‘Government as a human act of governing oneself and one’s responsibilities and one’s dependents is very different from the modern institution of the State.’ — Alana Roberts, from her film review of The Dark Knight Rises

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Religion, or the Cross

‘If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart,’ says the Lord Jesus. However, here is one place where I disagree, I think, with the majority view, that takes this literally in a juridical sense. I don't believe that Jesus meant this in a juridical sense. I mean, what I think Christ was pointing out here is not the fact of sinning on a case by case basis, where like in a Catholic laundry list confession, one ransacks one's memory for every little damnable offense in thought, word and deed so as to speak it aloud and ask for forgiveness, but rather, that the human animal is just that—an animal, a living soul that is tossed this way and that by every form of desire, legitimate and illegitimate.

What Christ is telling us by this kind of statement is that everything we think, speak and do comes forth from the inmost disposition, which has only two stark choices: obedience or disobedience. Like turning on the lights in a room, or turning them off. There's no dimmer switch. Christ is telling us that's how it is, not setting us up for a moment by moment court case where we will be judged for every little thing we did or didn't do but just imagined. That idea is just natural human thought overruling the Lord, whose thoughts are not our thoughts. It's a Christian version of karmic law, which according to human reasoning should exist, therefore does exist. This attitude is the religion mill of the race since we were expelled from Eden.

The flip-side of this mistaken idea that thinking of a sin and yielding to doing it carries the same penalty, is the idea circulating in churchly circles that thinking of a good deed and not being able to do it carries the same reward. Both the positive and the negative versions of this concept have impacted and distorted Christianity, especially in the Catholic/Protestant West, but even in the Orthodox East, since the beginning, framing false theologies and turning the Message into mere religion. ‘If something should be true, it must be true. If something should have happened that way, that's how it happened.’ How do we know that Mary is the Queen of heaven? Well, God is the King, and since He is the Father of Mary's Son, she must be Queen.

The error is not in the essential truth of these things, but in the way the truth is applied at the detail and practical level. Regarding sins that we commit, yes, on all three levels, thought, word and deed, yes, they are part of the 'sin' of the world, which Christ takes away, as well as the 'sins' of the world, which He equally disposes of on our behalf. The West takes these things juridically, being a law-based culture, believing in karma without calling it that. The East, when it is not westernized—and unfortunately it is becoming so more and more—takes these things ontologically, being a humanistic culture, believing that Christ and humanity are a single organism in process of being integrated.

When a desert father or a medieval Catholic saint like Thomas à Kempis says things like ‘I haven't done anything good,’ or when Christ says, ‘If a man looks at a woman lustfully…’ we cannot use these statements as a self-evaluation leading to a self-improvement regimen. The good news, the gospel, has many aspects. One of them is to enlighten us with the knowledge that human life is not all about law, but all about grace. Those who in the Church—and the Orthodox are particularly fond of this—refer to the law of God, or of Christ, and would enroll us in following it by entrenching us in the minutiae of legalism, have just added another layer to humanity's worst nightmare—religion—which Christ came to end.

We cannot climb to heaven by taking a literal view of John's ladder, nor can we return to paradise by following the steps we left it in reverse order. Like Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs in the forest path so they could find their way back, we find our breadcrumbs have been eaten by the birds. There is no way to climb to heaven except by being carried there in the arms of the only One who came down from heaven. And there is no path to paradise except by being hung on the Tree to die there next to Jesus as a common criminal. Everything that Jesus teaches and does in the gospels is for us to be lifted up with Him just as He is, drawing all men to Himself. Book 2, Chapter 12, of the Imitation of Christ tells it all.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bad news, good news

The word of Jesus is not something He spoke once so that it could be written down and then turned into stone tablets with which we could judge the world. No, the word of Jesus is such a word that it takes what is stone and turns it into something alive. When we go forth to meet men in the world with the word of Jesus, we don’t go forth in judgment, but we meet them, all of them, in the company of Jesus, who walks with us, and who walks among men to save them. It is not the day of judgment yet. It is still the day of mercy.

When Jesus sent them out two by two, He instructed them to go to every town and preach the word, and if they receive it, peace be with them, but if they reject it, then the disciples leave that town and wipe its dust from their soles, and depart. What men reject when they reject the word is not a doctrine but a person, as the Lord says, ‘whoever rejects you rejects Me, and whoever rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.’ It is all about personal encounter, of Life with death, seeking to bring the dead to life, not about standards of right and wrong.

The world is well aware that it is living in sin, that is to say, that it is dying in its sins. It already knows the bad news, which is so well-known that it needs no one to announce it. People are imprisoned in their own wickedness and they know it. Sometimes, even when the Gatekeeper comes with the keys and opens the door for them to escape, they dare not depart from the safety of the cage, despite its stench and filth, because they are afraid of the unknown. Why do their eyes hurt? Because they have never used them before. Light hurts at first.

The people who dwell in darkness have seen a great light, on them who live in the land of shadows a light has shone. Though we have responded to the call and come out from among them, they are part of us and we are part of them, a living Body with dead limbs, that someday will be amputated if they cannot be reinvigorated with the life of the Body. But ours is not the scalple or the ax, but rather the ointment and the bandage gauze, ours is the medicine that quickens souls and brings life to the dying. The Physician is among us, not the Judge.

Come, brethren, and speak the living word to your neighbors, not what can be written with paper and ink, but the word in person, as the beloved apostles write, not words of condemnation, but words of encouragement, not to quench the smoking flax, but to blow on it till it becomes a fire, that same fire of which the Lord Jesus says, ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth. How I wish it were ablaze already!’ He is not dead, brethren, and neither are we, but alive. His ascension has revealed who He is and where He lives, not for thirty-three years and in one body, but for ever, and among us.

The word of Jesus is not living words turned to stone, but words that turn stone statues into real men. Just as He spoke it at the beginning to create all things, He speaks it in us, with us, and through us, to keep renewing the world, even unto its last day. As He told His holy apostles, ‘I am with you until the close of the age.’ Between His first and His second coming, there is nobody here but us, living words.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Can we start today?

What is more important in the Body of Christ than unity? The world does not believe because it sees that the Church is not the abode of peace, unity and love, but only another society much like itself, full of jealousies, usurpations, war and discord. It knows that we have a good Lord and God but that He must not be worth very much, that we do not really believe in Him very strongly and truly, because our belief hasn’t changed us very much. It looks in at our door and sees a house no better than its own. It looks at our family and sees the same dysfunction that afflicts its own family. Why would the world want to enter into the Kingdom of God, if that Kingdom is only the same as its own under another name?

The human world, the human race, is stopped in its tracks, cannot take the next step in its evolution, because the only part of it that has the possibility of taking the first steps has chosen not to. The only new man in the history of the world has appeared. Though we fought against Him with all our might and were able to bodily kill Him, He was not defeated but instead defeated everything in us that keeps us down. What is worse for us is that the Man did not go away but is always present in our midst, and still we, the Church that claims to be His Body, the Body of Christ on earth, His Presence, that people who can of all peoples take the step into the new humanity, the new world, do not take it.

Unity, yes, unity. It does not have to mean what we try to bend it to mean. It is not an ideal that we can say we strive for but are unfortunately unable to achieve. No. Unity in God does not mean administrative unity. We all do not have to be united under one pope or system of Church government. That has been our big mistake, but it stems from another deeper one, the desire to overcome, not ourselves, but others, in the name of God. How senseless, how brutal is our handling of the Message that it no longer has any power in it to transform the world. We are indeed on our last legs, we have indeed reached our next to last day. We have failed to bring new birth to the world.

The Book is there and open to all who can read. The Christians read it and do not follow what it says but only argue about it and talk it to death. The world reads it and picks and chooses what it wants to take in its vain attempt to do without the Spirit what only the Spirit can do. The world and the Church are two disobedient sons, one saying it will do what the Father wills but does not, the other saying it will not do what He says—because there is no Father—and yet does, though without effect. Belief cannot be followed by disobedience. Obedience has no power to transform without faith. Though Christ prefers the obedient faithless to the disobedient believing, neither brings mankind to its destiny.

This talk of mine is no more than idle talk. I am both in the world and in the Church and I share the fate and fault of both. All I know is, I too want to be transformed. I too want to see the uncreated Light of Tabor and seeing it become it. There is no blame or shame that I do not share with all of you, my brothers, all of you, both believers and unbelievers. Nothing about us that divides us matters at all. Nothing. It is only what unites us that matters, and there is only one thing, one Man, that can unite us, and that is Christ. He does not unite us by brute force, by threats, intimidation, or by decree. He unites us by His prayer to the Father, by His life for the world, by His death on the Cross, by His resurrection.

This is what humanity is waiting for, what mankind really desires, what every man and woman, rich and poor, free and slave, really wants. Having this, having the unity that is in Christ, having it not just talking about it, is what dissolves the struggle between man and woman, tears down the wall between rich and poor, and makes of the human race a single family of priests and kings, where none rule but who serve, and where all make progress with not a single one left behind into the new world that Christ has established. He is the new Man, the only One, and what then does that make us? There is no middle ground, though we have made of human history a midden of disappointed hope by our refusal to follow Him.

Can we start today? Is there anything I can do as a single man, you as a single man or woman? If you are a pope, a bishop, a priest, a minister of the gospel, a missionary, a witness, a worker for Christ, whatever you call yourself, if you say you are following Christ, is there anything you can do? Is there anything you can do to make a difference? There is no program to follow, no principle to espouse, no compact to subscribe to. Have you been baptized and believed? Now just go and say and do what you hear Jesus saying and see Him doing in the holy gospels. Step into the shoes of the fishermen, but don’t do what you want, do what He wants. He is alive. He will tell you. I cannot do that. I can only listen for myself.

Humanity is waiting to take the next step in its evolution because those who know that the step has already been taken by Christ have refused to follow, but only squirm in their seats as they watch the Jesus movie and read the lives of the saints. The world will not believe until it sees God among us. Is He really there? Is He really here, with us? Do we believe that? If we do, then what are we doing sitting here like this? No, it isn’t just what we can do. In fact it is nothing at all that we can do that will transform humanity. Only He can do that, but we must first want it, we must first give Him our permission.
We must let Him transform us.
All we need to do is want it.
Want to be one.

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Start to live

I ask you to consider this question: who is greater, he who dies and rises again or he who does not die at all? Those who extol the latter are deceived, for Christ both died and rose. But he who extols the former urges that for the dying, or rather the falling, there is no cause whatever for despair.
St. John Climacus, Step 15: 32

This is an interesting concept that we find gleaming everywhere under the dark cinders of deception and false piety in the Church, which seems to teach us that human perfection consists in ‘being good’ all the time, something we must strive for.

Be vigilant, for sin is lurking behind every corner to snatch its opportunity with us, like a lion looking for prey. Of course! It's even written in scripture. But we needn't pay too much attention to the mechanics of spiritual warfare as if we needed to know before we do.

Even though scripture and Church tradition is loaded (in the case of the latter, overloaded) with instructions that have kept us looking at ourselves and measuring and weighing our progress and spirituality, Jesus Himself, if you study His words and acts very carefully, would have none of this.

Hence, what I express as the dichotomy between religion and Christ, ‘religion is a sickness, and Christ is the cure.’ This, to me, is the defining momentum of Orthodoxy.

Every so often, though, we find even in print, the Church exasperated with herself crying out things like,
‘O happy fault!’ The Orthodox speculate that even had Adam and Eve not sinned, Christ would have come anyway, only we wouldn't have crucified Him. Maybe so, but we don't deal in ‘what if's.’

What I notice is this persistent theme in my own thought: That our existence as individuals, and as a world, is a single ‘sin event’ that is responded to by a single ‘cure event.’

That the beginning of our ‘perfection’ consists in imitating the Father, which in practice means imitating Jesus, but that the end of our ‘perfection’ is to cease being everything we associate with being merely human at all, not in the details, but in the orientation, in short, to simply forget.

Forget what? Again, it is impossibly simple—impossible because we don't want to do it—we just forget ourselves, as Paul says, ‘don't look back, but only ahead,’ straining for the finish line for all we're worth, not counting our breaths or measuring our pace—just run ‘like hell’ for heaven.

Have I veered too far from the concept under discussion? I hope not. The dichotomy will not go away. We are told ‘be perfect’ everywhere we look, and given a card of rules. On the front it has commandments, but on the back, it is covered with ruses and excuses, ‘If no one saw you do it…’

But Christ, though deathless, underwent—no, undergoes—death for us, so that He could be—no, is—raised to die no more. When and where does He do this? Was it in first century Palestine, where ‘once and for all’ He died to save all men? No, that was just the beginning.

Neither His life, nor His death, nor His resurrection, are events locked in mere moments in the flow of time. This is where religious walls evaporate when we allow ourselves to see the truth. In each human individual, from the first before He came, up to the last before He comes again.

That is where the drama of the pre-eternal Word and Son of God takes place. In each of us. Either it takes place there, or it doesn't take place, for us, at all. Once we grasp that light, which the world cannot grasp, we have already begun walking the road to Calvary.

Once we grasp that truth, we are one day closer to His coming again, for ourselves and for the world.
We join the migration with magi to a birth cave that ends with myrrhbearers looking into an empty tomb.
We start to live a life of death that leads to life, that has no possible end but the wedding feast of the Lamb.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Start with Jesus

The fatal flaw of fundamentalism is its absolute reliance on its interpretation of words which are, in themselves, only translations (usually into archaic English) of what was originally written and spoken in the Hebrew and Greek languages, rarely taking into account the understandings of the ancients, calling them dead traditions.

They claim to be doctors of the Law but they understand neither the arguments they are using nor the opinions they are upholding.

Other forms of Christianity—Orthodoxy, Catholicism, classic Protestantism, even modern expressions not derived from the other three—certainly are also flawed, but not necessarily fatally.

What makes a fatal flaw? Anything which debars us from really hearing the words of Jesus and doing what He commands. We may say we know the Lord. We may say we believe solely in scripture. We may know and accept the four spiritual laws. We may even work miracles. But whose voice do we hear without letting our additions to it or our interpretations of it prevent us from observing it, prevent us from really following Him?

Start with the actual words of Jesus. Then let the apostles show us how to apply them. Do not start with the apostles, or worse yet, modern advocates of their own philosophies, and then add Jesus’ words as occasion requires. Start with Jesus. Join the apostles. Hear Him as they hear Him, and with them do what He does.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Start from here

Until the righteous King arrives, all is anarchy.

What people or nation on earth will take up the call of Jesus Christ? 
Not by exhibiting harmless religious piety or doing condescending works of charity,
but by saying what He says, and doing what He does?

Not a single disciple of Jesus waited till he could decide whether or not he agreed with Christ's words.
Each simply responded to the call, immediately.
Why are we all so incapable of doing this?
Who or what has tied our hands?

Anything can become a cult.
Any man's ideas or teachings can become a cult,
and will become a cult unless reason steps in.
And where does this reason come from?
It comes from Jesus Christ,
because of all the sons of men, His ideas and teachings alone do not become a cult,
that is, when they are followed, not just believed.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock… but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

So this offends you?
Go ahead, be offended.
It's your choice, but all it does is betray your weakness and self-doubt.
Not God, nor the man who is sure of God, can be offended.
Only those who only believe.

I believe very little, but I trust much.
A little good sometimes comes from belief, but more often a lot of evil.
But from trust, the reverse is true.
A little evil sometimes comes from trust, but more often a lot of good.
And absolutely true, that only good comes from trust
when the One you trust is the only One who can be trusted absolutely.
That is, Jesus Christ.