Monday, June 18, 2012

More Meditations on a Lament

In my previous post, I reference Josh Ritter's "A Girl in the War" and I started thinking further of my recent commitment to Rafe Esquith's example from Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire or Viktor Frankl's discussion of the existential vacuum and man's search for ultimate meaning in his tome by that name.

The lyric that links them opens the song:

Peter said to Paul you know all those words we wrote
 Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go

I've wrestled with those lyrics. I like rules. I tend to be a very 'justice' oriented person. I am very rule driven.

I am one of the people that Esquith puts on Max Kohlberg's fourth stage of moral development.

Level I. I don't Want to Get in Trouble (Obedience and Punishment Orientation)

Level II. I Want a Reward (Individualism and Exchange)

Level III. I Want to Please Somebody (Good Interpersonal Relationships)

Level IV. I Follow the Rules (Maintaning the Social Order)

Level V. I Am Considerate of Other People (Social Contract and Individual Rights)

Level VI. I Have a Personal Code of Behavior and I Follow It (Universal Principle)

Esquith is one of those hyper-enthusiastic teachers that I fancy myself to be, but alas, I'm not. Still, if teaching has done anything for me, it has taught me to be a better parent and better person. When Esquith says he learned over his first ten years of teaching that from levels 1-5 "We can do better," I though to myself, I can do better. 

That has become even more important since I tend to parent in a crisis mode, a reactive rather than pro-active one. This problem is the result of being too busy. Our kids get shoved to the margins of our jobs, which I believe are also our ministries- my husband's and mine- but I tend to fall into a delusion that our happy marriage and relatively stable home mean that our children can sustain periods of busy-ness. Those get out of control and suddenly we're sparking off each other like electrons in a chemical reaction. Next I start parenting from the holster at my hip.  "You don't want me to come after you..." "Do this or else..." "Because I said so, that's why!" or "If you do that, I will take you shopping, out swimming, we'll play a game together, I'll make you a smoothie or (insert reward here)." Or, because "I love you." Or, because "families take care of each other." Or, because orderliness is from God and order matters. Some of those higher moral reasons for good behavior aren't bad, but as Esquith notes, "WE can do better."  These earlier things are the rules of the game. "And the rules are the first to go," says Ritter's lyric.

It is not lost on me that his speakers are alluding to the Apostles Paul and Peter, the rock upon whom "I will build this church" and the most loquacious of the New Testament writers. They argued with each other about right and wrong too. But, if Kohlberg is right, the rules are training wheels, supports, buttresss, scaffolds, for something greater.

Consider the Fruit of the Spirit. I was listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko speak on this in a podcast yesterday morning and he notes that we change this into "fruits" but shouldn't. The Fruit of the Spirit is either singular or a collective noun. It is a lump. If we have love then we have joy, he says. How can we have love without joy? How can we have joy without peace? And peace without patience, et cetera? We are aiming for something higher, and he teaches on that the Desert Fathers exalted humility as one of the greatest virtues. Consider this quote from a Fool-for-Christ:

If you are praised, be silent.
If you are scolded, be silent.
If you incur losses, be silent.
If you receive profit, be silent.
If you are satiated, be silent.
If you are hungry, also be silent.

And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!

~St. Feofil, the Fool 

It takes extreme humility to avoid words when scolded, praised, in loss, in hunger, and when we are over-full. It takes a relinquishing of ourselves and recognition of greater Goodness that we don't have to create or deliver the Fruit. That is God's job.

This is what Kohlberg and Frankl praise too. A higher order, not without rules, but embodying them yet not bound by them. Frankl's big on God, on His place in ultimate meaning: 

“As long as a self is driven by an id to a Thou, it is not a matter of love, either. In love the self is not driven by the id, but rather the self chooses the Thou.”
 In other words, man wants love, but love even is impossible unless man finds something more than himself. He cannot find even love without getting outside of himself, his ego, his own identity. He is called to look beyond, to a Thou (God). Meaning in life, greater good, is always found when we stop introspecting and start living for Thou, beyond ourselves and our full knowing and understanding. I love his articulation of this mystery.
Read on, if you so desire:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of human is through love and in love.

I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for the brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way-an honorable way-in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.

For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words,"The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
Victor Frankl, Man's Search For Ultimate Meaning  
Ritter, towards the end of the song wrestles angels too: "Angel fly around in there but we can't see them." In Ritter's song, man is all tangled up in existential anger towards the unjust controllers of society, the men and women who call for war, and send his girl off into it.  He's looking up there into the meaning of things, trying to figure why bad things happen. He's trying to find meaning, right and wrong, next steps, and why he should do the 'right honorable' act when other people do bad things. 

Hmmm. I guess I don't have a neat conclusion, a bow to tie this up with. In the end, I think there is reason so few of us get to Kohlberg's stage six and why even Kohlberg implies that few if none of us have ever remained there. Still, as I parent a tween and teen, I think we are working toward home and a spiritual state that says: "We can do better." Lord, Have mercy.

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