For the Love of God – Don’t Follow your Passions

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gird loins hp“Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants!”

-The Gospel according to Saint Luke, ch. XII

This is the reading from Morning Prayer today.

Being awake is to remain vigilant. Vigilance is the difference between an excellent and a poor Imagination. A poor imagination begets poor Action, and an excellent one – an excellent one.

So the Imagination needs baptizing. As it is with all things.

When an ugly idea or a sinful image appears in our Imagination, as they are prone to do, we are at first not at fault. Should we let it linger and not cast it out, we begin to play with the idea, at this point Desire begins to be attached to the image. Once desire is attached to this image we call it an Impassioned Image. At this point spiritual combat begins. Should we lose we begin to turn that Image into Action. But we can win by dashing them upon Christ our Rock,

No, not that Rock.

Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, *
and dashes them against the rock!”
-Psalm 137

Should we lose the Impassioned Image eventually takes us captive. Captivity is being forced to Act on Images but hating it, as St. Paul says,

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
-Romans, ch. VII

After Captivity proceeds too long and no combat fights it off, one begins to be habituated to those actions and the images that give birth to them. At this point one has lost the fight, and their body and soul are caught up into the habits of the flesh.

Now the Imagination and our Actions have become PASSIONS. That is, the Heart has become habituated to this Desire.

You’ve probably heard many people tell you to follow your Passions:

find-your-passion

My Passion is Lust. My Fear is The LORD. I imagine, I can have it both ways.

It’s also the difference between Labor and Idolatry.

“Something” might be Idolatry. “Success” might be work in vain, Vanity.

“Calm” and [untrained] “Passions,” incompatible.

Don’t ever listen to these people.

The first problem with following your Passions is, all your saying is “I like this, it feels good, I excel at doing it.” Under that criteria for modeling your life good luck ever explaining to someone why they can’t follow their Passion of incest, murder, cannibalism, theft, infidelity, rape, hired mercenary etc. At some point you just have to say “Yeah but those things are bad,” which is another way of saying “I don’t have a sufficient understanding of why I love the things I love or why I do them. I’m like a dog, I just do things that make me feel good.” Hedonism. Or as Christ said,

Exhibit A-7: Creatures following their Passions.

Exhibit A-7: Creatures following their Passions.

For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
-Gospel according to Saint Mark, ch. VII

The second problem is that it was precisely our Passions that made us cry out Crucify! Crucify! So when you’re discerning with Prudence what kind of person you ought to be in life, and after that what you ought to do, remember, The Passions are often evil. It is our task to redirect The Passions by training to Love the LORD and our neighbor as Christ loved us. And since most of us aren’t holy, telling someone “Follow your Passions” is most often condemning them to Death. The Intellect must subdue the Passions, not to destruction, but to proper order. Since most of us aren’t that holy we often use The Passions in the pejorative sense in Christianity, for there aren’t many of us that are ordered so well.

And thus Christ’s Crucifixion is called “The Passion,” for he suffered us and the sins of The World. So for the Love of God, the Heart of St. Mary, and all things that are holy, don’t live a life that would repeat this, and such a life comes in many disguises and forms, by “following your passions.”

michelangelos_pieta

Jonah & The Leviathan as Divine Comedy

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4593443691_604f34cda8_zJesus was a pirate of the 1st century. His most magnificent adventure was when he was swallowed by The Leviathan, rode it to the ends of the earth to The Great Deep and entered into Hell through the Gates of Hades. There he kicked in the doors of death, challenged the Dragon to a pistol duel, plundered all the souls he could take, blunderbuss’d his way out, and rose from the Deep. We commemorate his great plundering on Saturdays but especially on Holy Saturday. And we commemorate his return every Sunday, but especially on Easter Sunday, as well as in our creeds when we recite, “He descended into Hell…”

WHO IS THIS LEVIATHAN YOU SPEAK OF?
AND WHAT DOES PIRATE JESUS HAVE TO DO WITH JONAH?
Here we go.

Sidebar Leviathans!
Click for larger photos.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food* for the creatures of the wilderness. –Psalm 74.14

Jonah swallowed and spit up by The Leviathan.

The Leviathan waiting to devour Mary’s newborn, Christ. (Revelation to St. John, chapter 12)

The ceiling of a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Ss. Pietro amd Marcellinus; early 300's in a Roman, Christian catacomb.

The ceiling of a cubiculum in the Catacomb of Ss. Pietro amd Marcellinus; early 300’s in a Roman, Christian catacomb.

Sarcophagus in a Roman Christian catacomb depicting Jonah and the Dragon, a sign of death, with hope of being "spit out," i.e. The Resurrection.

Sarcophagus in a Roman Christian catacomb depicting Jonah and the Dragon, a sign of death, with hope of being “spit out,” i.e. The Resurrection.

hellmouth

The Leviathan as The Hellmouth, the entrance to Hades.

Beached whale near Beverwijk, 1601, depicted as the Leviathan. This sort  of art is what made people begin to think Leviathan was a whale.

Beached whale near Beverwijk, 1601, depicted as the Leviathan.

Behold the Devil of the Deep.

Behold the Devil of the Deep, the White Whale. The misidentification of Leviathan with whales takes off as people read The Scriptures through a scientific framework. That’s like reading a cookbook through a football lens, “Oh, by ‘1 cup’ of flour you didn’t mean use my jockstrap cup? …they probably just didn’t know what a jockstrap was back then…”

Now all hope is lost of ever reading Jonah as anything other than "cute whales" and "shut up and color this" catechesis for kids.

Now all hope is lost of ever reading Jonah as anything other than “cute whales” and “shut up and color this” catechesis for kids.

PREFACE: For my purposes I want to make it clear that “whale” as a translation misses out on Jonah’s connections to other parts of The Scriptures. The sea monster, dragon, giant fish, devil, etc. are all used synonymously throughout certain traditions of our church as expressed in how people lived their lives, creeds, icons, doctrines, artwork, and scriptural commentaries. The second problem with “whale” is that it tries to read a story as if it were a biological textbook, the two have different purposes. So much for kiddy catechesis. “Yay WHALES!” :END PREFACE

The reading from Morning Prayer today was from The Prophet Jonah 3.1-4.11. Jonah has been sent to make Ninevah repent. That’s about like asking Atlanta or New York City to repent. That’s about as outside of my imagination as it was for Jonah.

We’re told Ninevah is a three day’s journey on foot. When Jonah is one day into walking in the ways of The LORD, the King of Ninevah’s ear twitches. He calls for everyone in the city to put on sackcloth and start fasting in order to repent, man and beast alike.

I was listening to Katie Wisenbaker reading this aloud as I watched my dog Smutt walk around the chapel. I tried to envision the dog wearing sackcloth and fasting in repentance. She didn’t want to fast, she only wanted to eat the chipmunks outside. ‘This story is ridiculous’ I thought and chuckled lightly.

Never break the fast in front of a cow.

Never break the fast in front of a cow.

There is something comic in Jonah. The way he mopes around, depressed, denying The LORD at every step. We expect him to accept the call to be a prophet like the others, but in this story he immediately says, “Nope, peace out.”

The LORD sends a storm, Jonah’s response to his fellow, fearful sailors? ‘Ah, screw it, it’s my fault, just throw me in. He then gets swallowed by a giant fish. This fish is the Leviathan, “The great dragon…that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12). Here’s a soul ripe for harvest by the harbinger of death, but instead of claiming it, the Devil spits him back up, “This one’s obnoxious. He’s all yours” (‘lukewarm’ from Rev 12). This whole story is silly as hell.

eeyore_rain

And God said, ‘I see you like storms O’ mopey prophet, so He put a storm in the prophet’s storm, so the prophet might storm while he storms.’ –The Prophet Eeyore

Then Jonah is upset that The LORD won’t obliterate Nineveh, ‘If you loved me LORD, then you’d rain fire down. No? Then I’ll pout…’

Then he get gets a plant that shades him for comfort. But The LORD strikes it down.

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die!’

LORD: I saved Nineveh. Why you sad tho?
Jonah: I’d rather DIE than let those assholes live. Remember that time they CRUSHED us? People don’t forget!

So why do we often miss the comedy of The Scriptures?
Why do we have to explain the jokes? Doesn’t explaining jokes kill the jokes?

Probably because we’ve reduced Christianity to serious, sentimental schlop. And because we want to read it in historical, scientific, sociological, pathological, political, etc. etc. contexts, any context but The Liturgy. Spew that back up.
On Monday at the breaking of the bread we heard The Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 11:

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.

hipster jesus

Exhibit A: Hipster Jesus

Wait, what? You’re going to be the worst prophet ever? ‘JK’ said Pirate Jesus, ‘Jonah swapped up the prophet tale by rejecting the call, I’m gonna’ be like Jonah but respond rightly and I’m gonna’ be swallowed up but defeat the dragon.’ The irony is Deep. You’d think the hipster Christians would be all over this stuff by now.

Therefore, Jesus must be a dragon-slaying, laughing pirate…and something about Life, Death, The Resurrection, and the undoing of Man’s Fall and the Dragon’s Fall foretold in Jonah, fulfilled in Christ, and the Hope of us all

Hell, "penitential systems" that have nothing to do with Penance, anything to "set the captives free." And refrigerators...Poor people are hungry as shit.

Hell, “penitential systems” that have nothing to do with Penance, anything to “set the captives free.” And refrigerators…Poor people are hungry as shit.

when we get the scene depicted on our coffins. And they say The Church has no sense of humor. God’s been laughing at us for our own good since the dawn of time.

Harr harr harrrrr!

So the Liturgy might be the proper context for reading The Bible ;)

Do we assume that Comedy is not a Divine Attribute?
Could it be holiness and laughter are not contradictions?

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
   The LORD has them in derision.

happy-old-man-nepal

Sin of Sentimentality

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Sometimes I say that I have a few family items because of “sentimental value.” Other times I’ve heard people say they’re sentimental about certain people, memories, or they will claim it as a positive attribute. What do we mean by this? Is it a good thing?

Sentimentality is defined by the St. Augustine Prayer Book as a sub-vice under Pride. Here are the descriptions:

PRIDE is putting self in the place of God as the center and
objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.

Sentimentality. Being satisfied with pious feelings and beautiful ceremonies without striving to obey God’s will.

Sentimentality is a way of being Prideful. Odd, huh?

We can see this manifest in a multitude of ways:

  • Making worship about us.
  • Making our experience of The LORD more important than The LORD.
  • Reducing love to a matter of our passions or feelings.
  • Never taking the words of worship as serious calls to live differently in thought, word, and deed.
  • Consuming worship as “pretty” or “an experience” or as entertainment.
  • Treating friendships like fast-food joints: liked it yesterday, need something new today.

The problem I fear is our grammar.

When someone says  “We ought to ‘worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness'” what we typically hear is “I value/prefer/like worshipping The LORD.” Or if I were to say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” what people hear is “I feel a certain way about God the Father.” This is what I think I mean when I say I have my grandfather’s table for “sentimental reasons.” I might just be saying “I have no real, good reason as to why I should keep this object.”

American grammar seeks to flatten all claims into emotional or preferential claims. This is the grammar of Sentimentalism.

Now this is typically how The World hears The Church’s claims, filtered through this grammar. The grammar of sentimentality is by coincidence also the grammar of marketing, shopping, and general consumerism. It is the fleeting emotion tied to one object at this moment, and gone to something else the next. Sentimentality if thus without loyalty, fidelity; it is without love. A child loves this way, holiness sticks it out through thick and thin.

“Sentimentality, the church is filled with sentimentality. I wish that we could produce interesting atheists, but we’re not strong enough believers to produce interesting atheists. Instead what we hear so often in sermons is sentimental drivel about love and how Christians are supposed to love each other and everyone, in a way that is just bullshit. There’s no reality to that.”

In an effort to be tolerable to The World we’ve let some of our churches slip into the equivalent of a sentimental orgy of preferences, values, principles, and likes. Church has become one more thing to “Like” on your facebook.

If that’s all the faith is about, go read a romantic novel. Or if it’s all about preferences or choices pick McDonald’s over Burger King to get your spiritual needs. Or if it’s all about relationship I can name the commercial businesses that qualify selling us shit as “all about relationships.” When we lack the grammar to speak truthfully, it’s easy for the grammar of sentimentality to fill in the gaps.

If you want something substantial, if you want to be real, we can’t talk with sentimental drivel, slobbering over ourselves like children.

We have to talk as lovers do. We need the grammar of Christ, of His Church he left us. This is the grammar of eros, a love between Lover and Beloved.

The grammar of lovers means we need community, for that’s what friendship is, a kind of community. And for community we need to be in communion with one another. And to be in communion together we need to take communion together. And communion is how “the disciples knew the LORD Jesus.”

Without Christ, we have only sentimentality, which is to say the world revolves around us. And if we’re the center of the world, well, that’s just another way of saying:

I’m so damn lonely.

So to hell with sentimentality I say, and thanks be to God for the communion of saints.

The Wolves of Sodom

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Here’s a portion of the reading from the breaking of bread this morning

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolvesBut whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
-The Gospel according to Saint Luke; Ch. X

Our town is Athens, our goddess Athena. Athena is the goddess of wisdom and the bridle, representing the ability to tame the animalistic passions by a higher form of human reasoning. However, she is also the goddess of war. And the violence that ensues from her is exactly the inability, ironically, to tame the passions. Athena’s war-like gift of violence is the underbelly of Athens.

In a recent Flagpole article by David Schick entitled The Red Zone: Sexual Assaults on the UGA Campus Peak in Fall, David points out that most sexual assaults are done by someone that the victim knows. The victims are often freshmen or sophomores and the Fall is peak time as the title suggests. The reality of animalistic passions is one Christians know well from our own Story.

In the Gospel of Luke passage cited above Christ mentions Sodom, a clear reference to a story in The Book of Genesis where a city of men try to gang rape the guests in Lot’s house. Lot is Abraham’s nephew who moved away in case you forgot ;) Lot’s guests happen to be angels who blind the gang, showing the blindness of evil. One lesson here is that the proper stance to the stranger is hospitality, not to take advantage of them. There are many words that could be said in regards to the poor, immigrants, etc. but that’s another tale.

As Christians we are sent out into The World of Wolves. Rape ought not be, but it is. We work hard to eliminate it, but we know that one cannot create a Just Society without creating Just Persons. The World is full of wolves, and The LORD has sent us out into it. Often times the passions make us more beastial than man, which hearkens back to Athena’s more violent nature.

Props to "Fright Night" for an image, that 1985 classic.

Props to the 1985 classic, “Fright Night” for providing an image of what a beastial person looks like…a werewolf of course.

But why? Why would a loving God send us out into such a shitshow? The obvious but trite answer is of course that God is renewing the world, that The Kingdom is coming into being, that all things are being healed and reconciled.

But it can’t be that simple can it? Anyone who has a friend or beloved who has been raped knows this becomes permanent baggage. Anyone who has been ravaged by the wolves in one of the numerous ways the World slaughters the lambs knows that “renewal” is not a band-aid, that grace does not heal instantly like some magical elixir. One does not walk away or get over it, it becomes a limp you must learn to walk with, like Jacob whose hip is thrown out of the socket, you walk differently, and often a different path because of it. Where is the healing in this?

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
-Isaiah 53.7

Christ went silent before the wolves on his council. He was tried, judged, unjustly, wrongly, spit upon, flogged, and crucified. It is not in the cross isolated that we find healing. True, by the blood of the cross all are redeemed. But without Resurrection the wounds keep bleeding. Christ himself walked with his crucified scars. He too learned to walk bearing his suffering. And this is the Hope of All, that not only would we learn to walk again in Resurrection with such horrors, but that in Christ’s Ascension we too would not only see God face to face, but that it would make us able to see the wolves through the eyes of God.

We know that Christ will not be forever silent. Though he could do nothing but suffer the cross, his judgment shall come, judgment to life and judgment to death. But judgment and mercy are not so far apart.

And perhaps one day as lambs that have been sent to the slaughter, we might come upon our wolves face to face in the Resurrection. Perhaps then, perhaps, we’ll be able to see Christ in them and say, “I forgive you your trespass, as My Father has forgiven me mine.”

Sometimes it seems that our imagination is not grand enough, not cultivated enough, not sanctified enough to see such a possibility. But we don’t have to rest in our own imagination to believe in such possibilities, for with God all things are possible, whether or not we can imagine it. And this is our sometimes tearful Hope, that we might:

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.
-Ephesians 5.2; Offertory Sentence at breaking of the bread

No Harrowing for Vagabonds

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St. Mary’s is going to start working in tandem with Emmanuel Episcopal Church to make lunches for some of the folks in local shelters. I encourage you all to attend as an opportunity to see Christ. We hope the poor will be a vital part of St. Mary’s life as the poor have always been “the treasure of the Church” (St. Lawrence). Let me explain…

The Old Testament reading from The Eucharist this morning is from The Book of Proverbs, Chapter XXI:

If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.

There are several New Testament stories that bring light to this Proverb:

(I) Parable of the Great Banquet: Luke chapter XIV

  • prefaced by a saying: When you give a feast, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a feast invite the poor,the crippled,the lame, and the blind.
  • The King (Christ) invites many, some have excuses for why they must leave (these are the Israelites)
  • Angered The King invites the poor, crippled, lame, blind, etc. (the poor and needy we see every day)
  • The King is told by his messenger, all of that second group are here, there is room for more (poor are already saved)
  • Then the King says go invite The Gentiles (our salvation is in question, not the poor/blind/crippled/lame)

This parable has three groups invited: (I) Israelites (II) Poor and Needy (III) Gentiles. Most of us are probably in group (III). This means that when we hear the cry of the poor, it is not that they are not saved, or have no hope, or aren’t blessed like us. It is precisely to group (II) that Christ says according to Saint Luke: Blessed are the poor.

What does this mean?

A) Those with riches are not blessed, quite contrary to this, the Scriptures often do not condemn, but warn those with riches to use them virtuously. It is easier for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven than for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle, though with God all things are possible.

B) We are not giving the Poor and Needy “hope” by feeding them, giving them counseling, housing, or resources. Their Hope is in the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Middle class for everyone, equality, is not our Hope as Christians, The Trinity is.

(II) The Judgment of The Gentiles: Matthew chapter XXV

  • ethnos is rendered as “The Gentiles” or “The Nations,” it is the subject of this tale
  •  Christ tells the Gentiles whatever you did to the least, the poor, you did unto me
  • …and whatever you did not do to the poor and needy, you did not do to him
  • then he will judge them: separating the Gentiles into those who did unto him/poor on his right hand, and those who did not unto him/poor on his left hand

What does this mean?

We are often too quick too cover our sins by the charity of our charities, but never by the charity of our own soul, God’s work in us, or the Charity of Christ himself given to us in the chalice we drink from. We who are probably The Gentiles need to understand that the poor have their own trial to go through, and we are not to baby them but see Christ in them. We are not to presume they need saving, as Christ says in his psalm, Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sin; // let them not get dominion over me;* // then shall I be whole and sound, // and innocent of a great offense.

So why judge the poor? Why not use them as The Gentiles were called to use them? for the benefit of our own souls? Does this ring as wrong? Were not humans called to love one another, to use one another to glorify The LORD and His Kingdom? It is in use that we find our place in the cosmos, in using one another that we find God is the only final end and purpose we seek. To treat others as ends in themselves is idolatry. But to use someone in the right way at the right time in the right manner is to know what a person is, and what they were made for. To use someone well, is precisely to acknowledge their dignity. Every carpenter wants to be used as a carpenter, every doctor as a doctor, every teacher as a teacher. We want to excel, to be fulfilled, to be used.

It seems, then, as has been said, that man is a moving principle of actions; now deliberation is about the things to be done by the agent himself, and actions are for the sake of things other than themselves. For the end cannot be a subject of deliberation, but only the means…
-Aristote; The Nicomachean Ethics, Book III

The end of all deliberation is action.

Therefore, the next time you see one of the LORD’s blessed poor or needy, know you stare Christ in the face, and when he or she asks you for a few dollars, suck up the Pride that wishes to control what they use it for, that wants to know if they’re buying drugs, save yourself from such Presumptuous Sins, and give Christ a few bucks.

Who knows, you might end up talking with the person, you might even be able to say you befriended Christ today.

Archbishops & Labyrinths

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In a world that throws around the word “community” to describe facebook groups, neighborhood watches, business partners, small towns, student organizations, families, people who eat at the same fast food joint on Tuesdays at 5pm…and churches… “Community” doesn’t mean much of anything other than “I sometimes talk to another human being” and even then not always in the flesh. To be fair “community” is an attempt, although a sad one at times, to come out of centuries of Individualism. And yet this desire to come out is still habituated by contrary desires to remain individual. I want to be in community…and yet…I like doing my own thing. Initiate conflict of desires and the confusion of “community.” I do the things I do not want to do. We all know that story too well.

Community? What the hell is that?

One of the readings from Eucharist this morning was St. Paul’s First Epistle to The Corinthians where he says we’re one body with many members. The Episcopal Church is larger than a local church then, or even a national church, but we are part of a worldwide group: The Anglican Communion. It is the Archbishop of Canterbury who serves as one focus of its unity. Christians connected to Christians around the world…who knew!? And I thought St. Paul was lyin’ the whole time. And here is what Archbishop Justin recently had to say.

Archbishop Justin Welby said: “Stanley Hauerwas reminds us that the church should always be engaged in doing things that make no sense if God does not exist. The thing that would most make no sense at all if God does not exist is prayer. Living in a praying community…

Thus, Archbishop Justin is opening The Community of St. Anselm, named after the famous Archbishop Anselm — and a man dear to my heart since reading his Why God Became Man turned me away from Deism and toward Christianity. Archbishop Justin is giving an opportunity for a real one, a Community in its classic sense, a monastery. Common life, common prayer, work, study, you would eat, live, breathe, shit, and die together. Beautiful! And this one is targeted at ages 20-35.

The Archbishop’s chaplain, Rev Jo Wells, was the head of my Anglican House of Studies in seminary. She was one of the most important people that pushed me to pray, who harassed me, rode my case, and expected things out of me as a fellow member of the Christian Body. It’s almost like foot and the leg have to work together for a body to walk. That priest taught me that Christians are people who pray. She had this to say about the Community:

Archbishop Justin is passionate about prayer and about community. The renewal of prayer and Religious Life is the first of his three priorities, and that is what the Community of St Anselm is all about. We are inviting people from all around the Anglican Communion – and beyond – to live a year in God’s time. There are no qualifications for joining the Community except a longing to pray, to learn, to study together the things of God, and so to be stretched in body, mind and spirit.

I think there are two keys to understanding Archbishop Justin, Rev. Jo, and Hauerwas’ comments:

(1) Prayer as good for it’s own sake
Such a life that “make[s] no sense if God does not exist,” is something one ought to do if it is good for its own sake. It’s not good to pray for some other reason, other than that your’e praying to God. Whereas we often practice activities to get an end out of it, some activities have their ends built into them. You eat food to work, work to get paid, paid to eat… But you play an instrument, in order to play an instrument…You don’t do it because you enjoy it, you don’t do it for the money, you don’t do it because you want to get out — those are all reasons exterior to the activity. Prayer is like a sport, a music, an art, like loving someone, you simply do it for it’s own sake. It is worthless, completely worthless, because if it was worth anything, you’d be saying it was a means to some other end. Prayer like love cannot be commodified.

Can our Utilitarian minds fathom such an activity though? Aren’t we always hustling and bustling and moving and progressing on to the next step…all the way to the grave? Even if that grave comes at the age of 18 or 95…Aren’t we in a labyrinth, seeking the middle of who we are, why we’re here, going through the motions hoping our activities will lead to some desired end? Are we lost in the labyrinth? Prayer is the heart of the labyrinth of life. It is what we’re seeking, for what we want and what we think we want are often different.

(2) Fulfillment of Baptism
Why fulfill your Baptism? Because it was in Baptism that you received The Good-Itself. For it’s own sake…And in Baptism we were asked and responded:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will with God’s help.

This is why St. Mary’s offers Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day, 9am and 4:30pm respectively. One of the entailments of that water poured over us was a commitment to speak to The LORD frequently and with fervor. And the beauty of Morning and Evening Prayer is that your prayers are answered.

Versicle: O Lord Open Thou Our Lips
Response: And Our Mouth Shall Show Forth Thy Praise

What now?

Do you want to know God?

It’s not about excitement or a relationship or consuming another experience. It’s not about feeling it or thinking correctly…The Church is about praising the God who came to Abraham, Isaac,and Jacob, who became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, was crucified, died, was resurrected, and ascended that we might partake in his divinity and life forever. It’s about doing things based on that gift given to us via Baptism. You simply have to say the prayers…or hell, just sit in the back and listen to them. Or go live at The Community of Anselm in Lambeth for a year!

Do something crazy, lest you drive yourself crazy with the endless steps to success or get lost in the labyrinth that is ‘making meaning’ in this life. Both of these are ultimately fruitless endeavors, for the first has no end proper other than the grave, and the second presumes we are The Creator of ourselves.

Tired of the Labyrinth? Pray.

Who knows, if we start praying, we might start an “unintentional” community based on simple friendship in the LORD.

Christian Street Fighters

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“The first act of the Christian life is a renunciation, a challenge. No one can be Christ’s until he has, first, faced evil, and then become ready to fight it. How far is this spirit from the way in which we often proclaim, or to use a more modern term, “sell” Christianity today! Is it not usually presented as a comfort, help, release from tensions, a reasonable investment of time, energy and money? One has only to read – be it but once – the topics of the Sunday sermons announced in the Saturday newspapers, or the various syndicated “religious columns,” to get the impression that “religion” is almost invariably presented as salvation from something – fear, frustration, anxiety – but never as the salvation of man and the world. How could we then speak of “fight” when the very set-up of our churches must, by definition, convey the idea of softness, comfort, peace? How can the Church use again the military language, which was its own in the first days, when it still thought of itself as militia Christi? One does not see very well where and how “fight” would fit into the weekly bulletin of a suburban parish, among all kinds of counseling sessions, bake sales, and “young adult” get-togethers.”
–Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

There’s a hell of a start.

“But he’s judging us!” we might cry back. To this I want to look at the reading from the Daily Eucharist Lectionary from Monday was 1 Corinthians 5.1-8. If you extended it to finish the chapter you would have heard this little gem:

For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

Damn. Well, alright Schmemann. Judgment granted. But what are these Renunciations?

For those who have been baptized we might recall or were taught (or perhaps are in need of remembrance) that our Baptisms had a series of renunciations, just like this quotation speaks about. To renounce is bound tightly to John the Baptist’s cry in preparing The Way, “Repent!” These renunciations at Baptism included:
(I) Satan
(II) all spiritual forces of wickedness
(III) evil powers of this world
(IV) sinful desires.

So fighting and renunciations go hand-in-hand. And the notion of “selling” Christianity does not fight or renounce, but pleases, pampers, and destroys the Gospel. There’s a reversal of Baptism in it.

Baptism:        (I) renounce evil     (II) proclaim Christ

Selling Christ: (I) proclaim Christ  (II) renounce evils

Baptism
(I) We turn away, empty ourselves, look elsewhere, stop making choices, etc. by the grace The LORD gives us to prepare us to receive.
(II) The nothingness we’re left with from renouncing leaves room to receive a proclamation. Christ becomes all in all.

Selling Christ
(I) We proclaim Christ as savior, Lord, redeemer, etc.
(II) Christ has to make room next to our own desires. He becomes a business partner, a buddy, who we’re in a relationship with, primarily to fulfill our own desires.

This reversal results in a renunciation that is actually not a renunciation.

Christian Street Fighters
Our Renunciations in Baptism is a vow to be a fighter. By fighting we mean acts of Courage. By Courage we mean the ability to act in the face of fear to a Just end. If to a Just end, then we do not affirm violence, but affirm presence and action in the face of violence to restore real peace.

Where then are our Street Fighters? Where are those who have the Courage to fulfill the vow of Loyalty? Or are we so caught up in selling the gospel that it’s become a tool in avoiding The Gospel, instead of fighting for true peace, true rest, true delight?

We’ve devised plots and plans to “get more people into the Church,” but what if they actually showed up to a church that sells itself? What would we have to offer?

Are our churches just another social group full of “counseling sessions, baking sells, and get-togethers?” Where are our Fighters? Our Renunciation, our Proclamation, our very Baptism was pronounced in front of Christians to be this:

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”
We will.

Why aren’t we fighters? Is it judgment we fear? Or accountability?

It is not judges we turn away when we say, “Dont’ judge me,” it is sparring partners that Christ has sent us. We cannot judge who will go to Heaven or Hell, but as to judgding our deeds, we must if we are to each be the best we can for the Common Good of the Body. We must do this carefully and lovingly, just as the athlete loves his/her body and takes care of it while training it.

Can we have the Church Body as the fighter’s body? Fit, ready to act, trained, prepared to a purpose. Or do we have the bloated, necrotic corpse of one who spent their days in front of a screen chasing endless pleasures, indulging to excess, without end, rhyme, or reason?

If we are to have fighting Christians, if we are to fulfill our Baptisms, if we are to walk in the ways of the LORD, then we must take a hard look at what we do every day, every minute. What do we spend our time doing? Where are we heading? Does the World run my life? Have I not pledged my life elsewhere? Do my own aims guide me? Am I my own?

This is not a call to figure it our on our own, this is a call to come to The Body, to listen to the Head who is our LORD. We worship together because that is where Christ has seen fit to make us fit. We train in prayer and liturgy, we glimpse what we could be, and then we go practice out in the world and call others to join. We are Christ’s presence in the World, we are called to be The Body and build up The Body. We proclaim there is One Head who will command all things at the fulfillment of all time. Therefore, our sacraments and our evangelism are One – because Christ is One.

What say you then?
Sell ourselves? Or fight?

 

Pretty that's the Holy Spirit he's hadouken'in'

Pretty that’s the Holy Spirit he’s hadouken’in’