Kerygmama – Departing Tao


Earlier posts suggested that God loves us and has filled the world with proof of that and then I suggested that the reason we don’t see that is because every last one of us wants to not have a boss.

Still, on what I called the “golden road” or what CS Lewis called the “Tao” we all see the positive qualities of what we think of as “virtues”: compassion, care, mutual concern, love, care for the poor, honoring our parents, etc. We can see the positive qualities even if we don’t want to always agree with them. This is where we are today, actually. We acknowledge these qualities – shared by nearly all religious and philosophical traditions – as good. But we only see them as one choice among many. Especially when it comes to issues of “private concern” such as in the bedroom we tend to think we can each make up our own rules.

Curiously, we then insist that our rules match the Golden Road. I am loving others by having with as many folks as I want. I am caring for the poor by changing the laws so that they can’t live on my street. I am honoring my parents by changing the financial structure so that their savings are without value. I am helping the environment by shifting responsibility for my petroleum consumption onto the third world so that it only hurts poor folks I never have to meet. I know that plastic is hurting basically every part of the world, but I like my disposable contact lenses: bifocals make me look so old.

We do this all the time and here’s where I will mention something that most folks agree with but never in the first person: this deviation from the Golden Road is called sin. I don’t mean in the sense of this specific act or that little peccadillo is a sin. I mean the deviation itself. We are schooled by our legal system to think of “sin” as a series of discrete actions that are each a negative point against us. Instead, sin is this departure itself. If the golden road laid all over the world results in steps toward God, departure from the golden road, from the Tao, is to move in the other direction. Some of us make those choices – in fact, most of us make those choices – to move in the other direction all the time. One choice leads to another choice, and the further we move from the Tao the harder it is to get back.

I said this is never in the first person. We find it very easy in the Third Person to discuss sin. They are breaking the law. They here are usually our political opponents. We are also good at what I call the Second Person Abstract. Although we would (nearly) never say “You, sir, are a sinner…” but we find it easy to say to a TV or on a radio, “You suck!” We can also say this at a distance as at a political rally, etc.

Can you see this sin in the first person? You really need to. We’ll not be able to get any further in this proclamation if you can’t see it. 

  • Do you find yourself acting in a selfish way when you didn’t want to?
  • Do you find yourself unable to be as loving as you really feel you should be?
  • If you are aware of the ways in which you are unjustly treated can you see, also, the ways in which you unjustly treat others?
  • If you are aware of the ways in which you are gracefully moving through the world, can you honestly see the ways in which you fail to do so?
  • Can you see the ways in which you confuse “love” with “self-interest”?

If you can find resonance in these questions, you’re self-aware enough to move forward. If not, perhaps you can continue reading, but learning this may not make sense at this time. It is not my goal to teach the fullness of Catholicism here, but only to proclaim the need for it, the open joy of it.

There are enough commonalities in all religions to find what I have called the “Golden Road” or the “Tao” as C S Lewis named it. There are also enough departures from this Tao that it is important to ask Why? I’ve offered the idea that we all are individualists; and also that it is far easier to see this in others, but some of us see this departure in ourselves as well. The next question is what to do with this knowledge?

We shall return to this. But this essay – our ability to see the departure – is the most important so far. It’s the “mother” from which all else descends, really. For as adults we know failure in the first person long before we are aware of it in others. What we do with this knowledge can decide if we ever grow up at all. This is not a moral question: a person may be aware of his departures from the Tao without any moral judgments. I can be proud of my choices to depart from the general consensus even when I am aware of them. All that we need at this point is the awareness of that departure, but I will ask one thing: if someone else’s departure can be enough to spark a protest or an “F-bomb” to be lobbed towards various mediae, then why are not your departures the same?

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Kerygmore – Why the SNAFU?


I now have to say another thing as huge as my first point. It may even be harder to accept. No one (or very few), in this age of enlightenment, believes in science. Unlike the God thing, I can actually prove this one.

Once someone I knew spent $20 on $2 lottery tickets. On one ticket he won $6. He said, “Look, I’m ahead $4!” He fought me when I pointed out he’d lost $18.

We’re all ready to pay the Math Tax called the Lottery, or other forms of Gambling. Evolution has brought us to a place where we and many other creators stand. Every last one of us is the product of billions of years of evolution and breeding. Yet how many of us refuse to accept that – not because of religion, but rather because of ideological points? If any other creature was so dedicated to denying its own nature, it would die out. We will, too, if we are not careful. We imagine that some races are “more evolved” than others.

We deny simple mathematics when it comes to our economic choices. Listening to “Freakanomics” on NPR, you realize over and over that what we think of as liberal economic policies – and conservative ones – fail. Constantly. Yet none of us want to hear that and even the reporters on the show don’t like to hear their pet social programs wreck lives.

We know that plastic is killing the planet, but how much plastic do we use? We know that petroleum consumption is practically an addiction, but we fight wars to sustain it. We are sure that unprotected sex with multiple partners, chain-smoking, capitalism, processed food, and even greenhouse gases are killing us, yet we do nothing to stop and most of us are certain it will not affect, you know, me… personally. We are sure on the right that big gov’t is an evil – but we constantly make it bigger. We are sure on the left that big gov’t will be just and protect us, so when the gov’t fails to do that – does the reverse, actually – our solution is to give the gov’t more power.

We’re this way when it comes to Astrology (now more popular than ever and most of my non-religious friends think of it as just another form of M-B personality tests). Social work, politics, food. We love “science” when it shows us we’re right. We ignore it when it shows us we’re wrong. And there’s no deity or church to condemn us for it.

We say we want to do something – but the opposite gets done.

I mentioned yesterday that it seems as though all of the religions overlap in some very important ways. Then I commented that they feel to overlap in some crucial ways as well. Why is that so? a superficial exploration of this question will point out cultural, historical, and political issues. We may even get to theology. yet, if everyone says, for example, we must love the other person then why do some religions deny the existence of the other person at all? Some religions say any love of other is actually the love of self and any perception of “other” at all is a misperception. How can this be?

To understand the answer to this question we must go deeper than things superficial.

Remember I asked you to accept, as a given, that there is a God and he loves us. From this, I drew the point that such a loving God would try to reach us, to make himself known to us and we known to him. I pointed out all the overlap and suggested that here was a golden path to the knowledge of God. In fact, a Christian writer by the name of Paul said (in the Bible) that all humans have this knowledge of God written in their hearts – even unbelievers. Another writer, Justin, in the 2nd Century adds that all truth (he uses Plato and Socrates) no matter where it comes from is always God’s truth. Today we would say even scientific truth is God’s truth. However, we don’t believe in Science.

The real issue: we won’t believe in any form of Authority.

One version of history says Martin Luther was opposed to the Pope. In fact, Martin Luther was opposed to confining Papal Authority in one person. Instead of One Pope, Martin gave us a world filled with Popes. Each Christian (and, in fact, each person) inspired by their “inner light” has become infallible. There is a direct line from the Wittenburg Door to Oprah Winfrey and it continues on. We now “know” that feelings are more important than facts. I don’t like this because it makes me feel X. Therefore it must be untrue.

But this is not new. Humans have been like this, quite literally, forever. We’re afraid of Authority and we will do anything to manipulate and mold it into our own likeness. This is why all the overlapping golden road I mentioned before has brought us no closer to unity, no closer to “coexist” than millions of bumper stickers. Each one of us wants to be their own pope.

Every part of that golden road is pointing towards God – towards an Authority to whom each one of us feels in their heart, they may have to submit. And each one of us knows we would never submit. Ever. YOU ARE NOT MY SUPERVISOR is the credo of this age. But this is not new. It’s been the just-after-primal human cry for ever.

So there are forks in the road and precipices. There are unpaved stretches and who landslides worth of washouts. You can’t get there from here. But each of us knows that road is there. And when we get on it (even by accident) we find ourselves wondering, “Where does this go?”

I’ll be back tomorrow with the mother of all Kerygma. The Kerygmama. 

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I Think You Have Questions


Questions always arise about my participation in Church. I think they are valid questions, but I think they are often predicated on invalid assumptions: essentially, they are some form of How can you do this? Where this is incorrectly understood or defined. As a result of “this” being incorrectly defined often “you” and “do” are also incorrectly defined. So what is the this is the first question that must be addressed. What is being done? comes way before Who is doing this? and How is it done? Ironically, my blogging is mostly about How and Who rather than what. To use insider jargon, these blog posts are usually testimony or discipleship rather than kerygma. Although you cannot properly do any without the others, the Kerygma comes first: the What, then the who, then an invitation to how.

Take it as a given that there is a God and he loves us. That’s a huge leap for some readers, I know. So maybe inviting you to “take it as a given” is a huge stumbling block for you. Yet, I don’t think you’ve read even this far without understanding that I believe this. We can fall down the rabbit warren of debates about God’s existence at a later date. For the sake of argument take it as read. I will take it, as writer, that the rest of this essay is totally useless without that beginning. But you cannot prove to me that there is no God – you can only prove that you do not believe there is a God and that may be a better question to debate, but we’ll come back to that. For now: the is a God and he loves us.

Imagine that you’ve met someone on Tinder, Scruff, or Growlr. How do you decide they are real and not some Nigerian scammer waiting to ask for money or someone worse waiting to beat you up when you go out to meet them the first time? You ask questions, you exchange photos, you probe a bit. After deciding the risk is worth it, you go ahead and meet. Did they reveal themselves in a full face shot? Did you see a full body shot as well? Are you able to say their physical type is – with 100% certainty – exactly what you think it is? How did you arrive at that conclusion?

Having walked through all of that how big of a risk will you take? Will you meet? Will you meet in a crowded, safe space? Will you go to each other’s apartments first? God and you have just “swiped right”.

There is a God and he loves us. What would such a God do? Who he hide away? Would he reach out? If he hid, how would we know? If he reached out how can we tell? Christianity says God has spent literally all of human history trying to get to us and trying to get us to listen. The classic Kerygma would include a long list of the Hebrew Prophets and their teachings, but you might rightly ask, “What about the Chinese?” or “Where does that leave the Arapaho?” It may surprise you to hear that both the Jewish and the Christian teaching is that God has left no one alone in this. C.S. Lewis used a nice, respectable word, “Tao” to describe the common teachings of all the religions on love, morality, ethics. It may surprise you to hear how great a common overlap there is among them all. This would make sense if God is a God who loves us. He would want us to know him as best as we can. He would put not just clues, but a huge, golden pathway everywhere around the world for us to get to him. This is not a case of “many pathways, one mountain”. Where, then, does this pathway go?

It’s useful to acknowledge all the ways these religions do not overlap. But is that important? Or is that like saying the leftwing or rightwing all around the world is destroyed by differences more than held together by commonalities? Being something of a Personalist Anarchist, I think all statists (Left and Right) have far more in common than they wish to admit. I think most religions would agree on even some very profound theological truths. But there are differences, yes. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Is there anyone who manifests all these truths in one, supreme way? Is there anyone whom we can point at and say, “Given these two assumptions, and the fact that all these religions overlap in all these awesome places, is there anyone I’d say I want to be like more than I want to be like anyone else?”

Yes, I want you to say Jesus there, but not yet. In Part II I’ll go over a few other choices whom I am happy to acknowledge: but also to explain why they don’t seem to be the right ones. So tune in later this week for Kerygma II – Kerygmore.

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A Vision of Autumnal Beige


This is my favourite time of the year, the part of the school year, if you will, that leads up to Christmas: from just after my birthday through what was my late brother’s birthday (today) and on into the gathering gloom of the Autumn Twilight into Winter Dark, we find so may lamps to light our ways…

  • The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (8 Sep)
  • The Feast of the Holy Cross (14 Sep)
  • Our Lady of Walsingham (24 Sep)
  • Michaelmas  (29 Sep)
  • The Feast of the Guardian Angels (2 Oct)
  • The Feast of St Francis (4 Oct)
  • Our Lady of Victory (7 Oct)
  • Christ the King Sunday (27 Oct EF)
  • All Saints Day (1 Nov)
  • All Souls Day (2 Nov)
  • Martinmas (11 Nov)
  • Christ the King Sunday (24 Nov OF)
  • Advent Sunday (1 Dec)
  • The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 Dec)
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe (12 Dec)
  • The Birth of God in the Flesh, the Nativity of Jesus Christ (25 Dec)
  • The 12 Day Feast ending on Epiphany (6 Jan)

You cannot be Catholic without living in two worlds: the mundane world of shadows that pass and fade, of political rallies of little to no import, of “rights” and wages, of fears and sadness: then this eternal world of light, right, might, and glory where these feasts come from, breaking into ours shattering the kingdom of hell and death with eternal life triumphant. To fail to be in both places at the same time is to fail to be Catholic: which means whole. The world is not whole without the sadness of this day and the joy of eternity. The world is not healed or saved (for they are the same thing) unless we have one foot in each place.

Both of these worlds are present to us here, meeting in the elevated host. St Martin lifts it in the image above, you can see the same moment once or a million times on altars throughout space and time, all combined into one moment.

If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me.

In the end both worlds will be as one, but by the simple destruction of this one, but by it’s healing. All things shall be made new. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For the darker it gets, the more we shall see the light. And in the end – just when the eclipse is total, the Sun himself shall burst forth from the womb of the virgin and we shall see as we are seen, shall know as we are known. Soldiers are turned to peacemakers, the poor and illiterate shall meet their mother, the wild shall be broken and tamed, the enemy shall be conquered by love.

Come to the feast.
Come to the joy.
Come to the love.
Prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

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Trust the Brothers


It’s like a big game of “trust”. You stand on the back of a sofa or, perhaps, a coffee table. My fraternity called it couch diving: we run across the living room, jump up on the back of a sofa spring up in the air, and do a backflip or a twist in the air and land in the arms of our brothers who would toss us up and down a couple of times. Trust the brothers. It never dawned on me to do otherwise. Several (dozen?) times that I ran across the room, even towards guys that I had not had the most-friendly of relations with, it never dawned on me not to trust the brothers.

So, why can I not have such a faith in God? Faith and Trust are the same word in Greek. Pistis.

Πιστεύω στους αδελφούς (I trust the brothers)
Πιστεύω στον θεό (I believe in God.)

Why when the time comes to say a big old booyah to the world, the devil and all his pomps and all his works do I still worry what will happen to me?

St Ignatius has this prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

The Byzantine rite asks that we be “freed from slavery to my own understanding”. My brain is limited, trapped in the disordered world view we call sin, and mired in a few disordered of my own intrinsic nature. My understanding can be a trap from which I need to be liberated.

Why does the prospect scare me?

I’ve become so used to house, to job, to shopping at Trader Joes, to walking comfortably along the precipice.

When anything that God could have for me – tedium, danger, loss, elation, risk, salvation – would be infinitely better than anything I can cobble together.

He has given his angels charge over you.

Trust the brothers.

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Prophet Priest and King


My friend Michael shared with me an insight from Fr Michael Sweeney, OP. Be mindful this has gone through two human brains to get to your screen, so I’ve only got one little snippet: When you come to the altar to receive Christ you come as representing all the people to whom you will bear Christ when you leave. That’s the little snippet I have. This rest is meditation on that snippet:

When you walk out of the Chuch, filled with the grace of the Holy Eucharist you will encounter your community of people: family, coworkers, shop keepers, etc. A circle of “regulars” that you see. You carry Christ to them. And, when you come to the Church it is they who come with – through – you to Christ.

As members of his body, the laity all share in the three-fold ministry of the Moshiach: prophet, priest, and king. This is the priestly function: we bring ourselves (as Jesus did) as the offering before God the Father, participating in Jesus sacrifice of himself. We bear the life of Christ to the world. In our priestly ministry we offer to God our souls and bodies as our “reasonable worship”, a sacrifice on behalf of all those for whom we pray. As the Priest as Alter Christus presents the body of Christ to God the Father, so we each – also, as it were, in Personi Christi, make the same offereing each for our own intentions. And as the Priest caries the Body of Christ to us for Communion, we we carry it to the world.

You become Christ to your family, your coworkers, the people on the bus – in exactly the same way that the priest is Christ coming to you at the altar. You participate in the enternal kenosis of the Logos – for what esle could you be as you are configured into his likeness? 

This is the very meaning of Χριστιανούς Khristianvous “Christian” means “Little Christ”. Our salvation is the configuration of our entire existance in this world into the likeness of Christ. How do you preach on the boats of your workplace? How do you raise up disciples on the mountains of your lives? How do you heal the sick and comfort the afflicted on the highways and biways of your commute? How do you interceed for everyone on the cross God has given you?

How, by God’s grace in the Blessed Sacrament, are you Christ to those around you?

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We’re gonna have a R’lyeh big shew.


The Readings for the Elevation of the Holy Cross

Ut in nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur caelestium, terrestrium, et infernorum, et omnis lingua confiteatur, quia Dominus Jesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris.
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Almost every Bible says this as some form of “in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth”. The Greek and the Latin have us looking at classes of beings, things that dwell Caelestium or ἐπουρανίων epouranion “in ouranos – in the heavens” things that dwell terrestrium or ἐπιγείων epigeion “on Gaia – on earth”, and things that dwell Infernorum or καταχθονίων katachthonion “under the ground”. This is where we get our word, “Chthonic” and even Cthulhu! These things hitting their knees at the Holy Name are interesting. R’lyeh interesting.

Things Ouranian, Gaian, and Chthonian are very specific classes in Greco-Roman mystery religions. Paul is making not just a bold claim: he’s making a strident, triumphalistic claim that may get lost in all the humility of the hymn about the Humility of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Ouranian things are not just what Modern Christians think of in heaven – usually Angels and Saints. For the Greeks, Demons live in the heavens as well; and Daemons, that odd class of middle beings that are neither good nor evil, but still kinda scary. And yes, Angels, and the Trinity as well, although the Trinity does not so much dwell in the heavens as vice versa. The stars and planets live here, the Sun and the moon. Also, since the universe is only one huge pattern, the things “in the air” are not divided from the things “in the heavens”. The spirits of the wind and weather live here. Zeus – even though living “on” Olympus – was Ouranian. The powers of the heavens have power over us. Think astrology.

Gaian things are animals and plants, but also spirits that dwell here – of the trees and waterways – but not of the oceans. Think Dionysius and the Dryads in C.S. Lewis. Think bear gods and hunter goddesses, hearth spirits, and fire. Humans are Gaian, in this worldview, but Christians came along and said something else. Paul is saying it in this hymn. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Chthonic things are not things “in hell” though. We’re not talking about demons as Dante would understand them. And remember, the “powers of spiritual darkness” are Ouranian. Chthonic is something else entirely. In the ancient Greek world, Oracles were Chthonic – something dark out of a pre-human past that seemed to control us, and yet could be propitiated. Hades was chthonic, of course, but that wasn’t “hell” – it was just under the earth. Posiden, under the sea, was also chthonic. In Irish folklore, the Faeries that take you away for one night… and bring you back 400 years later… these are chthonic. The Maenads, the Furies, and the legend of the Maiden Kore – all Chthonic.

More importantly every cultus and mystery religion in the Roman Empire was easily classed as one of these three categories. The official 12 deities were worshipped in an Ouraniana manner, but every spring, every breeze carried either a Gaian or Chthonian genus locus or local spirit. Mithras was Chthonic, as was the Magna Mater with her baptism in the blood of bulls.

Paul is saying Jesus is better than all these things and, more importantly, he’s saying this being – so much more important than literally every religious idea of the Romans and the Greeks – was slain as a criminal.

On a Cross. Like a common prisoner.

Now, talk about your mysteries? There is a mystery for you: that’s what this hymn is saying. And Paul is inviting us to partake in this mystery. This is what the Cross makes possible for us: to transverse as mere mortal humans, the Chthonic, Gaian, and Ouranian worlds, and to enter – with and through Christ – into the Glory of God the Father.

The cross is the heavenly bridge, the master key that opens up the way to heaven, having first carried Christ himself there; we can now go as well, having this mind in us which was also in Christ. And while being humble before one another and before God – we now participate in one who is victorious over every evil named or invoked by our neighbors. There is nothing to be feared: for all of these things from the “evil eye” to the many tentacles of doom. All of these not only worship Jesus – but you only have to say his name and they all fall down. We are not only Gaian now – and we’re never condemned to be Chthonic. We bridge all the worlds like our glorious head for where he is so are we.

Christians do not need initiation into any of the “secret pathways” of the mystery cults: for we have our Jesus who was lifted high on the Cross and draws all men to himself now.

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The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Friday in the 23rd week Tempus per Annum (C1)

Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere? nonne ambo in foveam cadunt? Non est discipulus super magistrum : perfectus autem omnis erit, si sit sicut magister ejus.
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.

This is a parable, not a gnomic pronouncement. It the Latin it says, “Dicebat autem illis et similitudinem”, meaning he taught them a similitude. I used to read this passage as a comment on how we can’t be better than Jesus (our only teacher). Today, for some reason, I saw that the teacher/disciple thing was in parallel with the blind/blind thing.

A : B :: C : D
It’s a similitude.

It means we can’t pass on what we don’t have. This is the meaning of Original Sin. The Catechism says:

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (Para 405)

Adam lost his original holiness and justice, therefore, he cannot pass it along to his children. This passage in the Gospel, though, is not about the Fall. It’s about teachers: If I don’t have the fullness of the faith (if I’m not even willing to have it) then I can’t pass it on to you.

I struggle with this in leadership roles: at church, certainly, but also at work. This is not only a religious doctrine, but it’s true across the board. In fact, because it’s true across the board, it is also a religious doctrine. A politician who knows nothing about the law cannot pass along the correct information to his constituents – or refute lobbyists. A president who knows nothing about meteorology cannot draw on maps what he doesn’t have. A priest who rejects the teachings of the Church on human sexuality cannot be expected to pass along those teachings. Worse: having discovered that the teacher doesn’t know one thing, we may expect the teacher doesn’t know other things as well.

There’s another level of complication. Do you know about the humidity in NYC in the hot months? I do, after living there for 13 years. There was a ticker-tape parade for the “Desert Storm” heroes in 1991. I was watching the weather report the night before. The weatherman taped an 80% humidity marker on his blue screen and said, “Tomorrow will be nice, cool, and comfortable for the Parade of Heroes.” In other words, he lied. So, on top of issues with knowledge, the blind can be misled by people feeding them organic, free-range, grass-fed buffalo droppings. And you can fall out of that first paragraph up there into this, less honorable one very easily. A mistake plus wayward pride is the trump card in every hand, lately.

Some are blind because they cannot see and some are blind because they refuse to see.

And when the blind are led away from the truth they become convinced that their blind teacher knows it all.

Today we commemorate John Chrysostom. He fought against the pride and lying of the political leaders of his day – their lack of concern for the poor, their kowtowing to the rich and mighty, their lack of morality, their lack of ethics – that twice he was exiled. We have no such leaders today in the Catholic Church or in the Orthodox Church. The closest is Pope Francis, but even he will not call “cow pellets” on the leaders of the day. And if he dare speak too loudly, the rightists in the church call him a communist and say we can ignore him. His advisors, at least, seem to know more than other folks advisors. Or when he speaks in favor of tradition, the progressivists get all riled up. In the East the Russian Patriarch has been sleeping with the crown of Russia since Peter the Great, and even the mighty “ROCOR” now sleeps with a former KGB agent. The Arabs and the Greeks are wrapped up in their internecine wars and the westerners are along for the ride – buying their way into the hallways of Byzantine power.

We have no such leaders in the Church today. Blind guides of the blind.

I’m thankful we have Jesus. But if we’re not careful the powerful will try to lead us away.

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Symmetric Condemnation

Back in my ECUSA days I had a nemesis on the internet. They would literally pounce on anything I said. To be fair they were anyone’s nemesis. There was a reply for everything and everything got a reply. I met this person when I first logged on to Prodigy. They were there when we opened the Episcopal version of ECUnet and, for all I know, they are still out in cyberspace correcting everyone. My favorite correction? There is no such thing as “church”. It’s just a mistranslation of the Biblical text. Everything was like that. Slightly nuts, unsupported and – for someone who worked for the Church and was married to an Episcopal priest – markedly wrong. I felt they needed either better a catechism, or else a better minder.

Thing is, I’ve met someone like this in every internet community. I’ve been told I know nothing about Christianity, nothing about Orthodoxy, nothing about Catholicism. I’ve also been told I know nothing about paganism despite being one for 10 years, and – recently – nothing about the gay community. I don’t pretend to know everything about any of these, but I’ve been around enough to know something, at least… Or certainly not nothing. I have my own things, of course: there’s the annual Halloween essay where I pedantically try to disabuse folks of bad scholarship and I just found out that croissants really didn’t exist before the 19th Century – so they had nothing to do with any victories in Austria. I’ll have to write that essay too and repost it every year.

In the wake of 9/11 20 years ago, I became Orthodox. I began to learn the Church Fathers. Patristic texts are one, long rabbinic Midrash on the teachings of Jesus. They are not about development or evolution: they are only about application. The texts that moved me most then – and now – are the ones about forgiveness. The Fathers insist that Jesus means it when he says we must forgive in order to be forgiven. The Fathers even go so far as to say it is better to pray for a sinner than to condemn them. It is better to pray devoutly for your neighbor than to rebuke him every time he sins. – St. Mark the Ascetic

All sins in the human heart are the result of giving in (by choice) to demonic bullies. But even in my Orthodoxy, I met other Christians on other fora who were quick to jump on these Patristic Peaceniks. My favorite condemnation of Patristic teachings was an appeal to a Group Moderator that this person was “Offended on behalf of Jesus” on my account. Gregory of Nyssa’s account, actually… but ok.

It is better to pray devoutly for your neighbour than to
rebuke him every time he sins.

– St. Mark the Ascetic

All sins in the human heart are the result of giving in (by choice) to demonic bullies. But even in my Orthodoxy, I met other Christians on other fora who were quick to jump on these Patristic Peaceniks. My favorite condemnation of Patristic teachings was an appeal to a Group Moderator that this person was “Offended on behalf of Jesus” on my account. Gregory of Nyssa’s account, actually… but ok.

This is us, now. This is the state of our culture and it seems to have been so since we moved onto the internet in 1992 or so. Then along comes Jesus with his no judging and no condemning. We’re so used to seeing this in the first person passive: don’t judge me! We rarely notice it in the first person active: I can judge you, though, right? I think this is important in the wake of 9/11 (by which I mean yesterday, not the historical event nearly 20 years ago). We dredge up old resentments like 9/11 every year, some of us do so every day. We take it personally.

And like my nemeses on the Internet, we are quick to condemn.

So here’s the thing. “All the seven deadly sins are demonstrations of love that has gone wrong. They spring from the impulse which is natural in man, to love what pleases him, but the love is misplaced or weakened, or distorted.” (Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today, Washington: New Republic Books, 1978) Yes, humans make a choice to sin, but they do it out of misplaced love. This is as true of your run-of-the-mill sinners as it is true of the most heinous ones. While we make the choices we do, while we are accountable for the choices we make, what element of actual evil is involved? Does any human actually love evil? Or are we tricked into evil because we love the wrong things? I think the latter, more and more as I age. We simply love the wrong things and, loving the wrong things, we are tricked into doing evil. Even Eve saw that the fruit was beautiful and looked tasty.

From what we can gather, the 9/11 attackers entered the west (not undercover at all, just sort of in the course of events) in 1995. Did anyone try to share the Gospel with them? We may never know. Is anyone ever too far gone, this side of death, to hear the Gospel?

Today when we are quick to condemn “the other side” in the culture war, do we ever try to to share the gospel? Is it even possible to share the gospel in this environment? I don’t think so. You cannot share the Gospel with someone you’re actively condemning.

Jesus tells us not to condemn. The word he uses in Greek, καταδικάζω katadikazo, means to look down on, to pass a judgement on a personal, exact instance. We do this in our “cancel culture” both from the left and from the right. Ironically, while saying “don’t judge me”. But our “don’t judge me” is really καταδικάζω – condemnation. When Jesus says, “don’t judge” he uses a whole other word: κρίνω krino. This doesn’t mean what we think it means: it means “to cut off”. To cut off what? To cut the other person off. From what?

From the love of God? meh… we can’t do that – God wouldn’t let me do that to you, to me, to anyone. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Ok. So, to cut off from what? From the sacraments? No… can’t be that: that’s a real thing, and even that doesn’t cut one off from the love of God just from things that might otherwise hurt you. What can I possibly cut you off from? Is it cutting you off I’m worried about?

What do I have to cut off, to κρίνω krino before I can καταδικάζω katadikazo you, before I can condemn you?

You. Me. I have to cut us apart. I may do it actively: by taking some action or making a mental change. I may do it passively: by letting you do it and not denying your power to do so. But in the false sense of liberty created by that act of krino, I can quickly move to katadikazo. I can be free of you forever, and then I can condemn you. That’s how this becomes symmetric. It’s the commutative property of cutting off: if I cut you off, I’ve cut me off too.

Jesus tells us to bless our enemies, to pray for those who abuse us, to forgive them who sin against us. To not do so, we are probably loving something amiss: we may feel like that person I mentioned before, that Jesus needs defending. Do we love Jesus so much that we forget he’s God, that he could have called 10,000 angels, but didn’t, that he says the Gate of hell will not prevail against the Church. Do we mislove Jesus so much that we’re willing to fight for the secular “paradise” we have been saddled with? And what about the new one that’s coming down the pike?

When we cut someone off, we’re literally abandoning them to the bullies that will take advantage of their weaknesses, will draw them deeper into their delusions, and eventually lead them to grave evil. It is better to pray (to wrap someone in love) for a sinner than it is to condemn them…

Has anyone prayed for their souls? Or have we cut our own selves off from God’s mercy by imagining demanding them to be beyond it?

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…I met a man with seven wives…

If we are united to Christ and share in the fullness of God-stuff (as we noted yesterday) then it’s all done, right? No. For what we discover if we pay any attention to ourselves is that there are a lot of things present in us that seem to have a certain quality of “B.C.” How do we deal with them?

There are three options, really: ignore them, expunge them, incorporate them. These are the same three options the Church uses when she comes to a new culture – how does she treat the things that are there already? Some local traditions can be ignored, some can be included (we may even say “baptized”), and some have to be done away with. We can look at the three categories in terms of the evangelization of the peoples of the British Isles. The Pope told Augustine of Canterbury that while idols needed to be destroyed, churches should be built where the idols were: the people were already used to coming to those places for worship. The same held true of other cultural artifacts. But the idols had to go. However, whereas the Church had already dealt with monarchies and tribal chieftains, in the British Isles she found a form of distributed (nearly republican) democracy: even the kings were elected. She not only baptized this but supported it for a long while. (William the Conqueror really tried to stop it, but it showed up again and again.)

The same is true in our personal lives: fasting rules aside, if you want to be vegan, paleo, or keto, the Church doesn’t really care. And even if the fasting rules seem to conflict there are pastoral ways to get around that – even in the Byzantine tradition where fasting is very strict. If you want to play Baseball, you’ll find this is baptized into Church Leagues. Although you can’t be a Freemason, you can be a Knight of Columbus. If, however, you want to engage in polygamy or ancestor worship in a way permitted by the culture, the Church will tell you, “No” and in that she will rely on 2,000 years of her conversation plus another 4 – 6,000 years of Jewish conversation prior to that. Even in cultures which were largely polygamous, the church has relied on attrition to end the practice. At the same time, the Church will be generous in letting the old ways pass away.

So what in your life needs to go? What in your life needs to be baptized? What can be ignored as not terribly important? Which parts of you are from the earth? St Paul has a list: Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. This last – to covet something – earns the additional title of idolatry. When you realize how much of our consumer culture is set up to trigger covetousness you begin to see that the other sins may be rooted in this one. The first step in any of these sins is to covet something that is not rightfully yours: your neighbor’s stuff, or spouse, or your neighbor. The fruit or children of idolatry are these other things in the list.

Considering how much of our daily life is spent satisfying ou desires, these words of Jesus from the Gospel will be hard:

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.

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