Rector’s Blog

Unlikely Bedfellows?

E Pluribus Unum? Not hardly!  We are not only disunited, it seems we live in different conceptual worlds, even while we occupy the same geographical space.  We use the same language but the words have different meanings.  We now come from a variety of “narratives,” “perspectives,” and interpretations of history.

For example, serious discussion of communism, or even socialism, as viable options for America is beyond the ability of Americans above a certain age to fathom.

Many pundits are observing the loss of the political and economic “middle,” that portion of America that provided a kind of buffer against extremes.  But now our circles hardly overlap.  No common ground.  No place to start.  We all have  people in our lives with whom conversation beyond the most superficial pleasantries is now impossible, or dangerous.

Amid all this I was “woke” to a realization by an obscure blogger yesterday.  I’ve been pondering it.  See what you think.

He said, socialism, communism and capitalism are essentially the same. What?!  Yes, they are all fundamentally materialistic.  That is, they are just different ways of managing stuff–material, money, and the means of producing it.

True, each of these models have underlying values, and, if pressed, adherents could find metaphysical (non-material) support for their positions.  Some writers have suggested, for example, that communism is essentially a religion, not a political theory. While it is explicitly atheistic it has filled the void left by the removal of God.  Critics of capitalism would point to the god of Mammon.  Socialists might appeal to certain Biblical texts to affirm more equal distribution of wealth by the state.   We do tend to “spiritualize” things we feel strongly about.  But when called upon to do their daily work, each of these “big three” political/economic ideologies are, I agree, fundamentally materialistic.

That is not to say that they do not have non-material implications.  We are material beings.  Stuff matters to us.  Money matters, especially to the degree that we sell our time,  segments of our lives, to get it.  We also often measure our worth as persons by what we earn, what we can buy, and what we can borrow– an 800 credit score! If you mess with our stuff, our money, you are messing with us–or so it seems.

Also, the human spirit does thrive more under some social, economic and political structures than others.  Freedom is crucial–freedom from want, from pain, from fear, and coercion. Some systems have required extreme force and violence to be established and maintained.  Freedom of expression can be restricted to the point that it seems to threaten our humanity.

But there are many ways be killed and there are many different kinds of prisons. While one can argue their relative cost-benefit ratios, none of the “big three” are without their casualties and cost to our humanity.

The blogger went further to say that the communist revolutions of the twentieth century — in spite of their unprecedented social upheaval, destruction and bloodshed — were not true revolutions by his definition, since replacing capitalism with communism was just swapping one materialistic ideology for another.

That has made me think what a “true” revolution might look like.  Can we even conceive of a transition from a materialistic ideology to, well, some fundamentally other kind?

As physical beings we are dependent on material–food, clothing, shelter. Laws mostly govern the activities of our physical bodies.  But could there be a form of government that does not make the management of material its starting point? What if we started with a commitment to the thriving of the soul and spirit and relationships, including relationships with our fellow creatures?  Obviously our souls and spirits are embodied, and we relate primarily through our bodies.  And our bodies need all “those other things” Jesus talked about in Matt 6. But where do we start and what is our goal?

Would life in the Kingdom constitute a true revolution?  Is that what happens to us in conversion?  Lots to think about here.  Does being a citizen of the Kingdom relativize our citizenship in all the others kingdoms and their ideologies?  Does it suggest a certain proportionality of concern and anxiety for the Christ-follower?  Does this line of thinking help us understand what Jesus might have meant when He talked about where we should store our treasure, and what that treasure really is?

Disruption of Love

I am reading this classic by Morton Kelsey.  One portion struck me as particularly relevant to our discussion about God’s Nature and His desires.

We have a hard time accepting that God truly is Holy Self-Giving Love.  On the one hand it sounds too good to be true, and we don’t want to be fooled.

On the Image result for the other side of silence kelseyother hand it is terribly disturbing.  If God truly is Love, then we have no reason to hold back.  Yet, if we allow ourselves to be taken by this Love it will surely disrupt our lives.

True Love is always disruptive.  It shakes our ego and threatens our control.  What could be more disruptive that Divine Love?

We might have a vested interest in holding on to our pictures of a wrathful God–one from whom we can justifiably keep a safe distance.

 

Here is a four-minute audio clip.  It contains an amazing quote from Catherine of Siena.  See what you think.

 

 

God and Golf

Our parents frequently hosted visiting evangelists in our home.  I vividly remember these extroverted, often flamboyant, personalities.  One was fond of saying he had four great loves: “God, guns, girls, and golf.” The girls were his wife and four daughters.  He collected fine rifles.  Golf was his rest from the rigors of the road.

I played golf during my junior and senior years of high school. I was the sixth man on a six-man team, until I shanked five-iron shot into the nose of my team-mate who had unwisely gotten in front of me in our rush to finish the last hole.   For my sins I was moved up to his fifth man position, while he recovered, and lost more matches than I would have playing sixth.

One day after hitting a disappointing drive, and responding (inwardly) with appropriate verbal dismay, the thought came into my mind:  “Mark, God doesn’t care how well you hit the ball.”  Then: “He does care how you respond to it.”

I remember a strange mix of emotions followed these musings.  How well I performed in an endeavor was secondary to my response.  Pressure to perform diminished on one side, while a higher and intriguing standard emerged on the other.

My control over my performance was always somewhat limited by my skills, certainly, and there were always the unexpected variables.  But my responses were totally in my hands alone.  What’s more I sensed that I could always count on a some degree of grace to enable a godly response, no matter what.

I found consolation knowing that no matter how poorly I performed it was possible to salvage a win–maybe even a better win.  At the time I did not realize that I had stumbled on something like the Stoic maxim” “Misfortune nobly borne is good fortune.”

There was more to this than simply not cursing or blaming or indulging in self-pity.  Often the right response to poor performance is more practice, which will bring better results. But I was learning to see my performance in light of something much more significant–my relationship with God.

This might be near what Paul meant when He wrote about doing everything — even the most mundane– to the glory of God.  One of the greatest freedoms we are offered in Christ is the realization that there are no circumstances in which it is impossible for us to glorify God, or to please Him.  Even when we fail completely, or are most painfully and unfairly failed, we can please Him with our response.

When this sinks in it brings a sense of something close to invincibility.  It adds a layer of nuance to the assurance that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  Normally (and perhaps correctly) we interpret “the love of God” as God’s love for us.  But it is just as true of our love for Him.  Nothing but our own choice can prevent us from offering our circumstances, wretched or glorious, to Him in love.

The notion that God is aware of both our performance and our response is actually secondary to the idea that God is aware, period.  Aware of me!  This is beautifully expressed in the Collect for Guidance:

O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My mother taught me a simpler version of this when I was about three years old and developing my capacity to escape her field of vision:  “God sees Mark,” she said.  She called it a “Bible verse” and had me memorize it.  After an incident with a whole package of purloined chewing gum she came out with the Amplified Version: “God sees Mark, in the closet.”

A Sunday school song taught us that “the Father up above is looking down in love.”  Perhaps you remember it.

The all-seeing Eye can be a frightening thought, but not if there is indeed an all-loving, all-understanding Heart behind it. He sees, He cares, He understands, and He is there to “assist us with His grace.”  Best of all, He can be pleased, and is pleased perhaps more often than we think.

It is a peculiar cruelty that we value — and worry most about — those things over which we have the least control.  The approval of others, for example. Or getting other people to do or think what we think they should. 

Most of us, I imagine, would be profoundly surprised to know how little–by our standards–God actually asks of us, and how small are the things that make Him smile.  Or perhaps I should say, how large. We are the ones who “sweat the small stuff.” And it’s amazing how heavy those small things become.

Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light.  I could never say that about mine.  If our focus of concern moved into alignment with His would our load get lighter?  I think so.  What really matters?  To me?  To Him?  Certainly not my golf game.  But He is deeply interested in my heart.  So interested that He died so I could give it to Him and live in constant communion with Him through thick and thin.