I have recently been musing over a particular passage of scripture. The frustration I and many have felt regarding the health care legislation that has stalled in the Congress has led me to wonder if perhaps a solution exists that has never been attempted prior to now. The power of the blogosphere has provided me a sense of solace and inspiration that comes from rational explanation and insightful commentary, and I cannot overstate my confidence in the visionary souls among us. It is a temptation to lament and understate our own capacity to bring about change, but quite another one to solicit answers from the passionate, knowing that through collective action, much good can be brought to pass. It is in the spirit of facilitating dialogue that I write this post, my prayer being that it will find an audience and give rise to subsequent discussion.
As a bit of needed exposition, St. Paul wrote an epistle to the church in Corinth, a city which had fallen into division and disorder. The Corinthian church, mirroring the makeup of the city where it existed, had been fraught by immorality and spiritual immaturity. In a letter whose endearing images and passages are still in wide use today, an age where strict devotion to organized religion is increasingly on the wane, our own skepticism cannot yet overtake the power and thrust of the text itself. Shortly after outlining a beautiful definition of the concept of selfless love, Paul spends several subsequent chapter, talking about incorporating this degree of unconditional devotion into practice in one’s daily life.
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially the gift of speaking what God has revealed. When a person speaks in another language, he doesn’t speak to people but to God. No one understands him. His spirit is speaking mysteries.
But when a person speaks what God has revealed, he speaks to people to help them grow, to encourage them, and to comfort them. When a person speaks in another language, he helps himself grow. But when a person speaks what God has revealed, he helps the church grow.
Now I wish that all of you could speak in other languages, but especially that you could prophesy. The person who prophesies is more important than the person who speaks in another language, unless he interprets it so that the church may be built up.
Language is a construct of humanity. To someone who does not speak a particular tongue, the sounds themselves appear mysterious, impenetrable, and indecipherable. Moreover, there would be no point to a system of language at all if only one person spoke it. Language, and indeed, the richness of language depends on the number of people who speak it and whether or not they share their own spiritual gifts with everyone else. At times, we seem to believe that talking one-on-one with God or with our muse of inspiration is sufficient to undertaking the vast number of challenges which face each and every one of us. Injustice is rarely ever consigned to one singular person, nor can one individual begin to turn the tide without help from others.
Our earthly existence is a basically selfish, self-centered one. What drives our economy and feeds our desire for riches is a sense of private ownership. We would go so far as to copyright our own thoughts if we thought others might use them without permission or if there was money to be made in selling them to others. I, me, and mine are the search engine keywords that drives capitalism, but they are utterly incompatible with one’s spiritual life. Imagine if we all believed that our own innovations were to be used for the benefit of all, rather than for the benefit of a privileged few. Indeed, if we spoke what God has revealed to us and translated it into the common vernacular rather than insisting it be phrased in a different language that locks out others from understanding, how many problems could be solved!
Far too many people are covetous of what has been granted them by God and in so doing, they fail to understand that spiritual gifts are given to benefit all of us. If one’s spiritual gift is that of forming a new language of a new social movement, how much richer would that language of reform be if everyone spoke the same tongue, not just the inner circle. Ego has no part in the metaphorical church of which each of us is a part. I have seen far too many movements and far too many groups established for altruistic means collapse under the weight of division caused by elitism or by covetousness. If one is blessed by the gift of far-sighted analysis, don’t lock it away from sight! Explain it to us, since which that which was granted you may have come from your brain, but it is God who gave you the ability to think it.
The members of the Corinthian church were using the gift of language for their own benefit, to make themselves feel better about themselves. Clearly, the problem stemmed from the fact that there were too many foreign language speakers in the gathering and not enough translators. This runs contrary to the health and growth of any established group. Our greatest aim is to treat others in the same way we wish they would treat us and if we are granted talent in other areas, well and good. But our talents are worthless if they merely lift us up and lock others out. Humility isn’t merely a virtue we are to follow for its own sake for some sort of aesthetic rationale—it is a moral guidepost that points us towards a healthy society. Lest we forget, it isn’t all about us. It was never all about us. It never will be all about us.
In this circumstance, we have the answer. We have always had the answer. The answer, of course, is complicated by a day to day existence which runs contrary to that which we need for health and peace of mind. Isolating ourselves from the madcap pace and twisted expectations of the world is no solution. Any worthy challenge seems daunting at face value. I have said this before and I will say it once more. We must get our own selves and our own house in order before we can ever expect to reverse course. One cannot begin to love anyone else until he or she loves himself or herself. By this I do not mean romantic love or narcissistic obsession, but rather a genuine point at which we make peace with our own failings, our own shortcomings, and our own flaws. Until we do this, ego will drive us and with it a lust for individual achievement will follow close behind. Those two things give rise to the inevitable hierarchies and unfair systems which are the antithesis of equality and social evolution. The only requirement in life is love. Everything else, as the saying goes, is just commentary.