Ignorance vs. Malice

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’  (John 8: 2-12, NRSV)

Between 2000 and 2004, I worked as a senior consultant for Mercer Human Resource Consulting. One of our clients was Option One Mortgage Company (OOMC). We had been hired to conduct their employee survey. The survey helped OOMC measure and track employee satisfaction and engagement. In addition, we conducted statistical analyses to help them know what to do to retain their employees.

ForeclosureOne day in 2010, not too long after the height of the financial crisis, I realized that I had participated in that debacle. The financial crisis had been precipitated by the housing crisis and OOMC had been one of the mortgage companies selling risky home loans and foreclosing on people who couldn’t pay. I had assisted OOMC through my work as a consultant.

I didn’t have any intention of hurting anyone. I was ignorant. I was just doing my job. However, unwittingly, I had been participating in systemic injustice. I had inadvertently helped a mortgage company take advantage of consumers and precipitate global recession. While without intent, I had participated in unintentional evil.

Malice is intentional evil. Some of the prisoners that I met with this past week have probably committed malicious crimes. They have most likely killed another person, stolen what was not theirs, and/or intentional harmed themselves or others. While some of their actions were not planned, others may have been.

This past Thursday, in our discussion, we wrestled with how we can be sure God is real or trustworthy given the extent of evil in the world. I got the sense that some of the men had come to prison, albeit indirectly, because they weren’t sure that God was real or that God loved them. Some of them shared that when they were children they had experienced the untimely death of a family member. Others conveyed that they had grown up in poverty. Due to these types of events, they may be more likely to think that they don’t need to follow the rules because there isn’t a God that is going to hold them accountable or because they don’t feel that God cares about them.

As I reflected this past week, I came to wonder which is greater, unintentional evil, the evil that grows out of ignorance, or intentional evil, the evil comes out of malice. My sense is that more harm comes out of unintentional evil, the injustice that arises out of living in a broken world.

I believe that this reality requires us to be willing to allow God to examine our hearts and to purify us from those things that keep us from knowing God’s love. When we know we are loved of God, we are less inclined to do things like work for large corporations, where impersonal cultures keep people from understanding the impact of their work on other people, and to commit criminal acts.

The scripture text above suggests to me that we need to be deeply circumspect before deciding that we are justified in hurting people who have engaged in immoral or illegal acts. We have all participated in evil. We would do well to examine our own lives and attempt to discover first if we are without sin, without separation from God and God’s love.

Spiritual Condition and the Analogy of Physical Fitness

In my previous post, “Naming Our Own Spiritual Condition,” I talked about spiritual condition in terms of our ability to help accomplish God’s purposes. In this post, through the use of physical fitness as an analogy, I offer some elements of spiritual condition and contend that one of them affects all the others. Using a physical fitness framework is limiting, but I hope that it might also be helpful.

Art used by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. http://www.revelationillustrated.com

Art used by Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. http://www.revelationillustrated.com

I believe that one’s spiritual condition can be thought of as the fitness of one’s spiritual body and the extent to which it is free to operate in daily life. When we are spiritually fit, we perceive, respond to and accomplish the purpose that God has given us with ease and confidence. When we are less fit, we misperceive what we are called to do, try to speed up or slow down down the process, or approach it using means that will limit or derail the outcome.

Prior to assisting with the redemption of the world, we need to have moved through some preliminary conditions. In particular, we need to have become aware of, open to and able to receive Spirit. Also, we need to have assented to be changed by God. I believe that once a person has become willing to be changed, the quality of one’s spiritual condition influences how the relationship and work will proceed.

How well a person engages in or accomplishes a physical activity is likely influenced by their physical fitness. A personal training website lists eleven components of physical fitness. As you read the list, imagine yourself or another person engaged in a sport (e.g., football, gymnastics) or physical activity (e.g., cooking, repairing a car).

1. Agility – The ability to stop, start, and change directions quickly
2. Balance – Controlling body positions while standing still or moving
3. Body Composition – The ratio of muscle to fat in the body
4. Cardiovascular Endurance – Engaging in physical activity for long periods of time
5. Coordination – Making movements work together smoothly
6. Flexibility – Moving joints through a wide range of motion
7. Muscular Endurance – Using muscles repetitively without fatiguing
8. Muscular Strength – Produces force using muscles
9. Power – The ability to use muscle strength quickly
10. Reaction Time – How quickly an individual responds to a stimulus
11. Speed – Performing a movement of covering a distance in a short period of time

When you are finished, review the list again thinking about how these elements might or have come into play in your response to a call or leading. You might focus on a single incident or a life-long endeavor.

A single incident might be speaking in meeting. Have you spoken in Meeting then later learned that the message was for you or should have been spoken by another? Have you found that you might get more than one message and that one may be for you and the other for the Meeting?

A life-long endeavor might be your following a leading. What have you learned about your ability to carry out the leading? What have you discerned about yourself given your times of obedience and your times of getting off the path?

Whether for single incidents or for life-long endeavors, I believe body composition (#3) affects all of the other elements. When doing a physical activity, if a person carries a lot of fat, they will have difficulty with balancing and coordination and limited speed. If a person has little muscle, they will have little strength, power, or agility.

I believe the same is true in spiritual matters. Spiritual fat might be thought of as deposits in our spiritual body that weigh us down, limiting our ability to connect with or stay with Spirit. Spiritual muscle might be our ability to stay centered, aligning our will with God’s desire for us.

In my next post, I will discuss “naming” and how we can use it to change our “body composition.” Through naming, I believe we can release the weight of the world and come to find rest in God (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Naming Our Own Spiritual Condition

This past summer, I received a leading at the first gathering of Friendly Mystics that called for Friends to “name the spiritual condition of the world.” A seasoned Friend recommended that we start by first naming our own spiritual condition. So, at this year’s gathering, we will be attempting to do that. In this post, I’ll describe what I mean by spiritual condition then ask you to share some thoughts and experiences about your spiritual condition.

Prior to describing what I mean by “spiritual condition,” I first want to define the word spiritual. I believe this is important because the word spiritual has a number of meanings and people tend to use it without being clear about what they mean. Sometimes the word spiritual is used to refer to anything that is uplifting. Other times, it is used to refer to that which is unknowable or purely supernatural. Neither of these uses of the word refer to what I’m thinking of.

For me, Spirit is knowable. I feel it. I have been changed by it, and I see it at work in the world. Also, I believe that experiences of Spirit are important. They create and maintain the Power that invigorates lasting change in material reality. I define Spirit as the purposeful energy which emanates from God and creates the potential for God’s will to become manifest in earthly reality. Thus, to me, spiritual is that which refers to this aspect of Spirit.

I believe that every person has a spiritual body. (This is a body that we do not usually perceive but is present nonetheless.) At birth, everyone is born with the capacity for a spiritual body, with the growth and development of that body being dependent upon the conditions (i.e., physical, relational, socio-cultural, religious, etc.) surrounding the person during their formative years. Because of the limiting and/or hurtful nature of the conditions people live and grow up in, I believe that most (if not all) persons, particularly in the Western world, need to recover from the damaging effects of those conditions. While we are not precluded from participation in spiritual reality, our ability to co-create with God and assist Christ in His task of redemption, bringing the world back into attunement with God’s purposes, is dependent upon our spiritual state.

Some people describe spiritual condition in an either/or fashion. Either you are born again or not born again. Either you are saved or you are not saved. While these states are important, they are insufficient for this conversation. Rather than looking at whether our spiritual condition assures us of a particular fate after death, I would like to discuss the quality of our spiritual condition, its level of fitness, and how it helps us accomplish God’s work during our time on Earth. I believe that if we can assess and know our spiritual condition, we can become more fit.

In a subsequent post, I will discuss more about what I mean by spiritual condition, but first I’d like some help from you. What do you think spiritual condition means? How would you describe your spiritual fitness? Have you seen how your spiritual condition has improved over time and allowed you to receive or do more? Have you seen how your spiritual condition has limited your ability to follow your spiritual path or your ability to carry out those tasks that you’ve been given to complete?

Please share your thoughts, questions and comments. (You’ll need to scroll down past my bio to find the box for replies.)