I want that. No. Wait.

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Day in the 8va of Christmas:

Et mundus transit, et concupiscentia ejus
And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof

I’m late in posting I know. Actually I wasn’t going to make a post today, then I didn’t make one yesterday either. But when these readings came up at Mass this morning, I was like wait… there’s something there, in the phrase “the world passeth away”.  

We think of “passing away” like “”yes, the world will end”.  Yet for all that we might want to see the Apostles waiting for the world to end next week, it’s throw away lines like this one that make me feel they were on to something seriously important and timely. The Greek word used for “passing” παράγω parago, is the same word used to describe Jesus passing by the tax collector’s station or the crowd blowing past blind Bartimaeus. This is the word that Paul would have used to describe a car passing him on the freeway into Thessaloniki. 

And I thought of my favourite Latin Motto: stat crux dum volvitur orbis, the cross stands still while the world turns. 

The wold is just whizzing by, is it not? Perhaps more now than every before. And Christ on the Cross is the only still point in all of eternity.

The world is passing with his lusts. 

All the things that we want today, that we didn’t even know existed yesterday, that we will have forgotten tomorrow like toys on Christmas that are forgotten by the new year, this world passes by. I’ve enjoyed, over the last three decades, watching fashion pass from the gay world in to the straight world, be that shoe styles, popped collars, goatees, whatever. If it’s too gay this year, it will be all Joe the Plumber next year. But the gays will have moved on to a new thing. Tech is this way as well. What we didn’t even imagine as possible last month is all the rage now. And then tomorrow something new will come along. 

The world just passes by.

And the cross is the center of stillness.

So, yes, the world will end at some point. But that’s not why Paul wants us to not be attached to it. This present-tense verb is ongoing. The world and all its lust whizzes along. We get torn away, tossed about on winds of doctrine. 

We are still in the center: if we cling to the cross.


A Bible Study with Godwin’s Law

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

Si dixerimus quoniam societatem habemus cum eo, et in tenebris ambulamus, mentimur, et veritatem non facimus.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.

I’m reading (or listening to, rather) Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land and I’ll do a full review when I’m done, but tonight, just before writing this…  there’s a portion of the book where the Author discusses M. Scott Peck’s The People of the Lie. Without getting too deep into the chapter, Peck’s point (or, rather, my take on Chaput’s take on Peck’s point) is that as we become used to telling lies, and lies to cover lies, and lies to justify lies, and lies to get by, and lies to get ahead, and lies to just get through the day, we become inured to this constant stream of lies. All parts of our culture are based on it and we cave in. We lose touch with the concept of truth, with reality, we just keep going deeper into lies.

The Holy Innocents are the result of a culture of lies.

Herod was known for his tantrums, his extravagances, and his insanity. It’s said that when he died he left orders to have pious elders killed so that people would at least seem to be in mourning for him.

Why did no one say stop when he gave the order to slaughter the babies of Bethlehem? Everyone was too tied up in their power games, in keeping clear of the king’s sword, in staying out of prison, that they decided – long before the Bethlehem orders came through – to just go along with it all. Sooner or later he’d be gone and one could live one’s life in peace. Right. Even the Magi got caught at first, giving out too many bits of info because they thought Herod was a pious Jew. Yes, killing the babies was bad, but Herod didn’t hold all the swords alone.

Why did no one stop Hitler? This question was Reagan’s bogeyman. Reagan imagined a nation of “Good Germans” who were only misled by the Madman. But everyone wasn’t misled: the Madman was elected, freely, three times before he became a dictator. People knew what they were doing. Yes, killing Gypsies, Gays, Jews, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and women who slept with any of these… all bad. But Hitler had more than a little help. 

The icon above gets used as a symbol for the problem of Abortion in our country, and in the west in general. But abortion is only the capital sin, right? It’s not the root. A lot ot little sins lead up to it: unrestrained sexual passion, attempting to justify some or another form of illicit sexual activity, selfishness, greed, laziness, lust. What about institutionalized poverty, people saying you should get an abortion, what about experts, family members, and even counselors pushing the mother this way? Why ever ignore all that and focus on the thing at the end of this chain? Yes, killing the baby is bad, but the bad started a long time before.

Peck says our biggest lie that we tell to ourselves, over and over, is “I’m doing the right thing here” even when we know it’s a lie. I’ve wrestled with this from the time I was 12 and Mom told me to pretend to be 10 so I could get an half-priced ticket on an airline. It’s right to oney Mom, right? I wrestled with it working in retail when people would walk up to me and, to my face, tell a lie and ask for money back. One lady called from LA and said her friends all got free service on our site and she wanted it too. I said we don’t have free service. And she said, “Are you calling my friends liars? They are sitting here with me.” And I said, “Yes”. She hung up. We are an amazing people.

We have a liar for a president – although he’s not the first, he certainly is very blatant about it.  We have politicians who lie and we insist that “my side” is telling the truth but the other side is always lying. We have Catholics and Orthodox who can’t tolerate a bad thing being said about their right wing politics so they brand everyone else as sexual and political deviants – including their own religious leaders. We have gobbledygook spouted as gospel truth by clergy and professional websites.

We have a culture of lies. When we lie, it may not hurt, it may not bother anyone: but our soul dies a little. Teacher says every time I tell a lie a baby dies. And, quite possibly, Rachel will weep at the end for our actions too.

The Golden Apples of the Sun…

JMJ

The Readings for St John’s Day:

Quod fuit ab initio, quod audivimus, quod vidimus oculis nostris, quod perspeximus, et manus nostræ contrectaverunt de verbo vitæ: annuntiamus vobis.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: we declare unto you.

John’s talking in Code here about Jesus. Jesus is the Word of Life that John has seen, heard, and touched. Our faith is based on empirical evidence. John, sitting at home with the Theotokos (“Son, behold your mother…”) would have known so much more. from his own experience than so many others. And he never stopped teaching and proclaiming. He never stopped declaring unto anyone that would listen. Tradition says he was the last one left alive (and so started as the youngest of all of them). And that he taught St Ignatius of Antioch and St Polycarp of Smyrna. 

At which point should someone who made it all up just fess up? I’m sure if the last living apostle had said, “There was no resurrection” that would have been the end of all these shenanigans. If you die for something, certainly you must think it worth dying for. But if you grow old, wither, and just fade away, it must be a great mystery indeed: if it is worth living for.
This is called the White Martyrdom: to die for a faith well lived, to end one’s life in the arms of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, peacefully falling asleep, wandering far in visionquest from where were were born, maybe, but each day coming so much closer to home.

We – you and I both – can be in our life this most beloved disciple of the Lord.  John’s Martyrdom of the daily grind is available for all of us. We can know Jesus, touch him with our hands, see him with our eyes, hear his teaching, take care of his mother, and in the end, just quietly die.

The action of the Mass is a door through which we are instantly transported to heaven if we only have the eyes and heart to see. We may never have visions of the Lamb of God moving quietly through the Lampstands if we only attend Liturgical Dancing masses, the Novus Ordo has the right visuals when done properly. The Divine Liturgy of the East is close (if you could see behind the iconstasis), and so also the Extraordinary Form, the Latin Mass. 

Jesus is in our midst. He was born a child and reigns as King. You don’t have to “imagine” it. You don’t need to “pretend”. It’s real. John – and his entire generation – gave their life for the truth of it. Then so did Ignatius and Polycarp, and much of their generation. And after them thousands of others. It’s here for you and for me, for all of us to enter. There is someone calling our name from among the Lampstands, calling us to follow.

All you have to do is see Jesus once and like Wandering Aengus, you will be drawn forward forever until you can fall in love for all of eternity.

Come, see him, hear him, touch him, love him. Care for his mother and grow old and die to know the Truth.

You will know the Truth and He will set you free.




Pass me a stone…

JMJ

The Readings for St Stephen’s Day:

Cavete autem ab hominibus. Tradent enim vos in conciliis, et in synagogis suis flagellabunt vos:  et ad præsides, et ad reges ducemini propter me in testimonium illis, et gentibus.
Beware of men. For they will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

This week, to celebrate Christmas, we have the feasts of a whole bunch of martyrs:

  • 26 Dec – St Stephen, who was killed by nonbelievers for his faith.
  • 27 Dec – St John, who wasn’t killed but was imprisoned and harassed by nonbelievers for his faith all his adult life.
  • 28 Dec – The Holy Innocents who were slain by nonbelievers for being born too close to Jesus.
  • 29 Dec – St Thomas Becket who was slain by supposed believers for his defense of the Church.

There’s a progression here. The Church’s calendar has always been about teaching – which is why the feasts from 26-28 do not change. (The feast on the 29th came later and is of a lower rank but it expands the pattern.)

  • St Stephen, an adult, was slain for confessing his faith in public.
  • St John, an adult, confessed his faith, but was only a social outcast – they hoped he’d cave in.
  • The Holy Innocents had no faith, but the Church counts them as her first harvest of Martyrs because they were slain for Jesus.
  • St Thomas was slain by other folks claiming to be Christian because he was willing to stand up to the political powers which they supported.

Here’s the progression:

The faith annoys people in the world and, for a few hundred years, Christians got killed. It was not a solid killing spree though: sometimes Christians were just the freaky folks that normal people had to put up with. Julian the Apostate cemented the pattern that has held forever: Stalin was still doing it last century and Castro was doing it even in this Century. You kill some, oppress the rest – people give up after awhile. Much easier to buy bread when you don’t have to worry about the religion of the baker. In some places the killing gets so great that even the faithless get caught up in the mess. The various wars in various parts of the world that are fought over “religion” end up killing people in the name of religion that might otherwise be faith-neutral. ISIS has slain people who were not Christian who have been named Martyrs by the Copts. Today if you are public about your faith you have to say “yes, but not that kind of Christian” so often. People who pray in public can be mistaken for Muslims by some or for Trumpists by others. How ironic, that? There may be no killing, but there is social ostracization. People of faith can be forced to bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven (see Jeremiah 7:18), but professional musicians and sports teams can break contracts in states with laws they don’t like – and be cheered on.

Yet, I fear the Becket phase is coming.

In the Becket Phase, people who claim to be Christians – but are really only politicians – will kill off the faithful. People who are one sort of Christian will easily hate others and will turn them in. Here, many might expect the liberal all inclusive sort to say “Yes, but not that kind of Christian…” as they point with baseball bats of political correctness at people in Pro-life Marches or those opposed to making up new rules for marriage, sex, or human identity. I don’t find that impossible, but I think in this country, at this time, we’re more likely to see people who support racism in the name of their politicised faith turn against people who support justice in the name of Catholicism, if the former continues to evolve into the law of the land, the latter (including many bishops) will become targets.

In the Stephen Phase, we would have to journey to the Middle East as evangelists to be killed – or, we could sit tight in our protected churches and wait for someone to come find us. Statistically, though, the second case will fit better into the Becket phase described above. We’re more likely to be shot by a conservative in this country than by a Muslim.

So there we are. I don’t have much happiness to share in these feasts of martyrs other than we’re all supposed to be martyrs and it helps if there are those out there who want to help us along the path.

Who would not love thee loving us so dearly?

JMJ

The Readings for Christmas Day:

Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.
And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Καὶ ὁ Λόγος σὰρξ  ἐγένετο, καὶἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν 

There is no Christianity at all without the literal truth of this verse. Without this verse, Jesus is a nutcase whose political theories are as dangerous to human flourishing as any other nutcase’s: as helpful as Dianetics and as useful as the Sunday funnies.  Love your enemies is codependant codswallop. Turn the other cheek is passive aggressive shenanigans. Those who claim to follow the “good teacher” without this verse have to ignore all the times he claims to be God, or else they have to admit he was delusional. If Jesus is not God in the flesh, a living human being, none of this makes sense and rather than sit through another Mass I should advocate for year round baseball: the mystical meanings of baseball are self-evident to anyone with half an eye open and we can use red balls in the snow.

In Catholicism, Bishop Barron says the Incarnation is the thing: it is what makes Catholicism Catholicism. It is what makes Christianity Christianity. This one verse is worth a million and more meditations. Barron says:

The Incarnation is one of the richest and most complex ideas ever proposed to the mind, and hence it demands the space and time of the church in order fully to disclose itself. This is why, in order to grasp it fully, we have to read the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Confessions of Saint Augustine, the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, The Divine Comedy of Dante, Saint John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Story of a Soul of Thérèse of Lisieux, among many other master texts. But we also have to look and listen. We must consult the Cathedral of Chartres, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Arena Chapel, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Grünewald’s Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece, the soaring melodies of Gregorian chant, the Masses of Mozart, and the motets of Palestrina. Catholicism is a matter of the body and the senses as much as it is a matter of the mind and the soul, precisely because the Word became flesh.

 There’s so much here, that right now I only have time for one thing.

Babies.

We know a lot about babies now that we did not know in ages past. The most common error we make is assuming a baby (or any child) is just a little adult. This is not the case no matter how many times you hear a parent talking to their child about politics on the bus. They might as well be talking to their cat.

Why?

Their brains are not developed.  I don’t mean that they don’t know enough and so have to be taught more. I mean physically, literally, undeveloped. The toddler, the newborn, hasn’t the synapses developed yet to do things. Yes, it is possible to jump start them, and yes it is possible to, essentially, send them to the mental gym to train their brains to be computer-like math whizzes, but when was the last time you met a computer like math whizz with social skills? Human development comes in stages, in a slow and steady progression, you might say evolution, that needs to be left alone to do it’s thing in each individual.

So, if the Word became flesh, a newborn, a foetus before, that, a toddler after, what did he give up? God from all eternity, never separated from the throne of the Father, never not in full communion with the Father and the Spirit, but still: a newborn with Jelly for a brain. When the Word that is always spoken in the heart of the Father opens his mouth it is wordless cries that come out.

What is this?

I do not know.

How can God become a Baby? I do not know. What is God experiencing in that baby? I do not know.

It is all out of Love. God, seemingly, giving up his very Godness. But only an Almighty being could do this and still remain the Almighty.

This is the cost of of the incarnation: when the word of God becomes man, what does he give up to gain all of us?

Ite ad Ioseph

JMJ

The Readings for Sunday 4 Advent (Year 2):

Vade, et loquere ad servum meum David: Hæc dicit Dominus: Numquid tu ædificabis mihi domum ad habitandum? Quare non ædificastis mihi domum cedrinam?
Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. I was wrestling with these readings, with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve Sermon, if you will. Then the painting at the head of this post was shared in a Catholic Men’s Group to which I belong. It’s on the cover of an Advent and Christmas book by the late Henri Nouwen. Right now I can’t find anything else about this image: is it just a random artist’s cover design? If so… wow.

And Joseph worked every day to keep God clothed and fed, to keep the family together. Was he a carpenter in Egypt? Or did he find the Egyptians hard on immigrants? Did Joseph struggle with fear and surprise at all the responsibility he had? Did he know that, leaving that day for Bethlehem, he would not be back for five or six or ten years? When he got to Bethlehem did he set up a shop and do odd jobs?

Regardless of his age (some would say 50, others 20), Joseph was part of an arranged marriage, be that between himself and Mary’s parents (at 50) or between his parents and hers (when he was a boy). Leave all idea of romance out of this story. The Holy Family was put together – in God’s full providence – following the cultural desires and needs of their own families. Mary’s parents needed a married daughter so they could be provided for in their old age. Church tradition says they were already very elderly, so they wouldn’t have had time to wait for a boy to grow up. Joseph married into a set of needs that he was expected to meet.

Did Joseph know what he was getting into (before the Angel showed up in a dream, anyway)? Did Joseph know this was God’s Mother? The tradition of Mary as a mystical child would say she was very odd and everyone knew it. But did Joachim and Anna sit down and say, “Here’s what we knew…” Did they know?

God’s grace is enough.

One way to look at Joseph is to imagine a great saint who knew all this stuff and squared his shoulders and said, “OK, God. Hit me: I’m ready.” We want to imagine that, I think, because we want Joseph to be something more. We want Mary and Joseph to be more than they are just so we can imagine the story making any sense at all. But God doesn’t work like that.

Joseph’s namesake and ancestor, who also had dreams, was not only a member of a wandering tribe in the waistlines of the fertile crescent, he was also annoying as all get out. He was a teenager who offended his parents and brethren (despite their love for him) so much that his brothers sold him into slavery. And in slavery, even there, he nearly got raped by his owner, and thrown into prison for not playing along.

God uses broken things.

The idea that Joseph was a widower, looking for someone to manage the house and cook and clean makes sense. He would get a wife, yes, but he would also get Anna and her famous stews, Joachim’s business sense, and the kids of his first wife would get “step grandparents”. His household would be enlarged and his bed warmed. And there would be many good things, right?

But then it all fell apart and here she was with child.

But this was different. And even though his friends noticed and everyone could count and everyone wondered who the father was… he said, No, I will do this. And then that night in Bethlehem. And all that followed. What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God.

God’s grace is enough, but Joseph still has to say yes – over and over and over. God didn’t pick any man for this Job. He picked Joseph. Joseph who would die in 15 or 20 years, but who would defend this little family, this first Church. Joseph who would provide and care, defend, lead and build up. Joseph who would teach Jesus how to be a man in a world where men raped and pillaged to get strong. Joseph who would show Jesus how to pray and meet his obligations as a pious Jew. Joseph who would show Jesus how to saw, hammer, measure, and build. Joseph who would be “Daddy” for all time to this Man who was God.

God did not pick just any man.

But Joseph. Fear does not mean that one backs down. Fear is an offer to back down. Courage, the strength of heart needed to say yes, God gives. But it must be a gift accepted. It must be a gift used. Joseph accepted it over and over as we all must, and used God’s grace to protect this little family, this holy household. And when, in stunned silence, he watch first the poor, and then the very wealthy, come and do homage to his child, Daddy manned up and took care of everything with God’s grace.

Joseph.

Jesus learned about being a man in this world from this man. God picked this man to teach him.

In later years, Joseph died. And Jesus and Mary and the rest of the household mourned. Then in the Resurrection when Jesus harrowed Hell and opened wide Paradise, there was one man, right? There was one man would have been greeted with a hug, and that word, “Daddy”. And how could he not have been so greeted?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. And who now still cares for this little family, this Church. Who still builds a house for God if we but let him build it in our hearts.

Go to Joseph. He will help. He will build up. He will protect. He will watch and guard. It’s his job and he says yes.

Christmas in Purgatory

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Et quis poterit cogitare diem adventus ejus, et quis stabit ad videndum eum? ipse enim quasi ignis conflans.
And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire.
Happy Christmas: we’re doomed, here in the wealthy, bullying west. We’re doomed. But I hope it is to our salvation. How can that be? Yesterday’s post didn’t rant about our personal doom: but rather about the doom of this unhealthy culture of consume and die in which we are engulfed. We are so busy building it up because we can that we never even stop to ask if we should. (We shouldn’t. God’s got a way out. Through him:

  • The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. – Exodus 13:21
  • and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. – Numbers 14:14
  • who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go. – Deuteronomy 1:33
  • Then He led them with the cloud by day And all the night with a light of fire. – Psalm 78:14
  • then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. – Isaiah 4:5
  • At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. – Exodus 14:24
  • It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. – Genesis 15:17
  • “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9
  • “Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form–only a voice. – Deuteronomy 4:12
  • “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 4:15
  • “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? – Deuteronomy 4:33
  • “The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 5:4
  • “You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. – Deuteronomy 5:24
  • “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. – Deuteronomy 10:4
  • “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. – Deuteronomy 4:36
  • ‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? – Deuteronomy 5:26
  • Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. – Exodus 19:18
  • And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. – Exodus 24:17
  • For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. – Isaiah 66:15
  • May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. – Psalm 50:3
  • “From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. – 2 Samuel 22:13
  • From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. – Psalm 18:12

God’s way out is passing us through his refining fire. This is the very meaning of Purgatory: the refining fire of God’s love, making us pure. Will it hurt, mostly. But we will be blessed to know the pangs of love.
And when there is something here, that is not for our salvation, be it drugs, sex, politics, a relationship, television, whatever; it will take fire to burn it out of us. We are doomed: we, the collective, cultural matrix we’ve built up. Each of us, inside it, are the icons of God, but you can’t tell me the world we have made is that at all. We are doomed.
If we die with this wrapped around us, God love will still take care of it. 
But if we pass through the Jihad (Syrian Catholic), the Ascesis (Greek Catholic), the Podvig (Slavic Byzantine Catholic), the holy Struggle of purification here, while we’re alive: we can offer it all up to God and, maybe, prevent others from falling into the same traps, the same pains, the same struggles as we. 
There is one last reference: too those who have rising beyond the fire:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. – Revelation 15:2

For those who, by grace, make it through… and grace is only more fire… there is glory.

Why We’re Doomed

JMJ

The Readings for Friday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede,
   et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis,
   et divites dimisit inanes.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
   and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.

Christianity was a revolution in Roman society because it taught the poor that they could care for themselves by sharing what little they had.

From the beginning, though, the Rich, also welcomed at God’s table, had trouble. So much of their lives had been spent acquiring stuff and holding on to stuff, that it was hard to shift gears. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property – which means they had it to sell in the first place. But they couldn’t bring themselves to give the money to the Church.

The Corinthians couldn’t bring themselves to even share meals with the poor and the slaves who were limited in their time to come and go. Paul yelled at them and changed their communion rites.

The wealthy church in Rome was so decadent that Benedict left.

Francis…

This list goes on.

One thing about 21st Century Capitalism: everyone is the poorest. Nearly no one in America has any conception of anyone under them in the pecking order. All of us, though, know someone higher up. We are quite willing to mark ourselves are “one of the 99%” or whatever you want to call it, but we’re all pretty equal down here. It’s them folks, up there, that you have to watch out for.

I learned this while protesting my oppression. I’m in a class of people who tend to have higher income, more college degrees, better homes, and more disposable income than many Americans. But, you know, I’m oppressed. And I never figured out why the children of slaves couldn’t see that.

We’re all equal down here. It’s those folks up there you have to worry about.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that everyone needs someone to hate and, recently, it’s been the rich. So: it can’t be me. Don’t hate me! I live in a basement apartment with one place to sit and and I sleep on the floor. OK, I pay more for my basement than my parents have ever paid in monthly mortgage payments, Rogue Ales are my house wines, and I get new stuff whenever I want. But I’m one of you.

We’re all equal down here. It’s those folks up there you have to worry about.

And then one day I realized I was those folks up there. Most of the world doesn’t care who I voted for in the recent election. Most of the world sees major personal differences between our various presidents, but most of the world sees no economic or policy differences. Yes this one is brash, that one is colored different, that one over there seems quite and stupid. But we’ve never changed our north star: economic hegemony over the entire world so that we can have all the stuff.

We’re way up there.

Until recently that was clear.

The thing about the pecking order is, though, the higher up you get the harder you have to peck to keep the masses under you.

And so, it’s only logical, that someone would eventually start pulling the rug out from under the feet of the middle class, even the upper middle class.

The proud are being scattered now in our conceit.
Rich people, turning against rich people, to fight it out over tax refunds and exemptions.

We are doomed.

We’re getting what we deserved. For while we were fighting with each other about “abortion rights” and saying we were “being oppressed” by cake bakers, we were just killing off the living in other parts of the world in order to have cheap plastic junk at WalMart.

When the poor are “lifted up” it won’t be any of us reading these pages. The Meek and the Lowly are not writing these words, nor are the hungry using their smart phones to read it.

We are doomed.

Not my president, we say. Even as we call him all the names he calls us. Even as we refuse to put forward candidates who will work Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God. I’m with Her we say in self-righteous indignation, as neither she (nor her husband) ever did anything to fix the problems of the poor in this country or in others. Mostly in others, really. For every trade agreement only made it worse, feeding the pockets of the rich, and allowing some of us to pretend we were rich because we got more stuff.  And all the while dumping on the poor; the real poor. And now that the poor are running around the world in terror from the horror we (or our proxies) have built in their countries, we build walls to keep them out.

We are doomed.

All the while we deploy our cheapest political tricks: divide and conquer. Your women should be free like ours. Your political minorities are way more oppressed than ours.  We can fix it. Regime change, Neoliberalism, cheap electronics, it doesn’t matter.

We are doomed.

We are doomed because one day (again) the God we claim to believe in will do what he always does: casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. Filling the hungry with good things he’s going to send the rich (that’s us) away empty. Starving. Lost. Dead.

Maybe that will save us. So, come quickly, Lord. And stir up the crap again.

The Empirical Bogey (O Oriens)

Originally published in 2015, this essay is part of a series I used to do annually on the Great O Antiphons of Advent. This Verse will be sung tonight at Vespers and, since this night is the Longest Night, and tomorrow is the Dawn of Summer’s Advent, we sing. “O Dawn”. The church knows when the solstice is, certainly, although it has nothing to do with the date of Christmas. Many parts of the liturgical year are tied (officially or not) to the natural cycle of the northern hemisphere: not just major holidays, but also fasting on the quarter days, the choice of which feast in a Saint’s Life is more important, etc. The liturgical cycle sanctifies time rather than obliterating it. We are manifesting heaven on earth sacramentally, not escaping earth and fleeing to “realms of spirit.” The physical world is being saved, not ignored.


O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This is my favourite of the Great O Antiphons, for entirely non-liturgical reasons: this verse is one of several paraphrased by the Orthodox Anglo-Saxon Poet, Cynewulf in his long poem Crist or, in modern English, Christ.  In Anglo Saxon and in English, the lines run:

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.

It was this text that gave J.R.R. Tolkien the name and purpose of his character, Eärendil the Mariner. Oddly enough I learned about the Great O Antiphons (back in 1982 or 83) by reading about this connection with Tolkien and then doing research. That was before I had been exposed to western liturgy beyond Novus Ordo and late 70s ECUSA. It was the dawn of a new world for me – connecting Tolkien’s world that never was with parts of our world that were no longer.

Tolkien and his fellow writer, C.S. Lewis, knew that part of our modern problem is that our world is being destroyed – now, almost a century after their friendship, our world is nearly totally gone. We used to live in a world peopled by angels and located in the middle: not geographically, but mentally, spiritually, between heaven and hell. Now we are more than ever trapped in time, stranded between the past that cannot be and the future that is never. The religion of our culture, Scientific Nihilism, has washed away all connection, all sense of a possibility of connection, replacing a Transpersonal God with what C.S. Lewis called “The Empirical Bogey:”

…the great myth of our century with its gasses and galaxies, its light years and evolutions, its nightmare perspectives of simple arithmetic in which everything that can possibly hold significance for the mind becomes the mere by-product of essential disorder… its flat superlatives, its clownish amazement that different things should be of different sizes, it’s glib munificence of ciphers.

We pretend we have discovered the really awesome parts of the universe, when, in fact, all we have done is let our mind’s impression of the Speed of Light create in us a false sense of awe at mere numbers; numbers which we ourselves invented and to which we attach some sort of quasi-religious content. We become over-awed by generating the emotions within ourselves at our own inventions, as a child might, looking too fondly at a sand castle she has built on the beach.

But we have discarded the Created Order: the reality that is there, no matter how much we ignore it, or imagine we’ve surpassed it. We need the Dawn to show to us all of this.

We’ve got darkness and death again running parallel to light and justice. In the traditional liturgy this gets sung at Vespers on the 21st of December: the Solstice, the return of the Sun. Singing this verse creates the linking of Christ with the rising Sun, very literally in time and space.

A certain sort of political activist will often invoke Jesus as a supporter of “justice”. They do this without irony despite the fact that they would reject a vast majority of what Jesus stood for. They would certainly never call his teachings “Justice”. They make this rejection by saying that Jesus was merely human and often wrong based on the cultural biases of his time. But they are certain that any “outcast” calling for “justice” today would be supported by the Jesus they have invented as easily as science invents big numbers. Justice, in this political dialect, usually means “supporting my political causes and damning my opposition”. Jesus is not invoked as in this Antiphon, as being, himself, the Sun of Justice. God – Jesus – in his person – is Justice.

The Sun of Justice is a line taken from the Prophecy of Malachias 4:1-4

For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, the precepts, and judgments.

Ecce enim dies veniet succensa quasi caminus: et erunt omnes superbi et omnes facientes impietatem stipula: et inflammabit eos dies veniens, dicit Dominus exercituum, quae non derelinquet eis radicem et germen. Et orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum sol justite, et sanitas in pennis ejus: et egrediemini, et salietis sicut vituli de armento. Et calcabitis impios, cum fuerint cinis sub planta pedum vestrorum, in die qua ego facio, dicit Dominus exercituum. Mementote legis Moysi servi mei, quam mandavi ei in Horeb ad omnem Israel, praecepta et judicica. 

The Justice that Jesus offers is only for those that fear God and do all that he commanded through Moses: they who do so shall tread down all the proud folk who do wickedly as ashes under their feet. But you can’t have God’s Justice for you to do something God has commanded you not to do, for there is no Justice beyond God’s law.

Here again we are being presented with the Empirical Bogey. We are convinced that our minds can discover things and then we invest those things with quasi-religious value. The new Jesus we have at last discovered in our wisdom supports us, not those stodgy religious sorts. Freedom, we have at least discovered in our wisdom, is not “the Free human being who is most himself in the will of God” but rather “I can do what I want.” The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us. Thus Justice does not mean justly following God’s law and creating civil laws that enable others to do so as well. Justice means, “I can do what I want and you can be punished for thinking, saying, or living as if I shouldn’t do it.

Which is to say that Jesus didn’t teach a “justice” that would have been recognized as such by anyone marching in our streets today. In fact, Jesus colluded with the unjust systems of his day: paying taxes, respecting civil authorities. He makes it rather clear that those authorities would not be there (just or not) if God had not put them there. In the matter of “judge not”, God will judge authorities that act outside of his divine Justice. That’s not for us to worry about (unless you happen to be in political office). Our job, as Christians, working our our salvation in fear and trembling, is to live in God’s Just Law, no matter what the world lives in. Paul, writing to Philemon, does not challenge the system of slavery in the Roman world, but rather he tells Philemon to act in God’s Justice towards his brother in Christ, the slave Onesimus, suggesting even that Philemon will do more (following God’s Love) than Paul even suggests in his letter. Paul doesn’t protest in the streets to change the laws: but he reminds Christians that they have a higher law to follow

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

So it is with us, today looking at the Antiphon, and for all time. We know that Justice comes from God in Jesus very person. Our secular laws, as such, mean precious little if they do not reflect this. They can be ignored as so many cardboard cutouts. The traditional prayer for civil authorities from the Russian Prayerbook makes this clear:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on our president and all in authority throughout the world, commanders-in-chief of armies and navies and airfleets, governors of provinces and cities, and all the Christ-loving navies, armies and police; protect their power with peace, and subdue under their feet every enemy and foe, and speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

Civil gov’t is there only to keep the peace so the Church can do her work: this can be done with the second amendment, or without it, with socialism, capitalism or the odd hybrid we now have. As long as there is civil peace the Church can do her job. Be mindful that this prayer was also prayed for the leaders of the Soviet state…speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

From the state all we want is to be left alone. We need Jesus for Justice: which is an interpersonal quality, not a legal standing. All this world – including our gov’ts, our states, the religion of Scientific Nihilism and the Empirical Bogey – are all trapped in darkness and death. We seek the dawn, Earendel, to show us the way out.

Belushi, Geer, and God… (ok, and Solomon.)

Chagall’s Song of Solomon 1958
JMJ

The Readings for Thursday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Similis est dilectus meus capreæ, hinnuloque cervorum. En ipse stat post parietem nostrum, respiciens per fenestras, prospiciens per cancellos. En dilectus meus loquitur mihi. SPONSUS: Columba mea, in foraminibus petræ, in caverna maceriæ, ostende mihi faciem tuam, sonet vox tua in auribus meis: vox enim tua dulcis, et facies tua decora.
My beloved is like a roe, or a young hart. Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. My beloved speaks: My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely.
Thus is fulfilled, as I posted yesterday. The Christian tradition follows Jewish tradition on this love story: the Bride is the Church (the New Israel) and the Groom is Christ. For Jews it’s Israel and the Holy One.

This image of Christ, peaking through the latice at us, of the love watching through the window, is one of the best images ever, as he sings to us, “My dove, hiding in the cleft of the wall…” It’s erotic. It’s romantic. It’s… rather creepy really. If we listen with our modern ideas of sex and sexuality. Why do you want your lover watching you through the window shades? Why does your lover want to?

John Belushi in Animal House (1978)

This is our ideas of human sexuality: our passions run amok so much so that we can’t even begin to image God as lover without it getting creepy. The creepy part, though, is not what God is doing in this verse: it’s our imaginations.

The Virginal conception and birth of Jesus doesn’t just seem “hyper-pious” it seems improbable, if not impossible: because no one we know is a virgin any more. How can two, normal teenagers (Joseph and Mary) have abstained from Sex? Even following the tradition of the Church where Joseph was elderly, we know – right? – we know that Old Guys marry Young Girls to have more sex. We know this.
We know with all our faith that my body doesn’t control me, that old people need Viagra, that porn is normal, that men don’t watch women through windows, or they get arrested.
And that God doesn’t’ care what goes on in my bedroom.
But if we see the Church as the Bride of Christ… and that seems creepy… Maybe we’re missing something about human sexuality? How did 2,000 years of Christians and 4,000 years of Jews before that manage to handle it? And how about all those pagan places where the King was married to the land for the sake of fertility and defense? What are we missing today where God is sexless and is not empowered to pick his own pronouns through the only voice he has givne us, and where the Church is an it, not a she?
Although the Song of Songs tends to switch back and forth in voice between the Bride and the Goom, along with a few other parties, the Narrator tends to sound like the Bride: saying “My lover says…” when the Groom speaks.  Solomon has put on a woman’s voice, telling the story of how God has wooed Israel.
Larry Norman’s amazing “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You” (1972) is one attempt by the rocker legend to put himself into a feminine persona as he sings about Christ. (There’s another one on the series of three albums known as the Trilogy, but I can’t just now remember which song it is.) 
The Church, too, is the feminine voice, expressed mostly by men, wooed by God. Was it CS Lewis? Or someone modern writer who said that God is the ultimate power, the male, active force to the passive, receptive, female force of the entire cosmos. We are all feminine before God.
And here, in Solomon’s text, if we let it be about romance, about joy, about love, it’s not at all creepy. We’re the ones who have wandered away: we are the prostitute that God has married. We are the wayward one rescued by the strong hand that would bring us back only for love.
Richard Geer and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990)
Christmas really makes no sense otherwise. God has self-sacrificed out of love for us. Just how much self-sacrifice we shall see on Monday. It is so deep, so wide, so powerful that we cannot avoid it save only by callousness, cold-heartedness, and pride.

We are called to humility before this God who only wants to love us.

Will you not be wooed by him? He says you are lovely. Will you not let him hear your voice?

You came into my life, you took me off the shelf
You told my name to me and taught me what to do
But then you went away and left me by myself,
I feel completely lost and lonely without you
Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you, without you
Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all
Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you, without you
It’s just no good without you, without you
It’s just no good without you, without you
It’s just no good without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you