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    • #2089
      Forgiving Victim

      4.3 The restaurant and the halfway house

      In the next few sessions, James is going to offer us a few images of Church not as something we can grasp onto, but as a sign of our being held onto and drawn into more healthy and productive patterns of life. One image he is going to use is that of a Really Classy Restaurant. Restaurant experiences can be either good or bad, of course.

      Receiving a new story

      Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.

      Check, please!

      Answer the following questions:

      • Describe a time you had a good restaurant experience.
      • Explain what made the experience so good for you.
      • Have you had a bad restaurant experience? Describe what made the experience bad.

      Food for thought

      • Have you sometimes found yourself making an idol of the Church?
        • Are there other institutions you have made an idol of?
          • How have you reacted when, or if, they have disappointed you?
          • How does idolizing the Church empty it of any potential for truth?
      • What sort of role have the “waiters” in Church played in your sense of belonging to Church?
        • Have they been a stumbling block for you? If so, in what way?
          • Or have you, as a waiter, been a stumbling block for guests? If so, in what way?
            • Would you like to cultivate a more “aristocratic” relationship with them?
              • What would help to develop an aristocratic pattern of desire?

      Wrap-up question

      • How easy or difficult is it for you to forgive bad waiters or bad chefs in Really Classy Restaurants?
      • How easy or difficult is it for you to forgive the Church you know when it fails to live up to the sign it is meant to be?
      • What would help free you to be run by the Chef’s delight in you?
    • #46881
      Rich Paxson

      Describe a time you had a good restaurant experience.Explain what made the experience so good for you.

      Thirty years ago this October, while traveling with my wife and two other friends in France’s meandering Lot River Valley, one evening we walked into the village of Anglars-Julliac for supper at La Palombiere restaurant. There were, of course, no Google Maps in 1986, but the magic of this Internet tool today tells me La Palombiere is still there looking just as I remember it!

      As a way of journalizing during the trip, I saved copies of letters I wrote home, one of which I wrote on the morning after our meal at La Palombiere. I won’t share the entire letter. Just a couple of sentences provide the ‘flavor’ of my dining experience that night:

      “Pot roast and egg noodles, a little red wine does wonders! Serve it family style on stainless steel serving platters, turn on more lights as additional patrons arrive, and don’t be too concerned that the waiter dropped an empty bottle that broke after bouncing on the terra cotta floor.”    

      “The taste came alive a second of two after the first bite, a new and different energy, where before had been the taste of culmination, now came that of continuity. The message of life renewed, originating in the caves of Roquefort, warmed our palates in spite of the static burden of everyday existence. Such a hard cheese this Roquefort; but, only in the swallowing of it.”

      I don’t remember to whom I sent that letter. I suppose whoever it was may not have known what to make of it, nevertheless, I think it fits the bill for this Forgiving Victim exercise. For whatever the reason, that simple meal – beef bourguignon, artichokes, red wine and Roquefort cheese – remains quite memorable to me.

      What is it about some meals that capture our attention?  Towards the end of the introduction to ‘The Scarlet Letter’ Nathaniel Hawthorne describes a certain Customs Collector forever reminiscing about long-ago meals:

      “As he possessed no higher attribute, and neither sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit of his maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher’s meat, and the most eligible methods of preparing them for the table.”

      I suppose that we all are guilty of, or totally immersed in, encapsulating life like Hawthorne’s Customs Collector, living within what we conceive of as our own stories, which, in fact, the social other continually is crafting for us. We surround ourselves with these social other stories thus maintaining ‘the static burden of everyday existence.’

      But, now comes the Forgiving Victim, one day – every day, to ‘warm our palates,’ to illuminate the Other other’s life that is life, but only as we live it in Christ. Who reveals recipes written on our hearts as He scales the static burden away laid over our lives by the social other.  If ever we recognized the Oher other’s recipes for life as children, we long ago forgot them. But as adults, Christ shares God’s truths, just as they were given to us at birth – written on our hearts in ‘scarlet’ letters. 

      • #46886

        Yes, Rich, the image of the halfway house allows another shift in perspective about Church. Like a half? way house for people coming out of prison, the Church is not an end in itself but exists as a staging post on the way to more healthy and productive patterns of life. Like the halfway house, the Church is a sign of a benevolent intention from outside the pattern of prison socialization.

    • #46883
      Rich Paxson

      What sort of role have the “waiters” in Church played in your sense of belonging to Church? Have they been a stumbling block for you? If so, in what way?

      The subject and verb in the first question above do not agree. The singular subject, “sort,” needs the singular verb “has” rather than the plural “have.” I point this out not because it bothers me but because the subject-verb disagreement reminded me that metaphorical Church “waiters” have played many roles in my “sense of belonging to Church.”

      Some waiters bring fiery food urging social action. Others close a meal with the sweetness of liturgical reflection at the end of a mortal life. And some ‘wait-ers’ help diners endure seemingly interminable interludes between courses by gently revealing at times that the diners are the real cause of a wait, not the restaurant or its staff.

      ‘Wait-ers’ can be stumbling blocks. And yet, stumbling blocks, rightly understood, become living stones. In Luke 20 Jesus reminded his listeners: “Staring at them, Jesus said, “Then what is the meaning of this text of scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?”

      • #46887

        James tell us that the waiters in this restaurant have the mistaken idea that the restaurant is all about them and that they know better than the Chef. They often look down on the guests and become involved in their own petty quarrels and rivalries. Because we are Aristocratic Guests, we do not become embroiled in the waiters’ quarrels, but are actually untroubled by and perhaps even fond of them. The Chef manages to smuggle his food to us, the distracted waiters notwithstanding.

        This image allows us to have a shift in perspective. Most discussions of what is meant by Church emanate from a waiterly perspective, giving the waiters way too much importance. In fact, Church is really all about the Chef making something available for increasingly aristocratic guests, and what the guests then make of what they are given.

        I liked your examples of how waiters can be “stumbling blocks” Rich and also your realisation that confronting this can be such a positive spiritual experience.

    • #46885
      Rich Paxson

      What would help free you to be run by the Chef’s delight in you?

      A restaurant customer’s pleasure in a meal completes the Chef’s delight. The Chef and the customer are yoked together in a holonic relationship. The restaurant is a holon, which is a whole that’s composed of distinct entities. For example, a molecule contains atoms;  a corporation has departments; a diocese consists of parishes; the chef’s restaurant serves diners; God’s creation includes human creatures.

      We never can lose our existence in God Who incorporates our lives within God’s Divine life, but we can act as if that relationship were not present or never existed. When there is no awareness of a holonic relationship with God, then the social other’s denial of God drives our lives. And yet, even as the social other’s claims deny God, we still acknowledge our holonic relationship with God in worship and, at times, we proclaim that relationship intentionally, spontaneously or perhaps just serendipitously. 

      I think of the cross as a symbol of the holonic relationship between God and humanity. We reach out to our brothers and sisters in the cross’s two arms. The vertical trunk signifies God’s indwelling presence. We are free to respond to God’s indwelling presence allowing God to inform our lives. And yet, to reconcile our holonic relationship with God who wants to illuminate our daily routines remains the challenge of living and loving. Jesus, the Forgiving Victim, in His human existence, both revealed and met this problem of life and love.

      What I learn here at Forgiving Victim helps me to balance the quotidian with the invisible indwelling immediacy of God’s presence. Forgiving Victim helps me understand the notion of God’s inaccessible all-powerfulness, which James describes as the weak presence of God’s great power. Forgiving Victim provides the knowledge to navigate the holonic relationship between God and humanity, between God and me. And so to relax into God’s ever loving arms.

      I rewrote the last paragraph in the comments I posted last week to reflect more clearly my understanding of the relationship of one’s life with the Forgiving Victim, the Other-other:

      But, now comes the Forgiving Victim, one day – every day, to ‘warm our palates,’ to illuminate the Other-other’s life that is life, to clean away the social other dust that continually settles into daily life.  As children, we felt Christ’s cleaning hand, but as adults, that feeling faded. Nevertheless, Jesus remained, wiping away the dust of the decades to reveal God’s constant message of creative love, which God wrote at birth on the hearts of each and every one of us.

      • #46888

        I very much liked your phrase, “What I learn here at Forgiving Victim helps me to balance the quotidian with the invisible indwelling immediacy of God’s presence”. As I have been reading these last three posts of yours Rich, the gospel message to have “life in all its fullness” and the importance of food and being around a table together, that is Jesus’s table ministry, leaps to mind. I very much like James’s analogy of the Church as a restaurant. This is a wonderful way “to balance the quotidian with the invisible indwelling of God’s presence”.

        • #46890
          Rich Paxson

          Sheelah, Thank you for your thoughtful, patient replies to my comments. I find your thoughts both reinforcing and reorienting (when I’ve gone off on a tangent) but always friendly and insightful! I think I’m getting close to the end of my two-year subscription period. However, I plan to ‘complete the meal’ trusting that if I need to re-subscribe to the course, then someone will let me know. Forgiving Victim is not a subject that one can hurry through. I’ve had some down times, which I’ve needed in order ‘to digest’ the rich fare that’s on offer at The Forgiving Victim Restaurant – both the food delivered by the waiters and those courses ‘snuck out’ to diners by The Chef!

    • #46891

      Rich, thank you for your kind words. I have really enjoyed our chats and I do hope to have more of them. Yes, there are down times when we need to digest, so I attach something that helped me immensely when I wanted everything to happen yesterday. This was sent to me years ago by a very good friend, so I hope it will be as valuable to you as it is to me.

      “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
      We are quite naturally impatient in everything
      to reach the end without delay.
      We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
      We are impatient of being on the way to something ?unknown, something new. ?And yet it is the law of all progress ?that it is made by passing through?some stages of instability—?and that it may take a very long time.
      And so I think it is with you;
      your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
      let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
      Don’t try to force them on,
      as though you could be today what time
      (that is to say, grace and circumstances
      acting on your own good will)
      will make of you tomorrow.
      Only God could say what this new spirit
      gradually forming within you will be.
      Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
      that his hand is leading you,
      and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
      in suspense and incomplete.”

      Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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