Friday, August 28, 2015

Reading The Syro-Phoenician Woman Inside Out

In my previous post, I wrote about the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, which gives a life of their own to the emotions of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. I also suggested that reading Bible stories for the emotions we find there is a great way to engage with the story, especially when we read with children.

This week in the lectionary readings set for Morning Prayer, we came across the Syro-Phoenician woman. She turns up again in the Sunday lectionary at the start of September. And her story reads brilliantly, inside out.

It starts with Jesus, and the emotions in his head. Anger is angry at the way in which those who were in a position to help people live a life free from burdens God didn’t intend for them to carry were in fact adding to those burdens. Sadness is sad that even his closest friends don’t seem to get it. Fear wonders whether this whole sense of mission will end up badly. Disgust feels slimed, and looks to put some distance between them and the critics. Joy delights in the love of his Father in heaven, and wants to get away and spend time alone with God.

Jesus moves beyond the boundaries of his territory, in the hope that he can just get away for a while. But he cannot be hid. Someone sees him, and the word gets out.

There is a woman. She has a young daughter, who is troubled by an unclean spirit. Terrorised by a supernatural presence that would prey on a little girl. (If you don’t believe in demons, ask yourself why horror films are such an enduring genre.) This mother is full of emotional chatter. Sadness is sad for her daughter, whose plight no one can help. Anger is angry that this should be inflicted on an innocent child. Disgust does not fail to notice the way other people look at her child, and judge her. Fear imagines the worst for the future: where will this end? Joy hears the word on the street – Jesus has come to town. Maybe, just maybe…

The woman finds Jesus (who cannot be hid). She begs him to help. And he responds by saying that it wouldn’t be right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the pups at their feet.

At her console, the emotions look at one another. Anger explodes “Did he call us a dog? Did he actually say that out loud? Why…!” Disgust answers back “You Jews think we’re the dogs; but you ain’t so special yourselves.” Sadness sighs “Well, we tried. It was always a long shot. Let’s go. I’m feeling sad.” Fear adds “Let’s go quickly, before they all start laughing at us!” And Joy says “Did you not see the twinkle in his eye? He’s inviting us to play with him. Let’s play!”

Context: Jesus was last seen challenging the prejudices of his peers. Those prejudices included seeing themselves as God’s children, and Gentiles as dogs. So when in the next breath he comes out with a comment about throwing the children’s bread to the dogs, he is actually taking a piece of that bread and throwing it to the woman, to one of ‘the dogs’. His action undermines his words. Why? Because he is using humour as a tool to defeat prejudice. He is not making fun of a vulnerable woman, but rather of those who would judge her. It is a recognised strategy, then and now. And the woman understands. While all her emotions might lay claim to a response, not every response would be the right response. In this instance, Joy sees rightly – Joy that brought her to Jesus in the first place, Joy that sees and responds by joining in.

Elsewhere, we are told that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1) and that faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). This woman hears that Jesus is in town, and what she hears gives birth to faith. What she hears from his mouth grows that faith, the assurance of what she hoped for, deliverance for her daughter. She sees where this encounter is going, and she is not disappointed.

Without emotional intelligence we fail to see our neighbours as human, let alone have compassion on them – the acting for their benefit, motivated by love.

Without emotional intelligence we fail to see Jesus as fully human – that is, not ‘as flawed as anyone else’ but ‘displaying humanity as God intended humanity to be’ – and as the revelation of God’s loving presence in our midst.

Lord, have mercy.


Interior Landscapes : Part 2

Recently we have been on two family evenings out: first to the theatre, to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; and, a week later, to the cinema to see Inside Out. Both are intense depictions of interior landscapes, taking the audience inside the heads of the protagonists. Both were excellent.

Inside Out is the latest offering from Disney Pixar. A girl called Riley grows up in Minnesota, and we witness her life through the interaction of five emotions that have come to life in her mind – Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. These emotions have their own personality, and their own particular role to play at the console that influences Riley’s actions. Joy is Riley’s dominant, or driving, emotion, keeping everything as happy as possible; Disgust ensures that Riley will not be poisoned, physically (broccoli, anyone?) or metaphorically; Fear helps to keep her out of danger; and Anger is concerned with fairness and injustice; but none of the emotions seem to understand Sadness’ purpose.

The emotions colour memories (joy, yellow; sadness, blue; disgust, green; fear, purple; anger, red) which are harvested and stored; including ‘core memories’ which have a special role in powering ‘Islands of Personality’ (over her childhood, Riley has built up five aspects of her personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey island, Friendship Island, and Goofball Island). At age eleven, all of Riley’s core memories are coloured by Joy.

When she is eleven, Riley’s life is turned up-side-down when her dad takes a new business opportunity in San Francisco and she must move with her parents to California.

This traumatic experience results in an unfolding series of disasters, as Riley’s inner world falls apart. Her core memories are disconnected and, without them, her personality falls apart, island (aspect) by island. Joy and Sadness are swept off in an epic quest to restore order – an imaginative re-setting of the Odyssey. The remaining emotions try their best to help Riley regain emotional balance but without the presence of Joy and Sadness, she finds herself increasingly cut-off from her childhood friends, new peers, and her parents.

On their adventures, Joy learns the purpose of Sadness – alerting others to Riley’s need for them to reach out to her, and help her. After many dangers have been overcome, the exiled pair return home to Headquarters, and new core memories are created, establishing and powering new Islands of Personality. Now, however, Riley’s core memories are coloured by blended emotions; and, far from contaminating them – as Joy had at first believed – this makes them more beautiful, and more resilient.

By the end of the film, as Riley reaches her twelfth birthday, the console has been upgraded to include many more, more nuanced, responses; and her Islands have been rebuilt, bigger and stronger, and with additional islands expressing newly-developing aspects of her personality as she stands on the edge of Puberty.

Inside Out is a wonderful film – as one would expect from the master story-tellers at Pixar. It is a great family film, one that gives us tools to understand our emotions, and gives insight in how to share life with emotional intelligence, at a level that children and parents alike can engage.

Inside Out affirms that our emotions are good. All of them. From a faith perspective, I agree: the range of emotions are part of how God has created us, and are to be affirmed as a good gift. All of them.

The Bible is full of expressions of joy, exhorting us to be deeply thankful; the insight that those who mourn (who experience sadness) will receive a particular blessing, of experiencing comfort, that is not available to others; and righteous anger that powers acts of compassion. But disgust is also there, connected to the ‘purity laws’ which, rightly understood, are signposts to a way of living free from the contamination of shame; and so is fear, causing us to respect the untameable freedom of God. (In fact, reading Bible stories paying attention to the emotions we find there is a great way to read them, especially with children.)

Famously, it is said that we are told “Do not be afraid!” 365 times in the Bible, once for every day of the year. This does not mean that fear is not a good and God-given emotion, but that when fear operates in excess, or dominating our thoughts, this does not serve us well. It should be obvious that fear is the most fearful of the emotions, the one needing the most encouragement to be brave, to have trust.

Which leads to another observation, that our emotions are limited – limited in their role, and limited in their insight. Riley’s emotions grow and mature with her – tentatively, falteringly – but have a particular purpose; and must come to understand their place within a bigger and incredibly complex interior world which also includes (among other things) imagination, rational thought, dreams, long-term memory and memory loss. The emotions must be schooled.

Thankfully, our emotions can be trained – trained to help pull together rather than pull apart, and trained to engage with others constructively rather than destructively. The Odyssey is no accidental template here: there is wisdom that has stood the test of time in the progression from a robustly-affirming experience of life, through the loss of that life, and the testing of our soul, to the return that transcends life as it was (Riley’s core memories are restored, but now they are coloured by more than one emotion), a return that is both homecoming (Riley is reconciled with her mom and dad) and departure on a new adventure (embracing her new life in San Francisco, rather than returning to Minnesota). Inevitably, albeit counter-intuitively, the loss of all familiar landmarks is unavoidable in this process, must be navigated and not circumvented.

From time to time throughout the film, we see the emotions at the consoles of other characters – Riley’s mom and dad; and, throughout the closing credits, those of many other characters who have played smaller parts in the story. Two things are suggested: firstly, that for most of us there is one dominant or driving emotion, rather than a collegiate approach; and secondly, that most of us pay very little attention to our emotions at all, allowing them to operate us. There is clearly a degree of stereotyping here, for the sake of simplicity and for the sake of humour. Nonetheless, it begs the question, have we settled for a mere existence rather than the fullness of life we were created to know?


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cut In Pieces

I’m still working on a post about the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, but in the meantime here’s one on the Gospel reading for today’s Eucharist, Matthew 24:42-51.

When I was a teenager in Glasgow, we used to watch Aussie soap Neighbours and dream of sunshine. (Truth be told, I still watch Neighbours.)

For two-and-a-half years from (our spring; their autumn) 1986 to (our autumn, their spring) 1988, Vivean Gray played the character Nell Mangel. Mrs Mangel was a particularly sour woman, whom you would not want as a neighbour. Gray became subject to constant abuse from members of the general public, and in particular young adults, who were unable to distinguish the actress from the character. Eventually she had enough, and left the show. She left acting, and left Australia, returning to her native England (as a young woman she had left England in order to pursue a career in acting in Australia). Now in her nineties, she lives an essentially reclusive life.

It is ironic that Mrs Mangel became an iconic favourite among long-term Neighbours fans. It is even more ironic that Vivean Gray received such abuse from young adults, given that she was apparently very popular with the younger members of the Neighbours cast, who found her encouraging and supportive of them as they set out in acting.

Jesus told a parable in which he concludes that those who live as if they are not accountable to God will find that ‘[God] will cut [them] in pieces and put [them] with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The term hypocrites means actors – those who performed in the Greek theatre, who wore masks to play a persona that was not their true selves, and who acted-out exaggerated emotions they did not own.

In acting, it is essential that there is a differentiation between the actor and the part they are playing. An actor who can only play themselves is not a convincing actor. The sad case of Vivean Gray/Nell Mangel aside, most of us know that there is a difference – even where an actor gets type-cast.

But in life, if life is to be lived fully, it is essential that our heart (choices) and mind (thoughts and emotions) and strength (actions) and soul (our life) are unified.

Jesus implies that when we live as if we are not accountable to God, our parts are cut apart, are no longer of a piece. This is not the lashing-out of an ego that cannot bear our indifference towards it. In effect, God – whose intention for our lives is that we experience relationship and responsibility; that we operate from God-given authority and so handle power to empower others – gives us over to the consequence of our decision.

Rather than being ourselves – rather than owning and living-out our souls – we progressively become actors caught in a parody of life, with over-the-top responses lacking genuine connection to our true personality.

It should be noted that Jesus’ main point here is not one of destination and destruction, but rather of direction and dis/integration. The parable is told within the context of a wider discourse on the future of the people and in particular of the city of Jerusalem. His words contain a warning against a destination of destruction – a warning that is ultimately ignored, resulting in the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 – but they are spoken in the hope of repentance, of a change-of-direction response (in other words, direction and dis/integration are the primary point, destination and destruction the secondary point). That which is cut in pieces can be sewn together again.

Theatre – of which soap opera is a form – definitely has its place, and a worthwhile role to play in the rich tapestry of life. But we ought not to confuse characters with actors. Or our personhood with any other persona.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Interior Landscapes : Part 1

Recently we have been on two family evenings out: first to the theatre, to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; and, a week later, to the cinema to see Inside Out. Both are intense depictions of interior landscapes, taking the audience inside the heads of the protagonists. Both were excellent.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a stunning stage adaptation of the novel of the same name, which has become something of a ‘recent classic’ largely because the narrator is a teenage boy with (what the stage notes helpfully remind us is never named in the book but is nonetheless universally assumed to be) Asperger’s Syndrome.

The set is a work of genius. Rather than depicting the outer world through which the narrator moves – the world as ‘we’ know it – that world is represented from the perspective of Christopher’s interior world, so that the audience experiences (a particular representation of) what it is like to have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

This is a dangerous conceit, in that it flatters us into believing that we understand Christopher better than his father or mother or teachers do, people who have struggled and failed to live with the reality of his human condition. But mis/perception is at the heart of the piece. Christopher believes that he cannot lie. His mother told him once that this is because he is good, but he knows that it is not because he is good but because he is not able to lie. And certainly, he lacks the emotional intelligence to tell certain kinds of lie. But Christopher does lie. He has the logical intelligence to knowingly break the spirit of the law without breaking the letter of the law; and his very lack of emotional intelligence results in arriving at conclusions that misrepresent others, or paint a lie. Christopher lives a lie, just as his father lives a lie, and his mother lives another lie: they just go about their self-deception in different ways.

Nonetheless, by the end we are left in no doubt that people are people: all wonder-ful (‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, the ancient Psalmist put it) and all quite impossible at the same time.

The choreography is incredible. Again, this is a work of genius, depicting Christopher’s extreme aversion to physical touch – even the possibility of touch – and to encounters with strangers through the medium of the most demanding physicality. If the set turns our world on its head, the choreography turns Christopher’s world inside-out – and caught in these unfamiliar dimensions, we meet.

The ensemble is cleverly done. Most of the cast play a number of roles, playing on how hard it can be to tell one stranger from another, on how tiring it is to deal with information overload when every detail carries the same weight and yet faces and tone of voice are hard to read.

The language is disturbing. The actor playing Christopher convincingly conveys the monotone voice that is quite common with those with Asperger’s – without ‘normal’ access to emotion, there is less tonal quality to communication. And yet our prejudices are challenged by Christopher’s passion, and humour – which is not entirely unknowing, despite his belief that he cannot tell jokes. We are, rightly, disturbed.

I found the language disturbing in another way. This play – like the book – is full of ‘strong language’. And I mean full. I am not a prude, and I appreciate that people talk like this, and especially when frustrated or angry or unpleasantly surprised. Nonetheless, I found it sad to hear the names ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ used as expressions of deep frustration, because I believe that this quite fundamentally misrepresents God, who is love. In this sense, I believe that when those who don’t give God much time of day cry out his name at the point of orgasm, in that window onto longing and desire they remember God – and themselves before God – far more accurately, albeit unconsciously.

(Interestingly, we think that one of the cast never swore, in any of their personas, perhaps suggesting that the actor asked and was granted permission to change their lines.)

God is absent from Christopher’s understanding of the world; and, indeed, he sees himself to be superior in intellect to the vicar who helps at his school, where all the other pupils are idiots. I suspect that the vicar sees something in them that Christopher cannot. Again, this is a play about perception, and far from being absent, occupying some other and imaginary plane, God is overwhelmingly present: pulsing through the space, illuminating it; in the lyrical cadences of the dialogue; in the exuberance of the choreography; in the overcoming of fear; in every simple act of kindness shown to Christopher, regardless of his ability to receive it; in the tenderness of tentatively putting back together broken relationships; in the beauty of mathematics.

If God is misrepresented as frustration, God is also at work revealing himself, to those with eyes to see. Christopher sets out to solve a mystery – who killed his neighbour’s dog? Yet in the end the mystery is not solved by deduction, it is resolved by revelation. Puzzles are to be solved. Mathematical questions are to be proven. Mystery is to be experienced.

We went, in part, because we love being a ten-minute walk away from a theatre that has the west End shows on tour; and, in part, because our teenage daughter has Asperger’s. We had all read the book, but didn’t know how it had been adapted for the stage. Ironically, the immersion into autistic disorientation resulted in emotional overload for her. As she put it, just because I can identify with what is going on in his head doesn’t mean I want to see it projected onto the stage! That said, and harrowing though it was, the rest of us really enjoyed the play, and would all thoroughly recommend it.

Next time, I’ll write about Inside Out.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Wisdom

I have come to the conclusion that the very best piece of advice I was given during my curacy (though I didn't realise it at the time) was when one of my older parishioners called after me “Slow down, young man!” as I rushed by.

Indeed, I think that I am coming to the conclusion that this is in fact the single best piece of advice anyone has ever given me in my whole life. Or could give to most of us. Slow down.


The Parable Of The Whole Samaritan

Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. And therefore you are to be at one: your heart and your mind and your strength and your soul – your whole personhood, made whole - all gazing upon God in love, and as a consequence seeing your neighbour as God sees them, and seeing yourself as God sees you.

If I am honest, my heart and mind and strength and soul are not always at one. Often, they pull in different directions.

Jesus told a story exploring what it looks like when your heart (choices) and mind (thoughts and feelings) and strength (actions) and soul (your life; composed of these other parts, and indeed more than the sum of the parts) are one. Or not, as the case may be.

In his story, a man is travelling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is a notorious road, known as the Red Road, so much blood was shed by bandits preying on pilgrims and other travellers. The man is alone, and pays the price. He is beaten, stripped, robbed, and left for dead. Which implies that he looked dead.

Into his story, Jesus introduces a priest travelling along the road. Priests had a particular role, helping the people to encounter God’s presence. Most priests did not spend all of the time at the temple, or even live in Jerusalem, but farmed small parcels of land given to them to live off, and went up to Jerusalem to serve at the temple for blocks of time on a rota basis. (The church rota is an ancient and noble tradition.) So, here is a priest on his way to serve his turn at the temple.

Despite every pictorial representation I have ever seen, we would be mistaken to think of the priest as travelling alone. You simply wouldn’t run the Red Road alone unless you had no other option, for reasons that the story has already made graphically clear. This is not a Sunday Afternoon Drive scenic route. Jesus’ listeners would understand that the priest would be travelling with others, on their way to Jerusalem, on their way to present themselves before God at the temple.

So the response of the priest towards the dead-or-dying man is not just the response of an individual towards an individual: it is the response of a person embedded in community, a person who by virtue of his position exercises weighted influence over the response of other persons embedded in community, towards another person who found himself – for reasons, and a duration, unknown to us, but this is why he was alone – not at-one with his neighbours.

From the moment that the body is brought to the priest’s attention, the priest is torn. We might reasonably assume that he is not without feeling for the man, but he is literally in two minds – his feelings go out towards the man, but his thoughts pull him back. He must choose between the conflicting responses, and gives way to his thoughts. He acts, moving physically as far from the body as he possibly can – and with him, those with him, justified by the argument that if they were to touch a dead body they would be ritually defiled, and therefore unable to enter the temple, and therefore their pilgrimage to present themselves before God would be over before it began.

There is often a strong undercurrent of irony to the stories Jesus told.

The crowd passes by. The man continues to bleed out. The flies ...

Jesus continues painting the scene. Another party of pilgrims is coming along the road, and in their midst is a scribe, someone whose role it was to help the people understand and follow God’s law, God’s principles for how to live in community. Again, whatever the scribe does will determine what the group does: for the community is faced with a problem that is both ethical and practical, and – how fortunate for them – here in their midst is one who can give expert opinion.

The details of the inner conflict might differ, but like the priest, the heart and mind and strength and soul of the scribe are not at-one, not aligned together, focused on God and following God’s gaze towards their neighbour. So another crowd passes by, and the man in the road continues to bleed out.

At length, Jesus introduces a third character, a Samaritan. Again, we should not picture a man travelling alone – not least a man of means, an obvious target for bandits. Like the priest and the scribe before him, this man is part of a larger group. If that group comprised mostly of Jews, he would not be made especially welcome, though he seems at ease with his neighbour, one who would turn away wrath with a gentle reply. And that would be striking. That might make him worth watching. If he were to tend to the victim, it might even make him worthy of influence, however unlikely that would have appeared when they set out.

Here is a man whose heart and mind and strength and soul are at one.

The Samaritan makes a choice (heart), not only to stop but to set aside whatever business he was going about, to put his plans on hold.

His thoughts and feelings (mind) are undivided, concern for a fellow human being in need working in harmony with identifying resources to hand and using them to administer ‘first aid’.

He acts (strength) in a way that is fully consistent with his heart and mind, even if that might make himself a target.

Each component of his life is harmoniously involved (the fruit of a healthy soul), and continues to work together as he evaluates the longer-term need and comes to further decisions to implement it: getting the man to an inn (a place of hospitality – a hospital, if you will), paying a deposit up front, and arranging the means to cover the full (as yet, unknown) expense.

Jesus never calls him the Good Samaritan. As far as Jesus is concerned, God alone is good. But the description ‘the whole Samaritan’ – the Samaritan who is at one with himself and with his neighbour because (despite being a Samaritan, whose theology was considered suspect at best) he was at one with God – seems fitting.

Implied in Jesus’ story is the suggestion that the wholeness of the Samaritan leads to the healing of the man left for dead. Not only his physical healing, but his return into community. To being more at one with his neighbours. Conversely, the story implies that the dis-integration of the priest and the scribe leads to a greater experience of dis-integration – of an erosion of integrity – for those who travelled onward with them.

Jesus draws out of his audience the admission that it is (ironically) the Samaritan who lives out the Shema: ‘Hear, O Israel ...’ And then he ends: Go, then, and do likewise.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Imprisoned

[This summer, I’ve been reading John Ortberg’s tribute to the late Dallas Willard, Soul Keeping, along with some of Willard’s own works, and this is reflected in my observations on Matthew 18:21-35, the Gospel reading set for Holy Communion today.]

On one occasion when Jesus was teaching on the need to deal with the reality that we sin against one another, Peter asked him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ [ESV]

In other words, How often should I expect to be wronged by, hurt by, disappointed by, let down by (specifically) another member of the church – that is, the ekklesia, the called-out community representatives who make decisions on behalf of and for the good of the wider community – and still forgive them? How long does this process take? How many times will I forgive that person before they change, before forgiveness does its work?

Jesus’ initial reply, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’ reveals, figuratively, that forgiveness is a lifelong ongoing process. Moreover, Jesus goes on to tell a parable revealing that forgiving may have no effect on the person who is forgiven; but that forgiving, or withholding forgiveness, certainly has an effect on the un/forgiver. And as Willard would put it, who you become is far more important than what you achieve.

So to the story. God’s rule on earth, to be exercised through men and women – and so most certainly through the ekklesia, or representatives – may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. According to the Law, after serving for seven years servants had to be offered their freedom, along with the financial means to take it. The king summons those servants who have served seven years, and who wished to be set free, in order to settle accounts – to give them the financial package of their freedom, minus any debts incurred to their master. As he go through this process, it comes to a servant who owes him an unimaginably large sum. Since the servant is unable to pay, the king orders that the servant, along with his wife and children, be sold in order to pay off the debt.

This is not a change of condition – from freeman to servant – but of circumstance, a (proposed) transfer of ownership – the man, and his family, already belong to another, the king. We are not masters of our own destiny. We all belong to God. Moreover, it implies that the king considers the servant to be worth the unimaginably large sum he has first lent the servant and is now prepared to demand for the servant.

The servant fears this circumstance, perhaps recognising that the king is a good master and certainly recognising that another master may not be so good towards him. In the midst of anxiety, he makes a choice, an act of the will: he falls on his knees and implores patience, asking for more time to pay off the debt. Though he desires freedom, he offers a further seven years’ service. The response of the king is not to agree to the servants requested terms, but rather, ‘out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.’ Not only does he write-off the debt, he sets the slave free, which included giving the slave the necessary capital to start over as a freedman.

The king’s heart (the seat of the will) and mind (the seat of both thoughts and emotions) and strength (the body, with which we act) are aligned: he makes a choice, consistent with the emotion of pity and the thought-through response to address the underlying circumstances, and acts on it accordingly.

As it happens, the servant chooses to remain in the king’s service: in the light of what has taken place, now believing it to be a better situation not only to another master but also to being his own master. His anxiety has been replaced with security.

However, the servant goes out from the king’s presence and almost immediately runs into a fellow servant who owed him a small amount of money. He makes a choice, to demand what he is owed; and he acts on that choice with his body, choking the other man. His heart and his strength are no longer aligned with the revealed – the now known – values of the king. The servant is at odds with God, at odds with his neighbour – and at odds with himself: his mind contorting itself to justify himself as being better than his fellow servant, or neighbour; and perhaps better than the king, or God. He has the other servant thrown into jail until the debt be paid off. This is a change of condition – imprisonment - and a far harsher decision than that made by the king towards him.

His actions also cause great distress to the other servants, who report all that had taken place to their master. The consequence is that the master has the wicked servant ‘delivered to the jailers’ – judged according to his own measure – ‘until he should pay all his debt.’

Here is the thing: his debt has already been paid off. He has no debt. He is free – as far as the king is concerned – to leave his prison cell at any moment. He is held there only by ‘the jailers’ – by his own heart (choices) and mind (thoughts and emotions) and strength (body). As long as he chooses to remain bound, believes himself to be punished by God, or capable of earning his way out, as long as his actions reflect a belief that he is not free, or is capable of achieving freedom by effort, the jailers have power over him. He is imprisoned until he is able to return in heart and mind and strength, until he is able to love with all his heart and mind and strengthand with his soul, our true life which, when healthy, when made whole, integrates our constituent parts. A neglected soul cannot hold those parts together so that all the doors are opened.

Jesus concludes, God our heavenly Father will turn us over to the jailers if we do not choose to forgive one another from the heart. If we are not aligned with God and neighbour, we will experience inner imprisonment until we become so.

The servant inherently understood this when he first fell on his knees. And so there is hope that he will find himself in that place again. And hope for me, too.

To return to Peter’s question, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?’ Again and again, and again and again. This reality will always be with us. I am not better than my brother, or sister, but, like them, in constant need of the forgiveness that is already ours.

However, the more we grow to love and trust the king, the more we grow to see our fellow servants as he does, the less time we might need to spend in the hands of the jailers before they unlock the doors.

Where am I trying to justify my choices, habitual thoughts or responses to emotions, or actions?

Whom do I need to forgive?


Monday, July 13, 2015

What If

Harper Lee wrote Go Set A Watchman (published tomorrow) before To Kill A Mockingbird. But her editor advised her that Watchman would not be received well at the time, and urged her to write, instead, the ‘back-story’ of the childhood of her central character.

What if your greatest gift to the world was not the story you wanted to tell, but the prequel that the world was ready to hear?

Would that devalue the gift, or make it even more precious?