Sunday, April 14, 2002

Community: "You Don't Always Get What You Want"

The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.
In caring for others and serving heaven,
There is nothing like using restraint.
Restraint begins with giving up one's own ideas.

(Tao Te Ching 48, 59)

Jesus: Peter, do you love me? (agapas me)
Peter: Yes, Lord, I love you. (philo te)
Jesus: Peter, do you love me? (agapas me)
Peter: Yes, Lord, I love you. (philo te)
Jesus: Peter, do you love me? (phileis me)
Peter: Yes, Lord, I love you. (philo te)
(John 21: 15-19)

One of my favorite Easter stories is the one about a conversation between Jesus and Peter after breakfast one day after the resurrection. It's necessary to be able to read the original Greek to get the full importance of this story. Jesus and Peter were best friends and Peter had let Jesus down big time and had betrayed him. Jesus is looking for a recommitment from Peter and he uses a form of the verb to love, agape, which denotes a special divine kind of love, love that doesn't expect anything in return out of the other person. Peter answers Jesus using a different form of the verb, philo, which is a human kind of love, like between friends or brothers. Philo love however, good as it is, has lots of expectations unlike agape. Jesus actually is asking for more than this, but philo is all Peter can manage right now and he gets exasperated with Jesus for asking him three times for more than he feels he is able to do. So the third time Jesus asks, he is willing to settle for what he can get and uses Peter's word, philo.

There is this song from the 70's, "You Don't Always Get What You Want" that is a good Tao song. We very seldom get what we want, but we can live well in spite of it. Two people never have the same idea about how things should be. Conflict is a part of life and people are going to let us down so the capacity to forgive and compromise is the way to keep life flowing. Living successfully in community is learning to give up some of our ideas in order to get along, making sacrifices of some things in order to preserve other more important things. This is where restraint comes in. Relationships are more important than philosophies or theologies or ideologies or always having my way. Jesus was an icon of walking the Tao because of his restraint and humility. He didn't always get what he wanted either, but he needed very little to get along which included people's praise and good opinion as well as material possessions. He didn't force things on others and accepted people for what they were. That doesn't mean he didn't care what they did. It meant he understood them even when they didn't understand themselves and was patient, kind and forgiving, even when they had let him down. He taught by example, not by force and was a master of restraint.

Nothing hurts so much as when someone we counted on lets us down. But because humans are frail, that happens all the time. We don't even understand ourselves very well, much less what others expect or want from us. And often, people want things from us that are inappropriate. Like the kind of love we are unable or unprepared to give. Conflicts are created when people become attached to things and ideas that they think they cannot live without. The truth is, we need far less than we think we do in order to live and get along well; food, shelter, clothing, safety, transportation (in today's world), honest work to provide the necessities for ourselves and families. Many of us have far more of these things than we actually need and too many people have not enough. Successful communities are those in which the basic needs of all the people are important to all the people.

Conflicts arise over ideologies and theologies, greed and lust for power. Peter wasn't ready yet to walk the Tao because he still was into philo love which has expectations. It took him awhile to sort it all out and understand that Jesus couldn't be who Peter expected him to be. When he "got it", he understood and that knowledge opened up a whole new dimension of the universe for him. That is the meaning of "being saved" or "enlightenment"! We can't walk the Tao by philo, only by agape. To walk the Tao is never to place expectations or a thing or an idea over a person.