Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 20: Thin Skin

"But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backwards rather than forwards. From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips." -Jeremiah 7: 23-28

Whenever I read verses, my first instinct is to use these words as a meter to reflect on my own behavior. And it usually isn't positive or encouraging. A dear friend and I Skyped yesterday, and we talked about how we feel we're losing our magic receptors (or in this case, the ability to "incline their ear") - that sacred perspective where there's nowhere to be, nothing to do... there is just a freedom and a graceful ease with which to relish the world around you. I call it "thin skin" - where you can listen with your whole body and the world floods in, swallowing you and your egotistical identity in the process.

But then work happens, or TV ads that reminds you you're too fat, or a friend's Facebook profile that says you really should get your act together on that grad school thing, or Buzzfeed's Top 10 Habits of Successful People and you only have 3 of them... it's exhausting, and there's no end. And so, as I read this verse, I want to protest but I'm doing the best I can! It's not my fault no one ever taught me HOW to listen!

Now, it always bothered me that the Bible seems to speak in big generalities: they did not listen to me... They did worse than their ancestors. How can I be extraordinary or good if you keep bunching me in with the rest of humanity? If we look around us, some people are clearly evil, some are saints, and some are the in-betweeners. But, like my first reading, this is still all about me. It's all about what I think of others, it's my own classification system of what's right and wrong. Here in El Salvador, I see human rights workers, I see corrupt politicians, friends who's boyfriends beat them in private, people who complain too much, people who are far too generous, people who I think are lazy until I discover what they do when I'm not watching, women who cook the best meal in the world and charge $2.50 a plate... at some point my categories are inadequate.

One of my favorite authors, Saul Alinsky (the Yoda of community organizing back in the 60s and 70s) has a great quote: "It is equally difficult for you to surrender that little image of God created in our own likeness, which lurks in all of us and tells us that we secretly believe that we know what’s best for the people." So long as we hold the ultimate authority between our ears, it's a lose-lose as often we are both our biggest advocate and our biggest critic. I will never meet my own standards, but I also will never stop pushing myself to try. But over these past few months, as my standards get higher and higher, I find I've lost that "thin skin." When there is always something more to do, I cannot listen. If someone truly was trying to reach me, "day after day," I doubt I would hear them.
And so I went back a few verses to figure just what command it was that humanity failed to obey:

Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’  (Jeremiah 7.2-7.4)

God only seeks to dwell with us. We do not surrender our egos to supplant it with another authority whom we blindly follow. We just have to give up the right to be right. It is the scariest thing in the world, to admit you don't know, but if we are to preserve our ability to speak truth, first we have to admit that we don't know it. We can't condemn others, and perhaps most importantly, we can't condemn ourselves.

Hannah Perls is 24 from the Diocese of Olympia, WA. She is serving with 
human rights NGO, Foundation Cristosal, in El Salvador. Other common names 
now include Hanoch, Hannah Montana, and Broccoli Top (Broc top for short).

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