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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Christianity overcame pagan Rome by nonviolence.

But when Christianity became the religion of the Empire, then the stoic and political virtues of the Empire began to supplant the original theological virtues of the first Christians. The heroism of the soldier supplanted the heroism of the martyr—though there was still a consecrated minority, the monks, who kept the ideal of charity and martyrdom in first place.

The ideal of self-sacrifice was never altogether set aside—on the contrary! But it was transferred to a new sphere. Now the supreme sacrifice was to die fighting under the Christian emperor. The supreme self-immolation was to fall in battle under the standard of the Cross. In the twelfth century even monks took up the sword, and consummated their sacrifice of obedience by dying in battle against infidels, against heretics.

Unfortunately, they also fought other monks, and this was not necessarily regarded as virtue. But it does show what comes of living by the sword!

Christian chivalry was the fruit of a union between Chris­tian faith and Roman, Frankish, or Germanic valor. In other words, Christians did here what they also did elsewhere: they adopted certain non-Christian values and “baptized” them, consecrating them to God. Christianity might just as well have turned to the East and “baptized” the nonmilitant, contemplative, detached, and hieratic institutions of the Ori­ent. But by the time Christianity was ready to meet Asia and the New World, the Cross and the sword were so identified with one another that the sword itself was a cross. It was the only kind of cross some conquistadores understood.

There was no further thought of Christianizing the ideals and institutions of these ancient civilizations: only of destroy­ing them, and bringing their people into subjection to the militant Christianity of Europe. Hence the strange paradox that certain spiritual and largely nonviolent ideologies which were in fact quite close to the Gospel were attacked and coerced in the name of Christ by the Christian soldier who was often no longer a Christian except in name: for he was violent, greedy, self-complacent, and supremely contemptu­ous of anything that was not a perfect reflection of himself.

 

(From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton, pg. 101, 1966, Doubleday)

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Thomas Merton; New Seeds of Contemplation

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill them­selves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

it is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too power­ful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self. In ourselves, it is the other way round; we see the sin, but we have great difficulty in shouldering responsibility for it. We find it very hard to identify our sin with our own will and our own malice. On the contrary, we naturally tend to interpet our immoral act as an involuntary mistake, or as the malice of a spirit in us that is other than ourself. Yet at the same time we are fully aware that others do not make this convenient distinction for us. The acts that have been done by us are, in their eyes, “our” acts and they hold us fully responsible.

What is more, we tend unconsciously to ease ourselves still more of the burden of guilt that is in us, by passing it on to somebody else. When I have done wrong, and have excused myself by attributing the wrong to “an­other” who is unaccountably “in me,” my conscience is not yet satisfied. There is still too much left to be explained. The “other in myself” is too close to home. The temptation is, then, to account for my fault by seeing an equivalent amount of evil in someone else. Hence I minimize my own sins and compensate for doing so by exaggerating the faults of others.

As if this were not enough, we make the situation much worse by artifically intensifying our sense of evil, and by increasing our propensity to feel guilt even for things which are not in themselves wrong. In all these ways we build up such an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, to exorcise it, or to get rid of it in any way we can. We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation and in the end there is no outlet left but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. He is the cause of every wrong. He is the fomentor of all con­flict. If he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war.

This kind of fictional thinking is especially dangerous when it is supported by a whole elaborate pseudo-scientific structure of myths, like those which Marxists have adopted as their ersatz for religion. But it is cer­tainly no less dangerous when it operates in the vague, fluid, confused and unprincipled opportunism which substitutes in the West for religion, for philosophy and even for mature thought.

when the whole world is in moral confusion, when no one knows any longer what to think, and when, in fact, everybody is running away from the responsibility of thinking, when man makes rational thought about moral issues absurd by exiling himself entirely from realities into the realm of fictions, and when he expends all his efforts in constructing more fictions with which to ac­count for his ethical failures, then it becomes clear that the world cannot be saved from global war and global destruction by the mere efforts and good intentions of peacemakers. In actual fact, everyone is becoming more and more aware of the widening gulf between good purposes and bad results, between efforts to make peace and the growing likelihood of war. It seems that no matter how elaborate and careful the planning, all at­tempts at international dialogue end in more and more ludicrous failures. In the end no one has any more faith in those who even attempt the dialogue. On the contrary, the negotiators, with all their pathetic good will, become the objects of contempt and of hatred. It is the “men of good will,” the men who have made their poor efforts to do something about peace, who will in the end be the most mercilessly reviled, crushed, and destroyed as victims of the universal self-hate of man which they have unfortunately only increased by the failure of their good intentions.

Perhaps we still have a basically superstitious tendency to associate failure with dishonesty and guilt—failure being interpreted as “punishment.” Even if a man starts out with good intentions, if he fails we tend to think he was somehow “at fault.” If he was not guilty, he was at least “wrong.” And “being wrong” is something we have not yet learned to face with equanimity and under­standing. We either condemn it with god-like disdain or forgive it with god-like condescension. We do not manage to accept it with human compassion, humility and identification. Thus we never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteous­ness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.

in our refusal to accept the partially good intentions of others and work with them (of course prudently and with resignation to the inevitable imperfection of the result) we are unconsciously proclaiming our own malice, our own intolerance, our own lack of realism, our own ethical and political quackery.

Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political ideals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practi­cability in the political ideals of our enemies—which may, of course, be in many ways even more illusory and dishonest than our own. We will never get anywhere unless we can accept the fact that politics is an inex­tricable tangle of good and evil motives in which, per­haps, the evil predominate but where one must continue to hope doggedly in what little good can still be found.

But someone will say: “If we once recognize that we are all equally wrong, all political action will instantly be paralyzed. We can only act when we assume that we are in the right.” On the contrary, I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the

true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together.

I do not mean to encourage the guilt-ridden thinking that is always too glad to be “wrong” in everything. This too is an evasion of responsibility, because every form of oversimplification tends to make decisions ultimately meaningless. We must try to accept ourselves, whether individually or collectively, not only as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil. We have to stand by the modicum of good that is in us without exaggerating it. We have to defend our real rights, because unless we respect our own rights we will certainly not respect the rights of others. But at the same time we have to recog­nize that we have willfully or otherwise trespassed on the rights of others. We must be able to admit this not only as the result of self-examination, but when it is pointed out unexpectedly, and perhaps not too gently, by some­body else.

These principles which govern personal moral con­duct, which make harmony possible in small social units like the family, also apply in the wider area of the state and in the whole community of nations. It is, however, quite absurd, in our present situation or in any other, to expect these principles to be universally accepted as the result of moral exhortations. There is very little hope that the world will be run according to them, all of a sudden, as a result of some hypothetical change of heart on the part of politicians. It is useless and even laughable to base political thought on the faint hope of a purely contingent and subjective moral illumination in the hearts of the world’s leaders. But outside of political thought and action, in the religious sphere, it is not only permissible to hope for such a mysterious consummation, but it is necessary to pray for it. We can and must be­lieve not so much that the mysterious light of God can “convert” the ones who are mostly responsible for the world’s peace, but at least that they may, in spite of their obstinacy and their prejudices, be guarded against fatal error.

it would be sentimental folly to expect men to trust one another when they obviously cannot be trusted. But at least they can learn to trust God. They can bring them­selves to see that the mysterious power of God can, quite independently of human malice and error, protect men unaccountably against themselves, and that He can al­ways turn evil into good, though perhaps not always in ‘ a sense that would be understood by the preachers of sunshine and uplift. If they can trust and love God, Who is infinitely wise and Who rules the lives of men, permitting them to use their freedom even to the point of almost incredible abuse, they can love men who are evil. They can learn to love them even in their sin, as God has loved them. If we can love the men we cannot trust (without trusting them foolishly) and if we can to some extent share the burden of their sin by identify­ing ourselves with them, then perhaps there is some hope

of a kind of peace on earth, based not on the wisdom and the manipulations of men but on the inscrutable mercy of God.

for only love—which means humility—can exorcise the fear which is at the root of all war.

 

What is the use of postmarking our mail with ex­hortations to “pray for peace” and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls “mocking God”—and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do. The culminating horror of the joke is that we are piling up these weapons to protect ourselves against atheists who, quite frankly, believe there is no God and are convinced that one has to rely on bombs and missiles since nothing else offers any real security. Is it then because we have so much trust in the power of God that we are intent upon utterly destroying these people before they can destroy us? Even at the risk of destroy­ing ourselves at the same time?

 

I do not mean to imply that prayer excludes the simul­taneous use of ordinary human means to accomplish a naturally good and justifiable end. One can very well pray for a restoration of physical health and at the same time take medicine prescribed by a doctor. In fact, a believer should normally do both. And there would seem to be a reasonable and right proportion between the use of these two means to the same end.

But consider the utterly fabulous amount of money, planning, energy, anxiety and care which go into the production of weapons which almost immediately be­come obsolete and have to be scrapped. Contrast all this with the pitiful little gesture “pray for peace” piously canceling our four-cent stamps! Think, too, of the dis­proportion between our piety and the enormous act of murderous destruction which we at the same time countenance without compunction and without shame! It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who took the sword would perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians and soldiers, men, women and children without discrimina­tion, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!

It may make sense for a sick man to pray for health and then take medicine, but I fail to see any sense at all in his praying for health and then drinking poison.

 

when I pray for peace I pray God to pacify not only the Russians and the Chinese but above all my own nation and myself. When I pray for peace I pray to be protected not only from the Reds but also from the folly and blindness of my own country. When I pray for peace, I pray not only that the enemies of my country may cease to want war, but above all that my own country will cease to do the things that make war in­evitable. In other words, when I pray for peace I am not just praying that the Russians will give up without a struggle and let us have our own way. I am praying that both we and the Russians may somehow be restored to sanity and learn how to work out our problems, as best we can, together, instead of preparing for global suicide.

I am fully aware that this sounds utterly sentimental, archaic and out of tune with an age of science. But 1 would like to submit that pseudo-scientific thinking in politics and sociology have so far had much less than this to offer. One thing I would like to add in all fairness is that the atomic scientists themselves are quite often the ones most concerned about the ethics of the situation, and that they are among the few who dare to open their mouths from time to time and say something about it.

But who on earth listens?

if men really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and He would give it to them. But why should He give the world a peace which it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is really no peace at all.

To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to de­vour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetities for comfort and pleasure.

Many men like these have asked God for what they thought was “peace” and wondered why their prayer was not answered. They could not understand that it actually was answered. God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war. The “cold war” is simply the normal consequence of our corrupt idea of a peace based on a policy of “every man for himself” in ethics, economics and political life. It is absurd to hope for a solid peace based on fictions and illusions!

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is saving you today?

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A friend asked this question of me knowing my promiscuous appreciation for Robert Capon…

What do you think Robert Capon would say about Matthew 5:13-20?

(Thinking about Sunday’s sermon)

L.

I don’t find at this point anything that RC has said on that text.  I’m sure that he homilied  it more than a few times.

The Beatitudes are not simple.  I’m constantly being challenged by what Jesus is recorded to have said in this setting.  I’m constantly in flux relative to what I think it means to me and us as “church”.

Be that as it may, let me start with what Dallas Willard says about the Beatus;

“The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings.
“No one is actually being told …that they are better off for being poor, for mourning, for being persecuted, or so on, or that the conditions listed are recommended ways to well-being before God or man. Nor are the Beatitudes indications of who will be on top ‘after the revolution.’ They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship to Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope.”
-Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

I think that Willard is correct that in the parables Jesus isn’t telling us to do anything—they are not moral stories, rather stories that give us some insight into what the Father (and at times the Son) is like and how radically varient is the oikonomia of the Kingdom of the Heavens from the powers and principalities of the present age.  I know from my extensive reading (even a superficial reading would serve) that Capon wrote the same kinds of things and had very similar understanding as Willard in this.

To establish the context I’ll copy/paste Eugene Peterson’s take on the passage;

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down 2 and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

 3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. 12 You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. 15 If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. 16 Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. 17 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures— either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. 18 God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.

Knowing full well, as we do, that RC’s shibboleth that Grace rest on the lost, the least, and the last—I’m now forced/constrained to view the Gospel narratives through that systematic lens.  How do we–the down and out’ers at the end of our ropes, we who have lost everything we once thought indispensable (especially our own egoic pride), we have ceased from taking ourselves seriously, have entirely different “appetites” than what is considered “normal” by our competitive and sex and violence addicted society, we who would rather spend time in contemplation than amusing ourselves to death with “reality” TV, and have more appetite for constructive relationships than rather trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out with God…Yeah, us “nare do well’s”  who just don’t get “how this world works”, so to speak.  (Isn’t that just a humdinger of a run-on?)

So, how are we, the Failures in the sight of the world (everybody are losers, it’s just that some admit it and some don’t…in the final analysis none of us have the power to hold our life intact) who apparently spend our lives in the “lost and found” section of Sears, how is it that Jesus says we are “salt and light”?

My short answer?

By being willing to be viewed as “failures” and “dog dirt” (I Cor. 4:13) by the powers that be (“The World”). In doing that—in reality allowing that to be in us—we are to the world sacraments of Jesus, the Light of Life which has come into the world.  Being vulnerable to others will at the surface look like a total failure.

Maybe I can “channel” RC with a paraphrase…

“Jesus is the ultimate loser of a god dying on a loser’s cross—a loser right to the end when he prays, “Father, FORGIVE THEM….”

Nietzsche didn’t criticize Jesus as a failure or loser, rather his criticism was directed toward those who claimed to be Jesus’ followers while at the same time buying into a “tame” successful life in the present which is a repudiation of Christ and thus the “death of God”.

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I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these.

Is. 45:7 KJV

“ In God’s world good and evil are an ecology. The whole world is an ecology of opposites dancing with each other.  And God loves their dance.  The real sin at the tree of knowledge of good and evil was man trying to manage good and evil as God does not manage them.  God lets evil be.  Given the actions of people God does not, except in very rare circumstances, in the business of preventing their consequences.”

Robert Capon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=-ueqWpyKOvo#t=1213

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“Faith is not something that is rewardable.  Faith is the illumination of our darkness.  Faith accepts whatever is there already.”

Capon

Mark 10:

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

John 5:

2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids-blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4 – – – 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Bartimaeus ask for sight and gets it.

The invalid when asked by Jesus if he wants to be healed only complains about how he can’t drag himself into the water ahead of others—and Jesus heals him.

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As is common with all systematic theologies—a particular truth is treated like a horse then ridden until the poor beast can’t go another plodding step, and then shot in the head.

What is true is that if we’re left totally to our own devices we’ll never come close to what God desires for us.  We’ll continue to operate in our fallen, egoistic way (“The World and all that is of it”; might makes right; I can figure out on my own what’s right and wrong [Tree of Knowledge thing]; if I just get the right formula and try harder I can make things work out for me, etc.) That is the broad road that leads to perpetual destruction.  However, because God is loving toward us his creatures he took the initiative to rescue us by seeking the lowest level–in becoming one of us and identifying with our predicament.  God doesn’t love us by beating the bejubus out of himself (the Son), rather he loves us so much that he’ll allow us to have our way with him by venting our anger and frustration and allowing us to kill that which we fear the most—our (mis)perception of a god who is opposed to us.  “I love you so much that I’d rather you killed me than that I should harm you.”  When we come to a place of trusting God we do so because we have had some experience of his trustworthy-ness.  We have begun to realize that this God really does have our best interest at heart.  He is so beautiful that even if he slays me—for whatever reason I cannot understand—I continue to trust that he always has in mind for me what is truly good and right.  Systematic theology always breaks down at this point because there is no reasonable explanation for this trust.  This kind of trust can only be experienced relationally.  Love cannot be weighed or decanted—only experienced, enjoyed, and possibly rejected out of distrust–which is the essence of fear.

When we cease from our fearful provision for ourselves (aka—Sin) then we have entered into “the mind of Christ”.  (Phil. 2:1-13)

(I guess I’ve made a good start at writing systematic theology….)

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