Tuesday, July 24, 2007

hard questions (gulp)

Courtesy of Henri Nouwen comes my challenging thought(s) of the day:

"Often we experience a strong desire to offer our services to our fellow human beings in need. At times we even dream about giving our lives to the poor and living in solidarity with those who suffer. Sometimes these dreams lead to generous actions, to good and worthwhile projects and to weeks, months, and even years of dedicated work. But the initiative still remains ours. We decide when we go and when we return; we decide what to do and how to do it; we control the level and intensity of our servanthood. Although much good work gets done in these situations, there is always the creeping danger that even our servanthood is a subtle form of manipulation. Are we really servants when we can become masters again once we think we have done our part or made our contribution? Are we really servants when we can say when, where, and how long we will give of our time and energy? Is service in a far country really an expression of servanthood when we keep enough money in the bank to fly home at any moment?"
(Compassion, p. 35)


ourman said...

Absolutely spot on. Even if all we have is a friend we can ring to borrow the air fare home then we have more than these people will ever have.

There is no solidarity with them.

I'll make one proviso - if a Hurricane Mitch came again would you helicopter out or face the consequences. Or how about Chicken flu sweeping the country?

Funny, the quote reminded me of that other poetic Genius - Jarvis Cocker:


Dawn Reiss said...

"we control the level and intensity of our servanthood."

ouch, so true.

nicapamela said...

it's hard to know what one would do in a hypothetical situation. i hope that i would stay regardless of hurricanes or diseases...but i think even my best self would have had trouble staying during the war in the 80s. ~pjn

Lexi said...

wow pam, hard...good...challenging...
we live in such a watered down version of Jesus' message...its alway shocking when we're confronted with the depth of what Jesus asked of us.

Anonymous said...

I love Nouwen and think his words provide some excellent food for thought, but I also think that taken too far they could cause unnecessary guilt. If service done when the servant has the ability to become a master again is somehow not real service, then many hundreds of millions of people in the world can't serve. The fact that I could become a master again has much more to do with the time, place, and family into which I was born than anything I have done or any choices I have made. I realize that I am a tremendously privileged person, simply because I was born white, American, and middle-class. I can choose not to take unfair advantage of those privileges, I can even choose to reject opportunities I suspect are offered to me because of those privileges, but I cannot make the privileges cease to exist. I can also choose to use opportunities they afford me--such as for education--to become better equipped to serve. I think that acknowledging one's privileged standing and serving anyway is a much better and more honest course than striving to divest oneself of such privileges; the latter is a recipe for pride in false humility. If I give all that I have to the poor and even surrender my body to the flames, but don't love, truly love, it's no good. It's all about attitude.

On a completely separate note, Pamela, did you get the letter/package I sent? I think I put it in the mail about a month ago.


Dangerous Dan said...

Allow me to be the dissenter. The argument/position is false.

The sort of servanthood it is advocating is not servanthood, it's slavery. A servant who cannot come and go, decide what to do and how to do it, and who cannot control the level and intensity of her servanthood, has been stripped of her autonomy, is serving involuntary, and is therefore a slave.

When it asks, "Are we really servants when we can say when, where, and how long we will give of our time and energy?" the answer is yes since those qualities pretty much define some of the central qualities of being servants. What makes people excellent servants is that they serve despite not having to do so; that they volunteer and give of themselves when not necessary.

Now, sure, you can burn your boats, liquidate your assets and donate them to Nica charities, and fully devote yourself to your causes and we might call that superlative, noble, and emblematic of your commitment. But upon doing so, you would no longer be a servant. You are then a functioning member of the society you have decided to join. You are then left with an infinitely regressive problem. That is, how do you charitably serve within your new society unless you decide to serve the worse off and then you're again faced with the problem of how are you really a servant when you can leave and be "master" again?

Let me put it this way since this is analogous to your problem. Let's say I serve at the local homeless shelter. According to the piece's position, I'm not really a servant because I can go home later. So I must give up everything and become homeless. But how am I then a servant since I'm now in the same boat as the people I was serving? I can continue volunteering at the shelter, but I'm now more an operant member of the homeless culture rather than a servant of the homeless.

Being a servant is attitudinal. Do you have the master mindset or the servant mindset? Have you volunteered to make yourself and your desires subservient to the needs of others? Do you help as needed or lord over at your whim? Are you less a servant because you could leave, or more a servant because you could leave, but don't?

Anonymous said...

Go Dan. You totally make me want to take a philosophy/logic class.


paul said...

nevertheless, the words rang true to me; thanks for the good perspective.