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Archive for the ‘The Christian Year’ Category

For some time I have been thankful that the Church dropped the dark notes of St. Stephen and Holy Innocents into the Feast of Christmas. In part, for the sake of those who mourn; in part, because it brings out Christmas’s natural patina — the patina that all beautiful things have, and without which brightness and comfort and joy devolve into triumphal kitsch. Mostly, though, I’m grateful for these days because they are helpful markers of what Christmas was, and is, in the story of the world: “a sign that will be opposed (and a sword will pierce your soul also).”

Wherever the gospel forms and moves a man to do good works in public, there will be envious informers and an angry mob with a Saul of Tarsus urging them to cast their stones. When the Light of the World dapples the walls of a cave in Bethlehem, then Herod the King — that oh-so typical political strongman who would co-opt the worship of God for his self-serving civil religion — will rage against the arrival of the Light.

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In my last post I took exception to Miroslav Volf’s unsupported accusation that Wheaton College’s action in placing Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave was “not about theology and orthodoxy,” but “enmity toward Muslims.”

Comes now Mr. Brian McLaren, who takes that accusation and gives it another run through the spin cycle:

The hostile rhetoric of presidential candidates – much of it spewed out to impress the “Evangelical base” of the Republican Party – seems to have swayed college administrators from their professed theology, which at Christmas should remind us all that God is in solidarity with all humanity, all creation …

Dr. Volf had set forth — with no evidence — an alleged motive for Wheaton’s action: enmity toward Muslims. Now Mr. McLaren sets forth the source of that enmity: the college administrators were “swayed . . . from their professed theology” by “the hostile rhetoric of presidential candidates.” I’m not holding my breath to see Mr. McLaren present actual evidence for that claim.

Is it so impossible to suppose that the Wheaton College administrators placed Dr. Hawkins on leave for saying “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” not because they were “swayed from . . . their professed theology,” but because — I dunno — they believed it? 

If Wheaton affirms the Incarnation — a mystery that Muslims flatly deny, and Christians adore — and then also affirms that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” Wheaton is equivocating about whether it believes in God’s supreme act of “solidarity with all humanity, all creation.”

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If you’ve clicked over here from the Rabbit Room, where my essay Lent Against a Million Faustian Bargains appeared today, welcome. This piece is a companion piece to that one, so having seen that one first, you’re ready to read this one.

If you haven’t yet read that essay, and have some interest in the subject of “Lenten politics” — what the political philosophy of Jesus Christ might look like, so far as we can trace it from His teaching and action in the canonical Gospels [1] — then I suggest you go read that first, and then come back here [2].

Okay, done? Very good. On to the miscellanies:

1. Jesus of Nazareth was not exactly a “political philosopher” — he was foremost a man of action — but his actions in the world proceeded from a deep and peculiar political philosophy. That political philosophy was unique, and remains so even to this day. It was and is so unique that His disciples often have failed to grasp it, erring either on the side of non-engagement with the political world, or engaging it by means Jesus forbade: coercion by threats or force, building political coalitions by lies and stirring up fear, etc.;

2. The political philosophy of Jesus, like all other political philosophies, has to do with glory. The modus operandi of the politicians of the world is to seek glory for themselves — to burnish “legacies,” to vindicate themselves and their political parties, etc. Jesus refused to seek glory for Himself, or to trade illegitimate worship for political glory when the Devil offered him “the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” We should not look at Jesus’s refusal as apolitical, but as a personal challenge to every man, woman and child, and a challenge to every political system corporately;

3. The platitudes and falsehoods characteristic of contemporary political discourse are symptoms of wanton glory-lust. They are designed not to frame real debates constructively, but to motivate the members of particular voting blocs to get the polls — either by bribes, or by fear, or by anger;

4. If that weren’t bad enough, contemporary political talking points have the disastrous side-effect of alienating real neighbors, friends, and family members. And, while there are undoubtedly real and important arguments afoot, they do not justify sacrificing real relationships. We know the people; most national-level political arguments concern matters that are beyond the actual capacity of any human being to understand. I may know my neighbor. I do not know — no human really can know — whether a law binding upon three hundred and fifty million people will help their collective fortunes;

5. Finally, the Rabbit Room essay is not about keeping aloof from politics. It is meant, rather, as encouragement to regard political arguments and talking-points with healthy skepticism, our own arguments with modesty. Privilege the things you know, and the people you know and love, over those things you do not and could not know. In the words of one of His disciples, Jesus of Nazareth “went about doing good” — personally doing good by deeds tailored to uphold the real dignity and heal the peculiar brokenness of particular people, on a scale that local communities could see and understand. He commissioned His disciples to go and do likewise. If you cannot see that that has political implications enough, you cannot see.

[1] Only the canonical Gospels imply any kind of political philosophy. The non-canonical Gnostic gospels, in addition to being written much later and having far less historical value than the canonical ones, firmly divide the world of spirit from the material world in such a way that real-world political engagement becomes nonsensical.

[2] If you’re unfamiliar with the Rabbit Room, then you should make yourself familiar with it — particularly if you’re a fan of good music, good literature, and good art.

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The night almost had me:
Sleep with no dream, no rest;
Dark without Abram’s stars;
Lead silence that freezes
Flesh, blood, bone and marrow.

I had no breath to plead —
No word, no cry;
Only a groan to ask
Deliverance.

And I heard in my breast
A woman bearing God
Groaning in labor pain,
Then a baby wailing,
Then two sighs, and soft breath
In the rhythm of sleep,
And rest.

That day Mother and Child
Spoke my language, uttered
A plea I understood.

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Schemes we have sought,
Schemes we have invented:
The skeleton, the smoking gun,
The “fair cop” and the well-timed flop;
Our defense when accused
Is accusation.

We sons of hell,
Satans of our father
The Snake, fill our mouth with our tail
And narrow the circle of hell
With every swallow.
Lord, have mercy.

Teach us, Wisdom,
Faithful Son of Faith begotten,
To set our jaws, to shut our mouths,
To glory in our “shames”
As you before.

Hell had “the goods”
On you from conception.
“Bastard son of fornication!”
Your Mother treasured these things in her heart.
Then Joseph said: “The Son of Heaven
Is no bastard on Earth,”
Setting Hell’s teeth
On edge.

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Were you there when He crawled atop skull hill,10-good-thief-2
Driven by Roman soldiers like a lamb,
Condemned and cursed by sons of Abraham
Who by perjury procured a true bill?

Were you there when His hands and feet were nailed
Down, His body lifted up, on a tree —
A spectacle for all the world to see
Where Israel’s sight and Rome’s Blind Justice failed?

Were you there when one man hanged by His side, 
One terrorist at death’s door, entered life,
And laid his “just cause” down, and ceased his strife,
And on the tree his King and God espied?

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The world is sick from a million Faustian bargains — and the revolutions that arise to overthrow them are but a different set of Faustian bargains. Except one: the one Christ inaugurated by his fasting and temptation in the wilderness, commonly known as Lent.

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