When Boundaries Collide…


I normally walk 3 blocks to the library of my alma mater to check my mail and blog. It’s been awhile, because they had limited hours over the holidays, so I used the public library instead which is further away. Finally, however, the library closest to me has returned to normal hours, so I went in on my day off to do my tech stuff. Before getting on the computer, however, I went upstairs to make a telephone call. I didn’t want to disturb anybody in the main areas and wanted some privacy. There are a couple of couches off to the side of the second floor, surrounded by shelves of books, enclosed privacy rooms to be used by college staff for quiet study, and enclosed group study rooms with doors on each. There was nobody close when I first sat down, but eventually, a girl student sat down on the adjacent couch with her stack of reading material. Her books didn’t appear to be textbooks, but more for personal, spiritual enrichment: devotions. I had been there for a little while and didn’t feel compelled to leave while she sat there.

While I talked, I noticed she would read for awhile, change books, read a little more, shift positions, change books (one of which was Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz), and then shift positions again. While I was in the middle of speaking, she said, “This is the quiet section of the library. There are comfortable couches downstairs if you’d like to use them…”

I interrupted my conversation and responded, “Oh, I’m sorry. I will move.”

Gathering my stuff, and continuing my conversation, I moved into an adjacent, enclosed room, and closed the door.

 I didn’t make a smart ass comment…

I used a polite voice tone…

I didn’t stay…

I moved.

But while I sat in the room, my irritation began to mount. I started to imagine the girl was a library science major. Or from Iowa. Or a black and white thinker. Furthermore, I never saw the sign designating the area as a “quiet area.” After my phone call was over, I looked at the top of the stairs and the bottom of the stairs. No sign. Eventually, I found the signs on two pillars in front of the couch area, facing away from the couches…. She was right. But I was still irritated by the manner in which she spoke and that she didn’t excuse herself for interupting my conversation.

In my view, she crossed my boundary. In her view, I crossed her’s. Eventually, I began to imagine what it would be like to live in a rowdy dorm surrounded by an active college campus, in the middle of winter, and find a place of solitude and silence for some alone time. Of course, the library. I understood her desire for privacy. But it still rankled.

As human beings, we are so used to viewing life from our own perspective. Even when we try to intellectually disengage ourselves from our own narrow view and try to take a broader view of life around us, we still feel things according to what is important to “ME.”  How I see things. Our emotional mind is quick to respond to a perceived threat to something personal to us and about which we care, and we respond. Sometimes before our rational mind can slow us down and make a choice as to the BEST action to take.

We have all been transfixed by the enormity of the tragedy in Haiti following the earthquake a couple of days ago. An incredibly poor nation unstable in so many ways, finds that the very ground under their feet is unstable. This country is rushing to help. CNN, Twitter, Facebook act as means of communicating the agony of those on the island, and of Haitians around the world seeking information on their friends and family.

So many in crisis.

So many in response.

And then yesterday, while on Twitter, I read about a comment Pat Robertson made on television. I have seen a recording of the comment. My mind immediately responded in anger, remembering the same pronouncements from Robertson when Katrina hit New Orleans, and after 9-11-01. In fact, I responded by writing a pithy status on my facebook account and then making a comment on Donald Miller’s blog: http://donmilleris.com/ It was interesting to watch the comment board fill up with differing opinions and takes on the correct “Christian” response to Robertson’s comments. There was no disagreement on how we should respond to the Haitian crisis, however. Prayer. Giving. Action.

So I must ask: Do we cross the boundaries of God by daining to speak for him in times of crisis?

I would point to the story of Job and Henri Nouwen’s perspective on the responses of the characters in the story. Job’s life is in ruins and he sits in agony, asking why. His friends come to where he is and sit with him in silence for 7 days. The narrative doesn’t speak of any action they took other than sit with him. Eventually, Job proceeds to give a monologue filled with grief and pain asking why he was ever born only to live his days in this way. His friends, one by one, begin to answer his questions by preaching to him. In effect, they say he must have sinned for God to lay his life to waste. (I must say that God did NOT bring the destruction on Job’s life, according to the biblical narrative.) His friends protected their perception of God’s reputation, by blaming Job… the victim. However, God remains strangely silent. I wrote a previous blog about Nouwen’s take on this story and my interaction with his words of wisdom in 

Living Our Questions.

And I also must ask:

What should our response be when we believe someone else is speaking on God’s behalf and we believe the message to be destructive?

Do we then speak for God against the other one speaking for God?

Or do we do what is loving, take care of the hurting, and live our own questions for God?

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