Monday, January 10, 2011

Peace is about "Other" not "Self"

Have you been reading the news over the past few days? It seems as if this world is overrun by anger and rage. Public discourse has descended into diatribe, and rhetoric has developed an unsettling edge. At the same time, our tastes in entertainment reveal an almost obsessive interest in disturbing levels of violence.

Additionally - and I believe this observation is not unrelated to the anger and the violence - it's hard to miss this culture's crippling focus on self.

Well, thanks a lot, Derek; isn't that a lovely way to launch your Monday morning post! What's next, a list of the top-ten reasons to give up all hope and go live on an island?

First, I really like the island idea! But, seriously, I wouldn't write stuff like this if I didn't also have something positive to offer. It's critical that we understand exactly what we're dealing with and that we articulate the extent of the danger humanity faces.

I'd like to begin our discussion in the bookstore. As a writer, I'm constantly amazed at how well stupid stuff sells, and how quickly millions of people will return to the store and buy exactly the same content a second and a third time, once it has been repackaged and re-hyped.

I'm talking about the "Self-Help" section. And I believe we have to include all the shady diet books under the same heading. Self-help as a genre does not work; it never has and it never will. Interestingly, while diet and exercise books sell off the shelves, obesity levels in America continue to increase at an alarming rate.

The problem with all the above material is the word it all begins with. SELF.

It's been building: Just as a quick aside about where this is coming from. Starting around 200 years ago, the Age of Reason emerged. Transcendentalism and the Rationalist ideal insisted that humanity was evolving to the level that we could (and would) solve our problems, live in peace, heal our diseases, transcend the passion and the irrationality of ideas such as the God of religion, and eventually achieve a kind of apotheosis where the human race grows beyond the need for any kind of deity other than ourselves.

Well, the 19th Century led to the 20th Century and the bloodiest conflicts in human history. When self is the beginning and the end of the discussion then we're in trouble. It's been that way since the Garden of Eden.

Human beings were designed and created for the experience of relationship. When we understand this, the first word in any plan of action or list of priorities must be "other", not "self."

When the focus of our life becomes the needs and the actualization of "the other", then our experience is one of community. Love and meaning are found in giving, not taking.

SO WHAT? Here's the question: exactly what are we doing to promote peace in this world today? Can you/I/we live this day in such a way that there is no doubt that the cause of peace is advanced because of us?

The answer is found in serving the "other" wherever we find ourselves.
  • If you are a man, what will you do to serve your wife today? 
  • If you are a friend, how do you plan to show selfless love? 
  • As a boss, how do you intend to care and respect your employees? 
  • As an employee, what can do to improve the work environment for your colleagues?
  • If you are a church member, ask God to use you to promote unity and self-giving love.
  • Hold the door, let traffic merge, fight hatred with love, offer kindness when people are mean, offer respect in the face of disrespect, counter evil with good.
Rebekah said something like this on Christmas Eve. "Don't just tell me you have hope for the hungry - get out there and feed someone. Don't say you want justice for the marginalized unless you're prepared to work for it. Don't profess that you believe in Christmas but live as if Jesus did live, and die, so that you can participate in his Kingdom now..."

Do I believe in peace in our time? You'd better believe it. But it's going to cost something - it has to.

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