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.