Sunday, June 10, 2007

Recap for June 10, 2007

We heard Julia’s story this morning. In the discussion we talked about forgiveness, its qualities and origins. It seems connected to suffering, and forgivingness requiring a perspective that encourages comparing one instance of suffering with another. Overcoming big challenges might give opportunities to choose what to focus upon—for example, someone’s laugh rather than an offense from another or a personal hardship. Several people told mentioned experiences with Julia where they learned something about forgiveness. One of many memorable statements this morning: “It is harder to not forgive, than to forgive.”

In today’s moral and philosophical discussion, Dexter asked us about the presence of evil, of pain, of devastating events—the question comes to us, why do these things happen? He read from chapter two and three of Job. One of the stories there is about the two friends who accompanied Job, who sat there with him for a week, in a position of mourning, without saying anything. There is an idea to hold on to—to go to someone who is in difficulty, and be with them. At the end of the story, Job cursed the day he was born in rather strong terms. Look it up for a good lamentation. It was Job saying he could not take this any more.

What followed was a comparison of two stories, one a tale of “woe is me” and the other of hearing about family in Real trouble. Stories like Julia’s help us focus, and get away from “woe is me.”

One member said we distinguish between the apparently random harms that come our way, and evil or harms inflicted as a result of the acts of others.

Another member noted that the resources available to us to deal with the deaths of loved ones, or of people close to our friends, seem to come to us the way parenting skills are acquired—a collection of mistakes we made over time. It is very difficult to lose family members. And we look to people who can give us examples of coping for some ideas of how to deal with it.

Some people shared stories that enabled them to understand Job’s account.

One member noted that this society seems to teach most of us a sense of immortality, and separates us from seeing death as a part of the whole life. Several people said we are better off being able to feel a wide range of things, even though a lot of it hurts.

Several members told stories about family violence, and how it is foundational—the early experiences with what we expect as normal, and what it trains us to feel, presents difficulties later on.

One important source of wisdom in all of this is the people who have some experience. We were encouraged to look to those a bit older than us, to sit with them to listen.

More than one person said this discussion is a reminder of why we keep coming back here. There is a lot of listening to each other, and what strikes many of us as genuine caring for what happens to the people who assemble here. Nice community. And several told stories of being with people while they died.

The discussion of evil and suffering and pain leads to a suggestion from Dexter. There are several books of wisdom, and all of them contain things to listen to about suffering, how to frame it, and ideas about how we get through it. Beware of moving to embrace any one of them fundamentally, just as we should be wary of rejecting any of them fundamentally. No one is free of the challenge of dealing with their own suffering. And what is there for us is those friends who, like Job, come around and sit with us.

Dexter reminded us of the characterization of our culture as a Hotel Culture (we expect messes to magically disappear, we move on from one room to another and expect everything to be taken care of). That is quite a different model than one which has some strong traditions about dealing with death. In Jamaica, for example, there is a set of events around a death—a ‘setup’ before a funeral, and a ‘ninth night’ event—that give support, that connects people to the village, that gives the family some time for feeling the loss, and also that comes back and gives a reconnection with the life of the village. So we are encouraged to connect with friends who can make a difference.

More than one member noted how the industry of counseling is a response to much of what we are discussing.

One member noted how strongly personal is the experience of loss, and coming to grips with the death of someone is part of an individual’s experience—friends and community have limits to what they can offer a person. In some fundamental sense we are on our own.

Our discussions ended with encouragement to keep those connections with people that enable us to sit with folks when they need it, and to come over when we need it.

At the end, Dexter told us a bit about the National Leadership Foundation, and that the Conversation is the only place in town where he sees it happening. Take a look at the NLF at

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