Provocation #15

Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will also be forgiven”. That is to say, forgiveness is forgiveness. Your forgiveness of another is your own forgiveness; the forgiveness you give is the forgiveness you receive. If you wholeheartedly forgive your enemy, you may dare hope for your own forgiveness, for it is one and the same. God forgives you neither more nor less than as you forgive your trespassers.

It is an illusion to imagine that you have forgiveness while you are slack in forgiving others. No, there is not a more exact agreement between the sky above and its reflection in the sea below, than there is between forgiveness and forgiving. Is it not pure conceit to believe in your own forgiveness when you will not forgive others? For how in truth can you believe in forgiveness if your own life is a refutation of the existence of forgiveness?! Yes, to accuse another person before God is to accuse yourself, like-for-like.

People so gladly deceive themselves, so gladly imagine that they can have, as it were, a private relationship with God. But if you complain of your enemies to God, he makes short work of it and opens a case against you, because before God you too are a guilty person. To complain against another is to complain against yourself. You think that God should take your side, that God and you together should turn against your enemy, against him who did you wrong. But this is a complete misunderstanding. God looks without discrimination upon all. Go ahead. If you intend to have God judge someone else, then you have made God your judge as well. God is, like-for-like, simultaneously your judge. If, however, you refuse to accuse someone before God he will be merciful towards you.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Provocation #14

Christianity claims to be the eternal, essential truth that has come into existence in time. It proclaims itself as the paradox and thus requires the inwardness of faith – that which is an offense to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, and an absurdity to the understanding. It cannot be expressed more strongly: Objectivity and faith are at complete odds with each other. What does objective faith mean? Doesn’t it amount to nothing more than a sum of tenets?

Christianity is nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it is inwardness, an inwardness of existence that places a person decisively, more decisively than any judge can place the accused, between time and eternity, between heaven and hell in the time of salvation. But objective faith? It is as if Christianity was a little system of sorts, although presumably not as good as the Hegelian system. It is as if Christ – it is not my fault that I say it – had been a professor and as if the apostles had formed a little professional society of thinkers. The passion of inwardness and objective deliberation are at complete odds with each other. There is no way of getting around it. To become objective, to become preoccupied with the “what” of Christianity, instead of with the “how” of being Christian, is nothing but a retrogression.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Provocation #13

Christianity is not to be confused with objective or scientific truth. When Christ came into the world it was difficult to become a Christian, and for this reason one did not become preoccupied with trying to understand it. Now we have almost reached the parody that to become a Christian is nothing at all, but it is a difficult and very involved task to understand it. Everything is reversed. Christianity is transformed into a kind of worldview, a way of thinking about life, and the task of faith consists in understanding and articulating it. But faith essentially relates itself to existence, and becoming a Christian is what is important. Believing in Christ and wanting to “understand” his way by articulating it and elaborating on it is actually a cowardly evasion that wants to shirk the task. To become a Christian is the ultimate, to want to “understand” Christianity, as if it were some doctrine, is open to suspicion.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Why the long face?

Things have been quiet here for a while. This is partly because I have been pretty busy trading chunks of my life for money, and partly because it is a struggle to know what to put in words.

Honestly, this last month or two have been a little more gray than vibrant, like someone adjusted the saturation down just slightly. The garden is there, but I am not passionate about it. It does not really need my passion at the moment, so it works out.

Much of my mental energies have been spent on side-work, and making sure I have a good handle on all the stuff happening in and around the world. The picture I get is blurry, dark, and grainy. It looks like there will be more suffering and pain, more injustice, more wealth and power for the wicked, more depravity for the depraved, more hunger for the hungry. But before you think that those things are what bother me most, let me tell you what does. It grieves me that I don’t know if I can be Christ in dark times. I am hesitant to help, I worry about money, and am disconnected from those around me. Knowing that a rough spot lies ahead forces me to acknowledge my spiritual weakness. I am not sure I can overcome my selfishness when faced with the needs of others.

I have been reading about the saints. Everywhere in the history of the Church is written the stories of those who have lived in poverty in order to provide for others. These are our examples of Christ in the world, those worthy to be followed. But when I think about myself, doing these things, I think “what about my family?”. I make excuses.

Now, I know the answer, but it is hard and somewhat sobering. I give everything away. But not immediately to people I know, but in my mind, heart, soul, to God. If God needs these things he has trusted to my care to be used elsewhere, I need to be ready to allow that transfer. It is more than just acknowledging that everything I have comes from Him, it is actually practicing the act of giving it up, giving it away. In my head, I imagine that I am faced with an obvious need for a car, and I practice giving my car away. The same for all that I have: computers, house, job, money. I let go. But this is the sobering part. I can’t do it. The individual “things” are hard but possible, but the whole? Every thing? I can imagine a disaster where everything is destroyed, and that would not be so hard. But to be faced with the choice, and giving everything freely?

So this is what troubles me. I am attached, afraid of being attached, and convicted about being attached.

But it is not all gloomy. I know that I am where God wants me to be. He may test me, but I really do trust him. I may fear that he will redeem all that he has entrusted to me, but I also have that whisper in my soul that comforts me with promises of love.

This is a spiritual exercise, a practice on the road to Calvary. I won’t know if I am fit enough until I hit that part of the road. Lord have mercy.

Corp. Inc. Co. Ltd.

The Corporation is a book and a movie that takes a look at the idea of the corporation and how it has changed through history. We rented it from the library, but you can watch it on YouTube.

I am not recommending it, no more than I would “recommend” that a person who wants to raise animals should learn about animal biology. That is to say, it is more of a requirement. “Smart Consumer” is a term that is gaining in popularity, and this should be on the course list for the Freshman level. But it is not just required for those who don’t mind seeing themselves as consumers (smart or otherwise), but also those have a nagging feeling that there is something amiss, but can’t quite put their finger on what it is.

Be warned, it is not a cursory look, and the entire film is 23 chapters and well over 2 hours long, but it is worth the time.

Friendly blood

Over the years we have noticed several distinct values in our lives. There are the usual ones that have to do with a life of faith: honor God, love your neighbor. But then there are those that pertain to the way that we live: simplicity, integrity, peace, and equality. Maybe some of you recognize those values, maybe you don’t. Lately I have been very aware of the value we put on frugality, and decided to look it up on Wikipedia:

Frugality (also known as thrift or thriftiness), often confused with cheapness or miserliness, is a traditional value, life style, or belief system, in which individuals practice both restraint in the acquiring of and resourceful use of economic goods and services in order to achieve lasting and more fulfilling goals. In a money-based economy, frugality emphasizes economical use of money in meeting long term personal, familial, and communal desires.

That pretty much sums up our perspective on money. But the entry goes on:

Sometimes associated with the concept of frugality is a philosophy in which one does not trust, or is deeply wary of, “expert” knowledge, often from commercial markets or corporate cultures, claiming to know what is in the best economic, material, or spiritual interests of the individual.

There are many different spiritual communities that consider frugality a virtue or a spiritual discipline. The Religious Society of Friends and the Puritans are examples of such groups. The basic philosophy behind this is the idea that people ought to save money so that they have more available for others.

Hmm… That first part is scary-accurate. Religious Society of Friends… maybe I should look that up. I did, and found some very insightful material.

Unlike other groups that emerged within Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends has tended toward little hierarchical structure, and away from creeds.

Intriguing. Tell me more.

Many Quakers feel their faith does not fit within traditional Christian categories of Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, but is an expression of another way of experiencing God.

To make a long article short, most of the ways that I have come to understand my faith fit very well with the Quaker/Friends perspective, down to the “Testaments”:

  • * The Peace Testimony
  • * The Testimony of Equality
  • * The Testimony of Integrity
  • * The Testimony of Simplicity

Yes, I did spend most of my childhood in a Friends church, but it is an Evangelical Friends church, where none of these items were evident to me as a kid. Not that they were not values, but that the church was a normal Evangelical church, with normal services, and the occasional baptism and communion.

To find myself a grown man, holding values and views my fore bearers held before me, without overtly being passed down, is a strange and wonderful thing. There is a genetic trait that predisposes me to think or respond a certain way to God. Something that makes me eschew hierarchy. A sense that the truth must be told. A desire for simplicity in all things. A distaste for violence.

Ok, maybe it is not a genetic trait, but it is definitely *something* being passed down. Something that resists.

Lenten observance

I am “giving up” Internet browsing at home for lent. I would give it up at work too, but It is sort of what I get paid to do. I just added the rules to my router (recently upgraded to Linux), and I should have it set to allow only non-browsing traffic through to my system here, and the iBook.

Here are my reasons:

  1. I spend too much time doing nothing on the computer
  2. I spend too little time playing with the kids
  3. I spend too little time reading *real* stuff
  4. When I have the Internet to browse, I am too lazy to take pictures
  5. The Internet is not my spiritual guide
  6. God is just waiting for me to pay attention (I really should not waste his time)
  7. I am being a poor example to my family
  8. My muscle is slowly turning into fat
  9. The Internet is mostly a pointless waste of time
  10. It is too easy to stay up too late
  11. My wife is prettier than this stupid screen
  12. I really should get started on my cheese-making hobby
  13. teh internets r stoopid

Practically, this will mean that I will not be checking blogs or doing pointless research at home. I will still have access to email, and chatty type stuff, but no surfing. Fortunately, this blog is actually on my home computer, so I may still post…

Who’s with me?

Provocation #12

Christendom is a society of people who call themselves Christians because they occupy themselves with obtaining information about those who a long time ago submitted themselves to Christ’s examination – spiritlessly forgetting that they themselves are up for examination.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Christianist Dominionism

Lately I have stumbled across a term or two that, although strange at first, seemed to put bones in some of the thoughts and feelings I have had for years. I grew up rather politically unaware. I am not sure if it was intentional on my parents part to not get involved, or if I was just so oblivious to those areas of life that they just passed me by. I would guess the latter. As I matured (at an admittedly rather slow pace), I started to hear political noises, but did not make much sense of them, and we eventually moved overseas, where any American noises were drowned out by local coups, kidnappings, and general strife in that country. Upon returning, my social group was Republican, but I was not sure what that meant. I somehow figured out that it meant “values”, which would assume that the Democrats did not have such things. Then I started to become aware of social causes, and realized that they were mostly pioneered by Democrats. There seemed to be some conflict with the abstract idea of values that the Republicans held, and values Democrats routinely put into practice. Now, this was still in my early adulthood. I still saw nothing wrong with despoiling the Earth, after all, it was all going to burn soon. Over the years I found myself coming back to the connection between Christian values and Republican values. Only in recent years has it occurred to me that there really is not a connection at all. Or, I should say, there should not be.

The principles taught by the Christ have nothing to do with small government, low taxes, and business autonomy. Just as he had no statement about Caesar’s rule of Israel, he makes no statement about the direction of America. So here is where the title of the post comes in. The evangelical church wants to change the world. That sounds good. They want to change it for the better. That is good too. They want to change it through the use of power, “in the name of Jesus Christ!” Hmm… That sounds a little strange. Like it or not, Evangelicalism is involved in a movement, and it’s goal is to bring the world under the dominion of the Christ. Actually, dominionism is a view held by a larger group that includes Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and several other Protestant and Catholic branches. What is interesting to me is the way that, inside the church, we are told that we are in the minority, and we are fighting to keep America wholesome against the hordes of unclean unchurched pagan sin worshipers, and it is a loosing battle. But when you look at the last two elections, the reality is obvious: it is working, and it is not a minority. The other word in the title? Christianist, as in Islamist. This movement toward power by Christians is not itself Christian. If you pay attention to the media, you will hear about the effects of power, no matter the spiritual label. There are historic bad times that were brought on by Christians in power who claimed to be led by God.

Apart from the political aspects, what are the implications of dominionism? What does “under the dominion of Christ” actually mean in everyday life? Does it mean that I dedicate my life to the following of his teachings, and example? Does it mean I surrender all my desires, to be fulfilled through relationship with God? Does it mean giving away all I have to follow this way of life? So far, dominionism does not seem to mean any of those things. It does seem to mean spending more money on things/stuff/junk that is either sold at church, sponsored by a church, written by a pastor or the current favorite conservative pundit. It does mean making sure the world around me knows that I disapprove of their falleness, without admitting to it myself. It does mean accepting every word from a pulpit, assuming that God has put that person there, not politics, charisma, selfish ambition or pride. It does mean family values is a political issue, not something to live out, in real life. It does mean equating democracy and free market economics with Christianity and integrating them with evangelistic outreach.

I agree that our culture is corrupt, but I also think that the church is corrupt and misguided in it’s attempts to force change. The real reason that the whole thing is corrupt is not because there are so many people fighting against Christianity or Christian values in our culture, but because we Christians on the whole aren’t very good Christians. All this talk and political ragging about marriage, and family, but why should anyone believe us? Have we been a good example? What is a good example anyway? Successful, nice house, friendly, good neighborhood? Is that the Christian ideal? That is the American Dream, not God’s desire for us. I am pretty sure he does not care if we have it, but he does care how we think about it, crave it, worship it, and protect it. Why do we think this way? Why do we fret about our crap, manicure our lawns, expand our borders, pray for material blessings, and bless wars? Why do we still have broken families, greedy pastors, and bitter and broken churches?

It could partly be because we believe what we are told. Are we willing to turn off our TVs and radios, and listen to God? Not just for a day or a week, but for a year? Can we stop watching movies, stop reading the newspaper, turn off the music, and turn off the Internet? Can we take a sabbatical from “church” on Sundays? Are we afraid to be alone with our thoughts, and alone with God for that long? All those inputs tell us what to think, what to believe; how can we know which thoughts are our own? Are we just picking up what someone else tossed at us? Can we trust their intent? Maybe true Christian living begins with questioning everything, even our faith. Is it really mine if I have not questioned it? Think of the questions the Christ asked of those around him and those who were following him. Am I willing to let him ask me questions?

Christianist Dominionism? It is dominion over everything but self, in the name of the Christ, who told us to love God, and love our neighbors. Oh, and to pay taxes.

Provocation #9 & 10

This puts fire in my belly, and encourages me to pick up my walking stick. The passion to live what I believe feels stifled, the will to act is strong, the fear of the unknown, and the desire to protect my family keeps me in check. But that is where I feel pulled. Is my faith really strong enough to just follow? Just act? I am Peter, sinking in the sea. I have stepped out, and lived a miracle, and now I look down in doubt and call out. I can hear the response.

Christ says: Do according to what I say � then you shall know. Consequently, decisive action first of all. By acting, your life will come into collision with existence, and then you will know the reality of grace. Nowadays we have turned the whole thing around. Christianity has become a world view. Thus, before I get involved I must first justify it. Good night to Christianity! Now doubt has surely conquered. And this doubt can never be halted by reasons, which only nourish doubt. No, doubt can only be halted by imitation. The objections to Christianity may be dismissed with one single comment: Do these objections come from someone who has carried out the commands of Christ? If not, all his objections are nonsense. Christ continually declares that we must do what he says � and then we will know that it is truth.

A conviction is not firmly fixed when everyone presses upon it equally and holds it firm. No, its true stability is revealed when everything is in question.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard