14 April 2019

Second Birthday

+JMJ+

Two years ago today, with the helpful n of my fraternity Brother Joe on my shoulder, Fr Michael officially welcomed me into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. By her own teaching, I've been Catholic since 2002 when Fr Victor gave me the sacrament of Chrismation, but I was "not in full communion". While there are vagueries of theology that may not interest the non-Christian, and while there are similarities in politics that may not let the outsider see any difference at all, yet perhaps to other sheep, all sheep do not look alike.

I still can't put my finger on it.

Two years.

I've made so many friends, found so many locals, both in the spiritual and the physical way. In my rooted, Benedictine desire to be a San Franciscan, I'm not alone. To be clear, I've discovered that Stability and Spiritual growth are somehow connected. My peripatetic past notwithstanding, it seems important to be here now, to be Catholic in the Local, to incarnate in the scandal of particularity the universal truth of the faith.

How's that read?

What I mean is I think I spent 50 years running hither and thither as an Orthoneo-Episcopagan Hedonist just to finally land as a rooted lay monastic in San Francisco. Somehow it's all connected: location, vocation, and salvation. If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there I never really lost it to begin with.

06 April 2019

The Religion of the Incarnation



From Robert Hugh Benson's Confession of a Convert. Wherein he discovers the meaning of the Incarnation. Christ took flesh of his mother, the Church is his body, ergo...

---

§ 3 In Rome I learned one supremely large lesson, among a hundred others. It has been very well said that Gothic architecture represents the soul aspiring to God, and that Renaissance or Romanesque architecture represents God taberna cling with men. Both sides are true, yet neither, in the religion of the Incarnation, is complete without the other. On the one side, it is true that the soul must always be seeking, always gazing up through the darkness to a God who hides Himself, always remembering that the Infinite transcends the finite and that an immense agnosticism must be an element in every creed; the lines of this world, as it were, run up into gloom; the light that glimmers through carved tracery and heavy stains is enough to walk by, but little more. It is in silence that God is known, and through mysteries that He declares Himself. “God is a spirit,” formless, infinite, invisible, and eternal, and “they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Here, then, is mysticism and the darkness of spiritual experience. 

Then, on the other side, God became man – “the Word was made flesh.” The divine, unknowable Nature struck itself into flesh and “tabernacled amongst us, and we beheld His glory.” What was hidden was made known. It is not only we who thirst and knock: it is God Who, thirsting for our love, died upon the cross that He might open the kingdom of heaven to all believers, Who rent the veil of the Temple by His death-groan, and Who still stands knocking at every human heart, that He may come in and sup with man. The round dome of heaven is brought down to earth; the walls of the world are plain to the sight; its limitations are seen in the light of God; the broad sunshine of Revelation streams on all sides through clear windows upon a gorgeous pavement; angels and gods and men riot together in an intoxication of divine love; the high altar stands plain to view in a blaze of gilding and candles; and above it the round brazen and silken tent of God-made-man stands that all alike may see and adore. 

Now, this side of the religion of the Incarnation had hitherto meant almost nothing to me. I was a Northerner pure and simple, educated in Northern ways. I loved twilight and mysterious music and the shadow of deep woods; I hated open spaces of sun and trumpets in unison and the round and square in architecture. I preferred meditation to vocal prayer, Mme. Guyon to Mother Julian, “John Inglesant” to St. Thomas, the thirteenth century — as I imagined it – to the sixteenth. Until towards the end of my Anglican life I should frankly have acknowledged this; then I should have resented the accusation, for I was beginning to understand and, therefore, thought that I entirely understood — that the world was as material as it was spiritual, and that creeds were as necessary as aspirations. But when I came to Rome I acknowledged to myself once more how little I had understood. Here was this city, Renaissance from end to end, set under clear skies and a burning sun; and the religion in it was the soul dwelling in the body. It was the assertion of the reality of the human principle as embodying the divine. Even the exclusive tenets of Christianity were expressed under pagan images. Revelation spoke through forms of natural religion; God dwelt unashamed in the light of day; priests were priests, not aspiring clergymen; they sacrificed, sprinkled lustral water, went in long, rolling processions with incense and lights, and called heaven Olympus. Sacrum Divo Sebastiano, I saw inscribed on a granite altar. I sat under priest-professors who shouted, laughed, and joyously demonstrated before six nations in one lecture room. I saw the picture of the “Father of princes and kings and Lord of the world” exposed in the streets on his name-day, surrounded by flowers and oil lamps, in the manner in which, two centuries ago, other lords of the world were honoured. I went down into the Catacombs on St. Cecilia's Day and St. Valentine's, and smelled the box and the myrtle underfoot that did reverence to the fragrance of their memories, as centuries ago they had done reverence to victors in another kind of contest. In one sentence, I began to understand that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”; that as He took the created substance of a Virgin to fashion for Himself a natural body, so still He takes the created substance of men — their thoughts, their expressions, and their methods — to make for Himself that mystical body by which He is with us always; in short, I perceived that “there is nothing secular but sin.” Catholicism, then, is “materialistic?” Certainly; it is as materialistic as the Creation and the Incarnation, neither more nor less. 

18 March 2019

Typology


As Typology is such an important tool for understanding the Bible - in fact, the Bible is meaningless without it - it can seem odd that it's largely unknown outside of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. For 1,000 years Typology was really the primary tool used to understand the scriptures, but today the twin errors of fundamentalism and literalism, both of which come in liberal and conservative versions, have deprived readers of this understanding. Those same errors have provided ammunition to antichristian attitudes which claim to know what the Bible says, based on the same fundamentalism and literalism. If you hear a politician or other "Talking Head" expounding on what "the Bible says" or "your Bible tells you to..." they have bought into these false ideas. The Bible is the Church's book: reading it outside of the Church's authority and spirit will always result in grave errors. You may read the text and even understand the meaning of the words as strung together, but if you have not the Holy Spirit and the mind of the Church, you will still be wrong.

Typology allows for the literal meaning of the text, the historical context, and the writer's intentions whilst opening our eyes to the Spirit's action in using the story to bring us, through the Bible, to the one and only proper context: Jesus, God and Man made one, dead and raised.

What is typology? Reading text while acknowledging and using the repetition of patterns.

Imagine a still, clear lake. Along the shore, there are massive groves of trees growing in the water. Everything is clear, still, silent. Imagine we are above the exact center of the lake. We can ses fish in the water. They swim here and there, but the lake us so deep and still that they do not disturb the surface. Everything is in perfect, quiet balance.

Now we drop a small pebble into the lake. Plop!

Ripples move out in perfect circles, but, eventually, the motion stops. The shape of the stone was repeatedly echoed in the widening circles.

Now... Let's take a giant bolder and drop it in the lake. Kerploosh!

The widening circles will be giant and strong. Waves will wash on the shores. The fish will run away, the bottom of the lake will be churned up. The muddy water will wash among the trees around the lake, leaving high-water stains easily seen. Anyone with eyes to see can see the evidence of the event.

Typology reads the Bible in that way, tracing ripples from the central event of all history: the incarnation of God in human flesh, his life, death, and resurrection. The ripples are everywhere in our timeline: from the fall of Adam and Eve to the myths of the Hopi, from the Chinese Lao Tzu to the Irish Lugh. These ripples go from the past to the future as the life of Christ is continually echoed in the lives of his people, in the actions of the Church, in the Holy Mass.

Typology allows us to read history not as linear tedium, nor as a cyclical return, but rather as a great work of music carrying leitmotifs and interwoven fugal tapestries.

To correct Terence Mckenna, all of history is the shockwave of the Incarnation.

The question is not does this ancient event foreshadow Jesus, but rather how does it do so? The question is not does this current event echo Christ, but rather how faithfully does it do so?

11 March 2019

Lent's Here. Let's talk food.



+JMJ+

BBC Radio 4's The Kitchen Cabinet is one of my most favourite things, right after whiskers on kittens and Atmospheric River Events on roses. They travel the UK looking for regional specialties and sharing cooking advice. Most of the members of the panel are from some part of the UK (I think), but they even have a token American who is called on to explain things like corn dogs. I love them not just because they read one of my recipes on the air (and raved...) but also because I keep learning stuff from them. Some cooking shows only make me hungry, this one makes me laugh and also put on that "thinking emoji" face that spins.

The recipe they shared from me involved split peas, or, as they seem to prefer it spelled, pease. You've heard the nursery rhyme, "peas porridge hot". Or, to use the correct spelling,

Pease porridge hot. 
Pease porridge cold.
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

The Wiki notes that "pease" was the original mass noun like "sheep". Pea is a neologism and "peas" is even newer.

To make pease porridge, one uses yellow split pease. The nutrition information for this is really quite surprising. In 100 grams (uncooked) we find:

Dietary fiber 50g
Sugar 16g
Protein 48g

Fiber and protein far out-weigh the sugars. That same cup of uncooked veggies has a tiny bit of fat and a whopping 341 calories. (100 grams of brussel sprouts has 46 calories. 100g of russet potatoes has 79 calories.) Pease are high energy, high protein treats! No wonder they were a huge part of the diet not only in the Mediaeval period but also in the many parts of the world right up until the modern era. They don't have a lot of different vitamins, but they are very high in magnesium and iron (nearly 50% RDA of each). This is a good food value for folks.

It's simple to make: soak 200g yellow split pease in water overnight. (It's the 21st century, folks. Buy a scale. If you prefer traditional imperial weight measurements: .03 stone.) Drain but don't rinse. My rice cooker is perfect for this: just add water to cover and then run in through a cycle, stir, add water to cover again, and one more cycle. Done. Texture is an issue for some folks: if you like it bit on the chewy side and you can add about a quarter cup of raw pease before the second cycle. Other's like it very smooth and will run an immersion blender through it. Simple, right? As it cools it turns into a think goop rather like very stiff mashed potatoes. Add butter if you want. The trick is how you decide to flavor it.

Traditionally, you would dice a carrot and a small onion, add salt and paper and a bay leaf or two. There is a California Bay in the back yard and I can vouch for the goodness of this recipe. You upscale with bacon or ham. Serve it on bread, toast, biscuits, etc. Some Bisto gravy makes this completely amazing. It seems it's also traditional to use this as a sandwich spread of some sort, but I can't figure that out.

But flavoring, or flavouring...

The first time there was no ham so broth was made with red miso paste. It was amazing.
The second time there was no miso, so only bacon went in. That was astounding.
The third time I used a packet of onion soup mix in the water. Sooo good! Add garlic!
And this time, going a little crazy, a packet of mild chili mix was whisked into the second addition of water.

Also: evidently the Greek food "Fava" is sometimes made with split peas... but I don't know if that's really the case. I can see this being used  for hummus, too.

When it gets cold it's quite like mashed taters. I've fried it up in pancakes at that point. It's really good on toast and my best way of eating it has involved a garlic naan (from TJ's) with a mound of pease. Put a deep divet in the pease and break an egg into it. Put it in the toaster oven until you're ready to eat the egg: sunny side, over easy, over medium, etc... it just takes getting used to your oven.

Some like it hot.
Some like it cold.
I like it in the pot
Nine days old.

Benedicto benedicatur!

08 March 2019

You're Not From Jerusalem, Are You?

+JMJ+

When I moved here in 1997, I was told that I would have to have been here for 6 months before anyone would believe I was staying. Until I hit six months, even with a job, I was just a tourist. In no time at all, it was evident that there were a lot of tourists here. It had not been 10 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake had scared the world during the World Series. After that tremblor, all the Bay Area ingenues pulled up stakes and hied hence to other coasts where plate tectonics are more constipated making room here for my new generation of not quite hippies and cultural creatives. Once, working at a bookstore, I met the rarest of gems: a native. Larry worked parttime at Borders and full time for the City. Born and raised in this 49 square miles woven of urban posh, temperate clime, natural beauty, and sex he was always game to admit he was the last native. No, everyone else is gone. It's a line I've heard several times now.

Then when I began working in higher ed and tech support, I was again surrounded by out-of-towners and transients. The California Institute of Integral Studies is a classic SF institution: catering as it does to upper-middle-class folks from everywhere but here. Then I moved into working in the Tech community, and if there is anywhere not-from-here it's Tech. Yes, the industry was practically invented here on an afternoon commuter train over cocktails with a banker, but the workers are from somewhere else. Orthodoxy was no change: the cradle-born are mostly (not all but mostly...) from elsewhere. The converts are - like me - transients who may have found a home, but we keep moving. We are a city of immigrants, transients, and rootless cosmopolitans. And, apart from Larry, all the natives are gone.

Then I joined the Catholic Church. It feels as though all the clergy in this archdiocese were introduced to each other in pre-school. The social structure of this Archdiocese is, across all ethnic lines, local and native. Yes, there are some folks from elsewhere. We would not be a living city if that were not the case. Some even work in tech or higher ed, but did I mention Larry is Catholic? Generations of families buried in the cemeteries of Colma. Decades - if not centuries - of history in family names that link back to the first folks on boats watching shores warily.

At the consecration of Bishop Robert last year, we sang "The Holy City" as a communion hymn. It may seem an odd choice, true, but have you ever watched the movie San Francisco? At a crucial point, in a Catholic Church a beautiful and young... mmmmmm. Wait, don't tell me... *checks notes*

Jeanette MacDonald (that's right) sings this:


It was never clear until that day in a Cathedral filled with folks from here, but while the rest of the world may think of this city as the Capitol City of Neo-Liberal and Capitalist Hedonism, the reality is this is a holy city in our self-conception. The city is filled with Holy Ground. Saints have walked here from "both lungs" of the Church: St Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow and St Peter the Martyr of Alaska, St John of San Francisco and St Raphael of Brooklyn, St Sebastian and Fr Seraphim Rose in "The East"; St Junipero Serra, St Theresa of Calcutta, Ven Fulton Sheen, Pope St John Paul II, Dorothy Day, and others in "The West". This is a city of Saints worthy of the name. The natives know this very well. This self-image is parodied in a New Age dream of some secret Atlantis calling all the crystal folks back to the sea, the foundations of several occult movements, the People's Temple, and one of the wealthiest lodges in the State, but where there is much that is holy, the other side will shout all the louder.

That other side has deeper roots than just the 60s as well: yes our city was built by Missionaries, but the Gold Rush made it rowdy, the Railroad made it racy, the Silver Boom built mansions and ballrooms. 1906 tore it all down and we built up even better: a pre-Disney Land of the American Dream for the Panama–Pacific Exhibition in the Marina and the World's Fair on Treasure Island. The Beatnicks, the Hippies, and then the sexual revolution, and the fiscal booms of Banking, Real Estate, and Tech. It's one long chain of that energy. It's not all evil, no. But it's rowdy and it's the other side. it's an economic engine that drives both Jerusalem and the Barbary Coast.

Like all Cities, not everyone who is rooted here was born here, but everyone who is rooted here can't seem to get away: God knows I've tried several times. But something here keeps calling me home, deeper and deeper.  In someplace there must one day be an icon of the Synaxis of the Saints of San Francisco. It will show this holy slice of the Kingdom, the Eucharist, a bread made from the grain on many hillsides into one loaf, the Body of God, this is home.


Here's more context...


01 March 2019

Homeless Life in SF

+JMJ+

Homo quidam erat dives...
There was a certain rich man...

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco. 
The problem is we have a huge, wealthy population that's scared of homeless people.
They are scared that property values might fall.
They are scared that job candidates might get turned off.
They are scared that poor people might cause crimes.
They are scared that someone might say something uncomfortable-making to them on the street.
They are scared that some people smell.
They are scared that some people are not on meds.
They are scared that living in tents make us look bad as a city.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we don't remember them.
We don't remember that the second set of shoes we have belongs to the poor - not to the consignment store.
We don't remember that the extra clothes we have belong to the naked - not to Goodwill.
We don't remember that the extra food in our fridge belongs to the hungry - not to the dog or compost.
We don't remember that the extra anything we have belongs to the poor - or else we are stealing it.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we tend to trust gov't blindly without calling it to account for failure.
If we manage to elect persons of all colors, genders, and sexual orientations we feel good about ourselves - even though they are as unjust to the poor as anyone else. 
If we manage to elect only one party (we really only have one party in SF) we feel good about ourselves - even if they are just as beholden to big corporations, property developers, and the wealthy as the party we don't have. 
If we manage to elect people who actually try to do something we pass ballot measures that undo their good works.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is we ask too many questions.
How did he get that way?
Did he do drugs?
Is she abusing the system?
If I give her money will she just buy drugs?
Is that even any of my business?

If I give money to that organization how much of it goes for wages?
Won't the gov't support them so  that if I give them money, it's  just double.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
The problem is that we nullify any moral teaching that might make us feel obligated.
We are obligated to charity in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hindusm, and several others. We prefer instead an odd combo of Prosperity Gospel and Newage, Neognostic Victim Blaming that allows us to imagine no deity will hold us responsible as long as we feel good about things.
This coupled with an entitled NIMBYism means that no one is obligated to care if they don't feel like it and those that do care can be called to the carpet for making the rest of us feel guilty.

We have a huge homeless problem in San Francisco.
It has nothing to do with homeless folks.
It has nothing to do with the govt.
It has everything to do with the rest of us.

And in the end, we will find ourselves beyond Abraham's bosom on the wrong side of the great abyss. The Fathers are not kind here:

AMBROSE; From this we learn then, that we are not ourselves the masters, but rather the stewards of the property of others.
THEOPHYLACT. Next, that when we exercise not the management of our wealth according to our Lord’s pleasure, but abuse our trust to our own pleasures, we are guilty stewards. 
CYRIL. This discourse concerning the rich man and Lazarus was written after the manner of a comparison in a parable, to declare that they who abound in earthly riches, unless they will relieve the necessities of the poor, shall meet with a heavy condemnation.
AMBROSE. But the insolence and pride of the wealthy is manifested afterwards by the clearest tokens, for it follows, and no one gave to him. For so unmindful are they of the condition of mankind, that as if placed above nature they derive from the wretchedness of the poor an incitement to their own pleasure, they laugh at the destitute, they mock the needy, and rob those whom they ought to pity. 
AUGUSTINE. For the covetousness of the rich is insatiable, it neither fears God nor regards man, spares not a father, keeps not its fealty to a friend, oppresses the widow, attacks the property of a ward.
Pope GREGORY. Moreover the poor man saw the rich as he went forth surrounded by flatterers, while he himself lay in sickness and want, visited by no one. For that no one came to visit him, the dogs witness, who fearlessly licked his sores, for it follows, moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. By one thing Almighty God displayed two judgments. He permitted Lazarus to lie before the rich man’s gate, both that the wicked rich man might increase the vengeance of his condemnation, and the poor man by his trials enhance his reward; the one saw daily him on whom he should show mercy, the other that for which he might be approved.
 CHRYSOSTOM. He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before. For he did none of the works of the soul. All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body. But not because he was rich was he tormented, but because he was not merciful.
Pope GREGORY. We may gather from this, with what torments he will be punished who robs another, if he is smitten with the condemnation to hell, who does not distribute what is his own. 

In San Francisco, each one of us has the nearly unique opportunity to be Dives to our own private Lazarus. I think, though, most of us would rather banquet in linen and purple robes. We're doomed.

24 February 2019

No More Angry Hermits!

+JMJ+

The Church's story is filled with hermit saints: St Mary of Egypt, my personal favorite among them, but St Mary Magdalen, St Jerome, St Anthony, St Simon, St Seraphim praying in the woods, St Julian and her cat... so many many more. They went away to pray, to encounter God, to find their souls in God's embrace, and to make salvation present.

They led to thousands, then millions, of monastics, both men and women, doing this journey together. And hundreds of folks went to the hermits who were not isolated in their loneliness, but rather were centers of communion and joy. Even St Mary, who seems to have met only one human after the beginning of her journey, was for him a source of radiant joy. While they all share a desire for silence and solitude, while they all share a sense of sorrow for their sins and the sins of the world, what they do not have is any sense of anger and fear. The closer they grow to God, in fact, the more they love and care for their fellows and strangers who come to them. Even if they need to encounter humans in their daily life, one hears rather a sense of "God has brought you to me, so let us see why..." rather than anger at this intrusion.

One of the hermit saints of Egypt even says we should put down our prayers if a stranger has come to the door of our cell: for the unseen God to whom we were praying has come, visible in his own image, to our door himself.

The vast Thebais of the Internet seems increasingly covered by isolated hermitages filled with Angry Hermits who are not bringing salvation to anyone. This most reminds me of a faithful attendee of a 12 Step program who suddenly discovers that absolutely everyone in the world has the same addiction and begins to judge everyone. I'm thinking mostly of Christian folks who deal with issues of sexuality and addiction, so the parallel holds.

Look, my brothers and my sisters, our special struggle is exactly with our sense of broken relationships. I totally understand that we might be afraid of falling back into those same broken patterns. Yet, dear friends in Christ, the solution to broken lives is patterning healthy lives, not hiding away. God is not calling us to be afraid of our families, friends, strangers, communities, and the world in general. In fact, God is calling us to model his love to all those (and more). God is calling us from brokenness to wholeness which is never alone, and always with others. We are called from what we thought was communion - but was only deception - exactly to real communion. We are called from Chaos to Choresis with a pure heart, from disorder to dancing.

Some of us may be vocationally called to be hermits. That's a thing, that's a real thing. It will be done in love - like the other saints. There's a reason all the spiritual masters teach their children to live in community for a long time before they get a blessing to be a hermit. 

But none of us are called to be angry hermits who hide behind our web blogs and twitter accounts spewing hate and spiritual violence.

And, dear bothers and sisters, please, please, please, use your God-given sense of Spiritual Discernment (and conversations with your Spiritual Director, God Parents, Confessor, Spiritual Father, etc) to stay away from folks who are telling you do become one.

A recovering alcoholic would do well to stay out of bars: but her recovery would be a sad story indeed, if for fear of relapse, her permanent practice was to never walk anywhere where a bar might be seen, never speak to anyone who might have once been to a bar, never helped anyone who might someday go to a bar. Her story could only be worse if she did speak to all those folks and counselled them to become as she is: an antiapostolic ingression of isolationists.

The Gospel sends us out. The very meaning of "apostle" is "one who is sent" and that is to be all of us. Go, volunteer, serve. Meet people. Go places. Do things. Enjoy the right and good life to which God calls his people. Serving folks lunch (even in your own home) is better than hiding in your room from the neighbors for fear they might trip you up. Let's make a choice together that there be No more Angry Hermits. Let us not be them. Let us not recruit other to that life. Let us heed the call: to live the Gospel is to spread it (even electronically), but to hide from the world we're supposed to be saving is to lose the world and our own souls.

Father A. H... this really is for you. <3

22 February 2019

Coming Clean on Sheep and Goats


+JMJ+

I've heard this sermon so many times. I've preached this sermon at least once or twice.  I want to call bullshit. Or Sheepshit.

The text is Matthew 25:31–46 and you can click through to read the whole thing, although here are the preces: Jesus says at the Last Judgement God will divide us as a farmer does the sheep from the goats. The sheep will find out that they have often fed, clothed, and cared for Jesus. And they will say in all humility, No... we did not. And the goats will be told that they have never fed, clothed, or cared for Jesus. And they will say in self-justification, But we never had that chance: we would certainly have done so if you had shown up.

And then both will be told the punchline: when you did - or did not do - these things for the poor, the hungry, the homeless then you did - or did not do - these things for Jesus.

Then the sheep get in to heaven and the goats go someplace where heaven is not, and the story ends.

And the sermon we've all heard (and I've preached as well) goes something like this:

Jesus never asks either the sheep or the goats if they've kept any religious rules, if they've gone to mass, if they say their prayers, only if they have cared for the poor. Rules don't matter, so. But care for the poor, now... that matters.

However.... you miss the point if you don't realize we're not talking about pigs here.

Sheep and goats are both Kosher. They are both sacrificial animals. They - unlike pigs - follow all the rules.

Both of these animals are goodly, clean things. They are acceptable symbols for the religious folks.

The sheep however, follow through on the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
The goats fail to do so.

This scene from the last judgement takes place after the pigs have been sent away already... It is almost like Jesus saying to all the Good Children...(Realized here that my "Jesus Voice" sounds like Bishop Barron....)  "Oh, one last thing... you went to mass every day, you prayed every day, you never broke a commandment. Good. Good. All important, all needed...."

But, um...

Did you get the point?

You can't use this parable to say "there are no rules but care for the poor."

There are no generous pigs here.

But you can say "without a just love exercised to your neighbor, none of this other stuff matters."

Shabbat Shalom.

03 February 2019

Things that trip us up



+JMJ+

In today's epistle, the Love Chapter from 1st Corinthians, Paul says:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Through several accidents of tradition and translation, some folks today say that all of Christianity can be boiled down to social justice issues. And, in a way, they may be right: for love of God and love of neighbor fulfills the law. They then get carried away, saying that doing social justice is all that is needed. And Paul says no. In fact in three phrases from Corinthians, boom, boom boom, Paul says:

If I know everything (aka smarts are all you need) but don't have love - it's useless.
If I preach all the theology but don't have love - it's useless
If I have given away everything to care for others but don't have love - it's useless.

For all the saints, all of these things - goods in and of themselves - must flow from love, or they are pointless. They are not good enough.

This is not "love" a warm gushy feeling, nor is it "love" a passionate doing. This is Agape. This is what St John says is God's very personal presence. God is Agape. Paul says it's possible to do all these things without God.

That's not good enough.

You can't do theology properly without kindness, patience, and a generosity of heart: Jesus is the Way - and so you need Jesus. You can't do wisdom or politics without forgiving others and forgetting wrongs done to you: you need to have the Truth to do these things and Jesus is the Truth. You can't do social justice without forgiveness and a rejoicing in the Truth. If you're walking the way, in relationship to truth, you can live the life - and Jesus is the Life. You need all three: Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Jesus, God's love most clearly expressed. Jesus makes possible to do in love for the healing of the world other things which - of themselves - cannot save us, can damn us with pride, can destroy our souls in pointless exhaustion and, irony of ironies, are needed to show that our faith is real.

But Jesus - Agape - comes first. For Jesus, only and always, is enough.

And having Jesus, all these other things will happen of themselves as the fruit of that presence.

Since Calvin, the growing idea that God's blessing is shown in material wealth as led to a corruption of Christian teaching that wealth alone, and the action we do with it, displays where we are in God's universe. The secular ideologies of Capitalism and Socialism are Scylla and Charybdis, destroying us with presence and absence of wealth and both without God. Paul says love. We put the cart before the horse if we fall for any of our secular banalities, each one equally demonic without Christ and neither fully true. It is possible to either to use in support of the Truth, but both will be modified, both will be repaired. We can argue forever which one is closer or further and one is condemned by the Church, but neither are the Church's. We cannot forget that.

So it is with any social justice issue: it's fine. But it's not the Church. If it can't be done with a love for the revealed Truths of Christ or a dancing in the Way of Christ, if it can't be lived in Christ's life, then it's a distraction in the least, or something far worse.

In our modern pride we often imagine that Jesus would most certainly do what we are doing. We imagine Jesus marching in any number of political marches of all sorts and conditions. Jesus always supports us and our point of view. It's easy to see this when we're looking at someone else: they have made Jesus in their own image.

Once I was a child, and thought as a child. But as an adult I put away childish things.

Jesus is actually quite real, active, and present. Discarding political, economic, and legal toys you may find that he is here to save you. And once that's accomplished, finally, he may have other work for you. He will get that first step done, however.

Once you finally learn to love him and to love like him (all the way to death on the cross), then likely he will in resurrection bring you others to love.