A Body of Broken Bones, prt. 1

All over the face of the earth the avarice and lust of men and women breed unceasing divisions among them, and the wounds that tear them from union with one another widen and open out into huge wars. Murder, massacres, revolution, hatred, the slaughter and torture of the bodies and souls of men and women, the destruction of cities by fire, the starvation of millions, the annihilation of populations and finally the cosmic inhumanity of atomic war: Christ is massacred in His members, torn limb from limb; God is murdered in men and women.

The history of the world, with the material destruction of cities and nations and people,. expresses the interior division that tyrannizes the souls of all men and women, and even of the saints.

Even the innocent, even those in whom Christ lives by love, even those who want with their whole heart to love one another, remain divided and separate…

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.

There are two things which men and women can do about the pain of disunion with other men and women. They can love or they can hate.

Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.

There is in every weak, lost and isolated member of the human race an agony of hatred born of their own helplessness, their own isolation. Hatred is the sign and the expression of loneliness, of unworthiness, or insufficiency. And in so far as each of us is lonely, is unworthy, each one hates him/herself. Some of us are aware of this self-hatred, and because of it we reproach ourselves and punish ourselves needlessly. [But] punishment cannot cure the feeling that we are unworthy. There is nothing we can do about it as long as we feel that we are isolated, insufficient, helpless, alone.

Others, who are less conscious of their own self-hatred, realize it in a different form by projecting it onto others. There is a proud and self-confident hate, strong and cruel, which enjoys the pleasure of hating, for it is directed outward to the unworthiness of the another. But this strong and happy hate does not realize that like all hate, it destroys and consumes the [one] that hates, and not the object that is hated. Hate in any form is self-destructive, and even when it triumphs physically it triumphs in its own spiritual ruin.

Strong hate, the hate that takes joy in hating, is strong because it does not believe itself to be unworthy and alone. It feels the support of a justifying God, of an idol of war, an avenging and destroying spirit. From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God Who delivered Himself to the Cross and suffered the pathological cruelty of His own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death He opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death. But men and women have now come to reject this divine revelation of pardon, and they are consequently returning to the old war gods, the gods that insatiably drink the blood and eat the flesh of men and women. It is easier to serve the hate gods because they thrive on the worship of collective fanaticism. To serve the hate gods, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love, one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility to love in spite of all unworthiness, whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor.

From Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 4 (pp. 71-74)

A call to read less of the Bible

Many Christian people don’t worship God, they worship the Bible. I assume the same is true of other sacred books such as the Koran, the Torah, and the Bagavhad Gita, although it wouldn’t HAVE to be this way. A particular set of circumstances have risen up in the US to bring about this result. But that’s another post, and one that would be really boring to most of my readers.

The point is that Christians are not to worship the Bible.

Continue Reading »

Response to responses to the death of Whitney Houston

I cannot talk meaningfully about the death of Whitney Houston. I don’t have anything productive to add to the dialogue. But I can respond to some of the other responses to Whitney’s death. When Whitney Houston ruled the world I was in high school and her music was not my style. But there was never a time when I did not have the highest and deepest respect for her craft. She was, and is, the greatest vocal talent in the history of recorded music. It will be a very, very long time before someone of her caliber comes along again.

Continue Reading »

I Believe…

i believe

123rf.com

I believe in love. Not the squishy, touchy-feely kind, but the kind that takes guts and practice and a lot of failure before we start to get it right.

I believe in freedom and pluralism, grateful that I live in a country where I am free to believe in God but where no one has to.

I believe in God, and that the vast majority of people who do not believe in God, or who believe in a different god than I do, are fine people with a lot to teach me. I am not at war with them, and I am not on the side of any so-called Christian who is.

Continue Reading »

The Christian craving for guilt

Christians love feeling guilty. In fact, they positively crave it. In fact, to Christians, guilt feels like devotion. The popularity of books like Francis Chan’s Crazy Love and David Platt’s Radical testifies to this. Anyone who speaks or writes of all the ways the church is blowing it, falling short, and insufficient is almost destined to become a rock star.

It’s in our religious DNA. Read through the gospels and you will be hard pressed to identify anything Jesus said which could reasonably be interpreted as “shame on you,” yet if the Christian gospel as it has actually come to us throughout history could be summarized in three words, I could hardly think of three more appropriate ones. Shame on us for not reading our Bibles more. Shame on us for not praying more. Shame on us for having lustful thoughts. Shame on us for believing Calvin more than Arminius (or vice versa). Shame on us for leaning too much on God’s grace and love and not believing enough in punishment. Shame on us for liking rock and roll, dancing, and places where these things are happening. Shame on us for having marriages that crumble, just like everybody else. Shame on us for missing church. Shame on us for not caring more for the poor. Shame on us for wanting to live the way all God’s other creatures live — in the moment, not analyzing our performance every second of the day, not constantly feeling inferior (or superior) — just wanting to live in peace.

Shame on you is the message. It’s hard to hear it for what it is, because it always come disguised as well-meaning books by well-meaning preachers/teachers, telling us in well-meaning ways how we can be more of all the stuff those preachers obviously need us to be in order for them to sleep well at night: more passionate and compassionate, more fired up, more generous, more committed to God, the church, and our marriages, more, more, more. (Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Many of these are good things!) And the church laps this up. We buy these books and listen to these messages because we are so convinced of our insufficiency. After all, our marriages really are busting up. If we’re honest, we’re really not as committed to God and church as we think we should be. We really don’t give as much as we know we should. So Chan, Platt, and the gang are telling us what we already know is true. We, both individually and collectively, suck.

But the church has NEVER been sufficient, or full of the kind of people Chan cites as the right kinds of Christians. I thought that’s what Jesus was for. I thought the message of Jesus was that we are loved by God in full knowledge of our shortcomings and insufficiencies. Whose gospel is it that we can fix things if we just try harder? And when did anyone get the impression that we can ever try hard enough to assuage our own deep sense that we are not good enough and could always do more? Guilt is killing us, but we love it. We just can’t let it go.

We think guilt helps us perform better, be “better” Christians (or maybe just better human beings), so we refuse to let go of it. But guilt doesn’t help us perform better, it paralyzes us. It reminds us constantly of our insufficiency. As spiritual as guilt makes us feel, it’s what is trapping us. We simply have to let it go.

Guilt always makes everything, ultimately, about us. If I try to love you because I feel guilty for not loving you, I’m loving you not because you are human and deserve to be loved, but to assuage my own guilt. If I give to the poor not because generosity is good but because I feel like a scumbag for not giving enough, I’m not giving for the sake of the poor, I’m giving so that I can feel good again. If I go to church not because church is good and helps me connect to a community of people who love and care for me, but simply because I feel sinful and guilty for not going, then going to church is just about me not wanting to feel guilty anymore.

That’s why you’ll never get anywhere with guilt. Francis Chan, Platt, and so many other guilt-mongers are making the right diagnosis, but their solution is part of the problem. Try harder. Cling tighter to that banana. But the answer is to let go of the banana and plunge headlong into the gospel — the good news that we are fully loved, fully accepted by God at this very moment, insufficiencies and all. As Richard Rohr says, we don’t change so that God will love us, we come to know God loves us so that we can change.

As I learn today that I am loved, change occurs in me. As I learn tomorrow that I am loved, more change occurs. This is an eternal process. At no time do I get to say, “Okay, I now know that I am loved — what are all the projects and things I get to start running around and doing?” This misses Jesus’ crucial words about “abiding” (John 15). To abide is to remain rooted in that love, so that our actions for good are springing directly from God’s loving action for good that is at work in us. This means there is no room and no need for, “Yes, but you must balance being loved with taking action.” There is no separation between love and action. We can trust that being loved does and will lead to action — and to the very best kind: the non-guilty, non-forced, non-judgmental, non-clamoring, non-needy kind.

When we begin to move into this moment by moment experience of being loved, we find that our sense of guilt is beginning to be replaced by a sense of gratitude. We let go of the banana and, for the first time, we are free to become all the things we have always felt guilty for not being. Sounds like fruits of the Spirit. I am going to end this post with a passage from scripture. As you read, replace the word “God” with the word “love.”

Romans 8:10-11 (MSG)
10 …for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. 11 It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!  (emphasis mine)