Thursday, January 7, 2021

Of Rage in an Angry Time

I don't generally need to go by my small congregation during the week, as the pandemic means few in person meetings.  But I will, just to 1) check the mail; 2) walk to check on the facility, and 3) be somewhere else.  

Sweet Lord Jesus, is it nice to be in another place.

When I arrived on Wednesday, I did the walkabout, checked mail and messages, and then set down in my office to do some reading and sermon prep.  After about fifteen minutes, I made the mistake of checking Facebook.  Which is how I learned that a right-wing mob had, at Donald J. Trump's direct instigation, invaded the House and Senate to disrupt the certification of the election.

This of a dissonance in my soul. 

I'm American.  I've always been proud of our republic.  Flawed though she may be, the essential idea of our constitutional republic appeals to me.  I've read enough history, studied, and traveled enough to realize that authoritarian regimes ain't no fun.  Watching a delusional mob in the thrall of a would-be despot rampage through the Capitol seeking to overthrow a free and fair election?  

All I felt was rage.

One of the pesky features of my Scots-Irish blood is that my anger doesn't tend to be particularly measured.  I do not express it often, because I find that it is most often not helpful.  And sure, yes, anger is an emotion that has uses.  It lets us know something is wrong.  It alerts us to the need for action.  "If we are not angry," or so my activist friends insist, "we are not paying attention."  Sure.  Fine.  I get that.  

But my anger?  It does not call my heart to to justice, and it is the farthest thing from constructive.  

What my anger wanted, as I seethed in impotent fury watching a rabble of buffoons and traitors desecrate our republic, was nothing less than their complete destruction.  Had shafts of fire gouted from the Capitol dome like God's wrath in that Nazi-slaughtering scene at the end of Raider of the Lost Ark, immolating tens of thousands?  It would have pleased my anger. 

My feelings towards Trump and those in his thrall...all of them, everywhere...were similar this week.   And have been similar over the last four years.  

As lies, deceit, and a bullying demonic falseness have poisoned the minds of so many Americans, maintaining a heart of peace has been a strain.  Seeing their demons masquerading as my faith only deepens my vehemence.   They imagine that this?  THIS?  Is Following Jesus?  Let all of them be raptured away, hisses my rage, a scripture in its hand.  Let them all rise to the heavens, it whispers, until they strangle and freeze in the void of space.  

I wish I was alone in this anger.  I have had other souls share similar feelings with me in confidence, of how hard it is not to wish ill upon those who follow this mad, manipulative, pathetic fool, and to yearn for his violent demise.  Of how much they are consumed by a hatred that tries their souls.  Of how hard that makes it for them to love family and friends who have fallen under the spell.

Against the burning hells and vengeful butcheries of my monkey-mind rage, there is Jesus.  Always, always Jesus.

There are some, particularly among my more political Jesus-friends, who suggest that Jesus does not call us to challenge the demands of our own anger.  This is not so.  No matter how many times one posts about "overturning the tables," the moral demands of nonviolence are too essential to the life of a Christian disciple.  If you claim Jesus has authority over your life, you understand that when rage rules your soul, when you yield to its heart of destruction and condemnation, you are serving another.  You are serving the Enemy, tapping into the dark spirit of the Adversary.  You are fighting evil with evil, tearing down rather than building up.

I do not always win that struggle.  In times of weakness I have let anger harm others more than I'd like to admit, but I do know it is a struggle worth having.

So I let myself breathe.  I let the anger burn down.  I put in the control rods of prayer, and cool down the reactor.  I step away from the endless din of social fury.  I make a lasagna.  I read a book.  I let my soul center.

Does that mean injustice should be tolerated?  No.  Neither does it mean that the lies, delusions, and manipulations of others should be accepted.  Those who seek to tear down the blessing of our republic and replace it with a fever-dream sham need to be resisted and held to account.

But not blindly, and not from the heart of the Adversary.  If Christ is my guide in all things, then that needs to be true now, as much as ever.  

Friday, January 1, 2021

In Defense of Little Baby Jesus

The quote caught my eye, as it arrived in one of my daily devotionals.

It was, as is often the case, a quote from Fr. Richard Rohr, a genial mystic whose writings and reflection I will occasionally enjoy, and who is generally viewed with awed reverence by the progressive Christian left. 

Most of the quotes I encounter are Delphic in tone and language, speaking of a grand Universal Christ who suffuses the Cosmos.  I find these meditations engaging, although my mystic inclinations are less universal and more multiversal.  

This one, though, was different.  It was a polemic of sorts, in which the mystic clucked a bit at Christians who are fool enough to focus on the baby Jesus.  In his meditation, Rohr challenges the idea that the infant Jesus is a helpful image for Christians.  Among the key quotes:

We have often settled instead for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality, or any assent to the actual teachings of Jesus.


We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us.

For Rohr, baby Jesus is a a symptom of an overly sentimentalized Christianity.  It is not the Christ of a mature faith, but an emotive projection that requires nothing of us but cooing shallow bathos.  On the one hand, I get where he's coming from.  I mean, we all watched Talledega Nights, right?

On the other, as a mystic who has raised children from infancy, and who has been present at the blood and mess of birth, ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  

Oh my, oh, I....ahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Ok.  Hooo.  Let me catch my breath for a moment.  Ok.  Whew.

Right.  Let's look at the whole "baby" thing for a moment.  First, Richard?  Dear Sweet Brother Richard?  You and I know that the baby Jesus is as integral a part of the Eternal Christ as the man Jesus, and as much as the Infinite Multiversal Christ.  There is not a single part of Jesus' identity we can just set aside.  And that, my friend, includes infant Jesus.  Why?

Let me lay this out for you, with a simple question.  How much time have you spent around babies?  I mean, really spent around them.  Not contemplating the idea of babies, or meditating on the Divine Mystic Transcendent Concept of Babyness, but being with them in their reality?

Nothing, I mean, nothing, demands more from human beings in terms of surrender, encounter, and mutuality than a baby.  Babies require adult response, all day, every day, for as long as they are babies.

Babies require kenosis, my dude.  No one empties self of self like the parent of a newborn.  Babies demand that we set aside our self-interest, our aspirations for glory and power and competence, and our regular sleep schedules.  Babies may seem like soft pastel abstractions, but they ain't.  Babies are incarnate beings.  They are flesh and bone, puke and poop.  Especially poop.  So. Much.  Poop.

They are real, immediate, intense, and powerfully present.  
They require our attention.   They are not our "partners."  They are not our "friends." We do nothing with them as "co-creators."  They are tyrants and empresses, who cry out their wordless orders to us from their car seat thrones.  "Attend to me," they proclaim, "for I am stinky.  Also, I may have spit up a little, just as a special present for you."

Infants demand our obedience, paradoxically, from a position of profound vulnerability.  They command us to turn away from what we are doing, and to do what is required, because they cannot do it for us.  They do so relentlessly, waking us, shaking us from our prior patterns of being and our yearning for control.

If we fail to do all that they require, they cease to be.  All of the promise they represent, of a new person, of an unanticipated relationship, of a life beyond our life?  That cannot be, unless we do as they command.  They cannot become what they must become without our attention, our care, and the discipline of tending to them.  Like the Numinous in microcosm, like the Mysterium Tremens filling our ears, they stir us to trembling, shaken wakeness, reminding our foolish souls of the precious fragility of our being amidst the vastness of what God hath wrought.

Holding on to the image of little baby Jesus does not make us "baby" Christians, nor does it make us shallow sentimentalists.  Quite the opposite.  Understood through the lens of real enfleshed infancy, it reminds us, fiercely and intensely, of the reality of incarnation, and the intense demands of a Jesus who expects us to do what he has asked us to do.