My Latest GST (Grand Sweeping Theory)

Posted by on 03.03.09 | 7 Comments
Filed Under Uncategorized

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

Warning: Illegal string offset 'status_txt' in /home/virtu151/public_html/wp-content/plugins/share-and-follow/share-and-follow.php on line 1168

I am not much for grand theories of everything. Marx had one, Hegel had one, Freud had one, and sooner or later all of them more or less went by the boards. I am not quite up to the standards of those three, and so any grand sweeping theory I have is more or less doomed from the outset. Nevertheless, here on the Virtual Teahouse, I am going to offer yet another Grand Sweeping Theory.

Because I work in what is called a “liturgical” church, we observe various seasons; the one we are now in is Lent, a penitential time far more honored in the breach than in the observance. The first Sunday of this season is always devoted to a consideration of the temptations of Jesus. As I was considering this story for the twenty-seventh time in my preaching career something occurred to me that quickly became my new GST. There are not many temptations, there is only one temptation that comes to us in many forms. That is the temptation to reject our basic humanity and to try to become more than we really are, more than fully human. The Hebrew bible nails this one right on the head, by the way, for in the very first story that involves humans as active participants the serpent overcomes Eve’s reluctance to eat the fruit by saying “Oh no, you will not die if you eat it, you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” Quite remarkable. Eve’s “disobedience,” if that is what it is, is born of a desire to become more than human.

I think that is how it is for all of us. It is hard to be a human being; we live with a variety of limitations which include having to suffer, getting old, not knowing, feeling helpless in the face of pain in those we love, lonlieness and so forth. To embrace the true fullness of what it means to be human is to embrace all that, to accept it and to say this part of what it means to be me. Every one of us is tempted much of the time in one way or another to seek a way around all these limitations. Advertising is based upon this whole idea. Get a certain cell phone plan and quess what? You will have “No Limits.” Buy a certain car and you will either be just like Tiger Woods or incredibly attractive to whomever you really want to be attractive to. Think about that ridiculous hair care ad for aging male boomers that began: “we were the generation that said we wouldn’t get old, and we didn’t!” No, we just bought this hair dye and once again were as hip and with it as we were when we had acne and couldn’t talk to girls without blushing. This stuff is all preposterous, but it works on the same principle; most of us at one level or another don’t really want embrace the true fullness of our humanity, and so we actually fall for stuff that tells us we don’t have to that, that tempts us to reject our humanity and become more than fully human.

Some times the temptation speaks to our pride, as when Bernie Madoff rips off people who trusted him to the tune of fifty billion dollars because, well, the rules don’t really apply to him; he is special and different. Sometimes the temptation speaks to our shame, as when we live with this more or less chronic sense of inadequacy, barely enduring ourselves because we just didn’t do well enough. That sense of inadequacy can spiral into the temptation to real despair because of that gnawing sense that being me isn’t good enough and there is nothing I can do about it.

Saying “Yes” to temptation in whatever form it takes is thus not about being weak or bad. It is about believing at some really deep level, a level perhaps that does not even rise to consciousness, that whatever I am is not quite enough, and therefore I need to escape what I am and become something more. I contrast this, by the way with a healthy dissatisfaction that all of us need from time to time with what we have done. If I really screw something up, say this blog, then I need to notice that and tell myself I can do better than that. That is a good thing. That is about pushing myself to fulfill my human potential, not about dissatisfaction with being human. The root temptation all of us face is not about becoming better at what we truly are, it is about wanting to escape what we truly are, become other or more than true, complete, full humans beings.

The bad news in all this is that nothing is so limiting as rejecting our limitations. People who don’t love what they truly are as human beings have a hard time loving others. People who have no compassion for themselves have a hard time truly extending compassion to others. People who who don’t tolerate mistakes in themselves notice mistakes in others, often to the exclusion of everyting else. Beyond that, I can’t even count the number of times I haven’t tried things because I was fearful either about the outcome or about how good I could be at whatever it was. The temptation to reject what we are for the sake of trying to become something more is, in my new GST, the single thing that prevents us most comprehensively from fulfilling our true potential as people. On the whole, those who have most embraced their own humanity are the ones who have come closest to fulfilling their highest and best selves.

Which brings me to Jesus. We know what the church says about him theologically. But I don’t think he resisted, and even rejected temptation because he knew he was somehow participating in the divine life in a unique way. Who knows whether he had even the slightest idea about any of that. I think he resisted and even rejected temptation because he accepted his full humanity with all that humanity implied. By saying “Yes” to his own humanity he could say “No” to every temptation to reject that humanity.

The good news is that we can do that too. We don’t have to live as people who don’t really like being people. We can embrace what we are, fully and completely. We can say “Yes” to our own humanity, and thus become free to say “No” to the temptation to try and be something different. To do that is the first and most important step in overcoming our own demons. So now I believe, in accordance with my GST, that Lent is not a time to focus on how bad I am. (Actually I never believed that, but my rhetorical style is dialectic, so I threw that line in.) I believe that Lent is time to focus on the fullness of what it means to be a human being, and to accept that, to embrace it, to live into it as completely as ever I can right here and now. In that way I, and all of us, can do what Jesus did, say “Yes” to our humanity so that we can say “No” to every temptation to reject that humanity. For that is the road to real spiritual health, the path we are all called to walk.

]]>

timeline

7 Comments

have your say

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. Subscribe to these comments.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

:

: