Monday, April 13, 2015

BALANCE VERSUS SURRENDER: DAVID BROOKS' NYT PIECE ON CHARACTER




A couple of folks sent me the link to this piece by David Brooks, author of The Road to Character, that appeared April 11 in the New York Times.

It's called "The Moral Bucket List" and begins like this:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.


I like a lot of what Brooks goes on to say. But balancing one's life, in the way Brooks means, is the last thing the follower of Christ is geared toward.

He continues:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

The follower of Christ doesn't strive for balance between his or her résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. The follower of Christ surrenders 100% in favor of the eulogy virtues. There's no more division. You bring the eulogy virtues to your work, your relationships, your money, your physical, emotional and spiritual "health," such as they are.

If you happen to be intelligent, you bring your intelligence 100% to bear in favor of the eulogy virtues. If you're organized, driven, disciplined, a good fundraiser, a compelling speaker, you bring all that 100% to bear as you devote your entire being to the pursuit of the eulogy virtues.

Here's a small example. Recently I heard of a Catholic priest who follows a "paleo" diet. He eats no sugar, no grains, no dairy, no oils, no salt. He wears a crossbit or whatever that thing is called that tells you how far you walked each day. He's obsessively fit. And he's outlawed donuts at his church after Mass. Everyone has to eat raw vegetables and hard-boiled eggs. Apparently some nice older lady made him a loaf of banana bread. He threw it in the garbage.

This is the kind of thing we get when we strive for "balance" between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. As long as we're striving, as opposed to surrendering, we inevitably slant, consciously or subconsciously, toward self. We impose our idea of virtue on others. We have a plan for ourselves and we have a plan for others.

The "deep love" Brooks speaks of is something entirely different. Okay, follow your paleo diet if that makes you grateful, and other-directed, and free, and gives you a better sense of humor. But don't impose your way on others. Love your parishioners. Be their shepherd! Give them their donuts! Get down on your knees and give thanks to the kind lady who made the banana bread.

We consent to associate with people who have bad taste--which is to say taste other than ours--in music, art, architecture, books, food. I can't tell you the number of Sizzlers, and Olive Gardens and white-people corporate restaurants I've found myself in when I would way rather be at some hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joint slurping pho and swilling coffee with shaved ice and condensed milk. We don't insist upon going where we want to go. We go where "they" want to go. And we give thanks, and we're gracious and present and we give 100% of ourselves, 100% of the time. We're not nutritionists. We're not fitness gurus. We care for people's souls, we listen to their stories, we share ours, and then we leave them to figure out what they want to eat.

Food is the least of it. We consent not to have things look our way, go our way, turn out our way. As my friend Father Terry says, "If we're lucky, we'll give up all hope of ever being happy in the way we thought we'd be happy."

Archbishop Oscar Romero was celebrating Mass when the assassin came.

From a piece by Paul Grondahl in Crux entitled, "A Maryknoll Priest Recounts Oscar Romero's Path to Sainthood":

[Romero] criticized US military support for the government of El Salvador and pleaded with soldiers to defy orders to fire on innocent civilians. His impassioned defense of the poor and oppressed made him wildly popular among ordinary citizens and champions of social justice, but a controversial figure within the Catholic Church and a target for violent right-wing operatives who sought to silence his crusade.

On March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a small church, the Chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, an assassin shot and killed Romero. He had agreed to say an anniversary Mass for the widow of a publisher of an independent newspaper that had been firebombed for publishing investigative stories critical of the government.

“He had spoken about the importance of journalists and a free press and the need to alleviate the suffering of the poor,” [Rev. John] Spain [a Maryknoll priest in El Salvador] said. Romero was killed by a single shot from a rifle fired through the open chapel doors by a sniper in the back seat of a Volkswagen parked out front.

“I’ve listened to the audiotape of the Mass and you can hear Archbishop Romero say, ‘Let us pray for…’ and then you hear the crack of the sniper’s shot, followed by screams,” Spain said.


Archbishop Romero had a gun pointed at him, and he calmly continued what he was doing: his work, his life. That is not balance. That is the perfect example of the résumé virtues subsumed by the eulogy virtues.

That Archbishop Romero died celebrating Mass--serving his flock, worshiping, loving--IS his résumé.



GRAND PARK, DOWNTOWN L.A.

7 comments:

  1. Oh this is so funny, Heather, I thought of you when I read this and almost emailed it to you as well. Wonderful post. I don't think I have a Google account or a URL, so signing as anonymous, but I am your eternal friend, Ann Leary

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  2. The Cross is a kind of balance.

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  3. I love this as well Heather. New Madge - big fan of yours from SW Washington state

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  4. Wow! I needed to read this.
    I love this part:
    "This is the kind of thing we get when we strive for "balance" between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. As long as we're striving, as opposed to surrendering, we inevitably slant, consciously or subconsciously, toward self."

    How much wisdom is in that!!!! I'm going to pin this on my wall somewhere and probably a few other places.
    Thank you so much for sharing this.

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  5. I probably failed to get across is that I totally agreed with everything Brooks said about the virtues we should strive for. But what our culture wants to avoid is that all roads lead to the Cross...The Cross to me is a kind of holding of tension of opposites, or the tension between spirit and flesh that St. Paul articulates so well when he observed that the thing we want to do we don't do, and the thing we don't want to do, we do. Careful, studied, considered, well thought-out striving for balance is fine as far as it goes. All I'm saying is that is a very different thing than the full-hearted surrender, the cry of mingled anguish and joy with which we fall to our knees before What and Whom is greater than us.

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  6. Well said and quite true, although I'd point out that David Brooks is Jewish, so I am not sure he is concerned with being a follower of Christ. I also do not think that he said or intended to imply that by "balancing" he does not mean "integrating" resume and eulogy virtues (a fine turn of phrase, I thought). Merely that he needs to cultivate the eulogy virtues more consciously and with greater discipline.

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  7. Brooks is stumbling into the Gospels, the New Testament, etc., (and those transformative lives whose choices bewilder the secular world) whether he is willing to admit it or not. His "exploration" is fundamentally one which arrives at truth. No place else. "This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." Jeremiah 31:33
    We are called to "respond", totally, completely to this covenant. DB is pulling from his Jewish faith in this quest of his...and many, many people will pay attention to this. That is a good thing. He is pointing at those whose lives have been purposely transformed by their free will to "pick up their cross" every day and follow Him. The Lord tells us in John 16:33, "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace.
    In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." No statement in the NT sums up our existence better than that. Read it carefully..."in me you may have peace"..."be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
    The choice is ours. Resume virtues...Eulogy virtues...a balance of some kind...or "in me you may have peace"
    Brooks is heading down The Road Less Traveled...and that WILL make all the difference.

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