Thursday, October 28, 2010

Talking to tax collectors without coming across like a Pharsee

Last Sunday we had a guest lecturer priest - a missionary with Cross International. I can't speak for Cross International itself - this was the first I had heard of them - but the priest was straight out of the Catholic Worker "economic justice was Christ's first priority" school of faith.

For the record, I have never heard a rich person speak of the poor with the hate and loathing that many social justice advocates use when speaking of the rich.

I...have a hard time with that. [snip more in-depth comments as trending too close to the political] And I had a harder time with the presentation (taking the form of a homily). For me, who tithes a fair bit (although not as regularly or as much as I should) the homily nearly encouraged me to snatch money back *out* of the offering plate (metaphorically speaking.) And not because I don't doubt that there are people who need it - or that I am in need of giving it, regardless of the want on the other side. The homily was so much a one-sided (complete with cherry-picked scripture and tirades against 'rich corporations' who avoid paying taxes) blast against the wealthy (without, conveniently, defining 'wealth') that I was nearly (I hope) at the point of rolling my eyes.

The homily pretty much completely fit the label of "not helpful." It seemed to make the visiting priest feel better, though, and it did lead me to review my tithe schedule, so it wasn't completely a loss.

But I can't help thinking that maybe, given a different twist on the words, more could have been done.

There has been an on-going conversation in my house (for about five years now, on and off) about 'how to change people's minds'. And change their actions. How to fulfill the obligations of spiritual grace to admonish the sinner.

I don't have an answer, yet. But part of the answer is, I think, that yelling at people in righteous fury does more to make me feel better than it does to change the world. And, in this case 'make me feel better' is not in the sense of 'make me feel closer to God'. More is done, I think, by choosing the right words, the right time, and the right manner of speaking, in order to apply the right leverage at the right point in order to move a stone.

How to know the right words? Well, speaking to someone in French when all they speak is Mandarin is an example of 'not the right words.' Speaking disparagingly of treasured cultural icons of the listener is another. Speaking hatred instead of love is a third.

I have not found it easy to find the right words. It requires, I think, skill on the part of the speaker, a deep understanding of the message (so one can speak Truth and not just repeat a memorized magical script) and an understanding of the impact of particular words on the listener. So one must understand the listener. Usually by spending time with them, coming to understand what burdens they are struggling with, what their gifts are, what they value and what they hold lightly. Then one can more easily speak and have effect.

This is hard.

In part, it is hard because it means spending time with, and learning to put on the mind of those 'others', to better know how the message will be received. This not only means hanging out with 'horrid' people, but opens one up to the (wrong-headed) values that one was trying to change in the first place! Dangerous ground indeed.

Far safer, and easier, to stand at a distance and yell, than to step forward with open arms. And that's less of a metaphor than I would like, in today's age.

But it is also hard because it means we have to come to know and love the people we oppose. It means setting aside hate, distian and righteousness, and our own agendas, and taking on God's mission.

Tough stuff. I have never been able to pray St Francis's prayer ('grant that I may never seek so much to be understood as to understand') with ease - dadnabit, I'm right, can't you people see that? I do not trust easily. And I judge all too swiftly. I count it as a victory, now, years down this road, that I *know* I should understand, should forgive, should love, *first*, and not expect to only grant those gifts to those who have already understood, forgiven, and loved me.

It is only what the Man did - and expects of those of us who follow him -'love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.'

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