Tips for Fishing and Living #66

Tip #66:

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”

                                                                Norman Fitzroy Maclean, A River Runs Through It~

At my church we regularly revisit the great gospel story of when Jesus first meets Peter, who is on the beach repairing his fishing nets. I’ve heard this story many times and have reflected on it often. It seems obvious Peter hasn’t caught any fish yet Jesus asks Peter what he is doing and “did you catch any fish?” I imagine Peter was already in a foul mood due to his poor fishing results, and how he could have become even more irritated by this intruder’s inquiry. Peter might have taken Jesus as trying to deliberately provoke him. And yet the two continue talking until Jesus tells Peter he ought to go back out in his boat to a certain area and “he will surely catch a lot of fish.”

It is unclear exactly why Peter, a veteran fisherman, takes this advice but by now he has seemingly picked up something remarkable about this Jesus. So, as the story goes Peter does go back out and he catches so many fish he has to have help from another boat to bring in the vast amount of fish caught. We then read that when Peter’s boat gets close to shore he jumps out and runs up onto the beach near Jesus and immediately prostrates himself as he shouts “get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

I think that if we had been Jesus we might have been tempted to tell Peter that this was, indeed, a great insight; and that the first step toward growth is acknowledging one’s mistakes and wrongful ways. We may have even suggested to Peter that if he should go about working on his self-improvement, that perhaps by the time we returned to this town again Peter might then be ready – be somehow worthy – of joining us, and to “come follow me.”

As we also know, Jesus does none of this. What he does do is not this seemingly very human-like response at all. Instead Jesus totally ignores Peter’s sense of unworthiness. He overlooks it completely, and simply tells Peter to “come, follow me,” – as in, come right now – just as you are – and then he adds, “And I will make you a fisher of people.” 

This is a radical love. It is counter-cultural. And it is illustrative of a kind of love we cannot earn or cannot lose. It is a love we find so difficult to wrap our heads around since it is not our usual way to love. This ideal way of loving – this unearned or un-achieved love – isn’t how we humans tend give love to others. But God’s love is exactly this kind of love. God’s love is generously given; and it is given to each and every person without us even asking.   

Because we’re born into a capitalist worldview that makes a virtue out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting we are blind to another way. This is part of the reason we find it so hard to recognize that our worldview is not sustainable, or do we see it as an unhappy trap? It is the only way we know. We may feel a tug every so often, and have insight into our living in an unsustainable way when we slow down enough and take stock of our present lives.

It is in those slowed down reflective moments we can see the love I am describing that the love Jesus offered Peter is counter to our usual way. Our worldview of life – the one we are born into – leads us to a predictable future of strained individualism, environmental destruction, and severe competition, especially as we think that our resources dwindle as the world population grows. Perpetual war is also a logical outcome of our worldview.

Our culture can ingrain in us the belief that there is not enough to go around (a scarcity model), which determines most of our politics and spending. As I have said in the past, we behave as if there is not enough money for adequate health care for all, quality education for everyone, support for the arts as offering significant value, the necessity to maintain our basic infrastructures, or treating our environment as a living organism. At the same time we always have the largest budget for war, bombs, and military equipment. Simply put: our worldview is based upon fear and survival.

A slowed down life is fostered by a lifestyle committed to Contemplative Living. Such a life draws us toward a different worldview – one based upon love. It brings with it the wisdom of how a simplified life and one of having less so that others can have enough is desirable. This less can only operate with a conviction that the universe is expanding and that there really IS more than enough for everyone. This attraction to less paradoxically leaves room for more soul. Possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. We mostly have a distribution problem rather than not enough resources.

Living simply will come out of a commitment to Contemplative Living. This will draw us also to the foundational social justice and teachings of Jesus, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, and mystics and prophets since time immemorial. Clare understood that love and poverty are connected. She, as others, taught that poverty frees one from the bondage of material things and from all that clutters the human heart and soul.

Monks, and women and men religious, embrace a vow of poverty. It is their way of living detached from material possessions, and engaging in a life where material things become unimportant. Such detachment opens one to what is truly important.

An emphasis on theology, catechism, and religious education can seem like good things but are actually the wrong things to emphasize. Rather, prayer and a genuine practice of caring and sharing with our fellow brothers and sisters, serves us much better. A focus of prayer and good practices assists us in bringing about a deeper spirituality – one that draws us toward greater communication with God. A theology of God, but one without a love of God, is a theology of no use. At best it is merely an intellectual exercise and distraction. At worse it can be a justification for all sorts of corruption, bad attitudes and behaviors. 

One does not need to be a vowed religious to live a life of poverty. It is a life that fosters an attitude of detachment to material possessions and a practice of simplifying one’s life in general. It is a taking on a poverty that steers one toward a better love of God and of neighbor. It calls us to generosity and a sharing of what we have with others. This is known as stewardship. It is also about preventing material things from owning us.

The purpose of such a committed life that embraces poverty is that we are aided in avoiding the obstacles in our way of pursuing spiritual perfection. When I speak of perfection it isn’t about perfectionism. It is about a completeness, and about gaining a greater capacity toward union with and love of God and neighbor. It is about living one’s life to the full. It is about being who we are meant to be.

With the sad news of the passing of Rep. John Lewis this week we have experienced a great loss. He was an icon and hero in our midst. He lived a life totally dedicated to service and to bringing about justice for all. He was and is a great teacher. While he fought to the very end for justice, he did so with humility, decency and kindness, while also with tremendous courage. His brand of love was always founded in non-violence. He challenged our Nation to live up to being a place where true justice carries the day for everyone.

Add John Lewis to the list of those mentioned earlier as one who embraced a contemplative life. He is an American saint whose death now more than ever challenges us, and hopefully also inspires us, to stay engaged in the hard work at hand. May we carry his motto of doing “good trouble” as we are going about righting the many wrongs that still persist in our imperfect democracy.  After all, our founders expected us to keep at the business of forming a more perfect union.

One thing Jesus told Peter was “come follow me.” The next thing was, “and I will make you a fisher of people.” This is a call to all of us. It is a call to put our faith into practice; to walk our talk; to take a stand for what we believe in and know is right. To speak out when injustice is there. Love must be at the foundation for all our actions. Our actions must never promote or encourage violence, or be the source that might otherwise justify it. Even in our thoughts we must remain non-violent.

Martin Luther King Jr., friend and collaborator of John Lewis said it this way.

“Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. . . . The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil . . .  and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.”

Pope Paul VI said it this way: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

Love – powerful, healing love – as it turns out, is the only thing that can conquer hate, darkness, and intolerance. Let us honor John Lewis by bringing our protest into policy – policies that facilitate a worldview that is sustainable and our rightful future as Americans.