Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lake You

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

                        Romans 15.1


We have a saying around here when we or our friends fall into a “me” hole: “Sweetheart, you’re drowning in Lake You!”  We can’t recall where we heard it, but we like it. It’s such a terrifically queer thing to say. It gets the laugh and knocks the wind out of the whine. And as writers, my partner and I relish its powerful imagery. It altogether captures what’s really going on.

We don’t fall into Lake You—we dive in head first. Why? It scratches our itch for attention. It dramatizes our dilemma. Sometimes it actually indicates feelings of helplessness. Whatever drives us, we’re fully aware of it when we take the leap. As Romans says, it pleases us. But Lake You also distances us from people we look to for help. We increase the difficulty of our rescue when we plunge into the very fears and anxieties we want out of.

Weak Swimmers

It’s essential to clarify the difference between drowning in self-indulgence and sinking in despair. We all know weak swimmers—earnest people without the stamina and wisdom to swim against the tide or avoid getting in over their heads. They don’t go under voluntarily. They’re tossed overboard by winds of rejection, physical and psychological violence, and religious hostility. Deadly currents suck them into whirlpools of peer pressure, self-gratification, and substance abuse. They’re miles from the self-contained Lake You—lost on the vast seas of life with its forces and predators, feeling tiny and isolated.

Unnatural Law

This should be expected according to the laws of nature. Only the strong survive. Even Jesus conceded such things happen. In Mark 14.7 He says, “The poor you will always have with you.” But He didn’t say, “Live with it.” In fact, He immediately added, “Help them.” This is what Paul tells the Romans. We strive for strength for ourselves, but also for weaker people in our lives—including those who endanger us by stirring up tempests of hatred and damnation.

Our success is gauged by how well we protect the safety and survival of others. Not all want to be saved, of course; the deep is full of self-righteous, disoriented people preferring spiritual suicide over admitting they’re lost at sea. We still open our arms to them, hoping they’ll reconsider the consequences. And what of those in true distress, calling for anyone to come to their aid? We have to reach them right away. 

In either case, we can’t swim out to a single soul in real jeopardy if we’re the self-centered star of Drowning in Lake You.

Some would rather drown than look to us for safety. But many, many more are calling on us to come to their rescue.


Anthony Venn-Brown said...

hi your profile so thought I'd say hi ....and ask if you've heard of freedom 2 b[e]

Rachel Baker said...

Hi Tim,

You said that Jesus says to “Help them” (the poor), and I agree. But should our government or another person force others through plundering to help the poor. Shouldn't that come from the goodness of our hearts?

If this is too off topic for you, don't worry about answering it.

Missy said...

Hi, here via Shuck.

What a beautiful post. The truth resonates from your words. Drowning in Lake You. Who hasn't been there?

Noticing Rachel's comment: Jesus was no Robin Hood. But when he spoke to the rich young man, he wasn't speaking in parables. (Matthew 19:21)

That one verse alone has kept me awake more nights than I can count.

Anonymous said...

Hey -- I was treading in Lake Me today, avoiding some unpleasant but necessary tasks. Thanks for the inspiration; it's just what I needed. (I particularly like the Lichtenstein graphic)
Peace and joy, Martin

Tim said...

First, thank you all for the comments. As a relative newbie, it's very exciting to hear what sorts of thoughts and responses are triggered by a post.

Rachel, I'm not sure (or concerned) about your comment's on/off-topic status. It's an interesting point that leads to an interesting distinction. I think there are two facets of anything we try to do to help others: the personal/immediate and social/long-range. Our Christian responsibility is to extend ourselves wherever we see a need. As James says, "Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."

The question goes down to motive. Do we seek political change for others' benefit, for its own sake, or for its reflection of our own politics? If we mean to do good, then we have to go beyond social policy and implement personal practice. If we're caught up in "changing the world," though, we risk losing sight of following Christ to lean on our own understanding. As I say in an earlier post, our task is being correct, not correcting others.

I get where you're coming from, though. It's a thorny area which none of is us likely come through without some scrapes and discomfort. Which leads me to Missy's comment about the rich young ruler...

Missy, as I read Matthew 19, I'm struck by the specificity--and frankness--of Jesus's answer. It seems to me the issue is one of personal priorities rather than a blanket command for all Christians to liquidate their holdings, distribute the proceeds, and join ranks with the impoverished people they just helped. The rich young man apparently had no problem complying to other commandments, which indicates what they required little from him.

Very clearly, Jesus intended to disabuse the man's notion that compliance doesn't equal obedience or, for that matter, compassion. Those things demand our willingness to set aside what we value most in life to focus on eternal outcomes. In another of Jesus's classically unnatural reversals, the means justify the ends.

That said, interpreting Christ's statement as targeted at well-heeled, materialistic believers doesn't relieve those of us we with less from losing sleep. The question isn't about holding on to our possessions so much as refusing to let go of anything--attitudes, relationships, habits, etc.--we're convinced we can't, or would rather not, live without.

I believe this goes to the heart of what Jesus says in Luke 9.23: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Missy said...

Tim, that's an interesting and nuanced opinion, and one which I can embrace. But I don't think it lets the well-heeled off the hook.

I'm bothered by the phrase "plundering to help the poor." What of those who plunder the poor to help the rich? This was the norm of the Roman Empire, and we are not far from it.

In Jesus time, as well as our own, worldly empire creates winners and losers. Americans often deny this. The American religion is individualism and hard work. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or blame no one but yourself. But to be a Christian is to be connected to everyone else.

I think Jesus calls us to repair the damage caused by worldly empire.

Pax et bonum, my friend.