Friday, November 5, 2010

You just can't win

In the bible study we got talking about bullies. Not sure how that came up from Romans 5 but I learned a thing or three.

John comes to pretty much whatever is going on at the church. The things that don’t cost extra that is. He’s on a fixed income so he’s got to keep things pretty simple. It isn’t that he comes to the free sessions – cause, of course, nothing is really free is it? It all gets paid for on Sunday mornings when those brass flying saucers get passed round. John has let me know – in confidence – that he tithes. I tell you this because it deserves to be shouted to the world.

John’s radical generosity is only the tip of the iceberg. Surely he is who Jesus was talking about when he proclaimed that certain people would inherit the earth. John’s health is a mess. He suffers from multiple issues that on occasion leave him lying on sidewalks or ditches where he’s hitchhiking – trusting and depending on the kindness of Samaritans (cause most Pharisees have too much to risk losing).

To see the two of us standing together you’d figure you could put two, or maybe three, of him into my frame. But while I tower over him physically, I feel that he is a spiritual giant next to me.

He likes to tell stories. I’ve heard the one about the army sergeant who taught him to swim many times. It’s a beaut. And the one about him refusing to make excuses – and getting off easy because of it – is worth hearing on a regular basis.

For such a little guy he has this amazing physical stamina that comes from somewhere deep within. His guts was the subject of the story I heard for the first time Monday morning. Maybe he’s told it before but this was the first time it struck home.

As a young boy in school he told us, he was always the smallest. This meant he got picked on. I guess he took it for quite some time. Then, one day, he flipped. The rage inside him found expression and he wailed his fists at some big bully ‘til they pulled him off.

This just made him even more of a target. There’s no shortage of bullies in this world looking to take their self-deluded insecurities out on victims that seem as weak as what they see in the mirror. John met each one first with peace and kindness - and when that didn’t work – his temper would take it from there.

I guess his crazy temper soon created a zone of protection for himself. Bullies, I’ve notice, will soon try to make friends with anyone who won’t run when they say “boo” (if you can’t scare em – seduce them to be part of your crowd – manipulative strategy #2). But John had only succeeded in fighting his own battles when he had to ask “am I brother’s keeper?”.

His younger brother was severely learning disabled. He was also physically challenged. John would find the bullies taking shots at him in the schoolyard – and once again – lose it.

I guess this went on for years. John told us that it was only as an adolescent that he finally learned to control his temper. I asked “how’d you do it John?” hoping to pick up a few tips for myself.

He said “my dad sat me down.” His dad told him there was no way to win by fighting. He told him that there was no end of the bullies in this world. They are everywhere. Fighting is what they know and what they want. They will draw you into their misery if you let them.

“But you can’t ever win that fight” his father taught.
I wondered at such a father. Where did he find this strange wisdom? In a culture that identifies so strongly with war – that claims it was on the battlefield that Canada found it’s nationhood – who was this man?

While his contemporaries sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” he heard the soft voice of a master who knew how to lose a fight and win heaven’s hopes. The guy who taught “love your enemy” and took the worst that the bullies could dish out – without comment – was the guy who I see walking down the street to bible study on a Monday morning to try to teach me how to rely – once again - on that invisible power called faith.

The Poor and Joy
I am sure that poor people can be joyful. At times of celebration they seem to overcome all their suffering and frustration in an explosion of joy. They shed the burden of daily life and they live in a moment of freedom in which their hearts simply bound with joy. It is so too with people in community who have learned to accept their wounds, limitations and poverty. They have discovered liberation. They do not have to hide away. They are free.
- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.319

We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
3There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. 5In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

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