In which our hero snatches 6 hours of sleep from the jaws of worry and returns to her scarred and battered computer, refreshed and ready to face a new day! A day of tough stuff, but a day, too, of important endings: Chapter 5 put to bed.
I sent the lion's share of 5 to Magda last night - ok, this morning, just before dawn - leaving only the last section 3. c. to be written. What might the religious voice bring to the public discourse? Hope and meaning. This, following the later thought of Paul Ricoeur, once he finally integrated the religious with the philosophical, having kept them apart for so many years.
The difficulty here, of course, lies in the anticipated disconnect between the believer in God and one who does not.
A further difficulty lies in the anticipated use of the religious voice to proselytize, rather than bring the missing elements of hope and meaning to the table. So I do not mean the encouraging of those who do not believe in God to "repent and be saved." This is not a question of "fixing" the content of someone's belief. It is the theological embodiment of the redemptive Kingdom of God drawing near to people.
Wha. . .?!
It is the living and acting out of theological motifs called Creation (1), Fall (2), Redemption (3), and Consummation (4).
It's what we know as (1) the world as it should be, (2) the world as it actually is, (3) the world as we can change it through forgiveness and do-overs, and (4), the world as it's gonna be when everything is perfected.
(and for "world" we can also substitute "person").
OK! Reality check: I have just turned away one "Leon", who presented himself at my door - just this minute - wanting gas money to get to Washington D.C. . . . sigh. What would the 'religious voice' have to say about that? (My secular/worldly voice keeps getting up and looking out the window to make sure he hasn't stolen the candlesticks on the porch. . . . He's apparently visiting all the houses on our little square. How would the theological motifs apply in this case?
Well - the pious/liberal answer might be to have given him money. Poor guy! He's 'disadvantaged', clearly. The jaded-conservative answer might be to tell him to get a job like everyone else (but then again, I don't have a job - or a paying job, anyway), or refuse giving him money on the grounds that he will likely use it just to buy drugs. I've been lied to before by panhandlers. And one amazing thing I discovered is that - much as many people don't actually "see" a beggar (even if they give him or her money) - so, too, many beggars don't actually "see" their targets. What they seem to see instead is a moving purse or wallet. I was quite taken aback by this.
But what is the "religious" answer - the answer that brings hope and meaning to a world where there are people on the streets knocking on doors asking for money? Claiming need.
I'm not sure exactly what to say. And I've always hated the answer "It depends." But: It depends.
It depends on the person, it depends on the circumstances, it depends on my own willingness to be uncomfortable with the world as it is, while yet persevering in the hopes to make it what it should be. With Leon, I see a stepping outside of relationship to solicit, apart from either relationship, circumstance, or institution. Requests for help are generally done either relationally (those I know, live close to, or am related to), circumstantially (stopping to help an accident victim or lost child, for example), or institutionally (unemployment insurance, welfare, job training, local church or civic group).
Leon appears to be taking a lesson from the bank robber who, upon being asked why he robbed banks, replied: "Because that's where the money is."
OK - so maybe Leon just happened to find himself in this neighborhood, on his bike, with an immediate and pressing need for money for gasoline . . . . But chances are he did not. Chances are he 'targeted' his approach, picked the nicer-looking houses (OK, I often refer to our little rental house as the "ugly" house on the street, but you know what? Even as people say "Oh no - it's not ugly!" everyone knows exactly which house I mean, when I say we live in the ugly house. It doesn't help that we live across the street from a mansion that is on the historical register and is a stop on the local tour bus circuit. . . .). Anyway - back to Leon - . . . . chances are he picked the nicer-looking houses and handed me the toss-away line "You don't have anything I could do?" as I said "Sorry" and went to close the door, thinking the offer to work would sound better than just asking for money. It almost worked. I almost relented and asked him to water my flowers which are wilting again. Still no rain.
But back to the problem at hand. Maybe the question of 'hope and meaning' here is not tied to the problematic that Leon tried to hand me: He wants money. From me. Now.
Maybe the question of 'hope and meaning' here is actually about why Leon is out, knocking on doors, asking for money, instead of engaged in living a good and rewarding life in which his needs are being met and he has been given good and meaningful work to do? But that's not the question he presented me with. I suspect he would not have been willing to investigate the matter more deeply, either. Not unless there was some money to be had for his troubles. . . .
Jesus' attitude toward those that wanted his help was pretty wild. When confronted with a lame man at a religious shrine-type-place (a pool of water, actually) which is where all the sick apparently went to hang out and beg, Jesus asked him: "Do you want to get well?" Funny thing: the man didn't actually say "yes". What he did do is give excuses for why he hadn't been cured so far.
And then there was the blind man whom Jesus asked: "What do you want me to do for you?" Now there's a question for you!
What do you want me to do for you.
I wonder what Leon would have said, had I asked him that? And maybe that's where the "hope and meaning" part is, the fact that we so easily settle for so little. C.S. Lewis said it well:
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Imagine what we would say in answer to the question from one who could do anything: What do you want me to do for you?
I wouldn't ask for five bucks. I wouldn't even ask for five thousand.
Wow. That's the question. What would I ask for?