The Hunter

by Bob Lupton on

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I like guns. They have always fascinated me, ever since I was in grade school.  With my small arsenal, I loved both target practice and hunting small game. When I got drafted during the Vietnam war, my favorite part of basic training was weapons proficiency. I easily scored “expert” with the rifle. But the real thrill was the more exotic weapons – machine guns, rocket launchers, hand grenades, even the big howitzer cannons. I loved it! I even got assigned to assist other GI’s who required additional training to pass their firearms tests.   

But no adrenaline rush from practicing could match the one I felt using these weapons in live combat. I was assigned to a helicopter unit in Vietnam; most of the action I saw was from tree-top level and above. Thankfully, I was spared much of the bloody face-to-face conflict that other troops encountered. I think for that reason I came home largely free from the emotional scars and tormenting memories that many of my fellow veterans endured.

Still, in Vietnam I started to question my fascination with weapons and the taking of life – any life, animal or human. My justifications didn’t add up. Hunting to supply meat to feed my family? My family didn’t even like the taste of wild game. No, it was not feeding the family that justified the hunt. It was the kill that gave me the rush. Was a decision in Washington declaring a people “the enemy” sufficient justification to hunt down and kill humans? Just doing my duty, I told myself. Then why did I volunteer for combat missions?   Patriotism? No, I enjoyed the hunt.

Part of me loves life, enjoys nature, marvels at creation. A big part of me, really. I so admire saints like Francis of Assisi who seemed at peace with creation and never hurt so much as a fly. When I see pictures of birds eating out of Francis’ hand, I wonder if perhaps it illustrates the unity with nature God intended for earth. But then I observe Gigi, my neighbor’s cat, stealthily slinking into my yard, crouching like a leopard under the bushes near my bird feeder, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting sparrow or chipmunk. Violence is somehow integrally woven into the cycle of life.     

I wish it were different. If I listen very carefully, I hear something deep within my soul grieving when I witness suffering or death. A baby robin that has fallen out of the nest, a child enduring chemo treatments, a victim of a high school shooting, a family whose house has been destroyed by a raging forest fire. It was the wounded spirit of fatherless boys in the inner-city that touched my heart and drew me into a ministry that would become my life’s calling.

How can two, diametrically opposed instincts reside within the same person? It’s like trying to explain how life and death can co-exist within the same soul. Eventually, I have resigned myself to accept the inner tension as a reality of the human condition.

So I am left to face life with these rival forces contending within me. I live with the knowledge that I am capable of doing great acts of love as well as dreadful harm. It’s evidently how I was created. I’m just like Gigi the cat, one moment purring and nuzzling and the next stalking innocent prey.  A big difference between Gigi and I, of course, is that I can choose which instinct to nurture. I can channel my hurtful inclinations (like my desire for conquest, control, self-centeredness) into life-giving behaviors (like compassion, affirmation, encouragement). I have choices. And when I listen carefully to a quiet voice deep within my soul, I can usually discern which choices are the right ones.

The following prayer expresses the heart-cry of an aging person whose sense of identity is undergoing a metamorphosis – a conflicted person who longs to find purpose and meaning somewhere other than in the next achievement, the next hunt. I have made this prayer my own.     

Lord, you are there for me

As you have always been.

Let me seek you out, let me find you.

Or rather, let me be found by you.

In my declining years, as my energy wanes

and my visions no longer compel me,  

let me not center my life just on myself,

but instead find my true self in finding you,

in the joy of service and in regard for others,

in the love of what is true and good and kind.

Lord of my life, sustain me.  Guide me. (author unknown)

-Bob Lupton




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Patron Saint of Business People

by FCS on

by Bob Lupton

“We don’t need more soup kitchens…we need businesses,” Peter Faber muttered to himself as he stepped around sick and homeless souls huddled in the back alleys of the city. He had risen early to pray in the quiet predawn hours. He assumed the dark streets would be silent and deserted. Instead, he encountered scores of destitute beggars – some shivering in ragged coats behind trash bins, others pleading with outstretched hands for a coin or a morsel.

Peter, a Jesuit priest, was both shocked and appalled by the depth of poverty he encountered on his night walk. His mission in Mainz (Germany) was saving lost souls, but he was totally unprepared for this level of “lost-ness.” He confided to his fellow priests: "Perhaps if we [Jesuits] had a flair for business ... and we had not such a [spiritual] harvest to be reaped ... we could concern ourselves more with this problem." It was a heretical thought!

To even consider commerce as a tool of ministry was a radical departure from the prevailing doctrines of the church which looked askance at secular business. The year was 1541, more than two centuries before Adam Smith unveiled his revolutionary economic theory in The Wealth of Nations.

But Peter was unable to dismiss from his mind the wretched images he had seen. In his personal reflections he wrote, "I felt strongly inspired to do my very utmost to provide for the needy and homeless sick wandering about the city of Mainz." The challenge was more immense than he imagined. Around 6,500 homeless souls inhabited his city. Honorable work was what they needed, not more handouts. And business, Peter concluded, was the best source for such employment.

His insights, though centuries old, are remarkably contemporary. He recognized that business, when done well, plays an unparalleled role in enabling individuals to support themselves and their families with dignity. To be sure, this did not mean an end to charity. “We need soup kitchens,” he affirmed. But business, not hand-outs, has the unique capacity to create positive, long-term societal change.

Peter also observed that successful business people are imaginative, willing to take risks, energized by new ideas, diligent in execution, and able to inspire others. He called this “flair.” These talents are gifts from God and should be affirmed as such, Faber boldly declared. It is no sin to succeed in business by employing these talents fully.

Business instincts as spiritual gifts?! Profit-making equated with sacred practice?! Blasphemy! Little wonder that this courageous young priest would be sidelined to the periphery of the dominant mainstream of orthodoxy.

Only now has Peter’s ennobling vision of business been officially affirmed by the church. It has taken five centuries for his radical ideas to gain sufficient credence to permit his acceptance as a saint. In 2013, with little fanfare, Pope Francis quietly conferred sainthood upon this co-founder of the Jesuit order.

But even as he signed the bull of canonization, the pope issued cautions about the dangers of money, which he likened to a modern day golden calf. And once again, age old debates were ignited. Some on the right wagged their heads, accusing the pope of a naïve understanding of how the markets really work. Others on the left viewed his words as an endorsement for increasing socialistic policies. St. Peter Faber, a man undaunted by controversy, may well emerge as patron saint of business people.

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The Hunger Game

by FCS on

by Bob Lupton

I was having lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill the other day when a post card size picture of an adorable two year old girl with big brown eyes and cute little pigtails caught my attention. She was holding a small milk carton and sipping on a straw.  Along the top of the picture in large red block letters were these words: 1 IN 5 KIDS IN AMERICA SUFFER FROM HUNGER.  The small print requested that I donate $5 to No Kid Hungry to help reach the goal of providing three million meals to hungry children. As an added incentive, I would receive a $5 discount on my next meal at Ted’s.  The slogan at the bottom of the card read: Dine out. Do good.

I flipped the card over to see the details on the back.  “Every $1 provides up to 10 meals to kids in need,” it said.  “Together we can end childhood hunger.”   I was intrigued enough to do a little web checking when I got home.  No Kid Hungry, I discovered, is a fund-raising initiative of Share Our Strength, Inc., a multi-million dollar non-profit based in Washington DC that does very effective fund-raising for hunger-related causes.  They have secured an impressive array of supporters, from well-known celebrities to Fortune 500 corporations.  

Their “let’s get to the root causes” marketing approach was very appealing. Their credentials appeared to be excellent – good ratings with the BBB, audited financials, reasonable transparency.  But I couldn’t find any data describing how they actually feed children.  

They started out originally as a fund-raising-grant-making initiative that primarily funded infrastructure for charitable organizations – new refrigeration units for food banks and new industrial ovens for soup kitchens, that sort of thing.  Their idea was to focus on long-term solutions rather than immediate hunger needs.  But this proved too slow a process, too hard to measure impact.  

So they embarked on a bold mission to end childhood hunger in the US by 2015.  Their strategy: get millions more kids signed up for free government meals.  Their accomplishments have been substantial: hundreds of millions of dollars raised and hundreds of thousands of children enrolled in public food and nutrition programs.  “Since summer 2011,” they claim, “we’ve helped connect children across the country to more than 28 million additional school breakfasts and 6 million additional summer meals."

I suppose that’s one way to end hunger – get the government to feed us.  But honestly, I’m not buying the claim that I in 5 children in our country is severely deprived of food.  It just doesn’t square with what I have seen in forty-plus years of inner-city work.  Sure, kids miss meals, sometimes they have to eat peanut butter sandwiches at the end of the month, they eat way too much junk food, but I have never seen a child that was even close to starving.  

Just visit a public school cafeteria. When you see how much food kids throw away, it’s hard to believe that we have a widespread epidemic of food-deprivation.  The throw away waste of school meals tops $1 billion annually, according to some estimates.  One study in Boston found that 40% of school lunches were tossed into the waste can. Students in LA schools, the nation’s second largest school system which serves 650,000 meals a day, throw out at least $100,000 worth of food every day.  That amounts to $18 million a year by very conservative estimates.  This doesn’t sound like a nation of hungry children to me.  

That picture of the darling two-year old with the big brown eyes does touch a grandpa’s heart. It draws me in.  I would give the $5 (or more) in a heartbeat if I knew she was being deprived of nourishing food and I could personally help.  You bet I would.  But $5 to help a polished, well-funded non-profit (even a well-meaning one) to enlist a generation of young people into an entitlement system that would only deepen their dependency?  I don’t think so.

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