The Two Things

The first thing is this: I am capable of living in ways which are good for me and that I am capable of living in ways that are not good for me. I can give myself to that which is “me,” and I can give myself to that which is “not me.” I can surround myself with toxic personalities, and I can search out the people who are good for my soul—who reconnect me to that which is deepest, truest and best about me—who provide me with an environment which enables me to be true to myself within the context and circumstances of my life.

The second thing is this: I am capable of living in ways which are good for those about me and I am capable of living in ways that are not good for those about me. I am capable of influencing the lives of others for good and for ill. I can live with them as a toxin, or as a purifying, cleansing, agent of grace and compassion.

These are the two things. I can live in ways that are good for me and I can live in ways that are good for you. And I can live in ways that are bad for me and I can live in ways that are bad for you. How much for me and how much for you?

Where do I stop and you start? When my good becomes your bad, what do I do? When your good becomes my bad, what do I do? How do I live with good and bad on the line? What guides my living when I have to choose between you and me? How do I decide what to do? How do I know what to do? Who is to say?

All the religious edifices in all the cultures that ever have been or will be exist in part to answer the question about my good and your good. Morality is about the difference between my good and your good. All the real conflicts are values conflicts—conflicts over whose good will be served and whose bad.

We have to learn about sharing, about empathy, about compassion, about compromise, about giving up this to get that, about delayed gratification, about sacrifice, and self-denial, and self-surrender. We also have to learn about self-assertion, and self-reliance, and self-direction, and self-protection. We have to lean how to take care of ourselves at the expense of others, and how to take care of others at the expense of ourselves. How much for me, how much for you? Where do we draw the line?

Fraser Snowden said, “The only true philosophical question is ‘Where do you draw the line?’” Who is to say? We are. There is no one here but us. We decide. We choose. We say—with everything on the line. How do we know? We don’t know. But. It is our call to make. We bear the weight of our decision throughout our lives, perhaps eternity. How much for me? How much for you? How much for us? How much for them?

This question about your good and mine is the proper place of the cross in human living. We stand squarely between self and those who share the world with us and experience the tension of “my good” vs. “the good of the others” and we bear the pain. We carry we weight of the anguish of choosing between self and others. Our place is to bear the pain—to bear the cross—of the tension. Our place is to remain in place, to refuse to take refuge in some sheet of “rules to live by”—some “policy statement”— and make a decision, and bear the pain of deciding and living with the consequences of our decision.

Nothing is more important on the Spiritual Journey than bearing the pain of the conflicts that come our way along the way. Conflict is the nature of the path. The Spiritual Journey is really nothing more difficult (or different than) growing up. And there is nothing more difficult than growing up. And we all grow up against our will.

Growing up is talking how things are in one hand, and how we want things to be, wish things were, in the other hand, and, that term again, bearing the pain of the full, conscious, realization of the conflict, discord, opposition, dichotomy, enmity and antagonism between the hands–and getting the two hands together. This is integrating Yin and Yang, balancing the opposites, harmonizing the polarities that constitutes the ongoing, unending, work of being alive.

Things are conflicted to the core. Even with God, or so it is said, with God’s justice not knowing quite what to do with God’s love. Thus, the work of growing up, and the gist of the Spiritual Journey, is reconciliation, integration, harmonization through compassion coming to life in us, and through us, as we step into the conflicts on every side and do the things that make for peace.

Carl Jung said that there are no solutions to the real problems of human existence. Those problems, he said, are not to be solved but out-grown. We grow up through the agonies that have no solution. There is no balm in Gilead, or anywhere else, to protect us from the pain of seeing, hearing, understanding, knowing how things are, and doing what needs to be done about it, in each situation as it arises. This is the Spiritual Journey!

“No one can be my disciple,” said Jesus, “without picking up their cross every day, and living as they have seen me live, facing what must be faced, and doing what needs to be done about it (Or words to that effect).” And, what that means will be something different in each situation as it arises!

Sometimes we will sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, and sometimes we will sacrifice others for the sake of ourselves. On the basis of what? Maybe, on the basis of nothing more substantial than our mood of the moment. Maybe, it just hasn’t been our turn for a while. Maybe, it’s nothing more reliable than that.

We have to adjust ourselves to the fact of the wholly arbitrary. Our lives are judgment calls all the way. The laws upon which society are based keep us from having to worry with whether to stop on red and go on green, but when it comes to the important matters, we are on our own. We make it up as we go every day. How do we know what to do? We decide without knowing. We may decide differently next time, in the next moment, and we might live tomorrow trying to redeem how we failed today.

At times, we act with the good of ourselves in mind, and at times, we act with the good of others in mind. We cannot always sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, or others for the sake of ourselves. Sometimes, we do it this way and sometimes, we do it that way. We have to live knowing sometimes us and sometimes the others. We live between our good and the good of those about us, and we choose with everything riding on the choices we make—bearing the pain of having to choose, and the pain of having chosen.

Such is the nature of life on the Spiritual Journey.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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