Richard Rohr “Christianity makes frankly impossible demands. It thinks you should give your possessions away, refuse to defend yourself, love strangers as much as your family, behave as if there’s no tomorrow. These principles do not amount to a sustainable program. They deliberately ignore the question of how they could possibly be maintained. They ask you to manifest in your ordinary life a drastically uncalculating, unprotected generosity.”
Sometime during my teen years I began a lifelong association with people from the Christian Faith and Life Community in Austin. These people (who later became the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago) kept raising the question of what I meant by God, Jesus, Holy Spirit and all that stuff.
By the time I entered college I knew that to be Christian was not to be “nicer” than everyone else or adherence to a creed that had no relevance in my decisions. Thus became an enduring quest to “get” what it meant to relate to others as valuable, to be profound and to open doors that revealed the scared in everyday things.
So why was I surprised when the Native youth had the same questions? Twelve of us sit in the living room of some grandparents when the questions started.
“Is this wrong?” asks a young girl with a three month baby on her lap. Others chime in: “Am I going to hell for …” “Is it wrong to follow the red road?” “Why do I have to choose between my tradition and the Jesus way?” “What makes something a sin?” “Why do missionaries tell us we have to believe their way?” “Do we have to believe in some blonde hair, blue eyed god to stop being poor?” “Why are Christians so mean and sad all the time?” “What do you believe?”
At the time I could talk a lot more things I didn’t believe in than whatever I did. Over the thirteen years and three months with the Native Spirit Journey Youth I worked on how we talk about “being a Christian and a traditional spirit person.”
Richard Rohr’s quote of impossible demands and uncalculated generosity gave me the way to comprehend these questions.
I have long been aware of the difference between strategy and tactics. Those who are obedient to tactics make long lists of what to do, adhering to rules. Those who look first to the strategy are looking at the big picture of what to move toward, like becoming independent. Tactics contain the list of how you might do that like get an apartment, job, etc. If you don’t achieve one tactic, you find another to attain your overall strategy. If you only have tactics then you fail if you don’t get the job by a certain date.
Rohr makes that distinction. To be a Christian is not about following rules which leads to failure unless you really have given away all possessions and pray without ceasing. Actually, even if you do these things, there are even more demands you have not fulfilled.
No. To be a Christian is to “to manifest in your ordinary life a drastically uncalculating, unprotected generosity.” This may mean giving away your coat or it may mean listening to someone who is suffering or it may mean showing joy at the beach. It is not about rules but about looking for the wonder in front of you and responding in open hearted joy to those you encounter. Compassion wells forth from another place when you are generous toward all that is given.
When we talked about this in youth group, one of the teens says “I think what we photograph says a lot about how we are generous. Look at how many pics we have of us laughing or talking with those in the street or sunrise or other things that are awesome. We want to remember when we are blessed or on holy ground. We take good photos of those things.”
Another says, “I look at people and know when they are superficial or mean or turned inward. Even though I don’t agree a lot of what people think I should believe in Church I do believe that I am connected to God and Christ in a binding way that pulls me to be compassionate and more than superficial. I have no problem saying that I am a “god-boy” and I enjoy going to Church.”
And the closing comment says it all. “My grandmother never turned anyone away. She shared whatever she had. That’s is our tradition.”
So that’s it. They discover on their journey what it means to be rooted in their spiritual tradition and the one God who gives us all things.
May we all be such generous people.