Monday, May 4, 2015

15TH EPISTLE TO THE NEVADANS: AIN'T NOBODY HAVING FUN


Our walls of division do not rise all the way to heaven.
Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow


What God Asks Of Us:

This message is simple to understand but hard to practice. Jesus is quite clear and emphatic about the attitude Christians are to take to one another.

Do not judge others lest ye be judged yourselves. For the same judgment you impose on others will be imposed on you, and by the same measure of judgment you use, you will be measured. Matthew 7: 1-2

Whoever is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. Whoever says ‘you good for nothing’ shall be guilty before the supreme court. Whoever says ‘you fool’ shall be guilty enough to go to the fiery hell.  Matthew 5: 22-23

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6: 28.

A new commandment I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  John 13: 34-35

Paul continues Jesus’ theme.

In humility, consider others better than yourself.


The Mandatum, the Great Commandment given by Jesus at the last supper is to love one another as he loves us. The point is simple, and so obvious that I risk boring you by emphasizing it so emphatically and often.

But here’s the thing: mutual vilification is par for the course in our Church. I do not mean that we just disagree with each other. I do not mean that we just maintain a realistic awareness of each other’s foibles. I mean vilification. I mean I hear our people, lay and clergy alike, characterizing each other in the harshest condemning tones.

I hear not-so-subtle negativity about Latinos from the lips of English speakers. I hear homophobic pathologizing of LGBTQ people by straight people. I hear introverts interpret extroverts as shallow, narcissistic, and entitled. I hear extroverts interpret introverts as cold and arrogant. Rural condemns urban. East condemns west. Clergy and laity critique each other. And we find plenty of individual failings without regard to categories. People who want power accuse others of having more of it than they do. We speak rather harshly of one another – a lot. Our Church, in its fallen humanity, has at times engaged in orgies of mutual vilification. The vilifications and anathemas then declared linger still.

My personal point: I need to say this is painful to me – personally painful – because people I like and care for and respect – my people – trash other people I like and care for and respect – also my people. As this Epistle comes from my own frustration, it is apt to be a bit of a rant. But St. Paul ranted on occasion, so I shall pray that this too may be a sanctified rant.

Why God Asks It:

Our Happiness: Like any parent, God’s first concern is our well-being. The attitude of judging and condemning others does not make us happy. It cuts us off. It alienates us from the network of life and blessing. Yes, we need to be connected even to flawed and problematic people in order to flourish spiritually and emotionally. Flawed as they are, they are the human network. God created that very network and redeemed in the Incarnation. Please note these words of Blessed Ignatius Loyola.

God has so ordained to sanctify us through the frail instrumentality of each other.

This is important!

God has so ordained to sanctify us through the frail instrumentality of each other.

We cannot be sanctified on our own. We need each other. It is not only that we are blessed by each other’s virtues, but also that we are challenged by each other’s vices. We need both their virtues and their vices so that we can grow in grace and wisdom. We cannot draw closer to God than we are to each other.

Anyone who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar;
for how can he love God whom he has not seen and hate his brother whom he has seen. 1 John 4: 20.

Our happiness now and in the hereafter depends on our spiritual discipline of loving other people in their quirky and sometimes irritating natures.

Second, if we construct in our hearts a good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, win vs. lose model of reality, we know very well that we will stand condemned ourselves.

Do not judge others lest ye be judged yourselves. For the same judgment you impose on others will be imposed on you, and by the same measure of judgment you use, you will be measured. Matthew 7: 1-2

If being acceptable (lovable) depends on meeting some standard, it is likely to be a standard I do not meet. How can I even be sure I know the right standard? In order to create and uphold a standard by which I condemn others I put myself at risk. I consign myself to jeopardy.


God’s Happiness: Very simply, it hurts God to see us condemning his people. I say this in sympathy with God. I have met hundreds and hundreds of Nevada church folks. And I have not met one yet who is not a child of God. I have not met one yet for whose sins Jesus did not die. I do not claim to know much about God. But I am as sure of this as anything: We wound God by our judgments of each other.

After Saul (later, Paul) had participated in the stoning of Steven, the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road and said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Acts 9: 4 “Me!” Paul thought he was stoning Stephen, but he discovered he had stoned God. The Compassion of the Eternal Son means that God feels our wounds as deeply as we do. So when we condemn one another, wound one another, we condemn and wound God.

When Jesus says “Love one another” and “Stop judging one another,” he is asking, “Have I not been crucified enough?” “Why do you persecute me?”

The Kingdom Mission: We have a job to do. It is important. Here’s the situation. Since way back there – maybe it was with the domestication of the horse (Walter Wink) or the invention of agriculture (Karen Armstrong) – for a long time and for one reason or another, the world has been “in enemy hands.” (C. S. Lewis). The Domination System has run the human race with oppressive power driven by fear and greed. Ain’t nobody having fun – least of all the fearful, avaricious people who are oppressing and hurting others. Pharaoh was not a happy man.

God is against this. He has been telling us that since he said to Moses, “I have heard my people’s cry . . .. Tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” Friends, we are Moses.

Jesus’ mission was to turn the world upside down by subverting the Domination System with the Kingdom of God – not with another regime of dominating power but rather a reign of justice, mercy, and forgiveness. When Jesus healed, forgave, and reconciled, he said, “The Kingdom of God has come near.” e.g. Luke 10: 9

The Kingdom Mission is all-important for how we treat and regard one another. It matters in two ways:

1.   Squabbling is a distraction from the mission. If we are focused on the mission we won’t be so interested in what is wrong with someone else. If we are squabbling, we are not working for the Mission.
2.   How we treat each other is an integral practice for ushering in the Kingdom. Our compassion and forbearance, our mercy and appreciation, disrupt the network of fear, anger, and dominating power. Wearing a cross or even belonging to a Church does not prove one is a Christian.  What proves that one is Christian? “They will know you are my disciples by how you love one another.” John 13: 35.

As I said, “Ain’t nobody having fun” under The Domination System – including us. Joy resides in God’s Kingdom, the one we pray for every day. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done.” Working for the Kingdom with love and forbearance, patience and delight, appreciation and mutual blessing is the path to our own deepest happiness.

Conclusion: Our happiness, the world’s happiness, and God’s happiness all turn on our capacity to break free from the world’s pattern of judgment and condemnation. Those are the tools of The Domination System. “The Lord has torn up the judgments against you.” Zephaniah 3: 15. Those were the world’s judgments, The Domination System’s Judgments. God sees us through entirely different eyes, eyes that appreciate and laugh. Whenever we look at each other through God’s eyes, the Kingdom happens here and now.

My hope and my prayer is that when we will learn the real meaning of the exchange the peace on Sunday mornings. We are not just greeting people we are happy to see. The person whose hand we take symbolically represents our enemy, who may or may not be physically in the room. We exchange the peace as a ritual act to lay down our grudges and break free from the prison of mutual vilification in order to truly become the Body of Christ in a broken world. My hope and my prayer is that we mean it.


1 comment:

Bonnie Saxon said...

Awesome epistle! Thank you!!