Not Perfect, Just Forgiven…

peace “You have not been helpful”: Monk loses temper
dealing with United Airlines customer service
Michael Walsh ~ http://news.yahoo.com

Another airline passenger lost his cool while talking to customer service — only this time it was a monk. Brother Noah of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico says he failed to stay peaceful while dealing with United Airlines on the phone, the New York Times reported. “I said to her something like: ‘Thank you for speaking. God bless you. I will pray for you. But you have not been helpful,’” he told the broadsheet. When David Segal, author of “The Haggler” column, suggested this did not sound like much of an outburst, Brother Noah said he knows the tone of his voice “manifested anger.” So what riled up the monk?  In late November, Brother Noah’s friend at the monastery, Brother John Baptist, flew to Malawi in southeastern Africa to see his sick mother on a $2500 round-trip ticket, paid for by the monastery.  After arriving, Brother John Baptist realized he needed to extend his trip several weeks, so Brother Noah called on December 10 to reschedule the return flight. But United said the original purchase was fraudulent even though his friend already used half of the ticket.  A United representative reportedly suggested that the monastery’s leader could drive three hours away to a United desk in Albuquerque to work everything out. Then he spoke to a supervisor, identified as Mark, but the issue was not sorted out.  “Everything became our fault. There was no evidence that Brother John Baptist had been placed on a new return flight,” Brother Noah told the Times. “No record of the conversation with Mark. I really struggled to remain calm and charitable. My monastic life is about staying peaceful in all circumstances. I failed during this call.”  To set everything straight, the monastery posted an open letter on its website outlining the experience and asking for help. “Blessings to you! Christ in the Desert is having some difficulties with United Airlines. Perhaps someone reading this will know a way to help,” the letter begins.  This eventually led to a return flight, apology, and $350 credit toward future travels.

This is not the monastery in New Mexico that I go to, but it is its sister house on the other side of Santa Fe.  Benedictines, Thecirque Monastery of Christ in the Desert is a community that organizes its life around the 6th century Rule of St. Benedict.  As an Oblate of the Pecos Benedictine Monastery and Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, I have made a commitment to this Rule myself.  I try to organize my active life in the world around the spiritual principles that St. Benedict discovered in his life of following hard after Jesus Christ and then made available to others.  Ordinarily, monks and monasteries connote Christians on spiritual steroids, spiritual athletes climbing the ladder of perfection.  But in my experience, monks are just ordinary believers like ourselves who have gotten serious about their discipleship, and monasteries are places of grace, refuges where weary souls can find refreshment, reorientation and renewal.

I’ve read that there is a command on British warships known as “Still.”  When it is issued, everyone is supposed to stop where they are and what they are doing, and think about where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing!  My trips to the monastery have always been a “Still” experience for me.  They have not been victory laps with me pumping my fist in celebration of some kind of imagined spiritual maturity, but rather they have been more like time in the repair shop for my soul to find out why it’s running so rough.  And in my experience, the monastery is the perfect place to do this because they are not inhabited by angels, but by ordinary men and women who struggle with all of the same sorts of things that I do.

The Rule of St. Benedict is not a spiritual resource for the elite.  It is a spiritual resource for the ordinary containing “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.”  In fact, St. Benedict described it as “a little rule for beginners.”  In the Preface to the copy of the Rule that I keep close at hand, Fr. Timothy Fry, O.S.B. explained – “Benedict was a keen observer of human nature and realized that people often fail (the abbot himself must ‘distrust his own ability”). He was concerned to help the weak, and consequently he enjoined the abbot to “so regulate and arrange all matters that souls may be saved….”  And so in the Rule you are repeatedly coming across little snippets of patience and grace like –

idol“…never lose hope in God’s mercy…”

“The abbot must exercise the utmost care and concern for wayward brothers, because it is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick (Matthew 9:12)… support the wavering brother… ‘lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow’ (2 Corinthians 2:7).”

“Imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep in the mountains and went in search of the one sheep that had strayed.  So great was his compassion for its weakness that he mercifully placed it on his shoulders and so carried it back to the flock (Luke 15:5).”

“…consideration should be given for weakness…”

The Rule of St. Benedict breathes the kind of spiritual realism that is borne of the Gospel, the kind of realism that you find in Philippians 3.  This is one of those chapters where my faith lives, especially the part that says–

I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him… Not that I have already attained this, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  …Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:8; 12-14)

Years ago the young couple who lived across the street from the church that I was serving in the Texas Panhandle put thejust familiar bumper sticker that reads “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven” on their car, only they deliberately put it on upside down!   I laughed out loud every time I saw it, and I appreciated the important spiritual truth to which it bore witness. Our standard is not perfection, but growth – growth in grace.  Weakness and failure are expected, but they’re not to be excused.  With the acknowledgment that we are not perfect, there must come the resolve to press on, and it’s in the tension of these two poles that the spiritual life gets lived out, inside and outside the monastery.  It’s good for all of us to know that monks get angry and can lose their cool too.  It means that we’re all in the same boat — the boat of grace. DBS+

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