(Instant) Gratification

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I believe this. It is not just hollow consolation. I know, sometimes, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity”. Alastair Campbell gives one view of the Brexit conspiracy against the British people. I liked this discussion of the quote: Mychal Denzel Smith argues we have to do the work to bend it, and we have to define “justice”.

We were discussing the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5. They are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. I disagree with Paul’s contradiction between “the flesh” and “the spirit”. Possibly this comes from my culture. Paul may have been a dualist, believing we are material bodies and immaterial mind/spirit/soul, though he believed in the resurrection of the body. I am not, though I don’t know how much of my certainty comes from my personal experience of being human and how much comes from the cultural understandings I have imbibed. Opposing flesh and spirit leads to asceticism, where you only eat food you don’t like and see the world as ugly, grey and sinful rather than fruitful and beautiful.

I could parrot the words “sarx” and “pneuma”, even find their Greek spelling, but not say Paul “really” meant something I can live with. But the distinction I can live with came from Mary Linda’s group: ego and spirit. The Good in me produces love, joy, peace, etc. The Ego in me produces jealousy, anger, envy etc. And a lot of that seems to come from a desire for instant gratification.

Instant gratification is not all bad. Working in advice centres, I realised that I could, simply by listening sympathetically while people told their woes, make them feel better, and this made me feel really good. It was simply me, acting in accordance with my nature, achieving something I found valuable. But then at the Northern Concord TV/TS club a trans man began talking of his difficulties, and three of us leaned forward, in unison, with our sympathetic listening faces on, and I realised how much I got from such encounters.

Rosa Parks sitting down at the front of the bus can expect nothing like that. She knows she will face vituperation, contempt, and violence. If she resists at all that will be the excuse justifying unlimited violence against her. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted more than a year, and while it was a great step forward arguably the arc of history has not reached justice yet. All that walking, not using buses, was a sacrifice.

It is possible that seeking instant gratification, and planning for the future, inhabit different circuits within my neural structure. I can bring them into dialogue, and there often seems to be some sort of presiding intelligence which sees when instant gratification is possible, and not too costly, and when I should hold back or start laying foundations for gratification later. That needs me to believe in the possibility of gratification later, and people who have little experience of it can’t be expected to work towards it.

Ooh! σάρξ and πνεῦμα. There you go. A little fairly quick gratification for me.

I remember little of Habakkuk, but what I got from it when I read it was that God really does have some vast eternal plan, it just is taking longer than we might have hoped.

Pictures for a bit come from Yan Liben. It’s a new year, and I am looking back to the 7th century: he was a Tang dynasty artist and politician. We read these pictures right to left, rather than left to right.

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