Saturday, July 10, 2010

I must write this post NOW, that's why it's got a rotten title! Still I'd better put up with it.

If you look along a railway platform of a small town in the early rush hour before the arrival of a train, you'll see quite a wonderful expression of human behaviour. Travellers do not line up in a single line along the platform, they bunch up at surprisingly regular intervals. When the train comes along and stops, these bunches are lined up exactly with the doors of the train. It seems obvious how this happens: the most experienced travellers know where to stand in order to be first to enter the train and grab the seats, the reimaining travellers who arrive later know where to stand then.

Experienced travellers also know where to stand in order to get on the right coach of the train so that they don't have to walk so far to the exit of the station. It's all rather clever in its way. We've answered the question "how does the phenomenon happen?" and we have an understanding of the first level of why this happens (answer: because it's convenient) but there is the question of why we need the convenience. Why is it imperative to shave off a couple of seconds from our journey, to make the walk to the office shorter, to find short cuts, cut corners, make things more convenient?

Is it as simple as just saying that it's laziness? I suppose that would depend on what one would define "lazy". However (and correct me if I'm wrong), I tend to say this as impatience rather than laziness. There is nothing lazy about the latent anger one sees seething in a commuter who has been displaced from his place at the head of the bunch. The tension is quite palpable.

Impatience to me seems a rather funny thing, possibly because Impatience and I are old "friends", I do not think that I am alone. Of course, you are aware that impatience means the inability or unwillingness to suffer or to bear. We all have our limits to what we can truly tolerate, so in that sense we all suffer from impatience, and yet suffering is a fundamental part of living. The funniest thing about impatience is that it isn't one of the Seven Deadly Sins (or Eight if you're John Cassian). Why should this be? Aren't Christians affected by impatience as they are the other deadly sins?

Impatience is complex in both senses of the word. It produces complicated behaviour (such as commuters getting on a train); it also has many factors which contribute to it.

For the commuting example we can see these factors at work. There is an element of laziness, certainly, because there is a desire to minimise the work that needs to be done. There is an element of pride in that one's own will needs to be served first, and one-up-manship in seeking the optimum place to be. There is an element of envy in the stress that one receives when someone else gets the optimum place, and the subsequent irritability, resentment and anger. These are quite extraordinary feelings, and yet they can be harboured by people who are decent, hardworking, gentle and kind. These feelings are the symptoms of a society that is making heavier and heavier demands on the time and resources of little human beings. Yet these demands are coming from ourselves. Impatience has selfishness at its heart.

It's a vicious cycle, consider a Fast-food outlet. A stressed worker has only a little time, so demands fast-food. The demand for fast-food puts a stress on the teenagers behind the counter to get things right. The need to keep up with the demands alerts the attention of managers in the fast-food industry who then devise more "efficient ways" of using the time. This takes time away from the workers who become more stressed and demand faster food...

We become more impatient because we are stressed. We become more stressed because of greater demands made on us. We have greater demands placed upon us because society is becoming more impatient. Society is becoming more impatient because we are becoming more impatient.

And it's having terrible effects.

The Anglican Communion is on the brink of collapse because of impatience. Desperate to show how "inclusive" they are, ECUSA has been trying to force the issue by consecrating two openly gay bishops. (I'd like to leave aside the theological issues of homosexuality in this post) So convinced are the ECUSAns of their rectitude that they have ignored pleas from other members of the Communion in order to demonstrate what they believe to be right.

In the CofE, so convinced are the Liberals that it is right to have women "bishops" that they want full recognition of this "fact" from everybody and therefore seek to remove anything that would prevent this. Their impatience with those who dissent is quite obvious in the way that they seek the abolition of those policies which would protect dissenters from ministries that they cannot entertain.

Both of these cases are those of impatience. It's tearing our church into pieces and affecting the lives of good clerics. Whatever issues one may have with Dr Jeffrey John's lifestyle, one must admit that he has become a victim of the political wranglings between liberal and traditional. This rashness to deviate from the status quo which has yet to have been demonstrated to be wrong, is hurting gays and lesbians as well as evangelicals and catholics. This cannot be from God to multiply such misery.

No one seems interested in using the Gamaliel principle any more. If, as the liberals believe, that the conservative element of the Anglican Communion is dying out, then surely it would be better to wait for that to happen. If the conservatives do not die out, then perhaps there must be provision made for them to be protected from ministries they cannot accept.

However, suffering is a fundamental part of being human. The need to suffer is a direct result of having to live with other people. In that sense alone, Sartre was right with l'enfers c'est les autres. Of course, other people aren't Hell, Eternity with oneself alone for company is. If God creates other people, then they need to be seen as a gift to us, no matter what they do. Humanity of course produces truly great suffering, and God has shed many a tear over this suffering. The Cross stands at the centre of this suffering for all Eternity in order to demonstrate that our suffering is not ignored, our struggles are not worth nothing to God and that, if we are patient, we shall see what He does with this suffering to make it our joy, and His joy too.

If we change the focus of impatience from the self to the other, then we have this thing called zeal. I think that zeal is the antidote to impatience in that the concerns of others being met first builds a framework into society which softens deadlines, and the need to have things now. If we accept other's failings as expressions of their vulnerable and quite beautiful humanity, then we lose that stress which demands nothing but absolute commitment to the clock and Chronolatry.

So, where will you stand next time you catch a train?

1 comment:

poetreader said...

I've often been struck by one happy peculiarity of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible. The Greek word fairly translated "patience" is generally rendered as "longsuffereing". St, Paul and others consistently present this as a fruit of the Spirit, as a positive virtue., as something to be sought.

The English has a certain felicity in that one has not really been patient unless it has produced real discomfort -- suffering. Why is this a virtue? There are several reasons, one being that it is placing the needs and desires of others ahead of our own, and another, that it is an abandonment of the notion that time flows for our benefit, rather than for the working out of God's plans. Thus impatience, which I often evidence, is primarily an expression of pride, perhaps even of a self-idolatry, while patience is an expression of the two greqt commandments in Our Lord's Summary of the Law.

It is vital that we pray earnestly for patience, and it is also necessary that we realize that, in doing so, we may expect it to be answered in the trial of what little patience we have, perhaps by finding ourselves at the end of a long and slow line (queue)

the longer the suffering, the more the virtue of longsuffering grows in us.

ed pacht