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Another Monday

May 28, 2012

Another Monday.  But his one is a little bit different.  I have begun the countdown: five weeks from Wednesday I will be on my way to Canada for the summer.  In a way I am already there, thinking of what I will do, who I will see.  I can already taste the rye bread, pyrohy, pickerel, fresh salmon, pizza, ice cream, drinks with ice and a good thick steak with lots of mushrooms and a huge green salad.  Even more so, I crave sharing meals with others.  I look forward to songbirds, cats and friendly dogs.  I revel in the thought of feeling really clean, and even better, dry.

Here are some of my musings from the past week.

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 I was reflecting upon all the times I have heard someone try to describe God.  To borrow imagery from Karl Barth, updating it somewhat, describing God is like trying to photograph a bird in flight.  If I choose a fast shutter speed, I may end up with a beautiful picture, crisp and accurate in detail, but frozen in time and space, devoid of life.  If I opt for a slower shutter speed I end up with a meaningless blur.  But trying to capture God “in a box” is more serious than that.  It is creating an image of God, and to then worship that image is idolatry.   Besides, God is “wholly other”, far beyond our ability to picture or even begin to understand.

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For Christians and non-Christians alike (can you really see much of a difference?), comfort has become the end goal of life, both temporally and spiritually.  From Christians, frequent cries go up to God for deliverance from suffering, protection from troubles.  The “successful” Christian life is often portrayed as being characterized by health, wealth and blissful happiness.  If it is otherwise, we must be doing something wrong.

But the road to God is not happiness and success.  Jesus himself said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  (Matthew 10:34), and   “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

In the pursuit of happiness, much of the church in North America, and most of those who are part of it, are in love with capitalism. But it is a cancer, a sin eating away at our ability to live the faith as we are called to live it.  I do not reject capitalism in its entirety; like any good lie, it contains elements of the truth.  But the reality is that for some to profit, some must lose.  Living in Haiti brings this home in spades.

For anyone interested in the machinations of Milton Friedman, one of capitalism’s most revered apostles, and his disciples, and the rise of disaster capitalism (hard at work here in Haiti) I highly recommend Shock Doctrine by Canadian author Naomi Klein.  I can almost guarantee that after reading it you will never look at capitalism in the same way.

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For my theology to be real to me, it must be hammered out on the anvil of life, not borrowed from the sufferings of others.  I can certainly benefit from the thinking of others, learn from a variety of sources, for no widely held idea is entirely devoid of the truth.  I can mine out that truth, appropriate it, and discard the dross in the process.  In this Jesus promises me the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  But I must approach this with caution.  To espouse any particular theology to the total exclusion of others, to too tightly embrace the community of any particular church, is to run the risk of closing myself to possibilities that might enrich my faith.

 

Like Barth, I know that I must keep a newspaper at hand if the Bible is not to become an idol.  For I believe that to separate God from the world of His creation, the world Jesus intends to redeem, is to distort the gospel message.

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I have heard it said, “Tell me what a congregation sings and I will tell you its theology.” What do the songs we sing have to say about our Christian depth, maturity and mission?  We might do well to think about that.

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In a well-respected Christian magazine, I was reading and thoroughly enjoying an article by Douglas John Hall, a Canadian theologian, followed by an thoughtful critique of his essay, when I noticed the magazine also featured a review of Eric Metataxis’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which I very recently enjoyed.  I thought I would give it a look.

I was appalled.  What the reviewer had written is not a book review, but a personal attack on the author and his beliefs.  He pointed to the author’s evangelical roots and clearly suggested that makes all he writes suspect, and accuses the right-wing church of “hijacking” Bonhoeffer, as if he “belonged” to the liberal church. We all have biases; that is a given.  But why is it that within Christianity so many discussions of faith instantly become politicized and polarized?   Where is the love that is supposed to characterize Christians?  We all need to stop the hate-filled diatribes, abandon the obsession to be “right” and get down on our knees, ask God’s forgiveness, and repent.

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Dr. Felix asked me last week if I was bothered by the noise where I live.  I told him I was not.  Throughout my life, as my family and close friends can testify, I have cultivated silence.  This silence is not the absence of sound, but something much more positive.  Most noises cannot penetrate my silence; even the most urgent only reach me after crossing it.  It allows me to shut out the world, and undistracted, fully immerse myself in what I am doing.  This attribute has proved very useful in Haiti, a very noisy place at times.

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The writings of the tragic mystic Simone Weil, my current read, accentuated to me that my attempts to “share the experience” of the people among whom I live is in a way an absurdity.  I have consciously made a choice to live this way; they have no choice.  I can walk away at any time and return to a life that most here cannot really envision, never mind hope to attain.  It is even more ridiculous in that those I live among are trying to escape the very life I have chosen and dream of the life I have left behind.

Yet in a way it serves a purpose.  For me it is an economically sound decision.  Living the way I do affords me a level of independence; I can support myself and my personal work here without assistance.  It also serves, I believe, to set me apart from most foreigners here.  It is my way of showing my acceptance of Haitians as they are by some small measure of identification with them.  It has also made it possible to experience the love of my Haitian friends in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

 

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A line from one of Simone’s letters to the Reverend Father Perrin resonated with me deeply.  She wrote, “For nothing among human things has such power to keep our gaze fixed ever more intensely upon God, than friendship for the friends of God.”  This is so true!  I need not name who came to mind when I read this; you know whom you are.

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