Eye Has Not Seen

Eye has not seen,

Ear has not heard,

Nor has it ever entered into the heart of man

the things which God has prepared for those who love him.

Some say nothing exists beyond the world seen with the eyes or experienced through the senses; that there is no life beyond what we daily experience. And, that life, in the end, is nothing more than chemical reactions in our biological matrix. There is no “heaven”, no “hell”, no after life, no resurrection, no God.

I do not fault those who believe this. I, however, do not find that explanation of things to be satisfying. There are hundreds or thousands of questions I can not answer. Questions that seem to confound the notion of a good and all loving God. Theodicy, as it is called, cannot be solved by human logic. I am not satisfied with that, but it is something I accept. This does not keep me from lying awake at night wondering why there is hunger in the world, or pain and suffering of innocents, or wars and famine and disease. I fail to understand how these things can be reconciled to an all loving, omnipotent God.

Yet, as strong an argument against the existence of God as that is, for me, there is a stronger more subtle and sublime reason I continue to believe. If there is a name for it, I don’t know what it is. It is the experience I have when I view a great work of art, or the wonder of a spectacular sunset, or grasp momentarily the indomitable spirit of some aged soul who has emerged from great suffering.

These are experiences that draw me out of myself to encounter the “other.” Beauty, aesthetics, wonder, awe. We all say certain things make us grateful or that we are thankful for this and that thing or experience. Whether it is purely *human* to say and feel such things and nothing more, I cannot say. But I feel, and I’d like to think, I intuit, that such feelings and aspirations are something more than biology. More than chemical reactions in my brain.

Religion as such is, and always has been, and in some sense, always will be, human and man made. There is no religion, per se, that is revealed as divine. Even in the Bible, in the Epistle of St James, it states, “Pure religion, and undefiled before God, is this: to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Loving ones neighbor and living a good life. Elsewhere in the Bible, somewhere in the Old Testament, it says these words, “He has told thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee, to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

“Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”

In America today, as in much of the world, Christianity has little to do with Christ. Any casual observer can see that Christians lead the world in hate and fear mongering. There is nothing of God in this religion. Nothing at all. Yet Christianity is not dead. There are little fountains of hope where the Way of Christ is remembered and practiced. It is not in the grand palaces of the Prosperity Gospel, nor in the old stalwart Churches of the old guard, but here and there, almost invisible. The ugly, the lame, the blind, the sick, the poor, the outcasts, the disenfranchised, the lonely…the dregs of society; these are places where the Spirit is moving. Not in the whirlwind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake, but in the stillness with a small quiet voice, God is speaking.

In times of great spiritual famine, such as today, when the Word of God is so rare that it has been forgotten, God calls his people to come out of Babylon. A small drop of water at first, then a trickle, a stream, and then a mighty river. When every effort has been made to induce God from heaven to no avail, he speaks to those who will listen. He who has an ear, let him hear. It is not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.

Christianity has sold it’s soul for a mess of pottage. It has exchanged the truth for a lie by courting political power and creating a god of its own imagination. It will die in the dust bin of history. Even now it is gasping for breath and grabbing at the air.

The end is near.

Christendom is dying and it is not a noble death, but an ignominious one. For more than 2000 years the Church has existed with saints and sinners in her pail. I wonder if she will survive this famine. We cannot hearken back to the past. Science has become the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know too much now. To go back would be hypocrisy and an unconscionable evil. Having eaten the fruit of that tree, we are bound to live with the results. The old must die and fade into the misty memories of an early childhood.

We have indeed begun to grow up as a race. We would be fools if we despised Science and all that it has taught us and the great promise that it holds for our future. We must embrace it and change ourselves. A Christianity that cannot or will not change and adapt, is already a dead, lifeless, corpse.

As for me, I will continue to be awed at the mystery of reality, at its beauty and tragedy. I will continue to believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death. I will continue to follow Jesus as best I can, to love my neighbor as myself and to do good in the world. I think ALL of us can agree on those last two parts, loving ones neighbor and doing good. It matters not what one believes if one does those things. This is all that is required for a better world. A better humanity.

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Loss and Gain

Someone recently asked on Facebook, “Why do some people beat others down to get ahead?”

People do this for two reasons: to get an emotional high and because it works. The survival of the fittest in its most animal expression.

These people are not endowed with, or at the least are suppressing, all that is noble and good that causes the human race to be somehow more than an animal.

To beat down others is to exploit weaknesses for self gain. It is also self destructive, in the end. What is left of such persons, when they have obtained the pinnacle to which they aspired, is little more than a shell of their former humanity. What does it profit to gain the whole world but lose ones own soul? A very apt question we should ask in these present days.

The Virtue of Honesty

The greatest virtue of all is love. By it the entire cosmos will be changed. Yet there is another virtue that is prerequisite to love, and in that sense, more essential. That virtue is honesty.

Where there is a dishonest heart, Love is at best a mere sentiment and at worst, hypocrisy.

It is essential to be honest both with our neighbors and especially ourselves. Honesty is not mere recitation of fact. That is what the Greeks called truth. Honesty is more subtle. We speak of brute honesty, but that is not always what the virtue of honesty requires.

Honesty is in covenant with love and they temper one another. To speak honestly is both to love truth and to love ones neighbor. Yet, in point of fact, ones neighbor is more important than simple facts. So when we speak, we must first consider our neighbor. What is best for them? How would we wish to be treated if our positions were reversed? The answer to that question is the honest and loving one. We should not speak to our neighbors harm if he is innocent. Nor should we shrink back from justice when it is needed. But in general dealings, we should temper our words with kindness.

Facts are not always kind. But facts are not the measure of honesty. Honesty has an eye to our neighbor’s good. When we speak ill of them with the intent of casting shadow on them, even if we speak only the facts, we are not being honest. Honesty requires that we speak the facts as they are truly in proper relationship to our neighbor. Any other use of facts constitutes dishonesty.

This is called speaking the truth in love; love being that overarching motivation to seek the good of others even to our own loss.

Suppose a man has lived a life of failure. Whether by his own fault or not, he has arrived at a place where he believes the world would be better without him. The pragmatist will look at this man’s life and be hard pressed to disagree with him. Surely, he will reason, this man has been a blight to society and the world would be better off without him in it. Is the pragmatist correct? Perhaps. But though he is factual, he is not honest. Honesty remembers that every one of us has different gifts, abilities, capabilities, capacity for learning, ability to reason, etc… Further, honesty remembers that an individual does not gain his worth from society, but is intrinsically dignified as a human being. Thus in no way can the honest man assent to the judgment of the pragmatist. That failure of a man can be reformed, or taught, and honesty acknowledges this.

Now, this is a mere example not intended to speak to every possible scenario. I simply wish to illustrate that brute facts do not constitute honesty.

Think before you speak. Speak the truth in love. Be honest with yourself and each other.

Sin and the Problem of Natural Evil

bird_hovering_over_water1

I cannot help but think the problem of sin was not the primary reason for the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the story line goes that mankind fell into sin through Adam and Jesus came to redeem man from it. It’s all pretty transactional. Adam sinned, we inherited the guilt of sin and it’s consequences, Jesus came to deliver us from that and give us new life.

That’s all fine and good, but what about the problem of evil? It just doesn’t work to say that all evil in the world is because of the moral failure or sin of Adam. Nope. I don’t think Adam is to blame for hurricane Maria’s devastation of the Caribbean. Hurricanes aren’t caused by moral failure. They are purely a natural phenomenon; yet they produce tremendous evil and suffering.

Looking at Holy Scripture in the light of modern scientific knowledge, I have arrived at an hypothesis. God created the cosmos in a state of chaos. As Genesis tells us, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) The pattern we see throughout the first chapter of Genesis is of chaos being brought into order. Generally, Christians have concluded that the creative work of God is done and that he simply sustains the creation by his Spirit. I think this is incorrect. It appears to me that the Genesis pattern is the pattern for the whole of history and future of the cosmos. God is not finished creating; he is still bringing order to chaos and hastening the creation to it’s final eschatological end of perfection in order and symmetry.

The Big Bang is how science describes the initial creative event. Evolution is how science describes the rise of life and various life forms. I’m not certain there is a name for the evolution of the cosmos as such, but I believe it is a reality.

I admit,  I may be off the mark here, but it seems to me that primitive history was far more barbarous and “evil” than today’s world. It is now theorized that birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. Consider how brutal the world of the dinosaurs was. Bloody life and death, day in and day out. Yet through a series of events still not fully know, that world has passed away and the descendants of that world are likely the beautiful feathered singers we call birds. The chaos of those days has evolved into an ordered beauty.

This scenario is a microcosm of the whole of history, I think. Sin, as moral failure, only became a reality with the rise of consciousness in humanity. Prior to that there could have been no moral or ethical values. Yet, looking back, we see there was great brutality and evil. It was not a world which was ordered and peaceful. So, when Holy Scripture speaks of “sin”, I think it is this larger, broader perspective that is ultimately in view. Jesus did not come simply to erase our transgressions, but to right all wrong. He came to bring “shalom”: to make things as they should be.

It was in his humble submission to the brutality, the evil of this world, this cosmos, that he entered into death and triumphed over that evil by his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus both demonstrates God’s approval of Jesus and his life and work, as well as seals forever the victory of God over the powers of sin and death.

The notion that sin is primarily moral failure fails to address the idea of natural evil. It personalizes sin in the extreme and removes the redemption of God from the cosmos and places it merely on the souls of mankind. The personalization of sin has, at length, brought about a myopic view of the world to the Church. Christians are unable to deal with natural evil without invoking God or Satan as it’s cause. Natural evil is seen as judgment and a culprit is often found to blame it on. Often the culprit is a social minority seen as “sinful” by Christians. Christians fail to remember that judgment begins with the House of God. Only when His house is set in order will he judge the world.

So, to sum up, the word “sin”, in my opinion, should include natural evil. Especially in light of modern scientific discoveries that show us the chaotic brutal past that is our history on this planet. The cosmos is moving towards it’s consummation of perfect order and symmetry as the redemption of Christ plays out in history.

 

Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.

Piety and Me

aristotle-philosopher-for-though-we-love-both-the-truth-and-our-friends-pietyFor most of my adult life, including also my teen years, I have striven to be a pious Christian. Being a questioner by nature, I have always wanted to know exactly what piety is and how to obtain it.

I remember in high school “senior seminar” class, we studied the American puritans, briefly. I recall being impressed with their austerity and conviction and wondered how they arrived at such certainty and willingness to be faithful to their beliefs. I have always been introspective, and this questioning about puritan piety led me to a time of deep reflection. I was filled with doubts about myself, as most teens tend to be, but I also had, unknown at the time to me, clinical depression.

I loved God. I loved the Church. I loved Christianity. I was persuaded in the depths of my soul that it was the true and correct faith and that I should and would live the rest of my life seeking to be as good and loyal and pious a Christian as possible.

But, in the cocktail of emotions that was my inner self, I could not settle down on anything. I was down and sad most of the time. I would try to be good, and fail over and over. Every time I believed I had made some success, I would fall back; all because of my emotional distress over which I had no control. I thought, however, it was my own fault and the fundamentalism I was raised in reinforced this.

In the year after I graduated from high school, I left the Baptist church of my youth, and became Reformed Presbyterian and a Calvinist. Calvinism, with it’s far reaching implications, gave some structure for me to bind up my emotions. I began to read the works of the Puritans and formed my piety after theirs. In doing so, I very nearly destroyed myself. I was wracked with guilt, constantly. I saw myself as a failure as a Christian and a human being. Perversely, Reformed theology lauds such a view of oneself. It is on this pretense that one may “flee to Christ, resting only in him.” And so, I did.

As the years passed and I reached my mid 20’s, I began to realize that I was actually dying inside. The more I worked to be holy and pious, the more reviling I found myself to be. I began to explore Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and discovered a rich trove of spirituality that not only supplemented my Puritan approach, but seemed to correct it…for a while.

I married in 1994 at the age of 24. We had a very Reformed wedding and continued to attend the Presbyterian church of which I was a member. Then, one year into our marriage, we went to seminary. It was a seminary of a conservative denomination in the Episcopal tradition. At first, I was stoked, but as time went on, the pressures of school, work and marriage took a mighty toll on my life. I was literally falling apart at the seams and had no idea what to do about it.

When 2001 and 9/11 happened, I was in a state of major depression. I had spent nearly that entire summer in bed; unable to work or do anything meaningful. My wife and I were fighting every day and in February 2002, she left me. I returned to my parents house as a broken, confused, essentially dying, man. In late 2002 I admitted myself to the hospital for suicidal thoughts and was sent to a mental hospital for a week. There I was diagnosed with major depression and put on medication. I began to feel better. A lot better. I was beginning to see some light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Yet, I was still broken inside. My faith had failed me. My mentors and their promises of happiness if I obeyed the Lord failed me. My orthodoxy failed me. The only things that did not fail me were my parents and a few close friends.

After I was on the meds for several years, I thought I had “dealt” with the underlying issues that were causing my depression. So, under my doctors supervision, I went off the medications. Within six months I was suicidal again and again admitted myself to the hospital. However, this time, I was determined not to come out of the hospital the same person. I made an oath to myself that I would find out the truth about myself, God and the world, and then I would be free. What I didn’t realize, was that by making such a promise to myself, I had already taken the first step in the right direction by acknowledging that the ways of the past had not worked and I needed to separate myself from them.

I began to systematically deconstruct my entire moral and ethical system in my head. I seriously wanted to start over again and I did my best to rid myself of any and all baggage from the past. I realized what I needed was not to be good or follow the rules, but to have someone, like my parents, who loved me unconditionally. I needed a God like that. Not the God of the Puritans who was impossible to approach and only rewarded impossibly difficult to keep rules.

I was nearly 40 by the time I came to myself, as a real person, and decided I would no longer believe anything simply because someone told me, no matter who they were or what esteem I held them in. I determined to find the truth, but this time without so much baggage from Fundamentalism. I largely threw that out the door with it’s narrow piety and legalism.

Now, as I am in my mid 40’s, reaching on toward 50, I still feel the baggage that I have tried to offload. But, the future is much brighter. In the past, I had lived my life in fear of everything, especially hell. But I have made it clear to myself that I will fear nothing because where there is fear, there is not love. Love being the key to happiness.

My piety has greatly changed from my teenage years. I still love God, the church not so much because of the horrendous abuse and evil I have experienced in it. I still want to be holy. I still pray every day. I still seek to do the will of God, but my perspective is very different now. Whereas before, I would be mystified at how to be “good”, I no longer feel the need. Being a Christian is not about right doctrine, tradition, or a specific brand of piety, but about following Jesus. According to St James, “True religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” There is a vast difference between the piety of James and that of most Christian traditions today. Most traditions have lost sight of the simplicity of piety as “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” and myopically focused on the emotional/internal aspect of piety. Feeling right has trumped doing right. In fact, doing right, in these traditions, cannot be pleasing to God unless it is done from a “pure heart” aka: right emotional state. I’ve left that all behind. All that matters to me and God is that widows and orphans and anyone who is oppressed, disenfranchised, marginalized, should be treated with love and respect and dignity as is becoming for a human being. I will stand against injustice wherever I see it.

This is genuine piety. Say your rosary. Do your prostrations. Pray the daily office. Fine. But these are merely peripheral practices that have little if anything to do with piety. If you do not love your neighbor as yourself, you have failed both God and the Gospel. That is the bottom line.

ET and the Imago Dei

et8242One thing that science has taught us about ourselves is that we are, apparently, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant creatures, on a small planet, in a remote section, of an obscure galaxy. The incarnation notwithstanding, humanity is not the center of the cosmos and I do not see that being imago dei gives us any unique claim to being so.

Suppose there are other races. There certainly have been other human species on earth in the past. But suppose there are intelligent races “out there”, in the vast, unfathomable reaches of space. Science tells us the likely hood of there NOT being other intelligent races as being so remote that there almost certainly are. This doesn’t mean we will ever meet them. But, that fact should not dissuade us from acknowledging the probability of their existence.

If the Image of God is man as man, then we have a right to rule over all of creation, as the Bible says. But, if the image of God is something other, something built into the fabric of the universe toward which all things grow and are becoming, then man as man is not the center.

For me, I cannot fathom that this beastly tribe we find ourselves members of are the divine appointed representatives of God to the creation. Yes, certainly there have been some beautiful men and women. For sure, there are those who strive to live by high ideals and moral mastery. But as a race? I don’t think so.

Jesus is certainly the epitome of what man is becoming and should be. He came to deliver us from our destitute nature and draw us into communion with God. In other words, redemption is the full embodiment of the imago dei in humanity. Not only did Jesus come because man is important to God (we are!) but also because by coming, we are made significant in ways we could not have achieved on our own. We are not merely loved of God for our own sake but for Christ’s sake.

Until we get off of the pedestal we have built to the greatness of man, we will continue to fight religious wars, wage religious attacks against our own, and generally fail to be all that we could be.

Suppose in 10,000 years time, if we ever get that far, chimpanzees have evolved to the point of language and basic agrarian culture. Here we would have apes in the same position we were at 10’s of thousands of years ago. Will they be imago dei? To my mind, the answer is of course they will be. But to anyone who sees man as the pinnacle of creation, they will be creatures to be lorded over by man…just as they are now.