I came up with a theory of spirituality this weekend, based on a quote from Rambo: First Blood. I think I made a real stride forward in spiritual understanding.
We all know some people who just can't seem to thrive spiritually. Whether it's in our church or our family or a larger circle of acquaintances, they just can't seem to draw any nourishment. A sermon or homily that inspires and ennobles me leaves them cold and somewhat put off. A book that I think is wise and profound seems to them harsh and uncaring. C.S.Lewis is too stuffy, JPII is too learned, the parish priest is not understanding enough, the deacon is too pre-vatican II, the youth group leader is too post-vatican II, etc.
I am not talking about the people who simply live to find fault with whatever they are hearing or reading. That is a different problem. I am talking about people with real emotional or intellectual hangups that make them unable to draw nourishment from something. Maybe the person preaching is reminding them of the emotionally abusive preaching they heard as children. Maybe the book is echoing overly rigid parental moralizing, or duplicating guilt trips taken as a teenager.
See, when you are a teacher (and we are all teachers at one time or another) there is more to teaching than the truth you are saying. There is also the intent with which you say it, which is sometimes very hard to come to terms with. Nothing makes a more effective battering ram than the truth, precisely because the one using it as a weapon can quiet his conscience with the fact that what he is saying is true. Or mostly true. Or based on the truth. Or very likely true.
Even more important is the person receiving what you are saying. Not everyone can receive everything right now. Some people simply aren't ready yet. This requires the teacher to listen, really listen, far more than he speaks. It is only by listening, not just with ears but with mind and heart and whatever intuition you are gifted with, that you can begin to understand how your listeners are hearing you and whether you are helping or hindering them.
It's like cooking a meal for someone. Some people are allergic to wheat, or dairy, or peanuts, or yeast. Some unfortunate people are allergic to everything except white rice and water. No matter how delicious the food you buy, it can be ruined if you don't cook it well. Even if the food is good and you have cooked it perfectly, it is worse than useless if your guest dies of anaphylaxis after the first bite.
In the same way it isn't enough to ensure that what you are saying is true. That's the necessary starting point, since no one can cook make mud nourishing, no matter how good a cook you are. But also you must learn to present it in a pleasing manner, and makes sure that you are cooking it so that your recipients can eat it.
I have been singularly blessed in this matter. My spiritual stomach is almost as solid as my physical stomach, which is all but unshakeable. I have eaten worms from a pit that a hundred men had been rolling around in for days. I have eaten road kill. I have eaten raw meat, grass and bugs, drunk creek water, and eaten food off street shops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea. Nothing upsets my stomach (except too much caffeine, weirdly enough). It's like cast iron. I have almost no food hangups either. There is only one food I have ever come across that makes me gag trying to swallow it and that is soggy bread. For some reason I still can't eat that.
Spiritually my digestion is very similar. I can read any book and draw something from it, including, but not limited to, the Leveyan Satanic Bible, Fight Club, and Once and Future King, (words cannot describe how much I loathe that book. Given the choice I would re-read "Fight Club" before I resubjected myself to Once and Future King.) There have only been a few books in my life that I've thrown out without finishing. I once ordered all the works of DeSaad and threw them away without even opening them because I read a summary of his life before they arrived. There are limits to what I can and will imbibe and I am getting pickier, especially when it comes to movies. But when it comes to people, I can't remember the last time I was unable to stomach something someone said. There is always something useful, even in the most abusive, or angry, or foolish, or pigheaded opinions, even if the benefit comes simply from suffering them gladly and praying for them.
I can eat things that would make a billy goat puke.
When we share the faith we are serving a banquet for our brother or sister. Let the food we serve be nourishing, let us cook it to the limit of our skill, doing justice to the greatness of the substance by presenting it well. And let's not douse it in hot sauce if our guests don't like spicy food. That's only courtesy.
I know what you're thinking, "What does this have to do with Rambo?" To answer that I embed the following clip from what is pretty much the most awesome cheesetastic movie ever: