22 January 2018

A Solution to a Shutdown

The Readings for Monday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Venerunt quoque et seniores Israël ad regem in Hebron, et percussit cum eis rex David fœdus in Hebron coram Domino: unxeruntque David in regem super Israël.
The ancients also of Israel came to the king of Hebron, and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the Lord: and they anointed David to be king over Israel.

The BBC's Monarchy is absolutely one of my favourite documentary series. (It's tied for first, really, with The Power of Nightmares. While it documents the history of the Celtic, then Saxon, Norman, and English powers that have held the Matter of Britain under their royal sway, the series also discusses the attitudes and cultures that gave rise to what we now know as a "constitutional Monarchy". The British Monarch is rather more than a Figurehead, but rather less than Imperial; certainly not a fairytale figure, but also not just a non-elected president, or a Dictator for Life. I think the host of the series (Dr David Starkey) also makes a wonderful if, (only) perhaps unintentional point: that this marriage of Crown and Control, of People and Prince is, perhaps the best governmental option we have.

Our first reading today give us a glimpse of a constitutional monarchy set up in early Zion. The Elders of Israel had had enough of Saul and so, not wanting another excitement, they came to David in Hebron and made a covenant with him, a "B'reet" in the Torah or "Bris" in more colloquial usage, which is also the same word used for the Covenant of Circumcision. That will give you an idea of how important this was. The Elders of Israel, before the Lord, made a compact with David like unto the very Covenant between God and Israel. That's how important the Davidic Kingship is - and so, by extension, the Messianic Kingdom.

After the covenant... but wait. Not yet. 

This is a constitutional Monarchy. That's the point that is important: it's a deal of free will, entered into by choice on the part of all parties. It has obligations and rules important to both sides to follow, a contract that says "I will do this and I can be your king. You will do this and you will be my people." Should either side break the covenant, it's a personal affront to the other side, not just a "regime change" but more like a divorce. It's the ending of a relationship. 

After the covenant is made the Elders of Israel again anoint David. I say again, because Samuel anointed him back in I Samuel 16. So something new is happening now. Saul was not anointed twice. The elders of Israel did not have a say in his selection. Here, something new is happening. Before they asked for a "king like other nations have" and they got the Royal Schmuck. Now, though, something new, a king that is "after God's own heart" and the forefather of Jesus... something new that will take nearly 30 generations to mature, something new in relations between the People and the Ruler - who is only a stand-in for God.

The Davidic Crown is a prototype for the best of government throughout history. Not the mass hysteria we call "democracy" but rather covenants, between adults in community, to rule and be ruled, to govern and be governed, in the sight of God. Even God's kingdom comes with choice attached, the Freedom to be in it, or not, the uncoerced decision to enter into the covenant or not.

This is why John Adams said our constitution would not work for an irreligious people, and why Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that religion in America was like a bit and bridle on the otherwise ungovernable horses of human passion and mob rule. The American system's genius was a constitutional monarchy in a very real sense: the governed and the governors all bowed to the monarchy of the Constitutional document. That is no longer where we are. Neither religion nor respect for the Constitution holds us in check as a people. We are all rather short sighted and nothing allows us the patience of 30 generations to work something out.

Jesus says, "Si regnum in se dividatur, non potest regnum illud stare. Et si domus super semetipsam dispertiatur, non potest domus illa stare. If a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." That's where we are living right now. Neither president nor people imagine themselves in league. Even those who think the President is somehow for them find themselves divided, rather than united by that support. Anywhere there is division, it is not God's spirit at work, but rather the real presence of the evil one.

So we are limited in our actions' power by our divisions and our divisions only worsen as we wait inactive. That this reading comes up as America's Gov't is in Shutdown mode is purely coincidental. But were there someone in power over the President and Congress, she might dissolve the gov't and say "try again..." 

We have fallen into the world described by The Power of Nightmares. We no longer are guided by our best dreams and visions, but rather by our fears. And the one who can project the biggest fears onto the most folks rules. Augustine realized that we have a whole other obligation: building up the place where we are and yet not being attached to it. To work to heal and yet also, to let it pass as having another homeland.

So then, what? As Christians who must refuse to be governed by fear (for perfect love casts out all fear) what is to be our watchword today? 

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;

Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Words: Verses 1, 4, 5, 6 & 9: Mat­thew Bridg­es, The Pass­ion of Je­sus, 1852; verses 2 & 3: Godfrey Thring, Hymns and Sac­red Lyr­ics, 1874.

We have a king to follow even if this world is falling apart. We have good to build up, and bad to let pass away. We have, to use yesterday's readings, all the world to use but not according to its use. We cannot be partisan, for no party is wholly with us, but we can be biased in favor our our king, and aware of how each action moves us either closer to him or further away. We can make all steps for the former and avoid the latter at all cost. Following the Truth, himself, will make us very disloyal in the secular eyes that watch us, and dangerously subversive to both right and left, liberal and conservative, "red" and "blue". 

But he will make us free. 

21 January 2018

The Tao of Paul

The Readings for 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Præterit enim figura hujus mundi.
The fashion of this world passeth away.

You wanna know, right? Cuz it's been 2,000 years. When is this all going to end. Which part of this is passing away? Jesus said, "Quoniam impletum est tempus, et appropinquavit regnum Dei: pœnitemini, et credite Evangelio." The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand. What is accomplished? Apart from the names of the idols invoked, what has changed at all between Caligula Caesar and Donald Trump? 

As St Paul says elsewhere, "we wrestle not with flesh and blood". Nothing has changed in 2000 years because we are still sinners living here. So then what has changed, what has ended?

The clue comes in the odd list of things to do (or not do) that St Paul gives us. And it ends with that final note on using the world.

I use a website called Kata Biblon, which means "according to the book", not in fundamentalist sort of way though. Kata is the way the Gospels are described: Kata Loykan, According to Luke, etc. Kata Biblion, we tell this story "by the book". Are we playing this game Kata Hoyle? Will this meeting be Kata Robert's Rules? So I was interested to see that we are to use (chromenoi in Greek) the world but not katachrōmenoi according to use. What a wonderful word play the Apostle has here! Use the world not according to its use! I am reminded of Lao Tzu's counsel that we do-not-doing or act-non-action, Wei Wu Wei. 

It is possible to read "let those with wives live as though they had none" as some sort of sex-hating near-gnosticness. But that's a heresy, so it's not what is there. 

What is here is Paul calling to the readers' mind all the ways the world looks at stuff like wives, rejoicing, weeping, owning things,  etc... and says "do it but don't do this like the world does it. Don't use the world the way the world does. For the ways of the world are passing away."

The Christian faith makes a very bold claim: that God became man. Which is to say, as I have elsewhere written, see that terrible two toddler over there, running around, squatting, and taking a dump on the ground as his parents watch in bemused embarrassment? That is God. And God passed though this world not lightly, not unbruised, but, in fact, killed by it. And Rose from the Dead. God hacked the code. God got behind the user interface and changed the entire purpose of the operating system from the code up.

Now, we don't die.

For your faithful people, Lord, life is not ended, only changed.

The way of this world is passing away because now pain is salvation happening. Joy is salvation happening. Suffering is salvation happening. We weep not because the workd huts us, but for our sins. We rejoice but for our life in the Kingdom which is now. Here. We should not use our wives in the way of the world - as property, as Roman entitlements, or today as pornstars and sex objects - but as coheirs in Christ and as the  person to whom we sacrifice our very selves as a mark of our faith. Our jobs become mission, our hospitality is evangelism, our walk down the street a prayer broadening Jesus' action: incorporating all of the world into the Kingdom. We should not use anyone or anything (even our cellphones) in the way of the world. The things of this world whilst sad, should no longer make us weep or rejoice. We're not subject to the world any longer.

God has come in and, while the map is the same, the goal has moved. Jesus says, come, I will make you fishers of men. Same skills, same job, different outcome.

The whole world is now changed by faith in like manner. We are in it, but not of it. Use not according to use.

20 January 2018

The Love that Dares not Speak Its Name

The Readings for Saturday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Doleo super te, frater mi Jonatha, decore nimis, et amabilis super amorem mulierum.
I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women.

When I was a kid it was popular to imagine that Advertisers were putting subliminal messages in advertisements, weaving elements of sex and death into magazine pictures using elements of what we would not call "photoshopping". Rock bands were supposed to be weaving messages about drugs and devil worship into their songs, as well. All of these secrets could be revealed by someone who had discovered the keys.

In like manner, it is fashionable today to read into the ancient stories all of our modern vices. Politicians who don't openly discount the Ancient Texts see St Paul's tying of work to eating as an adjuration of welfare and charity, or the Sermon on the Mount becomes a guide to fiscal prosperity. his affliction hits all sides, as we are discovering modern political virtues in Jesus' Egyptian Sojourn, or in the lack of available rooms in the inns of Bethlehem. (I actually have no problem with the Christian Virtues of care for the poor or the 'Alien Among You'. I just don't need to misread the Bible to do it.)  

In few places is this tendency more obvious than in the area of sex. For we are quite clear that, despite all of the content of the tradition, whatever our modern sexual issue is, it is present in the Bible in a good light. So the story of King David and his foster brother Jonathan becomes one of same-sex attraction and romance. So common is this reading that it's hard to find a modern image of these two men that doesn't have them somewhat eroticised. 

David and Jonathan become lovers in this reading, with all kinds of "proof" coming from various passages including today's reading where David sees Jonathan as "above the love of women" which is a paean to the virtue of friendship or what moderns call "Platonic love". But it is not so if you want to read sex into it. The reply is "how can you not?" And the answer is to note the illogic of the Hebrew writers encoding something so sinful into the lifeline of the great king, David. When David commits lust, adultery, and murder, God sends Nathan the prophet to call the King to repentance. Would not God do the same thing here? Unless, the argument goes, God was ok with this. But we know God's not because it's called an abomination, something beneath the level of human moral action. And so the circular logic keeps going. 

We recently (12 January) celebrated the feast of St Aelred of Rievaulx c.1110-1167. He is another saint whose work is twisted by modern vices so that he is now considered the Patron Saint of the Episcopal Church's gay advocacy group, Integrity. His work De spirituali amicitiâ (On Spiritual Friendship) - a handbook for Celibate Monastics - often gets quoted as advice for same sex relationships! 

In the Gospel today Jesus' Family think he's gone mad. Here's God healing the sick and setting the world afire and his cousins think he's crazy. We also just celebrated the feast of St Anthony (17 January). The Gospel passage reminds me of a saying attributed this great Father: A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us”.

That seems to be where we are now. Women murder their children in utero, people mutilate their own bodies over mental distress, and our society assists them. People who refuse to assist them are called mad. People who refuse to read sex into everything are called unenlightened. People who strive for virtue (including chastity) are derided. All friendships are suspected of being sexual relationships. All communication is coded innuendo. There are puffs of photoshopped smoke in every icon and backward-masked sex plays in every Bible story.

It is as if, with our modern blinders of sex, we want to turn all of history into a coded case of Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink.

In this world, it is friendship that cannot be spoken of. No one believes in it anymore. Sex is everywhere: come play with me!

Yet, by God's grace, may we all go divinely mad!

And draw our friends into Church.

18 January 2018

Kaine Hora

The Readings for Thursday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Non rectis ergo oculis Saul aspiciebat David a die illa et deinceps.
And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day and forward.

The king is very angry at David and he gives him a little side-eye, as the kids say now. The NABRE says "was jealous of" but side-eye is better. The Hebrew is very mangled, but the Greek in the LXX is as the Latin, using ὑποβλεπόμενος ypoblepomenos, to look askance. 

Saul is giving David the Evil Eye. In fact it's only here, in this story, that it even shows up in the Old Testament. Saul goes all ὑποβλεπόμενος on David.  The word is not at all in the New Testament. Can you imagine that Jesus ever looked on anyone ὑποβλεπόμενος?

The evil eye is such a part of Television: antagonists will do it to each other over the garden fence or through lace curtains. In the 80s it was a thing for Alexis to give over cocktails, or JR to shoot over a horse. In the 00s it was something for Boardwalk Empires and Games of things with swords. You look, you let your hate seethe forth. Then you look away. Best, though, if you can lock eyes with (the camera and) your antagonist during the seethe phase. 

Even not believing in the "curse" of it, we still do it though, yeah? Gary Trudeau had it all over Doonesbury. A given character would close off a dialogue and their eyes would go all square. They'd look at the reader and there would be this seethe moment. I think I learned it from there, really. I was totally fascinated with that squared eyeball lock.

As fun as it is, as campy, even, why do we do it? Our politicians love it. Dan Quayle did it when he talked about Murphy Brown. Mrs C did it when she talked about a Basket of people.  Mr T did it when he talked about Mrs C and called her nasty. We seem to love it when we're talking about our political enemies too: I've seen it in YouTube Videos, and on talk shows. Steven "Colber" does it "jokingly" on his talk show but Steven Colbert will do it outright when discussing the wrong sort of politicians. So will Hannity.

I know we no longer believe in such things, but how often do we give the evil eye to even our friends? I did it recently at a dinner party without thinking. There it was, that square-eyed look, that seethe.

I think that needs to stop, folks. Seriously. Not just me, and not just our politicians. But looking at someone as if you could curse them, in general, is not a good look on you - on any of us. 

Cursing is right out. Even with eyes only. Can we rise above this?  

16 January 2018

Orthodoxy before Orthopraxis


The 10th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

Modern ideas about inclusivity and "open minds" make us think we need to hear as many different points of view as possible on all topics, all the time. There's no reason for this to be true, but that's what we feel to be so. Someone might tell you you have a closed mind if you, to their face, dis their argument out of hand, (you'd also be rude). But some things in your life are already decided. You don't need to continue to read counter arguments over and over. A judge and jury have a closed mind at the end of a case - but that would be bad at the beginning. It is, however, not always the beginning.

15 January 2018


The Readings for Tuesday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Ne respicias vultum ejus, neque altitudinem staturæ ejus: quoniam abjeci eum, nec juxta intuitum hominis ego judico: homo enim videt ea quæ parent, Dominus autem intuetur cor.
Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature: because I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart.

The Lord says to Samuel, don't look at the tallness or his age, nor how handsome he is. God's not out for a strongman, he's out for a pious one. David is anointed as the King, as Messiah, even though the other king, Saul, is still living: the crown has already passed even though the ex-king doesn't know it. His reign will be in the death-throes for a few passages yet. And David will, despite his gingerness, reign with soul.  And he will be the perfect prefigurement of what Israel should be looking for when the Messiah comes, when Jesus is there.

What do we look for today in a leader?

Skills, success, brashness? Perhaps. If we are honest, though, we tend to look for "someone to say what I would say in that leadership position." On most days, if a Media Personality or Religious Leader says what we don't like, politically, we say, "Actors should stick to acting..." "Religion and politics should not mix..." Both of these sentiments get tossed, of course, if the Actor or Pastor says something we like.  Here, at last, is a woman (or man) who tells it like it is! I'm with Him/Her! We are, unlike God, easily swayed by persons who say what we want to hear. We may even make tasteful statements about "not judging them" because only God can judge, but we are sure they are true. 

So we pick a side.

And get disappointed.

God looks at the heart. We can't, to be honest.

Who would God make your football captain? Your Manager? Your Editor? Your President? Do you honestly think the God who picked the youngest, smelliest, and most-socially awkward son of Jesse to be Messiah would pick any of our current crop of angry, muckraking, self-righteous, hypocritical (or lying) politicians? Perhaps to punish us for our sins, as he picked Saul. Maybe we have had one long line of Royal Schmucks...

After his anointing, from that day forward, David had an experience of the Spirit of the Lord that is unlike anyone until Jesus, really. The Hebrew word is צָלַח tsalach. It carries implications of "rushed upon" and "penetrate". The gif I have in my head is one of those optical illusions that always seems to be coming at you but never gets there.

David became the Ark of the Covenant, literally. Saul never had this. Solomon becomes the embodiment of Holy Wisdom, but  - even with his sins, as we know of later - from that day on, the Holy Spirit rushed upon David.

Can you imagine that being true of any politician today! The thing is, it's supposed to be true.  

Our leaders don't have to be Christians: that's not even a requirement. But they do have to be open to the Spirit of God (even if they don't know what to call it). God uses what we give him and if it's Prince Charles, or if it's Tony Blair, or if we elect Lou Costello from beyond the grave... God will reign anyway. But there's a huge difference between a Lech Wałęsa and a Herbert Hoover, between a Queen Beatrice and a Prime Minister Quisling. I'm trying not to be partisan in a local context because I don't know any good guys locally, not since Jimmy Carter, anyway. God will use what we have just as surely as he used what we used to have: both in spite of themselves.

But after a while, God lets a country go: Israel, Alexander, Rome, Byzantium, Russia, whatever. They all get what they deserve for their sins and they fall apart.

Now that we do have a kingdom that shall never pass away, against whom the gates of hell shall never succeed, and we do have a leader upon whom the Spirit of the Lord continually rushes, we have a more important loyalty to which Patriotism plays only second fiddle: so it's ok if it's out of tune from time to time. The conductor will fix it.

Because It's...

The Readings for Monday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Quoniam quasi peccatum ariolandi est, repugnare: et quasi scelus idololatriæ, nolle acquiescere.  Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey. 

Samuel goes to Saul to say look, you have sinned in disobeying God, and Saul's reply is very telling: his men took sheep "to offer sacrifice to the Lord their God" which must be good, right? (Now a sacrifice would be a feast for a family, so, yes, "to the Lord" but also "for all of us...") They were not, you know, really disobedient. They were doing something good.

But Samuel says, no, that's not the case. Doing what you are told is good. Disobedience is always bad. How bad? Samuel compares it to Witchcraft and to Idolatry.

We might hear at this point about the "Primacy of Conscience" whereby even an "erring conscience is binding".  And so we must follow our conscience.  

But Aquinas says "if erring reason [that is, the conscience - DHR] tell a man that he should go to another man's wife, the will that abides by that erring reason is evil; since this error arises from ignorance of the Divine Law, which he is bound to know." (Summa II.i.19.6) The Catholic teaching is not that the Conscience will always lead us right, but rather that a Conscience, properly formed by the Church into conformity with the Law of God will always lead us right.

As Catholics, we must submit to the teaching of the Church even if our erring conscience would lead us elsewhere. We reform the conscience. We do so for the inculcation of virtue, whereby the knowing and doing of the Good becomes effortless.

Saul was given a clear command of God to kill all the Amalekites and destroy all their wealth. But he ignored that and - doing what any good war leader would do - he allowed for there to be plunder. But God has had it out for the Amalekites since they tried to thwart the Exodus and no one has listened to the command to do them in entirely. Saul fails in this test as well.

Sometimes God commands things that are hard. That's the way things go. But it is impossible for God to command what is untrue, unjust, or evil, for God is goodness, truth and justice in his person. We cannot fail in love, in truth, justice, or goodness by following God's commands. It is better to follow these commands than to make up stuff on our own. Aquinas, again, "The eternal law cannot err, but human reason can. Consequently the will that abides by human reason, is not always right, nor is it always in accord with the eternal law."

Jesus walks us down this path as well, with an interesting saying about sewing and vintnering. 

Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri: alioquin aufert supplementum novum a veteri, et major scissura fit.
No man seweth a piece of raw cloth to an old garment: otherwise the new piecing taketh away from the old, and there is made a greater rent.

Saul wants to take what he knows about running an army and do - mostly - what God has commanded. Our temptation always is to say that we can take our old lifestyle, our old patterns of thinking and just sew on a Christian patch. We can oppress the poor and deny our workers their wages as a Christian. We can be racist as a Christian. We can seek wealth as an end as a Christian. We can do sex outside of Marriage as a Christian. We can do sex inside a Marriage with contraception as a Christian. Samuel compares all of this to Witchcraft and Idolatry. We might as well do fortune telling and play with the Ouija boards and burn incense to Kuan Yin.

Jesus is clear: our old things will tear apart from the patch, our wineskins will burst spoiling both the wineskins and the wine.

Samuel is clear, too: you have rejected God, God has rejected you as king. A king served as priest and teacher for his people. Saul is not fit for either - nor as war leader - because he has decided, when it comes to God's commands, there might be times when he knows better.

When our conscience wants us to go against God, it is our job to reform the conscience. Not to make an idol of our will, nor to say, with Luther, "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir." (God help me be standing here against God?) Rather we are to say, with David, 

Concupivi salutare tuum, Domine, et lex tua meditatio mea est.
Vivet anima mea, et laudabit te, et judicia tua adjuvabunt me.
Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit: quære servum tuum, quia mandata tua non sum oblitus.

I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my meditation.
My soul shall live and shall praise thee: and thy judgments shall help me.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy servant, because I have not forgotten thy commandments.

That's how not to be a witch.