Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Our idea of peace, and our criteria of judgment. A post for Robin Williams.

Peace It’s no mystery that my time in the church was a whirlwind of drama and stupidity. But I do not want you to think I drew no wisdom from it. Often great wisdom would be spoken from the mouths of preachers and other disciples that astounded me, almost as much as their own inability to grasp the power or meaning of what they just said. This is but one of them.

In the midst of all the judgments and blame-throwing in our church, our lead preacher by the name of Ben Barnett once stood for an Easter Day sermon and spoke about peace. And he told a story about how people perceive peace, in a typical parable between the wise and the foolish, so often seen in Proverbs. His story went like this…

There was an art class where people were learning to paint. The teacher gave them the assignment to paint their idea of peace. The students began painting immediately, and the final effect is pretty predictable. Student after student painted nature scenes of lakes and water, beautiful animals like deer stepping up to the stream or pond to take a drink, and none of them looking afraid or threatened at all.

Peace3 Until suddenly the teacher came to one student’s easel and was quite surprised. He had painted an ocean shore being bombarded by a violent storm, with waves that were clearly lethal should anybody be standing atop the rocks they assaulted. Curious, she asked the student if he’d heard the assignment properly. He replied to her, “Look closer.”

The teacher did so. He found a curious point in the middle of the rocks facing away from the waves. It was a small indentation in the rocks where there was clearly a seagull, resting and sheltered from the chaos outside. You see, the other students painted an idea of peace based on their surroundings, but the wise student found peace despite his surroundings.

peace2 I was really affected by this sermon because at that point, I kept trying to build a relationship with some of the other disciples and found that, since I wasn’t in the inner circle (the ones with money, I later realized), I would never be able to do so. I had been made to feel like I was trying to create the kind of peace in the first example of peace. But really, I was already bombarded by storms. I was, in fact, trying to build a shelter from my inner storm through the love of others.

As was usually the case, the church gang had a new, profound thing from the pulpit by which they’d preach at each other, ignoring any potential that they might have missed the point or might be preaching the very thing they need to follow themselves, and to the very person who’d been trying to say something of that very sort. And that was me. I’d been growing quite tired of the superficial, and the judgments. They’d criticized people by looks and finances and the appearance of their home. I’d been telling them as much. They would only ignore me and argue that we can’t bring people to Jesus if we don’t look like something they’d want to be.

So well before Ben said this, I’d shared with them a parable about two barbers: A man enters a small town and thinks to himself that he needs a haircut. He sees two barber shops across the street from each other. He looks at the one on the left, finding it was filthy, with hair on the floor. His scissors looked worn. But mostly, the barber’s hair looked horrible. So he turned to his right and found a barber shop that was clean, with perfectly polished scissors, and a barber whose hair looked magnificent. So he turned around and entered the shop to his left. Why? The answer, of course, is that he looked beyond the superficial. He went to the barber who looked busy, who looked like he’d been serving people, who looked like he’d had lots of business. And he left with a great haircut.

robin williams1But mostly, you don’t cut your own hair. So in looking at each barber, you’re seeing the other ones work.

When people saw my home, it wasn’t clean. We had taken in several brothers. It’s hard to keep things clean when you provide homes to people. Things get worn. Carpets get stained. But I had grown fucking weary of going to the other homes and having them insist I take off my shoes to protect their carpets from the outside. You know, if they’re trying to study the bible with people to bring them to Jesus and brainwash them with salvation shit, and that person should see, what… a footprint? They’d turn and run? That’s just stupid.

The parable of the paintings above goes deeper than just a person’s idea of peace. It goes into a person’s perception of whether someone is at peace. Not only were they judging peace based on outside surroundings, but my people were judging people by that same thing. Yes, I was having a hard time, but my job as a servant of people isn’t best judged by my apartment. I was taking care of people. They were not. And I remembered that was the point of the whole thing.

I share this because I’m trying to bring this to Robin Williams. He is someone with whom I identified greatly. His comedy began as a defensive measure to hide from the pains of the world. People made fun of him and abused him. He gave his stuffed animals and imaginary friends voices and developed a powerful routine of humor. He made many laugh. But the pain remained. This is a man who gave the world a billion reasons to laugh, and therefore, gave the world far better than he had gotten from it.

robin williams3 You may have seen the home, the money, the career, and wondered what could possibly have left him to thinking suicide was preferred. Well, another profound truth is that peace is hard to maintain. You can only weather storms for so long before you just can’t do it anymore. I also think we emphasize toughness so damned much that we think toughness is preferred to love. Sometimes we need to feel safe and drink from streams and not feel threatened by a storm.

We will never know what cursed him. We’ll never know why he did it. All we can know is that pain continues to hurt us long after the damage is done. So all that supposed ‘tough love’ that we keep doing to each other is just too often an excuse to abuse and feel guiltless about it. We need to stop ‘building character’ in each other, and start building each other instead. We have to stop fooling ourselves that some perception of a freedom to abuse each other is more important than how we actually treat each other. People are more terrified of losing their right to hurt people and discriminate than they are about the well being of those people. And that’s insane. It leads to this exact kind of pain in many.

But then when it’s done, the rich people get to go to their homes and their privilege. People will see them and not fear them, not knowing their capacity to hurt others. But they’ll see the poor person they’d just abused, and they’ll fear that person because of appearance, and struggle, and homes. Yet you’ll probably never see visually the love they have for others. We really are what others have made of us, but we keep seeing only the outside and not the inside. Judge not based on that, but on the notion that people build each other. For every attractive person, there were people who you should admire more because of what they built in him or her.

Hard sell for a culture that praises the rich while judging the poor whose labors made that person rich.

Real peace is in loving others and serving them, not in keeping your carpets clean and making people jump through hoops to be in your presence. Real peace is in service of others rather than judging them. Real peace is what Robin found in his comedy. It took a lifetime of this service to fight the pains inside. Those jokes and those smiles helped many. But the pain remained. The evil men do live long after them while the good is oft interred with their bones, wrote Shakespeare. And he’s right. The love you give to people lasts moments, while the abuse lasts a lifetime.

But that just means to keep on loving. If you stop, you die. And others will miss you greatly.


robin williams2

Robin Williams
1951 - 2014