Bart on M. Scott Peck
Wednesday 6th June 2012 @ 9:24 am
For a long time I have been influenced by ‘The Road Less Difficult’ – as you can read below, so has Bart Campolo – who’s observations are worth a wide audience. Currently living in the middle of an American inner city, in order to try & live the Kingdom, he keeps us all in touch with this reality …
Since M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled has been on the NY Times bestseller list for more than 25 years, chances are slim that I can get away with stealing his opening line. So then, I’m going with one of my own:
Call me Ishmael.
What I mean, of course, is simply this: Life is difficult.
When I first read Peck’s book in college, I couldn’t very well relate to his assertion that life—everybody’s life—is a series of problems. As a new Christian ripe with confidence in my religion, I thought we only had or caused problems when and because we failed to obey God. It never occurred to me that some suffering might be a legitimate part of the gift, or that our sins mostly came from trying to avoid or escape from right and natural problems instead of meeting them head on.
This is not another story about the peculiar difficulties of our inner–city neighbors, or about our little community’s most recent efforts to meet their needs. On the contrary, right now we would–be do–gooders are the ones in pain.
One of us has some really bad cancer. Another just fell hard off the wagon. One of us is grieving the loss of her husband. Another just had her heart broken. A few of us are deeply and justifiably worried about our kids or about our parents. A few of us need new jobs. A few of us are no longer sure what we believe.
We are not in such pain because we are so compassionate, or so generous, or so sensitive to the poverty and brokenness that surrounds us. No, the reason my friends here and I are hurting so much these days is just that we are alive, like everybody else.
Really, this stuff is par for the course for any small group of human beings, whether or not they’ve done anything especially right or wrong. Maybe things are especially hard around here, but then again, maybe you and yours are in even more dire straights. Life is difficult, after all.
I picked up The Road Less Traveled again the other day, to see if there was anything useful beyond the famous first line I’ve finally embraced. As much as I appreciated Peck’s description of the four tools for meeting our problems—delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing—what struck me most was his definition of love as the will to use them.
Before I became a Christian, I thought love was just an emotion, but my ministry mentors quickly taught me that love was more of a verb, something that you do for others. After many years of ‘doing’ love, however, and especially here in Walnut Hills, where such doing accomplishes so little, I like the idea that love actually consists in the determination which precedes both feelings and actions. I like the idea that love is the choice to confront life’s suffering head on.
In this case, I expect my friends and I will close ranks, doing our best to take care of each other the same ways happy families and similar groups have always taken care of each other. I expect we’ll take turns listening, praying, driving, sharing food, babysitting, crying, getting tired, arguing, and letting each other off the hook.
Frankly, I’m not sure how much extra time and energy we’ll have to share with our even more vulnerable neighbors, but eventually we’ll get back to them, and in the meantime perhaps watching us face down our problems together will draw them to our fellowship in a different way. I hope so, anyway.
I also hope that those of you who read these letters are at least a little bit encouraged by this one. As different as our circumstances may seem to be, all our lives are difficult, or will be soon enough. And, not coincidentally, all our lives are precious and beautiful, too. Really, I’m glad we’re all in this world at the same time.
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