Saturday, February 04, 2012

Human Assumption and Spiritual Gifts

Written for my Meeting.

Hello Friends,

Ought to, need to, should, must.

These are the basic building blocks that, one by one, form routine assumptions. On a daily basis, I admit that I regularly make these sorts of judgments. Over the course of my life, I have been conditioned to do so. Those of us who have the great God-given gift of intellect and analysis often expect much of ourselves, and also others. We expect certain patterns to be followed and rules to be enforced. Those who deviate from the norm have a tendency to invoke confusion and sometimes even our annoyance.

Part of the drawback of judging someone else is that you're not always privy to the full story. If someone voices an opinion I find offensive, for example, my first thought can be very harsh and unforgiving. I assume that they certainly know better than that. They must be acting antagonistic or contrary on purpose, merely to be difficult. Yet, sometimes, simple ignorance is at fault. 

I believe I've written once before about Hanlon's Razor. It's a maxim for daily living, a bit of helpful advice and logic that has served me well over time. It reads: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.  Don't assign to incompetence what might be due to ignorance. And try not to assume your opponent is the ignorant one -- until you can show it isn't you. Ironically enough, few people see themselves as malicious.

We don't want to be incompetent, either, because that speaks to our basic worth as people. We don't want others to be incompetent, because that only reminds us of our own human limitations. Fear of inadequacy is true for many, but especially true for those who live in Washington, DC. We're used to being experts. We are proudly informed and heavily literate creatures, after all. What would we be without these skills?  

Among intelligent, driven, committed, and precise personalities, opinions and statements routinely contain the very same elements noted above.  Ought to, need to, should, must. And along with these four is still another: how could you not?

Three and a half years ago, I was still learning about Quakerism. I couldn't quote George Fox or Margaret Fell by memory. I didn't really know what a Monthly Meeting was or how it differed from a Yearly Meeting. Seasoning was just something I applied to a chicken before baking. Part of my education involved learning about the personalities at Meeting. 

At first, I didn't know anyone. It took a while before I learned the unwritten rules of vocal ministry that govern every Meeting. I wasn't aware of the particulars of committees, or even sure who served on them. And perplexedly enough, there were persistently common themes in much of my dialogue with other Friends.

Ought to, need to, should, must. 

Friends, I honestly try as best I can to humble myself before God. The phrase "God-fearing" speaks to me as I write this. Before I go further, I should add that many people misunderstand the basic meaning. It doesn't mean to be fearful or scared of God, but to give God his due. In my opinion, I'm not the one in control of my life's direction, nor will I ever be. 

The gifts that are bestowed have a source beyond even my hardest work, even my own best diligence. This is, to me, the very definition of Grace. One can't earn it, no matter how many hours one puts in, advanced degrees one achieves, or study one devotes to the art of perfection.  

In the Light,


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