Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Moral Test

Written in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the President’s response...
I’ll leave it to the historians and recognized scholars to decide whether or not America is a nation, a people. But I will reflect here that a famous conservative politician of the late twentieth century once confidently declared that “society is nothing more than a collection of individuals.”
Are we greater than that? Do we aspire to be?
When a man who swears only by the jungle stumbles into the Presidency, we cannot expect him to see society. And nationhood to him is only a collection of individuals who might serve his interests or suit his tastes.
I believe it when a chaotic personality expresses displeasure at disordered chaos in the violent clash of protesters. A chaotic personality instinctively seeks order in externalities: gilded, clean halls as a balm for his internal strife. People doing what they are told, obeying simple, straightforward rules. I also believe it when he can only see disobedience to laws intended to preserve order, and not the deeper moral complexities of human motivation; let alone the philosophical differences between, say, sociopathic nihilism and the socializing instinct to protect a peaceful, dignified, diverse community.
I believe that he cannot understand that, while violence of all kinds must be eschewed, the moral universes of white supremacy and an anti-fascist countermovement could not be more starkly different.
The moral failure of our so-called President over the past five days puts our union — dream or fact — into a level of doubt that many of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. And it reflects a hollow center in our republic that should shock us, at least if there is any hope for this strange experiment in diverse democracy left.
His predecessor, no doubt, would have repudiated this resurgent collective sin of racism without hesitation. As a matter of fact, he already did, scoring the highest number of likes ever recorded for a Twitter post. (That must make the Tweeter-in-Chief most uneasy.) But Obama is no longer President, and so many of us still feel bereft of moral leadership.
But we do well not to neglect the grace-filled question of the moment.
Were Obama still President this night, with his strong rhetoric and erudition, we would be risking at this point letting him speak for us, acting practically as our moral proxy. We would be posting his words, maybe taking up a phrase or two, admiring his clarity, extolling his appeal to our virtue.
And we would risk believing that we had arrived.
He was hated for this very reason. And he rhetorically left little doubt, thus leaving many who were still wandering their dangerous mazes of prejudice and bigotry out in the cold. Now they want back in, and they are angrier than ever.
This is not a criticism of Obama. No, this is a criticism of our king-making, celebrity culture. We want our President to be our ethical and moral proxy, our healer, our great reconciler. We want to be told how to think, how to behave, how to believe. How to get along.
Our most primitive parts want him (or her) to look, think, and act like our most noble imagined selves; or to diabolically justify and focus our darkest, most ignoble impulses.
We want to remain moral children.
This country’s founders worried about centralizing power in the Presidency, and its echoes of crown princes, queens, and emperors and their overweening temperaments and the infantilizing effect they had on their subjects. Like the prophet Samuel, when the ancient Israelites desperately wanted to be like other nations and have a king, the architects of our democracy knew that to ladle so much power, trust, and authority on a frail human being was ultimately a recipe for misery.
Now we have a man who — above most, if not all other men who preceded him in this office — has failed a key moral test.
That is no longer a question, and, yes, it makes him, sitting at the helm of the powers of the State and at the center of a fragile democracy, remarkably dangerous. That we should seek his swift removal from this position of power is also a question beyond doubt.
But the grace-filled question, the critical moral test before us now, is whether we will fall with him into the moral vacuum of the jungle...
Or if we, despite him, will grow up and decide for ourselves whether we are a nation, a society.
And if so, just what kind of society we will be.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter Saturday / Earth Day

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” - Genesis 1:31

Someone once challenged me to justify Christian ecological concern using scripture. We need look no further than the first chapter of Genesis. Who are we to damage and destroy what God has deemed good?

God has woven an Easter hope into the very fabric of life itself. The biosphere, like our bodies, has an astonishing capacity to heal. And like us, an astonishing capacity to rise again to new life.

Our destruction of the natural world is a reflection of our sinful insistence on living in a Good Friday universe, where we crucify Life itself in the name of our own fear, our craven desire for power, and our boundless capacity for self-destruction.

But Christ rises from death and appears in the garden. Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener, but perhaps this isn’t a mistake at all, but a reminder that the Maker of the Garden rises again in the context of creation, in the midst of the vibrant springing forth of all life season by season, year by year, epoch by epoch.

Too many Christians have mistaken scientists as the enemies of faith, but what we have failed to comprehend is that so many are the observers of the goodness of Creation, the recorders of the wonder that -- as we Christians might put it -- God began and Christ continues to redeem.

Science as a discipline has its roots in the Christian academy: the university. Part of being an Easter people is about healing the false rift between science and religion, and remembering that what God has made -- and what God is prepared to raise to new life if we will only allow -- is indeed very good.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter Thursday vs. Emotional Narcissism

Do you believe?

This unnerving question haunts the Easter community of Christ. But too often, we hear it as a demand to offer intellectual assent to the implausible or, perhaps even worse, an expectation that we must feel a certain way before we can judge ourselves faithful. Both are paltry versions of belief that don’t get us very far.

What happens as the Easter glow fades and the Great Fifty Days are still before us? When the zeal of the newly converted wears thin? When the honeymoon is over?

Thomas continues to ask questions. Mary Magdalene’s witness falls on incredulous ears. The first apostles wonder what to do next and sometimes gather in fear. Even when directly confronted by the Risen Christ, Peter is bewildered and unsure.

But belief is not overruled by doubt, fear, or confusion.

As for the first apostles, so it is for us:

Believing is about choosing to remain in relationship.
It is about the hard path of learning to trust.
It is about the discipline of showing up.

Who knows how we will feel today or tomorrow?

But for God in Christ, all that is secondary. What matters is that we choose to be an Easter people. Mary Magdalene persists in delivering her message. The apostles continue to gather, in fear or not. Peter answers the call and puts one foot in front of the other.

That is what believing is about.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Wednesday vs. the Limits of Historicity

I catch myself trying to read the story of the Road to Emmaus as mere history, caught up like a good Gentile in Luke’s apparent effort to turn the Gospel into an historical account. Our conceit to literalize Easter founders when we relegate the Risen Christ’s self-revelation to only a mid-first-century encounter.
When did we decide that story was *less* than history? And myth was less than truth? The road to Emmaus is the story of Jesus walking with us, often unrecognized, reinterpreting our most closely held stories and histories as the eternal divine story of life and love conquering death and despair.
What if the Risen Christ is on the road of life with each and all of us together, not as an artifact of history, but right now? The love in our hearts as we ask those burning questions of one another? The tender compassion that greets us in a smile, in a supportive hand, in confronting us with the hard but wondrous truth that we are loved beyond all imagination?
Easter Wednesday is the day we are reminded to pray, "Be known to us, Jesus, in the breaking of the bread." That is not a historical moment, but an ever-present and eternally holy now; as we engage in relationship and share the nourishing bread of life with one another...
And find God closer than our breath, with us in the very fabric of our relationships with one another, the earth, and the whole cosmos.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Tuesday vs. the Arrogance of Caesar

Even after defeating death itself, Christ does not rule like an earthly emperor or king. He greets his followers in hidden rooms and seeks them out in fearful places. He walks with them along the road. He dines with them on simple fish by the lakeshore. He is not troubled by our lack of recognition or ill-tempered at our ignorance and timid faith. He only asks, “Do you love me?” and, if we do, he commands us only to feed and care for one another.
The rulers of this world posture, bluster, don cloaks of violence, and send forth great armies, concealing their incompetence with a veneer of arrogance. Compassion is always secondary to the laws of fearful statecraft, and humanity and the natural world are commodified and expendible in the economy of the anti-Christ.
Despite all this, the Ruler of the Universe who died for us rises to new life and lives among us and in and through us with a disarming humility.
For all the shameful ways the world marginalizes, we are not alone.
And we never will be again.