I am doing and what lies ahead. I am realizing in my own life that there are twists and turns that are totally unplanned and often short-notice. I have also become more sensitive of late to angles. There is a theology behind the angles, but that will wait a bit. The angle I am most intrigued with at the moment is that which precipitates action or creates points of views and ideologies that aren't supported by anything resembling Real Truth. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article in a new journal about the state of the current electoral process. You know, the one that will lead to voting on 2 November. One has to have almost no means of public information not to know just how political ads have taken shape. It is bad enough that I mute whatever I am listening to or watching when they invade my air-space. Yes, I am very interested in who gets elected. Yes, I will indeed vote. But the rhetoric, smearing of character, and misrepresentation of facts become almost insidious at times.

All of this reminds me of the insurance salesmen that would invade college dormitories, when I was a student (38 years ago). The promise was a secure, firm and worry-free future by investing in various insurance instruments now -- payments beginning after we graduated and found jobs. Fortunately, I had learned from my dad about some of this before he died, and I just said 'no.' In doing so, I was guaranteed at least a five minute haranguing about how I was severely jeopardizing my future and family/loved ones I may have at my demise. No! Unfortunately, one of my friends purchased one of these policies. Just to report: it was a disaster, and it took him some legal counsel to get free of the obligations.

It leaves us with the conclusion that there is always an angle. It creates an environment of mistrust and doubt.

There is another kind of moral/ethical dilemma among us. In that article, I mentioned above, the author made a statement to which I have given much thought: "There is what we believe; then, there is what we hear; then, there is some other stuff; then there is the real truth."

To follow the logic: we develop a series of beliefs about ourselves, others, ideologies, our outer environment, our inner environment and larger truths that are informed my cultural folkways, family members, teachers, peers and other places we are convinced we can trust. Our actions and interactions will be grounded in these beliefs.

As we engage life, we will hear stories and vignettes of experiences in favorite places (at the club, on the golf course, in the locker room, at the spa, in the grocery store, etc.). The dialogue seems convincing and the information being shared is compelling. Has to be right. Soon, an emotional frenzy is whipping up faster than an Oklahoma tornado out of a late spring thunderstorm. Unlike the tornado, we don't have chasers to check the origin and potential direction this storm might take. Like the aircraft carrier commander said, "things will get out of hand and people will get hurt....badly hurt."

There is other stuff that enter our sphere of influence that can momentarily take charge of our moral and ethical guidance gear. A family crisis, a death, an accident, a difficult error of judgment. The list goes on.

I am not endorsing a political party or ideology in what I am about to say. I do see, however, in the recent emergence of the Tea Party, just such a frenzy -- cultural tornado -- that seems grounded in various places by misinformation, anger, and even prejudice toward particular groups of people. When all of this began, I took a more than my usual casual interest in the politics of the moment. How factual are all of these points of view that represent what is known as "political platform?" How can one group of people claim that we need to "take our country back?" I wasn't aware of an invasion. My constitutional freedoms seem well intact. I may not agree with elements of policy currently in play with our administration. Nothing seems any more hijacked than any other administration known to me in my lifetime and study of history. Yet, we have a mightily whipped up and frenzied group of people out and about.

No, I am not making light of anything. If I have a cause at all, it is one that seeks to answer the question, "What is the deepest moral good -- the embracing of which will allow me to know the design of God, the integrity of self and the action that will best meet the needs of the largest number of people?" The second question, "What actions must I take to insure that I am living with both integrity and character in the human community...all of whom are created in the image of God and who are from the same origin as me? (another time about spiritual oneness and genetic identity...the reality of Eden)

There are angles in most things. What I believe isn't always the truth. It may be an expression of part of a truth...but not the truth as it really exists. Nothing near all that I hear constitutes fact. There is a whole bunch of trash in print and on the audio/video airwaves. I'm not talking about pulp fiction. I am talking about standard stuff. There is sensationalism everywhere. How do I get to the best truth?

For me? I pray a lot. Not with words regarding "the best man/woman" or "this issue..." kind of stuff. I pray in silence. What is emerging as a sense of grounding from which to act? Then, I do research...not in my own comfort zone but from every angle I can get...right into the midst of what I might find most disagreeable. I make myself available to being wrong in my current pattern of belief. I listen for shallow thinking or overly emotional rhetoric or "deal making." I don't jump to conclusions. I wait to be sure I am centered and balanced. I don't shut others down or dismiss them out-of-hand or call them crazy if they are in a vastly different place from me. I ask questions...sincere questions...and I listen...really listen without trying to form a response while the other is sharing his/her point of view.

Now, I blow it with some regularity. My Myers-Briggs shows me as being hard-wired toward responding viscerally. I play out of my gut with information coming in. I have to watch this constantly. Frankly, I get caught out occasionally. That's when I fire dumb emails or slam folks with my own brand of rhetorical firestorm. It is nothing for which one should be proud. It doesn't answer the moral imperative that I shared above. If anything, it totally distorts it. Then, when my wits are again about me, I have some work to do to reshape the environment I have left in shambles.

In a bit more than two weeks, we will be asked to elect men and women to public office at various levels of responsibility. None of them are bad people. Each of them, like each of us, belongs to God and, in their own way, are passionate to serve their constituencies. Look upon them as God's folks. If the faith community has anything to offer, it is to love the other as we would want to be loved. Disagree but don't seek to destroy. Vote your conscience, but be very careful to inform your conscience with data that is as close as possible to Real Truth. Do your homework.

The world will be a better place, if we all took the moral high road.


Fr. Fred+