Saturday, December 27, 2008
If I want to be able to do any of this, I know that I need to be more disciplined in my daily life. Part of that discipline is ratcheting down the busyness which is totally nonproductive. Number one in that arena is television. I keep saying that I want to disconnect my cable TV. And yet it still stays on. It steals both my time and my money. And the number one accomplice is me. The old Pauline conundrum still stands true, "I do what I don't want to do, and I don't do what I want to do. Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
Just earlier today I finished for the second time Henri Nouwen's newly published book, "The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life" even though Nouwen died over ten years ago, and this particular book was actually written nearly thirty years ago. I've enjoyed Nouwen's writings for almost fifteen years now, since being introduced to his seminal works "The Wounded Healer" and "The Return of the Prodigal Son."
In this latest work, Nouwen describes the true spiritual life as one which is marked by "downward mobility" in contrast to the usual call of upward mobility, which our modern American culture esteems so highly. He addresses three temptations which confronted Jesus and which confront us today: the temptation of relevancy, the temptation of being spectacular, and the temptation of power. He goes into just enough detail in each of these temptations to bring home what these temptations might look like in our own lives.
Thankfully, in the final chapter (there are only three in the book) he describes the three disciplines that can bring about spiritual health and maturity. They are the discipline of the church, the book, and the heart. In the discipline of the church, he points out how important it is to be in community in order to grow into the image of Christ. We learn that all of life is sacramental, and since the church is charged with administering the sacraments, all of life is administered, as it were, through our communal fellowship in the church. Thus we cannot be truly mature Christians if we live our lives as "lone-ranger" Christians. The term is an oxymoron.
Secondly, Nouwen points us to the discipline of the Book, by which he means the Word, first in Christ Jesus, but then in the written word of scripture. The Word of God, as seen in the words of scripture, is the lens through which we see everything. All of life is interpreted by this Word.
Finally, we have the discipline of the heart. Nouwen describes this discipline as being found through contemplative prayer. And he helpfully points out that this particualr discipline is the most most difficult, since it is so easily given up. It is also the most secretive. It is this very secretive aspect of contemplative prayer that makes it so easy to ignore. But it is only when we enter into naked communion with God in secret do we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. We begin to see our deepest needs, our deepest weaknesses, our resentments, our desires. When we are laid bare by direct communion with God we are paradoxically brought low enough to sees others in a new light. We begin to see others as being in need in exactly the same way we are. The particular puzzle pieces may be arranged in a somewhat different order. But it's still the same puzzle. When we are exposed to that in our own life, we can begin to see that in others.
Then we are able to be born, live, suffer, die, and be resurrected again, and be Christ to those around us as Christ has been to us.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Case in point: It's those Romans subjugating our homeland! It's those Jews threatening our empire's peace. It's those 'dirty' Italians (make sure to to emphasize the "eye" in 'I'talian) listening to their marching orders from the Vatican. And remember, the Irish were subhuman in English eyes until they came to America and got to be "white" for the first time in competition with blacks. Nowadays, it's Arabs (please make sure to pronounce the "A" in Arab!) as the convenient scapegoat. As long as we have someone, anyone, to see as the "other" we can avoid looking too closely at ourselves and what we've done or not done.
Whatever you do, pay no attention to that person dying on your doorstep. And if you can, please ignore that person, that man, that woman and that child, who is in the gunsights of missiles guided perfectly in their direction. Their life doesn't matter. They're the enemy. All of these wars are being fought for you.
What are you (am I) going to do?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
If Billo, Rush, Sean, or any of the other talking point right tell us these essentials to all that is right and good and true, then I can rest assured, and need not think beyond their pronouncements. If I dare come to a contradictory conclusion, then I risk being seen, and of course declared, an enemy of the people.
Nonetheless, as a Christian, I look at what is happening, and cannot help but wonder at whether we are seeing the dawn of a new darkness, a period of coercion and moral cowardice that generations forward will look at in disgust and derision.
Last night, we read a passage from Kings that described what Elijah went through when the vast majority of Israel was apostate and he felt completely alone. God assured him that there were others who had not bowed the knee to baal. There were literally thousands of others who, even though not seen, were faithful to the one true God and what he had declared. It was true then. It is true now.
The reality is, our government is fundamentally in bed with the corporate interests that have so spectacularly failed in recent days. This isn't socialism. This isn't even unfettered capitalism. It's the economic prostitution ring of government serving the interests of the corporate Johns that have paid their whores for their services.
Now we see these distraught "customers" stepping away from the one who has "serviced" their needs for so long.
Let the recriminations begin. They are well deserved.
Monday, September 29, 2008
In years past, we have had leaders, imperfect as they were, who nonetheless understood that strong measures were necessary to overcome the excesses that they had to confront. In the case of Teddy Roosevelt, the great Republican president who gave us both our national parks and who broke the "trusts" that held a stranglehold on American commerce, he confronted moneyed interests by breaking up the "Robber Barons" that essentially gave America a new slavery as pernicious as the one we supposedly eradicated in the mid 1800's.
His answer to this economic tyranny was to establish an equally strong federal power that stood as an antagonist, correcting and controlling the most rapacious impulses that these corporate interests clearly exhibited in the years preceding his administration.
Was he jingoistic? Yes. Did he advocate for American imperialism? Yes. Are these wrong for someone claiming the mantle of "Christian"? Yes. Does this tarnish his legacy? Yes. Does this tarnish his legacy any more than any other president? No. He was an American president. That was his job. Nothing more. Nothing less. To the degree he "used" Christian terminology and imagery to advantage American interests over and against what Christ actually declared His mission for His church, every political leader (Roosevelt included) should be judged.
Nonetheless, was he wise in his dealings with business interests in the time in which he lived? Yes, he was. He understood that concentrated power (whether political or economic) uncorrected is inherently dangerous and leads inexorably to tyranny. He understood this as a Lincoln Republican. Modern Republicans do not seem to understand this anymore. They see corporate interests as being essentially good, in the way that modern liberals see governmental agencies under Democrats (of course!) as being essentially good.
Teddy Roosevelt knew better. He was a Republican in the Lincoln mold. He understood that each and every human was impacted by a duality of impulses, both positive and negative.
A generation later, his cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was confronted with not only corporate malfeasance, but fascism and communism abroad, and the same at home, if left untended. The second Roosevelt decided, in his upper class way, to attend to working class needs. He recognized that democratic capitalism, if it was to survive in any way, needed to be regulated in a responsible way. He inaugurated public works programs to give millions work when nothing else was available. He established social security, which we now assume as a right.
These two examples of aristocratic leaders who nonetheless saw that the greater public good was best served by meeting the needs of the working class and those most at risk gives us an example for today. Sadly, in the last few days, we see nary an example so far of anyone who embodies that spirit. Maybe they're out there. I'm sure they are. But they aren't being heard. And now is when they need most to be heard.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
This whole concept is offensive to any modern ideologue. Any of them, whether liberal of conservative, will gladly take the moral teachings (up to a point). But the particularity of Christ will ALWAYS be offensive to anyone seeking to make Christ a means to an end and not the end of our means.
So, what does any of this have to do with being a small "d" democrat? After all, I'm writing this in order to defend the term over and against other competing terms that might go well with Augustinian. We've already seen how conservative might go well. Even liberal might work, depending upon which meaning you attach to the term, historical (better) or modern (worse) American.
When I think of the term democrat, I think of the meaning that adhered to the ancient Greeks; I think of the term as it applied to the earliest Americans, which saw in the term a breaking down of old hierarchical divisions inherited from old allegiances from the old country. The term democrat means that each person is equal before the law. The term democrat means that the old dividing walls of class hostility are removed. The term democrat means that each of us is seen as standing equally just and unjust before the bar of justice. The term democrat means that every human institution is equally infiltrated by human fallenness, whether individual (most favored by modern conservatives) or corporate (whether economic, through the owners of capital or union bosses, or government corruption).
Thus, in this understanding of democrat as well as Augustinian, my hope is to provide a prism which sheds a more accurate light of both our human condition and our commonality which that theological and anthropological reality declare.
I believe that this understanding has political and public policy consequences. That's why this site exists.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
with Your wounds?
You sear me with
Your hands and feet.
Your brow bleeds
As You look down
I hate You.
You are killing me.
I know You must.
I know why.
I also know
that You love me.
And You're bleeding
So that I might
just like me.
Why is this Your way?
Why must You suffer?
Why must You die?
Why must I?
You've already told me.
And all those before
and after me.
It's who You are.
It's what You do.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
THE STRANGE IRONY OF AMERICAN EVANGELICALISM
One of the tenets of Evangelicalism is that God’s word is final. Scripture is supposed to be our final arbiter of all that is true and good. One of these truths is that human beings in their current state are basically sinful. If that’s true, then that means that every human institution is therefore infected with this basic human malady.
Herein is the rub.
This is where political ideology and the Christian gospel immediately find themselves at odds. If you’re on the left, your immediate assumption is that the guilt lies within those who belong to the social class that owns the means of capital. In that case, leftist anthropology is thoroughly (yet, ironically only selectively) Augustinian. Yet when it comes to a government owned and operated “by the people” (properly administrated of course through the proper party officials), their view of the human condition becomes suddenly sanguine (to use another Christian term, Pelagian). This expression of power, as opposed to any other expression of power, has been expunged of any selfish motivations. Therefore these public servants can be trusted to provide a pure expression of unsullied motivations, all of which are for our common good.
Needless to say, this is not a consistent expression of the human condition, nor is it a consistent (or accurate) analysis of that human condition’s development into public policy.
I would like to say that this is not true of Evangelicalism as it is practiced.
However, American Evangelicalism seems to suffer from some (well, all) of the same maladies that have infected other political ideologies that have preceded it. Positively, American Evangelicalism, as in a mirror image of its nemesis, secular humanism, has presented a view of governmental ineptitude that is an exemplar of human failings. It has also illustrated the point that human self-will is constantly seeking to aggregate power to itself at any cost. Government, whether democratically elected or imposed from some powerful elite, seeks to increase its own power constantly through coercive means. In fact, the Constitutional founders understood this reality so much that they intentionally created a government that was divided into three parts in order to keep any one part from tyrannizing the public. It’s worth reading the Federalist Paper number 10 to understand more fully their Augustinian framework.
Yet this same assessment of the human condition seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to certain economic and corporate interests involved in the equation. The profit motive is seen as nearly sacrosanct. Meeting the bottom line is seen as being something close to our highest calling. The quarterly dividends are seen as being an expression of the loaves and the fishes. A 401K is merely casting our bread upon the waters.
Is this what Christ has called us to?
Much of American Evangelicalism would have us believe that we should elect certain political figures in order to bring about revival. In 2000 it was assumed that this meant George W. Bush. Right now, depending upon your political persuasion, it might mean John McCain or Barack Obama (or some other political savior).
NAVIGATING A DIFFICULT MIDDLE GROUND
As Christians, whether we’re American or not, we should be most concerned with enacting Christ’s Kingdom in our midst according to His word and His means. The temptation in the midst of this political campaign is to give ourselves over to a partisan spirit that says God is on one side over another. Are there issues in this campaign that are mentioned directly in Scripture? Yes, there sure are. Do some of those issues tend to favor one party over another, while other issues end up favoring the opposing party? Yes, this is also true. We can’t help but see some of those issues lived out in our midst as we decide which is the best course to take in the days and years to come.
Abortion, immigration, idolatry, sexual expression, stewardship, injustice, poverty, just to name a few.
Ultimately, we must decide whether our allegiance is to a party or ideology that would have us swear ourselves to some god that cannot deliver, some sorry deity that stands cold and lifeless before the Creator of the universe.
If we would call ourselves Christian, then we must be willing to stand against our own ideological and political foundations, and stand only and always on the one foundation that can actually save us.
One of the most pressing problems facing Christians in America is the sense of what it even means to be Christian in America.
To be an American Christian is to travel a road that navigates between the poles of nationalism, individualism, and ideological idolatry, the deifying of political ideologies, both left and right. To be an American Christian is really not that more difficult than being a Russian or British or Chinese or Egyptian Christian. Each of them has their own particular challenges. Each of them has to decide, in their particulars, what it means to be faithful to Christ’s gospel.
Every culture has its points of agreement and conflict with Christ’s demands.
Every culture has its own idolatries, every culture, even our own.
This is a difficult concept for many American Christians to accept. Part of the mythologizing of America’s supposed Christian foundations dovetails what it means to be Christian with what it means to be American. Therefore, if America, as a culture is guilty of a particular idolatry, such as racism, nationalism, rampant individualism, and so on, then this mythologized America has to be reconciled with an equally mythologized Christianity.
One tactic is to deny these idolatries in the first place in order to make America more Christian in its history. Many history books, whether produced by earlier generations of public schools, or more recent revisionist “Christian” histories produced through numerous home-school curricula, present a picture of American history that is half true at best, and in some cases is intentionally untrue.
Another tactic is to plunder the Christian Scriptures in order to ordain certain national and ideological prerogatives as God-given-from-on-high. Declaring slavery righteous by quoting obscure passages from Genesis, using other passages to “prove” that women are weaker and therefore should not have the right to vote or even hold property, or the ever popular America is the new Israel and all the inhabitants before it are beastly savages in need of conversion, or if need be, extermination, since they are the modern equivalent of the ancient Canaanites. There are, unfortunately, many other examples, but these should suffice.
As stated earlier, the secular left is no less guilty of this kind of manhandling and ham-fisted manipulation of Scriptural language. It’s just that, at least in more recent times, they haven’t been nearly as good at using religious lingo as the political right. The modern secular left, similarly to most modern journalism, just doesn’t “get religion”, and so they have ended up embarrassing themselves when they try to utilize religious language in order to win votes or influence public opinion.
In earlier years however, religious liberals and their secular, political counterparts were quite able to sway public opinion with religious rhetoric that invoked salvation language, even if it was robbed of any doctrinal content related to Christ on the cross. The Social Gospel of the turn of the century was a conscious attempt to wed Christian terminology and imagery with the dominant political and scientific ideologies prevalent at the time.
The seeds of the Social Gospel, just like the more recent Religious Right, were both born out of the Americanized Christianity of the mid-1800’s. This was a Christianity that emphasized an internal experience over any traditional practice or doctrinal control. This was also a Christianity that eschewed any oversight by ecclesiastical authorities that might restrain its more radical impulses. This was also a Christianity that fed at the intellectual trough of modern rationalism, informed most recently by the brilliant insights of an explorer son of a minister who revealed the deep truths of evolution.
Whether “evolution” as a scientific theory is true or not is less important than its impact upon American social thought. Darwin’s influence extended far beyond his merely scientific theories concerning how species came into their current form. His ideas were so radical (and convincing) that they were immediately appropriated by many others, far and wide, for purposes social, not to mention spiritual.
Here we see both the left and the right, politically using both the recent theory of evolution as well as Christian language, in order to advance their particular agendas. On the right evolution and certain Scriptural passages dovetailed nicely in order to once again “prove” that social and racial hierarchy was not only God-given, but naturally “ordained” as well.
The left, both religious and secular, on the other hand, was using the newly ordained scientific priesthood of evolutionary teaching to offer up a new millennial vision which would bring us into the new realm of human cooperation through international organizations such as the League of Nations, later to be called the United Nations. It should not be a surprise to anyone that a passage from the prophet Isaiah decorates the wall outside the U.N. headquarters in N.Y.C. declaring that nations shall turn their swords into plowshares.
Religious, transcendent language, it seems, is essential to getting the public to go along with uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous public policy.
It seems that governments and social movements, both minor and major, need religious and transcendent language in order to galvanize the public. Whether it’s a “crusade” or a “jihad” or a “czar”, it seems we need certain terminology to get the public, the masses, behind whatever policy is being propounded. Playing the public by tapping into its reservoir of interior anxieties works in the short term. But the long-term consequences are hell.
I guess my question to American evangelicals is this: What the hell are we doing unleashing these dark impulses for short-term political gains?
Where is the gospel?
Where is the self-sacrifice?
Where are the actual actions of Jesus?
Are we going and doing likewise?
If we did, might it make a difference in how we interact with both the Republican and Democratic parties?
Might we finally be able to speak with authority to those before us, as though they held political authority?
The gospel judges everyone.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Saturday, February 9, 2008
The comfort you give is beyond what words can share.
My downcast mind is staid by your unfailing love.
I cannot comprehend the love you have for me.
Are laid waste by your great love, poured out for me.
Hidden in you wings am I.
Resting finally from all my works.
Your solace calms my nerves by your hand,
Which restores my soul.
My legs, hands, feet, are weak,
Unable to do your work,
Which you have called me to,
But which you have done for me.
It doesn’t make sense that you should do what is required of me.
And yet you do.
You are my obedience.
You are my holiness.
You are my Adam, as I fall into you.
How can you be my all?
How can I stand in you?
And yet everything I am is because of you.
May I be hidden in you?
Will you hide me in you?
Who I am already is all because of you.
Because of you I am already hidden in you.
Hide me in your love.