Po-Mo Exegesis


This post is from 17 Sep 2002. Still relevant, it seems. I’d been Orthodox for maybe 4 months by that time – and still struggle with some of the things referenced here.

THERE’S A SONG BY THE EAGLES that I heard on the radio today that put a lot in perspective for me. The thing is, I’ve heard Desperado so very many times and never noted the Orthodoxy in it.

Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

We all seem to get hung up on “Freedom”. And we define that in our cultures by various means. We decide that Christians in Arab Countries and in Israel are not as “Free” as Christians in the US. But look at what that “freedom” gets us here: a confusion of our faith with mass-market paperbacks – the Left Behind series – and televangelism and “Contemporary worship” that deals in a McCrist. If such market-based terrorism is freedom, give me open persecution any day.

These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow

The freedom to be exactly what I want when I want if I can afford it isn’t really freedom: it’s concession. Indeed, the desire to “be my own man” to “be me” to do things “my way” is the truth in the statement Your prison is walking through this world all alone. But that’s what we define as freedom here, in this culture. It’s a willingness to suddenly want and then need the next greatest thing – which last week didn’t even exist – and to have the freedom to buy that thing that I’ve suddenly decided I suddenly need. And it’s the freedom to throw it out next week. It’s the freedom to be defined by commercials and marketing. I’m free to shop where ever I wish: but I’m still going to buy mostly what’s on sale, because that’s what I can afford.

Our ideas of free speech or even free religion are just as market based as our ideas of shopping and need. what we define as “Freedom of speech” today wouldn’t even have been thought of as acceptable public discourse 50 years ago. Our Freedom of Speech is defined as “saying what I want” when in fact, I didn’t even know I might want to say it last week. Our forms of “spirituality” are driven by the coolest, latest book from Harper-Collins or Llewellyn, and our Civic “Religion” is just exactly what the government needs just now, no more nor any less. TV will show exactly what the market will carry in Televangelism – anything else is resigned to a non-TV Land dominated in American Sports by soccer. No one even dreamed of saying the F word in public until we let the other six on to TV as well. Now it is freedom of speech to say it. Marketers tell us to let pop music into religion because otherwise we won’t be able to sell it – that’s freedom of religion. Anything esle is unimportant “ancient trivia.”

We like to think of all of this as “Advancement” and therefore as “improvement”. But it’s just a changed focus – neither up nor down. The fifties came back (and then the 60s and the 70s and the 80s all over again) because they were market-driven to do so. Anyone who lives in a “niche market” can be driven out and plunged into mainstream. (Have you not seen a Lord of the Rings movie/commercial/product tie-in yet?) To consider this as advancement is really only Chronological Arrogance: this is newer, it must therefore be better than what is older; modern ideas are better than older ones.

Our pain and our hunger are real – they are not market-inspired. The needs we feel, the pain we have are real, and we only take them to the market place because we don’t know what else to do with ’em. There we imagine they get converted to something more manageable. “Retail Therapy”, “Shopychology” “Purchiatry”. We all know why we do this – we’re all aware that we do this. I’ve had a bad day, but I bought a new CD or a new book or a new dress or a prostitute. The market only attempts to feed me – it fails. But I decide it wasn’t the market that failed, just my purchases. I need to go back. I need just a little bit more money, just enough to buy just one more thing… Target is just another word for a sanitarium.

Don’ you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

We know that it is love we want, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

I’ve always heard that as a plea from the singer of the song to his or her intended. Indeed, I’ve sung this song that way at the Duplex in NYC and on my guitar, sitting around a campfire with the Episcopal Youth Conference. That’s what it is, isn’t it?

You know… until I heard the Church Fathers talk about Hell, that’s what I thought this was about – but then I saw a different point.

The Church offer us a picture of Hell that isn’t that “Lake of Fire” that our Fundamentalist friends want us to think about. The Church says God is love… and no one can escape from that God. Hell, however….

The Church says that when confronted with this God of love… some of us will want to run screaming in the other direction: to suddenly stand before Someone who knows everything and still loves you. Who sees the dark places I hide, who knows the number of times I did that – yes, that – and fantasized about doing that too – yes, that – who knows that I lied, cheated, stole, hated, oppressed, abused, gossiped, gluttoned, slutted, apostatized, heresied, bamboozled, flimflammed and whored my way through most of my life – Someone who even cares that I did all that, wishes that I wouldn’t, asks that I don’t, is offended that I did – and still, loves me. That terrifying vision is hell for someone who doesn’t want to be there. And scripture says God is a Consuming Fire – and to someone who doesn’t want to be there, those flames will burn.

But those flames are rather the fires of Love, burning eternally, and we can join with those flames… I can become them, lighting the lives of those around me, being one with the eternal fire, a “servant of the secret flame” as Gandalf says… Or I can try to light my own little flame in the corner, and burn out.

“Let Somebody love you…”

Who already does, Who always has, and Who always will – want it or not. There is freedom there that can not be bought or sold. And it is a painful freedom – for it isn’t the freedom to be “what I want” but rather the freedom to be what I was created to be, what I was born to be, what I am when I am most myself – in full communion with the Creator.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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