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Walter Thiessen

riots and contemplation

By Faculty Blog, Walter Thiessen No Comments

*This blog was originally shared June 2, 2020 on Dr. Thiessen’s blog. The original format has been adapted.*

 

This summer, I am researching and writing about contemplation and healing. I am also reading, this past week, about rioting across the US.

One phrase that has been grounding my thinking about contemplation and healing is that the connection between the two is about our need for a “compassionate consent to reality.”

There can never be wholeness without an honest facing of what is and an honest acceptance of our emotional/bodily response to what is. A compassionate consent to reality in this season of riots might begin with seeing the truth of George Floyd’s death, which, as I saw it involved a casual and utter disdain of an African American man’s life and suffering, the enjoyment that a white policeman with a  history of violence took in his power over this man, and the carelessness (pride?) in doing this in front of many witnesses.

Consenting to reality means seeing that this is not a unique act, as we would wish and hope it to be, but a visible reminder of what happens with an insane frequency. Consenting to reality means we remind ourselves that the Derek Chauvins are all around (certainly not only in the US) and that many pieces of what made his actions possible are sprinkled throughout our own spirits.

“Contemplation reminds us that to let ourselves truly see these realities and be affected by them,

we need to breathe and be intentional and be silent.”

 

Contemplation reminds us that to let ourselves truly see these realities and be affected by them, we need to breathe and be intentional and be silent. We need not to look away as quickly as we’d like. We need to know that we can tolerate all the feelings in us that come in response. We see and feel the rage along with the fear of our own rage and the rage of others. We recognize the frustration and shame at our feelings of powerlessness.

We breathe again. We feel that part of ourselves that wants so desperately to look away and to simply wish for a peace that buries these facts. We let ourselves hear that question whispered in our spirit, “What would we feel if we were African Americans living in the midst of this ongoing threat?” We consent to facing the reality of our weakness and temptation.

We breathe again.

What makes this contemplative courage possible (when it is possible), for many of us, is our experience that the same open-eyed, open-eared consent to painful realities also includes the reality of God’s loving presence with us. That loving presence is/was also present with George Floyd and with Derek Chauvin. We are not separate from either of them – God’s presence draws all of us together.

Consent to the Reality of Hope

 

It is also just as important to consent to the reality of hope. We see the passionate determination of neighbourhood leaders of all races standing together to care for each other, feeding each other, bearing courageous witness by facing up to those trying to incite more violence, trying to exploit the honest rage of the marginalized for demonic purposes. When I feel hate for those Proud Boys and Bugaloo Boys and Donald Trump, I remember that there are some among those on the front lines, experiencing more directly than I can imagine, the direct consequences of the evil around them, that are somehow able to respond with a spirit-empowered grace and forgiveness, AND to stand up and protest.

I remember that when seen apart from the mobs and the narrative posing, there are individual human beings whose life stories have led them to where they are. I see police chiefs and many ordinary white police officers, with long and complex work histories, with many experiences of fear on the job, with many friends and colleagues just like Derek Chauvin, choosing to kneel and ask for forgiveness. What has been at work to make this possible?

Lament is a necessary part of contemplation in seasons like this. How can I consent to realities like this without expressing the pain? Lament can enable the paradoxical coming to peace with our rage and shame, without immediately squelching the rage and shame. As I lament, I accept and rest while the pain and weakness are still very present, knowing that God hears my cries and feels them.

“Contemplation is the Best Foundation for Action”

 

Finally, there is action. I very much believe that contemplation is the best foundation for action. Certainly, contemplation is not an alternative to action, but the means by which we best discern the incredibly challenging questions of what I can now, must now, do. This includes the way that contemplation enables and shapes our participation in communal discernment about what we do together. May these conversations flourish in the days ahead.

For more from Dr. Walter Thiessen, visit:
http://www.glimpsesofagoodlife.com/

Normalizing Maturity

By Faculty Blog, Walter Thiessen No Comments

The title for this post might seem naively optimistic, but if that’s true, that’s precisely my point. We no longer seem to expect maturity. A whole generation of millennials are frequently (and unfairly) criticized as immature and not necessarily maturing. We don’t seem to expect maturity from politicians or even church leaders anymore.

This led me to wonder whether we’ve been failing to normalize maturity. Consider the big potential advantage of planning for maturity: if we truly expect our young people to mature, perhaps we could choose to introduce them to a worldview that was big enough to mature into?

I think we’ve been doing the opposite. At the risk of some oversimplification, let me sketch what seem to be the two most prominent worldviews in North America lately: a consumeristic and competitive materialism on the one hand, and a narrowly conservative form of watered-down Christianity on the other. Of course, in spite of the paradox, many people manage to hold both of these small worldviews, with worn-out patches of faith slapped onto the emptiness of the rat race or a home full of stuff. But the key is that both worldviews are small. Neither lends itself to a maturity in which we relate to the world in an open, gracious and compassionate way.

I think many teachers in public schools try hard to awaken compassion, but they are stuck in a system that discourages straying outside of materialistic ways of seeing the world. Students are taught the authority of science, but not the open-ended mystery that good science can inspire. Has anyone learned about the mystical thinking of leading physicists and geneticists in high school? Instead, students subtly learn that if you trust science, which you should in the 21st century, there is nothing else.

In churches, and the families that support them, many learn a kind of faith that has been hardened through decades of defensiveness. A huge effort is made at creating a culture bubble in which they feel safe because they are on God’s side. And they don’t seem to notice that these bubbles contain little of the lifestyle challenge and outward compassion of the Jesus to which their gathering is meant to be dedicated.

Of course, thank goodness, there are many, many exceptions in the marketplace and in the churches. But we make it way too easy to stay immature: never to think a complex thought, never to wonder what it takes to risk welcoming a stranger, never to imagine that God is way bigger (and better and more mysterious) than imagined, never to question whether a good many of our present understandings are incorrect or incomplete.

The humanities are one place in which maturity should be expected, but fewer students are spending much time there these days. One way of normalizing maturity would be expecting educated leaders to give some serious attention to the humanities. If we really thought that maturity is where we would end up, we would be inviting people, right from childhood, into a bigger and more nuanced world.

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