Disorder as Liberation

JMJ

ONE YEAR IN HIGH SCHOOL our Marching Band raised money by working at Six Flags in Atlanta. I’m unclear how it worked, but basically, we performed various minimum-wage jobs around the park for one of three half-day shifts and all the money went to the band. In exchange for working 4 hours, the “volunteers” got to spend the whole day in the park. It was a fun day (although I will never eat park food ever again) and I got to ride the Mind Bender 15 times.

The Mind Bender opened that summer and was billed as the world’s first triple loop roller coaster and I had no reason to want to do any of the normal stuff which I’d done before. This was not only new to me but new to everyone! Until the pre-monastery purge, I still had the commemorative coin they gave out that year. Anyway, that day I rode the thing until I got bored, literally. After 12 times through (in fairly rapid succession, since I had an employee pass and needn’t stand in the whole line), I couldn’t have cared less: all my adrenaline burned out, the endorphins went away, and all I had was a jolting and jerking sensation caused by the motion. I was numb. Still, I rode it three more times, then I stopped.

I was talking to my brother in Christ yesterday over wings and biscuits; there was some beer as well. We were talking about how moral theology has basically two categories: the way God intended something to be (aka properly ordered) and every other way we try things, (aka disordered). It’s important to realize that moral theology doesn’t use “disordered” as we might when describing a mental disease. It’s more along the lines of putting a penny in a fuse (if you are old enough to get the reference), or what happens when you use a flat head screwdriver that is also too small on a Phillips-head screw.

Since the human spirit is made to follow God’s will – and yet we do not – we are disordered. All of Creation groans under the situation caused by our fall: man was intended to be the crown of creation, the Primus below God. Disorder is a sign of the fall. To find one’s life is disordered is to admit that one is human – no less than any other. Given what we know about the human propensity to sin, as my friend said, even ketchup packets are a sign of the Fall. That we have fallen from grace disorders all things.

The Jesus Psalter, a 16th Century English Catholic devotion closes with two prayers referring to the disorder of our dance: Jesus, grant me grace to set my mind on thee; and, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to thee. Both of these, our minds and our lives, are to be ordered – focused, line up behind, pointing at Jesus. When we say something is disordered we mean it’s pointing the wrong way. That “wrong way” may only be a fraction of a degree off course, but in the distance of Eternity, that fraction grows until we miss the mark. Please note: disorder, itself, is not missing the mark. We miss the mark when we deny the disorder, when we treat SNAFU as “right”.

Imagine that you have a square peg – and you have to fit it in the proverbial round hole. Imagine you spend your whole life shoving and pounding, chipping off corners, trying to stretch the hole, all in vain. In the end, you give up: you settle down, the hole unpegged, the peg without a home. What if someone came by and said, “I have a square hole over here…” It would finally feel as though you’d found a home. You’ve finally connected. Only connect, as E.M. Forster sys in Maurice, it’s the solution to the isolation that cuts us off.

In talking about human sexual expression, “disordered” as category applies to everything outside of the procreative act within sacramental marriage. Anything else is using tools given by God in ways not intended. The Church’s tradition, beginning in scripture and unfolding in the lives of the saints, is pretty clear about this. There are degrees of departure from plumb, but all such – even by half a degree – proceed from a fall and miss the mark entirely.

My friend asked me how I – a Catholic man who experiences sexual attraction to other men – felt about that label “disordered”. I did not think twice before I said, “Liberating!”

All of our modern world is about catering to our whims, our desires. Everything we do is “because we want too/feel the need to/crave…” It’s bloody exhausting! To “follow my bliss” when what I want to bliss out on changes from moment to moment is like trying to navigate with a compass through a maze made out of magnets. We are told that we must consume, that we must get our just desserts, that we deserve more than we have, that when we die we should leave a proper viking horde of stuff and experience behind to prove that we were here at all: when the sex and the shopping stops, we’re dead.

Worse, we become so involved in this that we don’t even notice when we continue the pattern in strange parts of our lives. Amazon – mistress of all the vices – feels better than therapy. Online dating is only a 70s Singles Bar or Bathhouse that needs no brick and mortar expenses. Church shopping and parish hopping is just the Tinder or Growlr app, but with God. We choose our name, religion, job, residence, friends, medications, and whatever all based on only our drives and tastes; only in hindsight do we realize that “drive” and “taste” are more matters of “peer pressure” and “marketing”. “My” taste is not personal to me. I can walk out of the house in purple sneakers and yellow socks firm in the knowledge that there’s probably another 100k or so people dressed exactly the same way within 500 miles.

Disorder is a way out! To realize that this is not at all how it has to be, or even how it’s supposed to be; to realize that this chaos is not what is intended, that this chaos is self-replicating, that only a re-ordering from outside will fix it is to be graciously liberated from the ever-spinning wheel of illusion.

Living a life fulfilling every desire, every whim, running away from every pain and every sorrow, is like trying to dig one’s way out of a pit: each fulfillment gives rise to more craving – even if only for a repeat performance. Mmmm that felt good. Do it again! Like my ride on the Mind Bender, we do it over and over until all the chemicals in our brain burn out. Then we just keep going on some autopilot function. Our cravings have turned into an addiction, our lives into empty recreations of patterns we claim to enjoy. But we are not free: we are enslaved to our reasons, our cravings.

No! You don’t have to fulfill that whim, that craving, that lust! Let it go: if you hold on it will only take you further and further off course. Simply: Let. It. Go.

Disorder, as self-realization, is discovering the square hole for the square peg. It’s realizing that one is human: not special, but average; not unique but a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve. There is nothing unique or special about your desires: they are shared by millions of others in history. There are only differences of response. Desires, as such, are only a sign of being part of our fallen humanity. They are not needs to fulfill, but rather comments on or signs of our human weakness. Disorder – experienced as an action or only as desire – is a sign that we need God. Knowing that it is disorder, something that needs to be reordered, to be fixed, turns it into an on-going opportunity for grace to be poured in. And the Church is both the fountain from which grace is poured and the vessel that contains us as we are filled with that gift.

In riding the Mind Bender, I not only got bored, I also kinda ended my fear-love relationship with Roller Coasters. I don’t really like the adrenalin rush that one gets. It’s not at all heathy to trigger one’s own fear mechanism. I feel the same way about horror movies too. Like, I have only so many “Endo-Dolphins” as a friend’s daughter once called them. I don’t want to waste them by crying wolf too many times. Using the endorphins this way – a hit of adrenalin, a rush of fear – is disordered in a minor way, just as a hit of poppers, a rush of sweaty fun – is disordered in a major way. But we live in a society that says “fulfill it!” at every turn. That’s not what we are here for. In fact, we’re here for the opposite. And when you grow tired of jamming the square peg into all the wrong holes, you can finally settle down and let the proper ordering of things take over. The Church is the school that not only teaches that solution, but resolves the conflict, and heals the resultant pains.

Recognizing Disorder and yielding to grace are, in fact, the first three of the 12 steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over Fill In the Blank —that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 

St Paul says, in Galatians, “Christo confixus sum cruci. Vivo autem, jam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus.” With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. Our cravings produce a false sense of need and that need/craving produces a false self. This is not me. I am not my cravings. I am not personified by my temptations. We crucify our fallen self, as Jesus gave himself up for us so that we can finally live – yet not us, but Christ living in us. Grace (which is God’s energy, God’s presence in our lives) orders our life to Christ. We can only get there when we see everything is not good as it is. We are liberated by seeing the disordered lives we lead, the disordered world in which we live for exactly what it all is: Disordered.

A Daily Act of Consecration to the Holy Family

JMJ

Please note: what follows is not an officially approved devotion in any way. If you find it useful, amen. If you feel it needs correction please let me know.

Holy Family of Nazareth, hear the prayers of a prodigal son. I have sinned before heaven and against you. Take me as one of your hired servants.

Chaste Heart of Joseph, I consecrate myself to thee! Like thee may I be chaste and stable. May my work be done with all due speed and diligence; ever be ordered only to the provision, safety, and advance of God’s Kingdom, the Church. Bless my skills and talents that, like thee, I may ever use them to God’s glory and not my own. By thy prayers, may my work be crowned with the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Let me be neither greedy nor sloth; let not the noonday demon find me ready to make a mockery of God’s labor or my own. Fix me in chastity in action, word, and thought.

Pray for me, St Joseph, together with thy Most Immaculate Spouse, that I may work out my salvation in fear and trembling; that having thee as my father and Mary as my mother, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, I consecrate myself to thee! Like thee may I be open to the will of God, ever trusting him without knowing the cost, and ever certain that what ever he has asked of me he will give me the grace to accomplish. May I never place myself between others and thy divine son save only to say “Do whatever he tells you” and like thee may I ever make intercession before God’s throne especially for those in most need of his mercy. Cause me, by thy prayers, through pious devotion and faithful adherence to the divine precepts, to yield a fruitful harvest of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and all the other virtues.

Pray for me, Holy Mary, Mother of God, together with thy Most Chaste Spouse, that I may be constantly bringing forth the Word of God to the Joy of all the World; that having thee as my mother and Joseph as my father, I may truly have Jesus as my brother and may be a devoted servant of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I consecrate myself to thee! Hear the prayers of thy Most Immaculate Mother and thy Most Chaste Foster Father on my behalf. May the fount of mercy flowing from thy side wash me. Set up thy Cross in my soul. Nail my flesh to the fear of thee. Undo my slavery to my own reasonings. Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, on fire with love for the world, and wounded with compassion for the weak and lost, especially for those whom daily thou sendest to me.

May I truly have Mary as my Mother and Joseph as my Father, and be thou, Jesus, my Brother, Saviour, and Friend; that in service to the Holy Family of Nazareth, I may live in stability, safety, and peace.

May thy Church be my only home, thy Word my only teacher, thy Cross my only guide, and thy Eucharist my only food. My Jesus, I trust in thee!

Dearest Jesus, after the example of the Chaste Heart of Joseph and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer thee all of my plans, dreams, and intentions, all of my thoughts, words, and deeds, all of my joys and sufferings, my hopes and fears, all of my crosses and crowns of this day and all of my life, all for the intentions of thy Sacred heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, the remission of sins, the reparation of blasphemies, the reunion of all Christians, and the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope.

Amen.

A Dangerous Book

Popular histories can tend to be strident, combative affairs: they carry on arguments on and off their pages, and come with definitive points of view. People love them or hate them. They divide readers and reviewers into camps of good and evil based on reaction to the book. This is very different from scholarly history which is supposed to be “unbiased”.  If you didn’t like the history text in Western Civ I or American History (shoutouts to Dr Doug!) then you were not evil in the author’s eyes: you were only failing in class. Disagree, however, with Howard Zinn’s point of view in A People’s History of the United States and you, Dear Reader, are part of the problem, not the solution. It doesn’t matter if you read Zinn calmly and put it away having done your duty. The author is clear: he’s evangelising with his point of view and if you don’t agree you’re not just “another point of view”, you’re wrong.

A great bucking of this trend surfaced in 2010 when BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum did A History of the World in 100 Objects. This podcast (and radio show), coupled with a website, talked about all of history, while focusing on 100 things ranging from a mummy and a hand axe, to communist propaganda and solar powered products. This history was different on two points: it was not combative, and it was inclusive. Even when discussing something as potentially heated as a war with modern political applications, the British folks managed not to be name callers or to imply you were a dupe if you came to another conclusion. It was so popular that they made a book and a travelling roadshow of the 100 things. (I’ve never seen the BBC’s book, who needs a book when there’s a podcast and a website?) Still, as friendly as they were, they were also very skilled at unveiling history’s events: I found episode #67 on the Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy to be particularly troublesome for me because if its historical honesty. (That’s worth a whole post, maybe later.) Yet even with all these comments and a specific point of view, the Beeb kept saying, “You could have an entirely different history if you took a different 100 objects and read them differently.” And they invited listeners to participate by uploading photos of their own objects with their own histories. So, “Here’s history as we read it: but DIY.”

A History of the Church in 100 Objects, by Grace Aquilina and her father, Mike, falls into the middle. Clearly taking their cue from the BBC’s work (the cover of this book reminds me of the 2010 edition cover on the BBC book as I’ve seen it on Amazon’s website) they write their own history with their own 100 objects. At the same time they have a specific point of view and they are evangelizing.

Christianity is not a religion of mental acquiescence to a few points in a prayer. Christianity is a life of prayer, ascetic struggle, and stuff. St John of Damascus wrote that since God has become flesh, the very stuff of the world has become holy. We can venerate the wood of the Cross, or the image of Christ, or the flesh and bones of a holy dead person – or even of a living person – and know we are venerating the very stuff of God. This is the physical world God gave us, in which we are to work out our salvation. The history of the world is salvation history.

This book uses the stuff – ranging from the star of Bethlehem to the birth control pill – to talk about the history of the Christian Church. The authors clearly believe what they believe: the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ on the Rock of Peter. They are not telling only one possible story of a Christian community, they are telling the Story of the Church. If the reader is not Roman Catholic, however – as with Howard Zinn’s work – the reader will know they’re on the outside looking in. But Mike and Grace do it with such love and, pardon me, grace, that you’ll want to be on the inside, I think. They are evangelizing here.

The book pulls no punches with the bad parts of Church history. The struggle against an invading Islamic army is not covered up as politics in religion sauce. The divisions between the Church and various departing elements is not seen through warm and fuzzy ecumenical glasses. The Vatican’s history of Bad Popes is not glossed over. The presence of Apostate Catholics at anti-Catholic moments is very honestly discussed. Still, popular notions are challenged: the Crusades are presented as defence and there is no “religion of peace” in this book. Missionaries to the New World are presented as missionaries of truth liberating folks from a culture of death and blood sacrifice. The actions of capital and those who worship it either from the left or the right side of its altars taken against human beings is pointed out – and the struggle of the Church to align herself with the poor is highlighted. Popular revolutions of the 18th Century are not seen in a good light. The Second Vatican Council is seen in a positive light that has nothing to do with guitar masses and bad vernacular translations from the Latin.

The presentation is easy to digest. Each of the 100 objects is presented in 2-3 page chapters together with a full page image of the thing in question. Each object is discussed and analyzed and plugged into the over-all story. Unlike the BBC’s work there is no material analysis: the Geek in me would like to know who cut the wood for St Junipero’s cradle and from what tree. But that’s not important in this work: what is important is that one of the greatest missionaries of the world was raised up from that cradle to spread the Gospel in humility to my part of a darkened world. Each chapter ends with a couple of footnotes for more reading and the authors graciously invite more questions and offer themselves to answer them.

As a new Catholic, I felt plugged in by this book: my story is part of this story. My life is part of this life now and this book helped me to connect to people as different as Charlemagne (via his coronation stone) and an auto mechanic in Mexico (via his tools on his tomb). I can’t help but imagine that anyone, new or not to the Church, would be able to draw the same benefit. Like other popular histories, the reader may find himself on the outside of the authors’ point of view. But “you’re part of the problem” is not the attitude of the authors here. Quite the reverse, in fact. If you’re on the outside looking in, why not come in?

Perhaps someone on the outside would want to be drawn into that story which is why is this a dangerous book:

The loving presentation, the careful selection of objects, and the clear goal of evangelism make this a dangerous book. The table of contents alone will show that: the ramble from Bethlehem to the Jerusalem temple, from catacombs to Diocletian, from Helen to Charlemagne, from Homer to Ethiopia and beyond will expose you to the great Catholic claim that there is no secular history. All history is the Christian story. This is the physical world God gave us, in which we are to work out our salvation. The history of the world is salvation history. You’re in it, like it or not. You’ve no choice. Any history of stuff is part of God’s story.

The second reason this is dangerous: you may disagree with their point of view on the Aztecs and you may want to debate – that’s what they’re here for. They’ve drawn you in already. And if you read the chapter on the Aztecs (or Martin Luther or Margaret Sanger) and find yourself agreeing: why are you not Catholic? This book is dangerous because it is covert Evangelism for a History Geek. You can read this story and agree or disagree. But if you agree with the story (and how could you not?) then, you should be going to RCIA. God is using the very stuff of the world to draw you closer to him. That is solid Catholic teaching. Mike and Grace have presented a partial catalogue of how God’s doing that to one end: to get you, the reader, to come home.

Continuity and Rupture

In the last two weeks of the Lectionary, Weeks 29 and 30 of year A, we’ve had this story (in two parts):

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them,”Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:15-21, 29th Sunday) 

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40, 30th Sunday)

There are, in addition, several other moments in the Gospel stories where Jesus is seen in discussion with the religious leaders of the people. It is a homiletical commonplace to use these to say, “Jesus was offering a different vision than the Jews had hitherto.” In fact, it can be tempting to do so because so may have done so. That such often arises from a covert Anti-Semitism, especially among the more liberal, is dangerous. The approach is, generally, “The legalistic religious experts were wrong. Love is the Answer”. We place a homiletic rupture between the Good Jesus and the bad Jewish elders. Specifically, it’s right up there with the Jews killed Christ in terms of misunderstanding what’s going on here.

A cursory reading of Jewish Culture will recognize what’s going on here: rabbis debate. Rabbis debate with their students to understand the law. Rabbis debate with each other to sharpen their skills. Rabbis debate with each other to correct errors. This debate can be rather calm and contemplative, or it can be heated. We see all types of this discussion in the New Testament: Jesus at dinner parties, Jesus on street corners. Now, to be clear: Jesus is God. To disagree with his point is sin – and it’s the trump card for Christians. But on the streets of the Jewish Communities in the Roman Empire of the 1st Century, AD, this was not a thing. Jesus was God using the cultural tools available. Rabbinic Debate was the way to be. Jesus’ actions are in continuity with the actions of those around him. We must read the Gospels in this hermeneutic.

Dealing with the second Gospel story first (because it’s what made me grumpy) we have to know the history behind Jesus’ response. The greatest commandment is one that pious Jews recite three times a day as part of their daily prayers. It is the obvious answer. The second one, like unto the first, though: there’s a story behind that one. I’ve heard two versions of this story – and I will cite the one I don’t like first. It’s not the first one I read, though, which is the same all the way through except the punch line. It is the one that comes with a citation, though.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this–go and study it!”

(The cited text backs up this version.)

The second version of the story, the one I read first, has Rabbi Hillel respond thus: The main idea of the Torah is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Although the text of this second story is not backed up by the Talmud as such, the Rabbis tie that text with love of neighbor as self throughout Rabbinic debate.

Jesus would know this story about Hillel. Jesus would know this context. Jesus was not putting the Pharisees in their place with a new teaching, but rather taking a side in an existing Rabbinic Debate.

Specifically the question should be heard like this: Rabbi, some of us say that all the laws are equally important. But others say some are more important than others. How say you?

Then Jesus – God in the Flesh – gives a shoutout to Hillel.

That’s a much better sermon! In another Gospel passage recounting the same story, the querent responds with “you have answered well…” Jesus is agreeing with a certain party of Pharisees.

The first Gospel Passage, with the Herodians, is beyond funny. Jesus is still debating with others, but in this case, he’s debating with Herodians. They are fans of the established political order. They don’t rightly care what the religious folks do as long as the Herodians get to stay on top of the secular pecking order. They are, basically, successful, secular Jews in our modern understanding. They are as closely aligned with the political power structure as the pro-Israel lobby is in the US today.

So, on the coin, whose image is this? In Greek Jesus asks, “Whose icon is this?” The answer is correct: it is Caesar. But, brothers and sisters, Whose icon is Caesar? Every human being is created as the icon of God!

When the Herodians, not even thinking religiously, hear “Render to Caesar…” they are pleased.  Yet Jesus says something even more shocking: and much more in keeping with the Hebrew Prophets. Jesus says whatever political authority you have… This is part of God’s icon, part of God’s plan. This is the root of St Paul saying that all authority is God-given and that the King is God’s instrument. This is right in line with the Hebrew Prophets saying God has used Persia to save the Jews (even calling the King of Persia “Messiah” at one point!)

Jesus says, “You’re right… but not enough. You’re drawing distinctions where there are none to draw.”

We, friends, must stop drawing lines of rupture between Jesus and his culture. God in the flesh decided the time and the place of his incarnation. The culture, the people, the politics, the family structure, the class war, these are not accidents. Nor are they necessarily divinely ordained for all time, to be clear. But they are the choices God made for making points.

If we rob the Gospel story of those points, the rest falls apart and becomes a nice story about a hippie with a leftist political agenda… but that’s only for us, today. Another party could rob Jesus of his Judaism and make him out as a hatemonger. (Failing to invoke Godwin’s law would be an error here: Nazis said there were no real differences between Jesus and Hitler. Right wing hate groups today make Jesus out as a white supremacist. Although conservatives often have Anti-semitism in their works, I say “liberals” because they often drive this point home to toss out all the Jewish Law, including teachings on sex and morality. Also the “Jesus Seminar” and their ilk,  eliminates anything from the sayings of Jesus that other teachers were saying at the time… so that Jesus becomes almost entirely disconnected from his Jewish conversants. This idea that the Jewish Scriptures are so filled with error that we toss them out is a heresy condemned by the Church.

I’m running for your heart.



Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: If you wish you can become wholly flame.


Not According To

I’ve been thinking about rule books today, viz sex and the church.

There’s only two books: The Church’s Rules and Not the Church’s Rules, although the latter comes in several various, often unique editions. Many people outside the Church use their favorite version of the Not the Church’s Rules. And I’m ok with that: I don’t expect people who are playing Baseball to follow the rules of College Football. I don’t expect NASCAR to follow the rules of Lawn Darts, and I don’t expect people to play Pinochle following the rules of Spit and Malice. People outside the Church are not expected to follow The Church’s Rules. But inside the Church now…

My journey began with a jettisoning of The Church’s Rules and the discovery of Not the Church’s Rules in a college youth group at a retreat center in upstate New York, in the winter of 1982-1983. Prior to that time, I’d worked really hard at using the same rule book everyone used for ever. From that point on, I tried to play by Not the Church’s Rules while staying inside the Church in various ways until, late in 1988 or so. Things were very odd., let me tell you. You can’t play golf without the right set of rules. Even croquet is not close enough to golf to let you play the same game.

So I decided the problem was I was using Not the Church’s Rules inside the Church: I left the Church. Cuz Not the Church’s Rules let me be me. And I was having fun. I was kinda ok, for nearly ten years. But oddly, whilst having fun, something was missing.

So, for a brief time, I tried again to play Not the Church’s Rules inside the church… but then I decided I actually wasn’t in the church since everyone was playing by Not the Church’s Rules in sex, in theology, in Bible, in economic culture… didn’t matter.

So I went and joined the Church.

But I still tried to play Not the Church’s Rules.

And… Still didn’t work.

So I left the Church again.

This cycle continued, unabated, until rather recently in Salvation History. I decided that maybe – just maybe – I needed to try the one thing I’d not tried at all: Being in the Church and playing by The Church’s Rules.

At no point in here did I think I needed to make the Church jettison her Rule Book: but I tried pretty much every version of not-following that book I could come up with. I finally decided that getting rid of one part of the Rule Book made all the other parts of the same book (Fiscal, Moral, Theological, Sacramental) as weak as possible, until it was easy to tear them out too.

When you’re left with the Church’s Empty Binder of Nothingness, oddly, you don’t have Church any more either.

This is why hearing folks trying to force the Church play by Not the Church’s Rule Book makes me really, really nervous, annoyed, sometimes angry. Then I remember the Church has stood up to people who were trying to kill her over that Rule Book for two millennia. So I’m ok with waiting this round out.

She always wins.

This is not an interfaith dialogue.

+
JMJ

Today’s Readings:

Et nunc magnificabitur Christus in corpore meo, sive per vitam, sive per mortem. Mihi enim vivere Christus est, et mori lucrum.
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Philippians 1:20c-21
To live is Christ. The Greek uses the verb form of the noun, “Zoe,” which is the divine life of God. τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς, “To Zen Christos.” To Zen is Christ. No apologies, I love it! In Galatians, Paul says he is crucified with Christ, and yet he (Paul) Zens because Christ Zens in him.

What does it mean to live Christ? How can it be that we live him? Is it possible that in my flesh, and in my everyday life, I am Christ? That is too new agey. Is it possible that somehow all the things I do everyday, good and bad, safe and unsafe are all Christ? No that would be silly. Since I am a baptized Christian, should I say that everything I do, or everything I want to do is Christ? That would be delusional. That would deny the reality of sin. So what does it mean, to live is Christ?

Reading CS Lewis I am often made aware of traditional Christian Anthropology. We are here as God’s creation to do God’s work; we are here as reflections of God’s presence in the world. We are never more ourselves than when we are letting God work through us. All of our gifts, all of our talents, all of our very being and purpose are here only for this very service. When God loves and heals me it is often through the actions of some human. When I serve and heal someone else truly as God loves them, it is God loving them through me. To live is Christ may also mean Christ living through my presence. To make that happen though, I have to get out of the way. All the things that only seem to be me, but that are actually destroying me need to go away. We are never less our selves then when we are insisting on our own way, demanding our own space, insisting that God to get out of the way and let us be us.

To Zen Christ, then, is to let all those things die. We think those things are us, but really those things are keeping us from being who God created us to be. Those things are keeping us from salvation, those things are keeping us from theosis.

For each of us those things are some things different. It may be pride in our artwork. It may be skill that somehow has glossed over into gluttony. It could be lust. It could be love of something which otherwise would be fine, but now is a distortion. It could be a desire for peace and quite that keeps us out of Church. Each of us must be honest about what those things are and we must crucify them; so that Christ can live us.

Do you see? We are crucifying the us we think we are so that Christ whom we really are can live us. We are each giving up what we think is life, what we vainly imagine life to be, so that Christ (who is life) can live us.

In the Gospel today, the parable of the vineyard and the workers, we see what happens when we fail to live as Christ, fail to let Christ live us. You know that if this Parable were lived out today, the first groups of workers would form a union and would protest outside the vineyard demanding just wages and better compensation. I am not even sure who the Church would side with. Who are the deplorables in this story? Are they ones complaining about poor treatment – even though they got exactly what they were offered? Or are the deplorables the ones who are lazy and laying about all day and still manage to take a day’s wages for the briefest of work? While the protests are gearing up, and the picket lines form outside the vineyard the owner and the workers who came at the last hour will shut the gates like so many wise virgins and there would be a party inside. So used are we to demanding our rights, our privileges, our just desserts that we fail to live Christ.

I have been reading Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. I have never read it, and I am enjoying it greatly. Perhaps this is because I have just become Roman Catholic and Merton’s journey seems much like my own. I did not know before he was a Trappist monk he considered becoming a Franciscan. He’s so linked with Trappist silence in my mind – and in popular presentation – that I was surprised to read this. His decision to not become a Franciscan was based on the realization that it would be no sacrifice at all for him to be in the Franciscan order. Even giving up all he owned, and, after being a novice for a while, he would still be himself. All of his faults and foibles would still be present, with nothing to challenge them, nothing to break them. I wonder if I should not be judging my life on that same, strict standard. What if something that I want is not a sign from God? In fact what if my wanting it is exactly the sign I should seek and pray to not want it? What does God want? For me to praise and serve him. Is that always the same thing I want? No! In fact wanting something by itself may be the sign of me seeking to justify things as they are.

And yet, Grace builds on nature. What we are is what we are. What we become is Christ if we let it happen. We are not destroyed, we become who we were meant to be. We die. And Christ lives.

We are all called to do the work Christ has given us to do. And all of us who do that work as we are called to do it, will be paid exactly the same thing: we will live. It is in our cultural nature, our fallen nature, our sinful nature to demand something more, anything more than the other guy. But God says do this and live. That’s all we’re promised. Sainthood.

Oh, and we are promised that everyone will hate us if we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Saint up.

And stop complaining.

All Teh Feelz

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JMJ

Today’s readings:

Dixit Jesus, “Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis hujus? et cui similes sunt? Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro, et loquentibus ad invicem, et dicentibus: Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis: lamentavimus, et non plorastis.”
Jesus said, “To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.'”

Luke 7:31-32
The first time ever I wrestled with this description I think I imaged that Jesus liked “the people of this generation”, or at least pitied them. Pity, in a way, may be a good word, but like is not. In fact Jesus is calling them fools. He’s also saying they are foolish for all their feelings.  Over and over, it seems to me today’s generation(s) are more intune with Jesus’ time than we like to admit. 
I recently re-read Calvin Miller’s wonderful retelling of the New Testament story, The Singer Trilogy. Chapter 13 opens with this verse:

No person ever is so helpless as
the man in whom joy and misery
sleep comfortably together. 

No physician can give health and
happiness to the man who enjoys
his affliction. For such a man
health and happiness are always
contradictory.

It goes on to tell the story of a man with a maimed hand and arm. The Jesus character (called “The Singer”) offers to heal the man fully if he “will just desire it whole and believe it can be.” The man cannot do so, for his whole being is subsumed in the pain, almost as though to be healed would be to rob him of his being. In response to repeated offers to heal him, the man says only, “Stop your mocking. I am a sick old man whom life has cheated of a hand.” In the end the Singer leaves the man alone and in pain waiting “for the Singer to join him in his pity.”
So many of our stories today are about people who don’t want healing, they want mutual pity. They don’t want a way out, they want to be trapped in their pain, confusion, and lament – and to trap all of us there with them. Their anger forms walls around their pride, their self-definition is generated by negation: I am not-that. Our affirmation of even the possibility of truth causes pain. I wrote yesterday that to save those around us, “The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.” Someone who has been there might have to thread the labyrinth again and slay the Minotaur. 
But who would do that? Who has been there… and wants to go back in? I think Jesus calls each of us to that task. We are, each of us, skilled at some labyrinth somewhere. Go get a ball of thread.

Enculturated


Today’s readings:

Suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?
1 Timothy 3:4-5
It sounds odd to our ears to read this for three reasons. One: since the 70s, at least, these have been shared duties – in theory. Two: for the 200 years or so prior to that, although the man was the “head of the house” the woman was the manager. We see this in such bizarre images as the 50s housewife, and the Grand Dames of Downton Abbey. Even downstairs, Carson may be the muckety muck, but it is Mrs Hughes that actual runs all things – even Carson.
The third reason this sounds odd: no one does adulting any more. Managing a house? Blergh.
Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain is often seen as an act of cultural compassion. The woman had no man to fend for her, she was to become an outcast. By restoring her son to her, he gives her household a head. So it seems. 
Neither Jesus nor Paul waste a lot energy critiquing the culture in which they find themselves.  Paul makes comments about the sexual morals of the gentiles, Jesus makes comments about the religious liberals of his day being “whited sepulchers”, but in the end, neither says “boo” about the Roman power structure, or the ways different groups of people are treated in the society.  Jesus doesn’t question Pilot’s authority over him, Paul blatantly appeals to Caesar in an attempt to get away from his own people. 
Paul appeals to the family structure of the time. Jesus uses the political, ethnic, and religious forces in his homeland to God’s greater glory.
Does this mean “God approves these things” and “cultures at variance are to be considered sinful”? 
What about rather, at minimum: God uses what’s there. God starts where people are and moves them to where they need to be. God leaves none of us unchanged, sinful, alone. But God gets to us where we are.
I’ve been thinking about the Story of St Mary of Egypt a lot recently. Very brief, Mary enjoyed sex. A lot. In fact, she did a lot of things just to have sex – or to have time to have the sex she wanted to have. She’s very clear: she didn’t sell her body for money. She was doing this because she enjoyed doing it. One day she saw a bunch of young men waiting for a boat and, flirting with them, she discovered they were going to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Places and attend the Elevation of the Holy Cross – a feast we celebrated last week. She decided that all these youths on a boat was too much fun to pass up and when they said “you need money to get on the boat” she said, “Take me with you, you’ll not find me superfluous”. And they all had sex all that time…
When she got to Jerusalem, some invisible, spiritual force kept her from entering the Church.
Realizing this “force” is her own sin, she prays before an Image of the Virgin and asks for grace to venerate the cross… which she does… and then she begins 40 years of struggle to get back to purity.
God got her.
God used her own addictions to pull her to him.
And then got her. Grace builds on nature. It is our weakness that lets God take the lead.
What if God does that even to cultures? 
A slow process of meditative, prayerful change brought out of the death-happy world of Rome (where the Father of the House could expose a child or an older person on the hillside just to improve the economics) a Christian culture of life where abortion, euthanasia, political murder, even war itself was seen as sinful. How did that happen? And where did it go?
Today we struggle with the same sort of Questions. How do we engage the culture without becoming contaminated by it? How do we dance the Gospel in the world without becoming part of that world ourselves? Can we use the internet for evangelization? Is there a place for technology? What do we do with all this sex?
Rome has come back with a vengeance.
Can we walk alongside the culture and find the good things, and let grace build on nature? The Salvation of many depends on the answer. The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.

May G-d Bless & Keep the Tzar…

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JMJ

Today’s Readings:

Obsecro igitur primum omnium fieri obsecrationes, orationes, postulationes, gratiarum actiones, pro omnibus hominibus: pro regibus, et omnibus qui in sublimitate sunt, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate: hoc enim bonum est, et acceptum coram Salvatore nostro Deo, qui omnes homines vult salvos fieri, et ad agnitionem veritatis venire.
First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

St Paul, writing to St Timothy, says Christians should pray for all in authority. The emperor Paul wants us to pray for, here, is Nero. This is important. Why? Because I don’t think we have a choice. No choice at all: our duty is to be in the world as the soul is in the body, as leaven is in flour. We have a job to do.

What this means is we need to praying hard for President Trump.

And what should we be praying for, what are we commanded to pray for? That he will keep the peace long enough to let the Church be the Church, ut quietam et tranquillam vitam agamus in omni pietate, et castitate, in all piety and chastity, to use a bad English rendering of Jerome’s word choice here. The Greek includes elements of dignity, probity, and purity. Gravitas might have been a better Latin word (building on the Pagan Roman virtues as understood then). Translation always leads to simplifications. Castitate includes emotional and physical elements that can be understood to include modesty, will, the affections, and all the senses, also our interactions with our memories, fantasies, conscience, etc. “Chastity” however, sounds like a code word for “not having sex”. So, ok, the NABRE goes for “dignity”.  I prefer Courage to Dignity, as the former is more Catholic. But I see where the NABRE was going with it, anyway.

That’s it, really. I think there’s nothing wrong with writing letters to the Emperor to say, “You did a bad thing”, but the whole point is to get the gov’t to let the Church be the Church. To let Christians get about, quietly and unmolested, being Christians at each other and the world. We don’t need an assist from any of the political parties. Our job is not to force the gov’t to be Christian (although if Christians get into Gov’t that is *exactly* their job). But rather, our job is to subvert the order: keep things quite out there, we’re saving the world.

Our job is not to overthrow the unjust, nor to change the laws. Our job is to ignore them, subvert them, live as if they didn’t exist. Can the Church decide that someone has to go? Yes, the Pope’s the Vicar of Christ. But until then, pray for peace and do the Kingdom’s work in the vast expanse of interstitial space-time. Do it even if the Emperor isn’t doing his job at keeping the peace.

Take as your example all those first century protests, barricades, bottle rockets, picket lines, and letter writing campaigns. They didn’t make saints then… they won’t do it now.

Pray, and do.

I’ll close with Merton, from the Seven Storey Mountain.