06 January 2011

Truth and Love

For a number of years now, I have not made New Year resolutions. First, I have found it difficult to stare a new year in the face from a hungover composure. It seems antithetical to what making a resoluton means...."as soon as I get over the affects of this party, I will get serious about this new day." A good number of folks can't even drag themselves up until after noon...and then with hangover meds, coffee and their melons feeling like they need a size 12 hat.

This is not an indictment as much as it is simply an observation of what might be considered typical. So, why a set of resolutions? Such promises for renewal of life and commitment would indicate we that we want to leave some not-so-helpful behaviors behind in favor of behaviors that are healthy, renewing and invigorating to body, mind and spirit. None of this is why I gave up resolutions, however.

I began to realize that, if resolving to launch (or in most cases relaunch) a set of programs for improvement would have permanence, they would change each year. We would accomplish the goals set forth, find ourselves in a new place, celebrate THAT on New Year's Eve, go to bed happy and wake up with a fresh set of goals for the coming year. Yet, every year, the number one resolution (this is according to marketers) is diet. It is followed by exercise programs. Personal health is the big ticket for every new year. And we start that as we are praying to our adopted god O'Rourke while hovering over a hotel, friend's or home toilet. Is there something about this picture that doesn't seem quite right?

So, shortly after college -- while stationed in Scotland with the Navy -- I made my last new year resolution: Never make another resolution and never enter the new year in worse physical shape than I was the morning before (New Year's Eve morning). Instead, I decided to follow something that I started calling the Benjamin Franklin Method. Here is how it works.

  • Make the last days of the current year be ones of enjoying family and getting done what is necessary for one's work life. This is simply being diligent to what composes our life.

  • Enjoy whatever might be planned for New Year's Eve festivities. Change it up so that it includes different folks and different venues. Some years, stay home and enjoy alone time with one's partner.

  • If drinking is involved, stay completely sober. Here is a subtext of the Franklin Method. It is called the Dirty Harry corollary: "Some people just don't know their own limitations." To know the limits of one's capacities and attendant boundaries of civility is an essential element of character. (An aside: I do drink alcoholic beverages -- enjoying good wine, well crafted beer and good single malt Scots Whisky. I do not find it helpful having it turn into an internal toxic soup and thus lose control of my faculties and motor accuity).

  • Start the new year with ONE (yep, just one) area of life that needs attention. Now (and this is important) this is not a resolution. This area of attention is much deeper than that. This is about character....the substance of Self. What needs to shift in such ways that who I am more completely reflects the image and being in which I have been created.
This last bullet point is the heart of the matter. If one's blood chemisty (for instance) is out of whack and causing problems, this one area of attention might begin with a trip to the doctor for advice and resources for getting one's body back in balance. I had such a situation, and it has taken nearly three years to find the formulary that has finally worked. In this journey, the annual ONE thing was to continue making progress. I was never quiting and starting over during the three years. Instead, it was a 'what next, because I am not there yet' continuation. Shortly after shoulder replacement surgery this past fall, I hit that balance mark. Hit it on the head!! So, 2011emerges with a new ONE area of life needing attention. By the way: Just because one "nails" that ONE area needing attention, it doesn't mean walking away from it. Learning what is necessary and continuing its employment is a hallmark of the Benjamin Franklin Method....mastery of one's being.

Being a priest, much of what I find inside myself comes from extended times of meditation and prayer. I use those tools to look at my own character and how I function in the environment around me (which is a lot more than just relationships with other folks). As I spent time on surgical leave this fall, I journaled a question one morning: "Is Truth an external, isolated entity to which I must accede or measure up; or is it an expression of the best sense of Self as it touches the external environment?" This is a tough question by itself, but there is more. Is truth raw and painful, or, is it loving and transformational? St. Paul put these two together in Ephesians 4:15 (bless his heart):

  • Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Jumping to the conclusion of my exegetical work on that passage, I learned that "the truth" is intrinsic. It lives inside us, and, if we can touch that place, external reality can be seen in light of the internal character of Truth so that that external experience can be measured as truth. Another way to see it: If a statement, event or experience external to us is called "truth" by others, it is only Truth if our internal character can see and embrace that reality.

In pastoral ministry, I have often found that another person is adamant about what constitutes the truth of a situation. Others walk away in frustration or confusion, because they are not experiencing truth in that situation. What's wrong with the picture? The adamant person is not a pathological liar (another issue entirely) and makes a good case. Something inside me...or others...doesn't make sense. It is here that St. Paul's point becomes fundamental. I must be able to experience the Truth of Self in order to see the truth in my environment. In speaking that Truth, since it is intrinsic, it must be vesseled by love...a positive, tranformational desire for the good of all in my external environment.

We are not taught this way. In general, truth is seen as an external reality that must be weighed, measured and lived up to. It must be defended at all costs; and further, if you do not see the truth as I see it (as an example), then you are faulty. This can lead to all kinds of bad and unpleasant things (including war, fratricide, ethnic cleansing, and, perhaps the most insidious, branding another as a less than normal human). After all this, I found what my ONE area of life needing attention this coming year is: Speaking the Truth in Love.

This is going to take some work. While I always work to be truthful, I don't think I represent myself in a way that speaks truth. I am the "me" that God has created, and I have not always represented that "me" with integrity. I have often "bent" it so that others might be pleased or accepting. Ultimately, this is not very loving -- first to God and then to those folks in my relational environment. As a ready example, I would not have dared write this blog article for (potentially) the world to see even a year ago. But, this is my truth. It is who I am. It is, also, essential that the Truth of Self be delivered NOT as a weapon but as a loving gesture of transformation. Again, the opening lines of Desiderata become meaningful:

  • Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story. (from the first stanza)
This is where I start -- not where I end. It is the mandate of my coming year and will be the work of my spirit, mind and body as I press forward. I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

Blessings in this new year!

Fr. Fred+

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