Exhausted

This is a comment I offered on a website I frequent called “Front Porch Republic” which seeks to be a meeting place of like-minded folks who largely call themselves conservative or some more or less precise term.

So we have seen an exhausted thread here which represents the exhausted FPR, a mere symptom of the exhausted conservative movement (or at least I am exhausted and so all the light that passes through my eyes is colored so).

By exhausted, I do not mean without vibration; there is still momentum, movement, agitation, excitation, but there is no light from the heat, no illumination of a path forward, no cohesion. And this is as it should be, in fact, it must be.

For conservatism isn’t. It cannot be. You cannot have a coordinating movement of persons from different communities; especially those so fluid as to require a base democratization, a pandering to those who have free association available to them as a weapon, and a distortion of the social contract which can only come about by a man believing he has no debts if he is not paying usury.

It is the truth that Fusionism is a lie and a repulsive lie at that. It was fabricated out of what was believed to be a political necessity, and existential threat to both man and state that was represented by militant, totalitarian communism. But that is only the beginning, for other words used in FPR are also lies. Christianity is one of them.

As fond as I am of the Roman Church, there are those who could articulate with subtly I cannot (and possibly without offense) why my Orthodox brethren and that body remain divided. Certainly each Protestant in this forum has heard at least one sermon in their lifetime on such a topic, even in the most adoring forms of insipid Anglican Romantic cucumber circles.

Moreover, though some of you also work, as I do, in what is called “Higher Education” this too is a lie. My institution’s mission statement, while not presupposing the inferiority of your institution in any explicit way, necessarily stands in opposition to many of the institutions represented here.

I live in a marginally above standard community, economically and aesthetically, which has no center whatsoever. Not only can it not defend itself against the loss of its nature, it whores out what little germination of community can be found to those who would only sleep within the confines of its borders; preferring to work, Church, shop and perform other acts of life far out of its memory.

The only thing I can admit is that I see no hope of anything better except for each to share in correspondence, as was the tradition in a more civilized age, between one another the essential matters of necessary research into the essential and diverse natures of human community and foster it where and as we can as all men hope toward God’s salvation.

We are not, nor should we see ourselves as, prophets of a better age. Even as the golden headed Nebuchadnezzar himself was only a king, his state built by conquering blood, upon brutal slavery and maintained by the subjugation of God’s people.

We are rather poets, who having (I hope) fasted and prayed, scrawl out some meaning in words, some code that can be passed among the faithful whom we neither know nor know of. This will bear the fruit that all poetry does, reflecting the reader upon themselves, convicting the soul.

We are not right, nor righteous. We are fell creatures of this age. But that which we are, we are. This is why the conservative movement went wrong, because it is no movement at all, but a voice crying out, make straight the path! I do not know the way, though I have witnessed what seems to me to be the way in the lives of men and women I might dare call holy or good.

I don’t think to speak of myself, but of those who seem to see clearer than I do–here and elsewhere.

I have no interest in political machinations. In the success or failure of tyrants who would rule in my name as opposed to ruling in the name of my enemies. I would have no enemies, though I am sure this poem of a post will remind a few that they believe I am theirs.

For the totalitarian instinct is in the right, the left and all points between. And a man who refuses to join the glittering unholy army of self-ascribed righteousness is as much a foe as the ones they march to meet on the battlefield. In fact worse, for he appears to be an infection within the ranks themselves and a traitor to the cause.

Damnation to Brutus yes? Cassius still? And Judas yet in the maws of Hell’s coldest fiend. Would you but know the nature of such a condition you would not seek it for a single man, but open your heart to each man you chance upon to meet as we go about our plans to rule a world with rulers who cannot rule even themselves.

I am tempted even now to curse those who would seek to form an ideology, or movement, even within the ephemeral walls of this astral realm off bits and bytes; but rather, knowing their sin is also in my heart tenfold; I ask for God’s providence to guide us both and have mercy on our souls.

Obedience

Make no mistake, the way out of this mess is obedience.

Everything else is the gyrations of a collective cultural epileptic fit. These manic outbursts have nothing to do with being human, or in fact much of anything. It is anti-culture and nothing or no one has ever had to deal with such a beast before.

I hear the words of some who say (with that “nothing is new under the son” tone of voice) that the Roman empire as a first cosmopolitan sociological laboratory was similar, but it wasn’t. Nothing like what we are going through right now has ever happened, nothing remotely like it.

We no longer live in communities, we no longer live together at all. For the first time in human history, more adults will go to bed alone tonight than go with a spouse. More children are raised in fractured (and soon even single) homes than stable ones, forget having extended “clan” relations around.

We have begun to play with the fundamental categories of human nature, not by some accident of the fall, but by intent. We are in a feedback loop of distorted self caused by the nascent ascendancy of man over his own nature.

We’re wrestling about talking about whether or not Church life fits into this mess, but that’s the rhetorical equivalent of putting the cart before the horse. What does life look like at all, when life can look like anything? I didn’t come to Orthodoxy for protection from post-modernism. (I’d rather have post-modernism than modernism any day of the week as at least the post-modernist knows he’s ill, he’s just in despair about it–which is exactly half the delusion the modernist suffers from.)

Back to the beginning. Obedience. This is what it looks like. How can we obey (or understand what healthy obedience looks like) when we don’t even demand our children respect adults by calling them Mr. and Mrs. How do I genuinely use the term “Master” or “His Grace”, if I call my own mother “Sheila”?

But obedience is it. It is the answer. The only way to recover this is to do what Christ did. Empty ourselves of our demigodhood, and do not count ourselves as equals. Obey, not as slaves, but perhaps at least as well as we listen to our new clergy in the medical profession (faith follows function). Obey as our parents obeyed their grandparents. Obey as they obey us. This isn’t subservience, this is, this must flower in mutual love.

This is a mutual obedience, formed by real bonds that really suffers for one another and really ruins a whole family when one member throws the common life into a fit.

It does not matter whether the tones are Byz or SATB in the key of F. Our priests wear what they wear at the altar because if they didn’t they’d be naked, and they might as well wear just about what the guy they remember doing it wore.

Is Orthodoxy in America troubled beyond Owen-ian repair? Of course not. There is no way up, but through. Admit the EOC and a dozen like them, the chips will fall as they may. In 200 years all of this will be summed in a few pages on some history book. It will say, “there was a time when…” and later, “but then there was this and that development…” and then finally, “so now we are past that but have to deal with these new problems.”

And life will go on, as will the Church until the Eschaton.

Again I say, if we are cursed with a freer will (or as I understand it, a never more dangerously enslaved will) let us use that freedom to lay down our slavery and bury our dead bodies in obedience to one another.

Even if it hurts. Especially when others do not return the “enlightened” gesture. Evermore until in the flesh we die.

Silence

What then does this humility look like, what does this wound feel like, what does it sound like? Silence.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
Isaiah 53:7

Consider Christ. Contemplate his silence in the presence of scorn and at the hand of wounding; a silence well-pleasing to God to bring about the reconciliation of the world. It was not the Sermon on the Mount that ended enmity with God, but Christ crucified. The efficacious Word of God was silent.

I seek a humility which pardons my brother before he asks for pardon. And if I cannot do good to those who do me evil, at least I will flee those who offend me. If I cannot flee, I will practice silence.

Neither should I judge myself unjustly, because it does not always prove useful to pray against sin. For my struggle is not against sin, rather it is towards God. Pride might build a fortress in such a prayer, for pride tempts by virtues gained in striving. I have prayed, Do not permit me to sin! and yet I sin. My only unspent weapon is silence.

If I wish to share the nature of Christ, when I am accused falsely I will not answer word for word, neither will I ask, What have I done? As the stones fall, I must not cry out. I will shut my mouth up with the smaller stones, but I will learn silence; remembering the soul has no need of oratory.

Silence receives. What hope have open ears apart from a closed mouth? A friend of silence comes close to God. In secret he converses with Him and receives His light. (John Climacus)

It is time to become uprooted from the settled life of noise and strike out into the wilderness of silence. In a battle of echoes only silence disarms the powers–only the silent wastes can expose the things shrouded in urban clamor.

In this interior kingdom, I experience the anguish of my flesh and the bitterness of my narrow bowels, where alienation bakes the dust and the horrors of my hatred of myself and of others is flayed open.

But if there is no cover for my grief, neither is there any longer a mask obscuring God’s presence. For the Resurrected Christ dwells here in this desert, the conqueror who broke the very gates of Hades, the Evenstar who sets fire to the boundless horizon, He who turns all endings in that place to beginnings. This wilderland is revealed as a green country and the sunset a swift sunrise!

So mindfulness of death thus transfigures as remembrance of God; and suffering to trust, burnt herbs into balmy incense.

This then is the incorruptible reward of silence: communion with the Living God.

Be silent!

The Will and the Good

When this post was first written, I had in mind to speak about the topic of silence as a way of seeing more clearly the way of being good. This relates directly to other recent posts about humility as something which is not self-abuse but a lack of self-consciousness through watchfulness. Silence is essential to this watchfulness.

Some way into the writing it became obvious that quotes and introductory material should be included before writing on the main topic, so silence became the title of tomorrow’s post. After rereading this post it seemed incoherent to me–merely a string of precursory thoughts and quotes. So it has been rewritten. What follows below the line is better preparation for tomorrow, and stands on its own.


First, two definitions and then a question.

The human will is the faculty by which we act. This is not to say that it is some some sort of personal prime mover, but it is the agency by which we can chose to do take action based on our experiences.

The human will operates in two different modes, one is limited by human understanding and degraded by such things as fear, envy and pride; the other is unlimited and in harmony with the will of God. We call the later the natural will and the former, lesser operation the gnomic will.

This is the question proposed: How will we do the good and turn our minds from the purely pragmatic and limited gnomic operation of the will? Or said differently, how can we be like Christ, living in harmony with the Father though the power of the Holy Spirit? How does this actually work?

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is unclouded, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is dark, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

If the human eye is clouded, if human beings cannot know perfectly how to act and in fact often react in fear or out of other psychological malfunctions, how can we possibly do good? Of course, the short answer is revelation from God. God says one thing is good and the other is bad; but it does not take a great deal of investigation to realize that persons of good intent still disagree on what God says or how to apply it.

There must be a way–a method or approach, not to perfect instant knowledge, but to being perfected in Christ though a way of knowing. This is more than baptism, communion or keeping rules (though these are essential elements). This is about the way to live our lives in Christ. And we know this way must be available to all, for He calls sinners, little children, and fools.

Here there is an important philosophical aside.

There are two popular philosophical positions which state that if God is to be considered good, free will must be crushed; and the contrapositive, if free will is to be preserved, God cannot be perfectly good. These positions arise from the problem of evil and whether or not God is responsible for it.

But these assertions both assume that the goodness of God is simple, that it is singular. Christ shows us that is not the case in the scriptures, for He asks that the cup pass from him (Christ certainly did not will an evil here) but voluntarily submitted (emptied Himself of his equality) to the Father.

This is critical. Christ willed something different, but that difference did not constitute opposition. This frustrated the early Greek Christians until they realized that the One wasn’t simple, but infinite (apologies to the Neo-Platonists). That is there are limitless goods in God which all His images fulfill (this is why Orthodox Christians are synergists).

This too is how healthy communities can function. That each member might retain his will for the good of the community, but submit that will to harmony. We need not solve the problem of individuality with absolute oppression (just as we do not need to solve the problem of salvation through Monergism).

I do not accept that there are two alternatives, oppressive preexistent authority and chaotic unfettered individualism. It is possible to have cooperation through voluntary submission.

Here the philosophical aside ends.

To illustrate this way of going about living in Christ, these quotes and comments round out my introduction to tomorrow’s post about silence. They are offered for your consideration:

First, a quote about our need for a cure.

There are some who would like to discover pure and unchanging truth by themselves before believing. But only a heart that has been purified can enable them to contemplate it. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Otherwise they would be like the blind men thinking they can be cured by turning their unseeing eyes towards the sun. Who can possibly contemplate its light before recovering his sight? (Augustine of Hippo)

And then about what this cure is, that is being wounded by love:

The Bride says, ‘I am wounded by love’. By these words she designated the arrow that sinks deep into her heart. [God shoots his chosen arrow, his only begotten Son.]
Thus the soul is uplifted by this divine elevation and sees in itself the sweet arrow of love with which it has been wounded, and glories in its wounding in the words; ‘I am wounded by love’. (Gregory of Nyssa)

Christ’s life wounds us. In fact, we must be wounded unto death itself. As the scriptures say, we must die with Him to be raised up with Him. And again they say, we must suffer with Him to share in His glory.

Now from the sayings of the desert fathers, concerning what is good:

Many have ruined their bodies with no discernment and gone away without finding anything. We may have evil-smelling breath because of our fasting, we may know the Scriptures by heart, we may recite all the psalms and still lack what God is looking for — love and humility.

Such a quote is not so different that Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians that without love all our other feats of righteousness and virtue are worthless. So then we come to this next point by John Chrysostom, that the mixture of sin and humility is worth more than the mixture of virtue and pride:

Imagine two chariots. Harness virtue and pride to one, sin and humility to the other. You will see the chariot drawn by sin outstrip that of virtue. To understand why remember the Pharisee and the publican, one relied on his own righteousness, the other needed to say only a few words to be free of all his sins. This is precisely what Christ wanted to demonstrate when he said, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.

Isaac of Nineveh called humility the ornament of the godhead. That Christ clothed himself in our flesh in humility made our knowledge of God (that which was impossible) possible. Christ’s humility was the first step in the curing of our spiritual blindness. The second step is our own humility in concert with Christ, In His presence make no pretence of knowledge. Approach God rather with the heart of a child. Go into His presence to receive the loving care with which fathers look after their little children.

And so we find the key to set free on our will from its clouded bondage, When God sees that in all purity of heart you are trusting in Him more than yourself, then a strength unknown to you will come to make its dwelling in you. And you will feel in all your senses the power of Him who is with you. If we depend on our own strength to will the good, to keep virtue, we will fail; but if we voluntarily submit in humility then it will be to us as if our greatest feats are mere trifles. If we are wounded by love–If we are silent.

This is the righteousness reckoned of Abraham and exclaimed by James as the proof of faith, that we are able to work goodness. That it is possible, by faith to live in accordance with the will of God. Not by being perfect, but by submitting to being perfected by His power.

With this rewritten version, I believe the groundwork is better prepared to address silence tomorrow. And I thank and apologize to those who read, or attempted to read, the first version.

Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose

I received some positive responses from friends of this blog for my last essay on paradox.

The key line was that humble people do not merely think badly of themselves, but don’t much think of themselves much at all. And then perhaps better said, this is not to say they are not aware of themselves, but the watchfulness they exercise over their minds keeps focused on the heart which is the faculty of man to apprehend God.

A good friend, the one in fact to whom this essay was written, fairly challenged this as kicking the can down the road. After all, there was no real disagreement with the premise, but neither was their insight into how this is done and why it is effectual.

This is a mystery, one I have not achieved, but the light I intended to shine from my own experience I will endeavor to make clear.

In psychology I have always favored the behaviorists. Despite their excesses, their calculated consideration of man as a physical being tends to mute my tendency to speak exclusively about the transcendent nature of man. The best work in this field is in the matter of habituated stimulus and response. If you do something in the immediate presence of a strong stimulus you will tend to reinforce that behavior over time. This is a mechanism for addiction (using a substance or activity in the presence of stress) but it will also assist you in getting a good night’s sleep (preparing for sleep with a regular pattern behavior started at the same time every night).

Christ tells us:

Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.

So then the person watching over their hearts is like a sentry aware of each strong stimuli, holding the gate against disruptive stimuli certainly, but more importantly monitoring the response of the heart and training it with an active conscience to send out only that which is undefiled. We watch, when our spouse fails to clean up the kitchen, and guide the heart to the task of completing the chore in good cheer. The more we are watchful screening influences and tempering responses the more automatic those habits become. Indeed, the more humble we become, the less self-centered and the less thought of self and the wrongs done us.

Some have said that certain exercises of the Zen Buddhists are compatible with a Christian discipline in this area because of their focus on being fully present in the present. Here too is the value of ritual to call our mind into focus and into ever deeper layers of experience as we make each level of habitual experience automatic it frees us to a richer contemplation of the moment.

But perhaps you are no fan of behaviorists and consider Zen Buddhism a worldly wisdom best left out of consideration. We could reflect on a more Freudian interpretation of events.

Of the Theotokos the scripture tells us:

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Our Most Blessed Lady was doing more than keeping quiet here. She was reflecting in her (to quote the Psalmist) inward parts where we know and are known by God on the news of the glad tidings of the heavenly hosts. For us such contemplation is not nearly as sublime, as I am referring to the contemplation of our sins.

The therapeutic method is one of guided reflection. We can see how such reflection can be helpful when we go to confess our sins. Without a watchful mind, we will have nothing but a list of the most surface outbursts of evil acts. This is not to say that “I lost my temper twice with my wife and kicked the cat” is not a valid confession or a trivial matter. But rather, if we do not watch our hearts we can never uproot the experiences and delusions which result in our sinful outbursts.

In this way we seek out the afflictions that give rise internally to our sinful patterns. We consider how our lives are or are not in balance, keeping with the teachings of the Church and with the advantageous research of modern science. Whereas the behavioral approach outlined above might be good for noticing when we walk past a certain BBQ stand on a fast day we are inclined to fall to temptation, the therapeutic eye might assist us more in why we do not properly feast when the feast has come. We might seek through self-inventory what has robbed us of the joy when it comes in the fullness of it’s time.

These are both helpful considerations (though considerable simplifications) from a religiously unaffected analysis.

What then is the word from the Church on these matters of the soul? What do they say about our need for watchfulness and how that watchfulness can disarm pride and root out vainglory leading us into humility and ultimately a life through Christ, in Christ, as Christ?

Here I must be a Goose and ask for your pardon another day. Hopefully this is a good enough down-payment on an answer.

A Pair of Ducks

It is an trite thing to say that many truths are revealed in paradoxes. Much that is called a paradox is merely a misunderstanding. We might discuss the phenomenon that those who fight are often brought closer together. This is not a paradox, but just a faulty understanding of human behavior which fails to account for a particular bonding process.

All The Way Down

Truth found in paradoxes is true, as they say, all the way down. For example, in physics it is a paradox that a quantum state does not exist (actually multiple states exist simultaneously but they collapse into a single reality) until you perceive it. That you must perceive something for it to properly exist is a paradox, because the seeing is dependent on the existing while the existing is dependent on the seeing.

Such a paradox is keeping watch over the mind so as to avoid being self-centered. It is a commonly held misconception that a humble person thinks terrible things about themselves, when in fact, a humble person doesn’t think much about themselves at all.

This is not to say they are not aware of themselves, but the watchfulness they exercise over their minds keeps focused on the heart which is the faculty of man to apprehend God. Developing this inner life is the very nature of prayer and without this inner life nothing will stream outward towards others.

There is a story of a successful but unhappy man going to a monastery to get advice from a monk. The monk poured him a glass of water and kept pouring even spilling out water all over the floor. He told the man, “You are like this glass, already full. Go empty yourself and when you come back, I can help you.”

Christ tells us, if we wish to live, we must die and those that die in Him will live in Him. We must lose to win, humble ourselves to be exalted, empty ourselves to be filled. It is not merely that being empty once, results in some new thing filling us; no, we become ever more full as we achieve greater emptiness.

This is not a nothingness, or a trick of the mind where we can master certain biochemical brain states which bring about feelings of euphoria. It is not a stunt.

This Is Life

A great many people ask themselves what life is and what it is for, but as Christians we have been assured that Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly. What is this life that Christ brings to us, but the life He shares with the Father. Love in unity without division or confusion. An existence (as pointed out by a friend) for which we do not yet have proper pronouns.

Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God,
did not count equality with God something to be grasped.
But he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
becoming as human beings are;
and being in every way like a human being,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death, death on a cross.

And for this God raised him high,
and gave him the name which is above all other names;
so that all beings in the heavens,
on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acknowledge
Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

How shall this be done without putting on the very mind of Christ? This is a mere glimpse into this. I am no expert on these matters and I may have sailed beyond my experience on this one. This is one of those times I must admit that I have not yet walked this path, but I stand at a road marker with a lamp hoping to point the way.

[No ducks were harmed in the making of this blog-post.]

Amendment

We are not so far gone yet that the image of God in us is obscured beyond repair. Nothing is beyond the grace, nothing deeper than the love, and nothing is more human since the first Advent of our Lord than becoming divine.

The English language has been so abused that words no longer mean what they mean. It saddens me when the best word I can think of for those in Fukushima Japan, is heroes. A term we use for such trivial things as sports figures and celebrities.

But there are heroes in Fukushima. When someone asked our Lord, “Who is my neighbor?” Such a story as these who will suffer personally for their heroic deeds, could be as good an answer as he gave.

In all likelihood these workers at the Fukushima plant will not just die for their fellow man, they will die grievously (radiation poisoning being among the worst fates man can know) and do so not even knowing the people who’s lives they seek to save.

But God knows each one in their innermost parts. Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever.

Superman

Superman never made any money
For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
And sometimes I despair the world will never see
Another man like him

A friend reminded me of this great song yesterday and it leads to my next collection of thoughts.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to where the real men have gone, real Christians, or in fact, anything real. We have set loose the great leviathan of radical empiricism in a quest for the holy grail of reality and found nothing but a dusty cup of hammered tin. I wrote in my previous posts about how we have ignored the reality of other persons and the reality of community. Now I turn to the matter of the real self.

We have begun a madness that will not be quelled. We have abandoned sanity and greatly celebrated its renunciation. We have established national holidays to prance about on the grave of our fore-fathers.

Our wanton disregard for the state of ourselves is repulsive to anyone taking a moment to consider it.

What madness? I have considered for some time how to demonstrate to my fellows of our affliction; particularly those who manage so their dysfunction with such efficiency. What should one say to the highly functional, highly successful addict? How does one demonstrate to them without dissection the slow death of their inner members?

Brothers, we are dead inside and dying. And we are feeding on the carrion of each other. We are addicted to a great many things, but most of all we are addicted to the taste of human flesh.

Is this a thought most revolting? Have we been so distracted by the shine on the silverware and the silk napkins that we have forgotten the meat on the table where we dine? Better to eat bitter herbs in the house of love that the fatted calf with hatred!

The addict does harm first to himself. He poisons himself and his being with a substance which imitates reality but ends in death rather than life. Whether it be alcohol, gambling or sex, the addiction forms a cocoon around the addict where the only visible answer is to further fuel the engine of our own destruction. We recklessly hasten to our end.

I went to the Mayo Clinic’s website and looked up the symptoms of addiction. These are not meant as a spiritual diagnosis, yet they are a clearer picture of the spirit of this age than I have seen from pulpits.

  • Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — this can be daily or even several times a day
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug even though you can’t afford it
  • Doing things to obtain the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
  • Feeling that you need the drug to deal with your problems
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug
  • Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug

Shall we consider a substitution of terms? Perhaps money would be a more appropriate matter for consideration, our reputation, or more ephemeral things like security or lifestyle. We could also go more base and discuss television, automobiles, houses and such things as we covet.

For myself I find dramatic irony that an alcoholic is best served by ceasing (under the supervision of a medical professional) to consume alcohol. But what is the prescription for those of us who have misused food, which we must consume to live, turning it into a poison that we must now disdain? Or what then of religion, how shall we do away with our religious distractions when the truth of the Word of God comes to us through the traditions passed down by our pious ancestors to which we owe our very souls?

We are lamentable to be sure. And we most functional are the most grievously endangered. For once calamity has struck and life begins to give way to death in an unmistakable tragedy all pride is broken and we are left with a moment of clarity.

But to those of us who are not yet clear, we wait. And the smarter we are, and the more sophisticated in our buttresses of reinforcement, the larger our superstructure of good habits and manners and education, the greater a monument we build to our own vanity, the greater we lift ourselves up; the scriptures tell us, the greater will be our collapse when God brings us down.

How long brothers and sisters? How long will we eat each other’s flesh? How long will we poison ourselves with our addiction for celebrity and scandal? Here now in Lent we chose to fast, but we chew on each other and receive the full condemnation of the saints who walked before us.

Superman has often been ridiculed (I have repeated it) as the “Big Blue Boy Scout”. Why such ridicule? Because we know we must protect our addictions, hide them even from ourselves. We know that if we had his strength we would not save the day, but let loose our will upon the world for our own benefit; just as we let our powers such as they are, even now, war against our fellow man.

Seven Bridges Road

Now I have loved you like a baby
Like some lonesome child
And I have loved you in a tame way
And I have loved you wild

I have come to realize some small portion of the pain I have caused in this world. God has given me a great mercy that I am not aware of it all. Of all the revenge on all enemies ever wished, nothing would be worse than desiring that one morning they might see in the mirror all that they have wrought in themselves and others. Consider the times we have not seen Christ in the least of these?

Human beings are compelled universally to live in community. At least we know this, that we are born in community and we will die in community with very little to say about it. One of the truths confronted in Nothing Hypothetical poems is that radical individualism is both intellectually and practically indefensible. It is a product of a vain imagination.

Today few communities consciously develop their sense of non-negotiable belonging; usually micro-communities of ethnic or religious eccentricity. These local bodies and their quazi-local appendages of clan-like relations provide the last cohesive setting for persons to develop an awareness of real communion.

It is much more common to witness communities collapse when the people gathered are without the sufficient conditions for bonding to justify the personal risk and ongoing cost. And without walls the populous tends to migrate too much to coalesce around something other than personal convenience.

This leads me to think that the necessity of community in the past was a pillar of a functioning social group; individualism mitigated by necessity.

Modern marriage contracts may be laudable for a more just address of women’s previous legal vulnerabilities, but no fault divorce removes one of the strongest ordinary compulsions for working out a marriage with fear and trembling.

Since I first considered communion I have struggled with this.

There were different forces at work in elder days. I might have been born into my father’s guild, but to assume that there was not a consensual element to this is an over-simplification. There was social change even then via migration, merchant populations, military service, etc. There have always been stories of peasants falling in love with princesses and other fanciful notions of a change in one’s fated station.

Every child had the rational choice to not do as he was burdened by fate to do, yet the forces of society around him were equally opposed to such an action as they are promoting it now. Many of the ancient stories surround the devastating consequences of attempting to thwart such fate. Such stories had a function precisely because at some point many of the people in those societies considered the consensual limits of their birth.

Just because modern society’s predisposition is to encourage individualism, doesn’t mean that the act of surrendering that is only available as a manifestation of that individualism.

Take the Church. If I come to accept that the Church exists I do not consent to join, but more accurately I submit to its authority. This is not a willful choice on my part, but a disposal of my will. I can, to a lesser extent, accept the community of my workplace, which is not precisely the workplace itself but the community of persons which co-exists along with it, and thereby submit my will again.

This submission, kenosis (to be precise), is the only exit from your philosophical trap of individualism’s inherent extremism. I must disinherit my rights of volition regarding membership in the community I join. These communities cannot properly be democratic in nature though they may contain familiar elements to some degree or another within certain functional parts.

In both of these cases, my participation is not voluntary, or at least it is not fully voluntary in the sense that endangers the construction of a community. Perhaps it is the addition of cyphers against volition that make community possible.

Vows, for example, are critical in monastic communities. They remove a portion of volition creating a platform for greater community function. The military has its methods and mechanisms as well, which serve the same purpose. Sports teams have lesser, but somewhat effective traditions.

We take what we can get in life because our experience has told us that nothing more is available at a price we can afford. A BMW might be an ultimate driving machine, but I cannot even afford a replacement for my currently deficient vehicle should it fail at the side of the road.

What then of the ideal community; what does it look like and how can we have it? Which community shall we meditate on? And if one exists for us to admire it’s great virtue, how then shall we not despair at its remoteness from us? Shall I come to despise my home because it has no hearth?

I have known a couple monastic communities in passing and one I know very well. It might be such a virtuous community such that humans visiting it are visibly effected by it. Yet when you speak to its members they are strangely ignorant of the very medicine they are awash in. They know their deficiencies. So perhaps visitors have a delusional experience; believing we know the holiness of a place is a delusion if we do not equally know its folly.

But it does not matter whether or not we ever chance to participate in such a great community, either within such a community or without it we are called to love our neighbor better than our brother and pray for our enemies. These tasks don’t change with circumstance or environment. This sacrificial love is the fulfillment of life; it is theosis not civics.

I think this is what Bonhoeffer understood. Bringing any expectation to the community is to subjugate it and eventually destroy it. We must love its members as they are for what they are. This is the only hope of real community.

From “Life Together” several quotes:

One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood.

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung up from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christains with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first and accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

The West’s supreme potency lies in it’s utilitarian obsession. When there is plenty of food, clothing and housing for everyone all manner of deficiencies are tolerated. There is abundance in excess beyond all reason and this makes biting the hand that feeds terribly unpalatable.

In fact, so efficient is the efficiency that inefficient islands of anachronism are not only tolerated, but celebrated as is fashionable.

However, obsession ultimately consumes, just as sin ultimately ends in death. Nothing satisfies addictions. A utilitarian, standing and watching it all burn might still say to themselves that for a few generations we got as close to paradise as we could. We’ll get it right next time.

There is no communicating meaningfully with such delusional people.

God forgive the utopians. For them it does not matter whether it is good for as long as it lasts, or that the pessimist in them lives long enough to be satisfied that the end of it all is just. I don’t need to know that a strung out addict is slowly killing themselves in front of me. They have already begun when they take the first dose.

The urge itself is the damage done within the first step. I am glad they all tolerate me (I amuse them as is fashionable). But we may be nearer a time of wild dogs than we know. I do not wish it on anyone, even them that brought their disease with them.

For I know I am ill as well.

Saint John tells us not to pray for them that commit the sin that is unto death. Why does he do this? Because relief will not help these lost souls who’s only hope for repentance is the calamity of consequence.

To what extent is the overwhelming anti-culture, such as it is, still effective at keeping basic social order? All the doomsayers may yet be right, but it is fascinating to see that billions of people are still sufficiently interdependent on each other to understand that if they don’t play along at least marginally, they don’t eat.

However, sustenance isn’t life. We’ve simply enslaved ourselves to our passions and have productively redirected those passions as best we can. When will the slaves revolt, I wonder?

Another quote, this time from a friend:

There cannot be community without an ordering principle, an understanding held in common (and thereby made into “common sense”) about how to live well together. All other arrangements of people cannot constitute community, however laudable they may otherwise be.

This is correct, but thankfully the opposite is also true. Where an ordering principle exists, there is genuine community as well. Bonhoeffer calls divine love the highest order principle. But less debatable than that assertion, is that community exists regardless of our satisfaction with it. And Bonhoeffer’s advice rings true across many lower order communities.

Community exists, with or without our consent. We are born into our families and lie dead in our cemeteries. No one is truly alone. Our satisfaction with these communities is not a measure of their imperfections, but our own.

We bring our wish-dreams to the parish council meeting, marriages, friendships, neighborhoods, cities and nations and say, “make this be” or “make it not so.” And then, when those people do not sum up to our expectations, we thrash the corpses we have already murdered in our hearts. We have already made them objects, dehumanized, just like the pretty girl who smiled at the old man who believes he harmlessly enjoys it. There is nothing so harmful. There is no sin worse than not seeing Christ in the least of these, for what else in the end damns us?

(Some parts of this essay are drawn from other writings of mine.)

Love the One You’re With

Turn your heartache right into joy, she’s a girl, and you’re a boy. Well get it together, make it real nice, You ain’t gonna need anymore advice.

It has been some long time since I wrote prose on this blog; but something has been bothering me and it seemed the time was full. I should be the first one to point out that the moment you find yourself bothered by something is the least appropriate time to write about it. In my defense, or as a confession, I can only say that I rarely take my own advice.

This blog is titled Nothing Hypothetical because I oppose hypotheticals. There are aspects of various disciplines where hypotheticals or conjectures serve a useful purpose. In math and other symbolic logical systems both inductive reasoning and proof by contradiction require hypothetical assumptions. One might even say that while one performs various dance or martial arts training there is a hypothetical or imagined partner or opponent.

What I mean is that I refuse to accept hypothetical constructs as a simulation of reality which requires alterations to life that reality as I have known it would not otherwise suggest. While I enjoy a good bit of entertainment and even write fictional stories, these are always and ever fantastic, imaginary and not meant to bear on the more fundamental questions of life.

I do not go in for fashionable theories which explain phenomena that I have not experienced, nor do I feel the need at this stage in my life to turn in my apologetics anonymous (AA) card, fall off the wagon and get back into the faith vs science or my faith vs your faith debates.

I want to live in what I know and in the trustworthy testimony of my neighbors.

What shall replace this idolatry of ideas, this slavery to hypotheticals and wish-dreams? Persons and most importantly persons in communion.

A long time ago, I considered writing an essay entitled something like, “The Fork in the Road: Three Paths Ahead” discussing the three basic choices which have been presented to human kind since the dawn of time. When the world isn’t what you want you can either accept it (stoicism), try to change it (activism) or attempt to escape (hedonism). This is obviously a thought exercise to explore these different responses and as such it is over simplified.

However, since it was my chief aim to strike at the activists anyway, I’ll draw on my previous thinking to offer up something today.

The root of all activism is pride. Activists, particularly altruistic ones who believe they have sacrificed all but their lives for their cause, will not at first understand this accusation; but it is fundamentally sound. The activist believes not only that the world is not what it should be (of course, Christianity and most any other thoughtful consideration of life would agree) but that they know how it should be and on the basis of their knowledge they are going to change the world.

Perhaps we should take the case of something less extreme. We need not talk about the failure of modernism or the records of history littered with the lost causes of tyrants and schemes of foolish philosophers. Let us take the case of a well-meaning person who seeks to organize a charity function to feed some local homeless. A noble endeavor that will benefit both those in distress and those who are brought together to give generously from their hearts.

But you see such an event requires logistical realities. Volunteers are needed. Speeches will need to be written. A committee must form to discuss the possible ways which these funds might be used. What happens when the volunteers show up late? Or when one of the big donors indicates that he wants the event to be named for him and he be allowed to give a long presentation that amounts to an advertisement for his construction company? Or what if the committee becomes deadlocked on whether meals, vocational training or drug treatment is the best use of the money.

We find that a noble endeavor becomes suddenly corrupted and corrupting to those involved. And if our well-meaning citizen who launched this project decides to bully everyone into cleaning up their involvement for the greater good, what then shall become of his heart?

The impulse to do good can be salvific. But if the pursuit of the good requires others to be subverted for your purpose the impulse leads to destruction. We cannot achieve our grand plan without the objectification of others. We must reduce them from persons to resources. If we think of them as persons freely loved then our effectiveness in the pursuit of our goals is at risk.

We make up all manner of excuses. Beware sentenses that contain categorical imperatives! But we must do this or we cannot have that. These are the words of autocrats to those they see as their subjects.

There was a study, a sort of ethical test given at a theological school. The students were divided into two groups. One group was told they were to give a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the other group was asked to pick any topic of their choosing. These two groups were divided again and one-half of each group was given a tight deadline and the other half a leisurely schedule. When each of the students crossed the campus to the hall where they were supposed to give a sermon they encountered in their path someone who was apparently hurt and having trouble breathing. Surprisingly (perhaps upon reflection not so surprisingly) those that had time stopped and those that were under the clock did not regardless of the very material they were concentrating on that ethically and morally grips with this very event.

Activists are hurried theological students. They are pressed for time. It must be done now, the matter addressed quickly, a resolution instituted, the wrong-righted, and the matter dealt with by all hands on deck. They constantly excuse the chaos and suffering they leave in their wake by the self-deception that the project goal is the greater good. There is no greater good. There is only the good and the good of man is the business of being good. Not mankind, but that man, a particular man, your neighbor.

Love your neighbor as yourself, the rest is commentary. Right?

What were these students thinking? The study did not go so far as to investigate that. Perhaps they were not thinking anything. Perhaps this is mere myopia; they didn’t even notice the presence of one in need. Or perhaps they thought to themselves, “I need a good grade in this course, because I need to graduate with honors, because I need to get a good job offer at a church where I can serve God.” Of course, they missed the opportunities every day that God has given them for service. But they aren’t interested in God’s plans for their service. They have their plans on how they want to serve the God of their own making.

I have heard endlessly from friends, relatives, church members and clergy question and agonize over whether some major life choice is God’s will or not. But they always mean, “will God let me do this my way,” or “will God make this work out the way I want.” God does actually have a will for our lives and we obscure it with this self-righteous facade.

Thank you God our Father in Heaven for your most holy gift to modern man, interruptions.

If we as modern men have any hope it is that God will call us to our senses by interrupting us into submission. I pray he interrupts us at work and at school, at home and in the middle of Church with crying babies if need be. May He interrupt our prayer time, our meals, and our vacations with the kids. If He must blow out our tires on the highway of life to save us from ourselves, then I say, if we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need Him now.

But there I go prescribing my own solution to the problems I see in life. Forgive me, a sinner.