There was an Election Day-eve prayer-vigil for the nation tonight, and I was there. I am praying for the healing of a nation that seems, in many ways, broken. You may ask me what I mean by calling it broken: don’t we have food on the grocery-store shelves, intact roads, a stable currency, and public education? Yes, we still do. But there’s been widespread erosion of public trust in our dominant institutions – government, the media, the electoral system – and it’s infected our trust in our neighbor as well. We don’t trust the once-relied-on sources of truth to tell the truth. We don’t trust the traditional guardians and promoters of the common good to care about the common good, or if they do, to understand what it consists of. My neighbor to the East thinks the scientists are lying when they talk of climate change. My neighbor to the West thinks the elections are rigged. To the North, my neighbor thinks the economy is rigged, and hoards gold against the day that the riggers spring the trap on the rest of us. To the South, my neighbor hoards ammunition against the day that everyone becomes an enemy. I have my own mistrusts. The situation is not helped by the many people who, whether on orders from above or in the interests of their stockholders, routinely tell lies and bend the rules in order to make sure that the “right” thing happens: the crude-oil or fracked-gas pipeline goes through, the new pesticide gets approval, the for-profit prison continues to get an uninterrupted supply of able-bodied inmates. Fortunately, the one authority-figure I trust remains in authority, and I vote for that fair, merciful, always-truthful, and almighty Person every day when I say, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.”
Archive for the ‘Kingdom of God’ Category
I’m a Friend who’s felt personally called to lay down voting. I can’t, in any case, vote for any candidate empowered to authorize the use of lethal violence against anyone, or I become a killer by proxy, thereby unfit to be a member of Christ (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 6:15, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 5:30), who taught love and forgiveness of enemies, the Lamb who died before He would hurt another person. But I vote every day for God to remain the world’s almighty ruler when I pray “Thy kingdom come.” It’s not just a figure of speech. Please think about that, Friends, as you read this excellent article by Paul Buckley:
I should add that my witness against voting (which is partly an outgrowth of my call to be a hands-on healer, which I saw required me to relinquish all adversarial positions vis-a-vis the people I might be asked to pray for – cf. 2 Tim 2:24) doesn’t stop me from demonstrating and entreating, and from fasting and praying for good secular government at election time. At the upcoming election I’ll be praying particularly for the healing of our multiply divided and spiritually wounded nation.
There are many men and women living today who can witness that the kingdom of God is no mere figure of speech, but a real government whose citizenship they enjoy, under whose protection they walk, and to which they’re bound by civic duties they discharge gladly, even when it costs them pain. Whether or not they speak a Christian language, they’ve said in their heart, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” and their rightful Ruler has graciously responded by so arranging events that they can no longer doubt the exercise of a mysterious and benign oversight over their steps, even if their path may lead through unfair treatment, disease, disability, oppression, and abuse, to the death that eventually comes to us all. Though this may be incomprehensible to people to whom it hasn’t happened, something has occurred to awaken a faith in them that may afterwards be dimmed by setbacks, but can no longer be snuffed out.
A necessary step in this development of faith is a growth of trust in the character of God. We might begin with the intuition that, full though the world may be of injustice, our sense of justice must have been built into us by a Creator who loves justice also. (“He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” Psalm 94:9 KJV). Then how can such a God allow the cruel to kill the innocent? We don’t know why God allows what God allows, but our hearts assure us that God never wills evil. For God is love (1 John 4:8), and Love desires what benefits all. If we are made “in God’s likeness,” this likeness includes the freedom to choose the right thing or the wrong; and fear, hate, selfishness and ignorance often tempt us to stray. But faith gives us hope that God corrects wrongdoers, in this life or another, and that God “wipes away all tears from the eyes” (Rev. 7:17, 21:4) of those who have been wronged.
Black lives matter in the kingdom of God, where God delights in all of God’s children, and wishes us all to give one another joy and not grief. This can only happen when long-standing patterns of injustice have been corrected, not by vengeance-begetting vengeance, but by truth and reconciliation. But for this process to begin, someone must go first. And to help create an atmosphere in which it’s safe to go first – I speak especially to my fellow enjoyers of white privilege – you must ask forgiveness of someone you’ve wronged, or extend forgiveness to someone who’s wronged you. It needn’t be across racial lines; it can be your own parent, partner or child. If you engage in a predatory or oppressive practice, even one as “mild” as hurtful speech about absent third parties, you must stop. Contagious hard-heartedness has spread far enough. It’s time for a contagion of tenderness.
Now repentance is a change of heart. It doesn’t make the thorns drop off roses as we pass by, or the cruel around us lose their cruelty. Life in this world still hurts, and we may even follow Jesus into martyrdom. But repentance allows certain things to happen: one is that we come to know, inwardly, that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39), who is making all things work together for good for us (Romans 8:28; this removes all cause for grief). Another is that, with a change of heart we become a new creature, and the new creature no longer hates itself – what a burden falls away then, and what works of love start streaming from us! A third thing is that we unlearn our deep-seated old habit of deciding what to do on the basis of its expected payoff for me, because the new question becomes “Is this what God is asking of me now?” – which immunizes us against the temptation to reason, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Romans 3:8). This was the reasoning that got us into this present nasty situation.
This brings me to consider our present nasty situation. In addition to our having a world so militarized, so tyrannized, and so polarized between rich and poor, we are also killing life on earth. Our consumption habits, the political and economic choices we make to support them, and the perverted tastes behind them, are all hurtling us forward toward doomsday. At first we thought that the rising titer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would simply raise temperatures and shift comfort- and growing-zones toward the earth’s poles. Then we realized that many species would become extinct in the process; island nations and coastal cities would go underwater as the icecaps melted; increased carbon dioxide in the water would turn the seas too sour to allow shelled creatures to form shells, sending famine up the marine food chain. Our horror mounted as we saw that the melting of polar ice and arctic permafrost would not only change ocean salinity patterns, killing the Gulf Stream and other vehicles of life, but would also be releasing megatons of methane into the upper atmosphere, turning up the flame under the cooking planet.
We’ve realized that the way we do things is unsustainable and called for a Plan B, and sensible Plan B’s have been rolled out. But now it’s evident that the rulers of the earth, both the visible ones and the invisible, lack the will, motivation and flexibility to implement any sort of Plan B. Of course we’ll join the march to the United Nations on September 21 to insist on it, but no doubt the heads of state assembled there will only be able to wring their hands and point fingers at one another. Great numbers of voluntary communities of urban and rural homesteaders may go off-grid and grow their own vegetables as the crisis worsens, but I can’t believe that anyone will prove competent to make a general, global Plan B happen. So we’ll need a Plan C.
The only Plan C I can imagine saving life on earth is widespread repentance, a world epidemic of repentance – not merely a change of behaviors, though surely outward changes will accompany inward metamorphosis (the replacement of agribusiness and frankencrops with technologies like permaculture, the Wal-Mart trams-Pacific supply chain with a localized transition economy, global capitalism with its yet-unnamed successor). I look with hope toward the only God, the only Savior, the only Transformer of Hearts, for the only Plan C that can save life on earth.
This is a sequel to my posting of yesterday, “Will you repent?” This time I won’t merely write a comment on another Friend’s blog posting, but dip my pen, so to speak, into my own heart. (If this figure of speech is found disturbing, it was meant to be.)
I read in the Philokalia, years ago, that there is no salvation without repentance. At once I felt the truth of the statement, for it had already been made clear to me that the God of All Consciousness willed my salvation into everlasting peace, but my sense of myself as a sinner kept me from peace. What names of self-condemnation had I not called myself! Liar. Thief. Cheater. Hypocrite. Impostor. Betrayer of trust. Coward. Selfish. Moral weakling. Sex criminal. Adulterer. Pervert. Addict. Cruel. Loveless. Bully. Persecutor. Racist. Anti-Semite. Would-be rapist and murderer. Failure. Fool. If that person were to stand in a Light of Truth that exposed everything, I couldn’t bear it. I must, therefore, continue to keep certain memories of things I’d thought, said and done hidden and, as much as possible, forgotten. And I must defend the secrecy of my secrets until, mercifully, they died with me and could hurt me no more.
This sense of tainted self, which I sense afflicts most people here on earth, predated my belief in an all-seeing God. But a Light of Truth that exposed everything could exist, theoretically, in the basement of a police station, the brain-decoder lab of a mad scientist, or the anal-probe room of a UFO. So long as our master strategy is to keep the shame of our tainted self hidden, we must mostly hope that no Light of Truth catches up with us anywhere, and that an all-seeing God does not exist – or, if one does, that He, She or It has no interest in turning souls inside-out to expose their interiors. I wonder whether this would explain the appeal, not only of atheist materialism and moral relativism, but also of religions of cheap grace (forgiveness of sins without having to name them), and spiritual disciplines promising cheap liberation, with a guaranteed destruction of the karmāśaya that requires no looking inside it. Collectively, we have an enormous investment in keeping the darkness dark.
I like to call this state of consciousness I’ve just described “fallen,” having personally experienced glimmerings of another state that is “unfallen.” The fallen state is one of fear. I’ve seen how all the vices, anger, lust, greed, pride, envy and so on, can be traced back to fear, including that peculiar one that causes projection and scapegoating of all that we can’t bear to acknowledge in ourselves. It’s not yet known to me, at this stage in my life, whether death, danger, pain and evil result from our choice to dwell in a fallen spiritual state, or are independent God-established facts of life that justify our fear; but faith tells me that we may know this on the day that God “wipes away all tears from our eyes” (Rev. 21:4).
A society of humans in a fallen state is, not surprisingly, often cruel to its deviants, its outsiders, its scapegoats, and it typically institutes systems of domination and oppression to maintain itself, with myths and ideologies to justify the inequities of those systems, and payoffs of privilege to anesthetize those who enjoy what others lack. War, slavery, child abuse, violent entertainment, substance addiction, extremes of wealth and poverty, loan-sharking, prostitution, organized crime, and idolatrous exaltation of vain or evil things as “good” are all common features of fallen culture, now as in ancient Babylon. To what extent a society of fallen humans can be made kinder, gentler, and fairer without addressing the root problem of fallenness is one of the great experimental questions of our time. I’ve seen marvelous improvements in child-rearing and race-relations in my day, but also very ugly developments in the technology of torture and killing. Antibiotics have done wonders with bacterial diseases, but, as I write, medical equipment is being used to force-feed prisoners held without criminal charges by a government that promised their speedy release years ago. I look out the window and still see a fallen world, and fallen people that have a crying, screaming need for salvation from it. (I happen also to believe in hell: an after-death state in which the inner torment of fallen souls continues, but without the disguises and cushions that this world affords. But it’s not necessary to believe in hell to believe in a universal human need for salvation, for this world is hell enough: ask the man who’s falling forty storeys from an overturned platform.)
Now back to Theoliptus of Philadelphia, who wrote that there is no salvation without repentance. How will we be restored from our fallen state without a great transformation in our consciousness? And how will we allow such a transformation without a massive letting-go of hates, fears, grudges, prejudices, false beliefs, and idolatrous attachments to things that can never save us? That is repentance. And it’s not something that we can do in our own power, like saying a polite “I’m sorry.” It must come to us as a gift from elsewhere or it will not happen at all, for it requires something that we don’t have yet. We know when we’ve gotten it; it makes us feel good. We know we’ve been washed clean of all those former things. The sinner, even the chief of sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), is no longer in bondage to sin (John 8:31-36).
“When they heard these things, they… glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” Acts 11:18. I’m now ready to speak about the God who grants repentance and salvation. What can I know about God? I’m less than a worm next to the Creator of one hundred trillion trillion stars. However, I believe that I’ve been spoken to by the voice of God, not many times, but enough. And I’ve been shown that the character of the all-forgiving Jesus of Nazareth, my Savior and the world’s, mirrors the character of God: God is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16) and it is not the will of God that a single one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14) or turn wicked and die in its sins (Ezekiel 33:11), but though its sins be as scarlet, they should be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), and that soul should have everlasting life (John 3:16) in which it experiences righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). I believe that Jesus’ laying down His life for us made these gifts of repentance and salvation possible for us, though I don’t yet know how. But I expect to be taught, once I’m made capable of understanding it.
The reader will note that I quote the Bible a lot, and may wonder why I choose the passages that make God seem easy to love, and not, say, those more troubling ones that liken God to a man in a drunken rage (Psalm 78:65), have God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and then punishing him for it (Exodus 4:21 ff), or having people cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19-21). My answer is that these sweeter scriptures have been “opened” to me, and those that make God look capricious or cruel have not. The sheep of the Good Shepherd know their Shepherd’s voice from the voices of the hireling, the sheep-rustler and the wolf (John 10:1-14), and I recognize my Shepherd’s voice in Biblical passages that glorify the mercy and lovingkindness of God. I can believe in a Christ Jesus who freely lays down His life for me (John 10:15-17). I can’t believe in a God the Father who demands the torture-death of his innocent Son as payment for our sins; it can only be a lie invented by fallen theologians. God who planted the moral sense in me must have a far higher one than I do (Psalm 94:9).
Now it’s written in that Bible, “With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful… and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavory” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, Psalm 18:26). This suggests an important epistemological principle, that the unmerciful cannot experience God as merciful, not because of any sulkiness or wrathfulness on God’s part but because of a psychological incapacity in the unmerciful person that inevitably accompanies his refusal to show mercy. In that vein, Jesus notes “if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We are not to blame the Father for this, any more than we’re to blame the sun for appearing red when the atmosphere is heavily polluted. It is my conviction that all scriptures that put a fierce face on God represent the faith of fierce prophets or the experience of fierce times. The sun often appears red, and threatens soon to turn redder.
This brings me to the present situation of humankind, and the danger our overconsumption now presents to all life on earth. We have been bad stewards over the creatures, and it’s because we’ve been unrepentant fallen stewards. Today there are people of faith who wish to shame, or bully, the most powerful-seeming of the bad stewards into changing their behavior. But fear-based and adversarial actions are not appropriate behavior for people of faith, whose every act should reflect the goodness of the God or dharma that they represent and serve as an advertisement to the evildoer to change his ways and enter into such a path of faith himself. Until the CEOs of the fossil-fuel companies and their financiers are brought to repentance and a living relationship with God, the true mission of the environmental movement will remain unaccomplished. Until the earth itself is recognized not as a multi-use farm and recreation area for mortal creatures but as a staging-area for a life with God in eternity, our uses of it will continue to defile it. We who pray that God grant all creatures of the earth their daily bread, trustful that our Best of Fathers will not trick us by giving us a stone instead (Matt. 7:9), have a prophet’s assurance that God intends the earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). Ask your heart whether or not this is a message of God to you, and if it is, spread trust that God will turn the threatened dying of the earth around. While you are in communion with your heart, ask it whether or not your repentance is yet complete and perfect, and if it is not, whisper to God, “yes, perfect it.” God will do the rest.
To my State Senator and Assemblyman:
I urge you to co-sponsor the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A8588/S6466), currently in the NY State Assembly and Senate, to support it, and to vote for it.
You would do us all a great service, even those of us who run no personal risk of ever being put into solitary confinement, by making it your business to see this act signed into law, for when my neighbor gets put into the box, a part of you and me gets put into the box, and worse, our innocent Savior Jesus Christ gets put into the box. When not applied as a time-limited emergency measure to restrain actual violent behavior, solitary confinement is a form of torture. Scripture teaches us that God has no desire to torture; when the first murderer complained that his punishment was too hard to bear, his Creator mitigated it (Genesis 4:13-15). Do we want to set ourselves up as crueler than God? Is that an ambition we should be proud of?
Jesus told us that when we come to visit “the least of these” in prison, we’ve visited Him in prison (Matthew 25:36). He wasn’t joking, or indulging in a flight of poetic fancy: He was about to lay down His life — for you, for me, and for the men in solitary — and one does not waste time with idle jokes on the eve of one’s death. What could He have meant, then? Only this: that we are not separate people. His parable of the vine (John 15) is another way of saying that.
When one of His beloved children is tortured and broken by solitary confinement, He feels the torment, and you and I are further broken and deformed by the guilt we bear, as makers and upholders of our nation’s laws and as taxpayers whose dollars have paid for the bars on the cells. Please do your part to free us. You’ll feel good, and so will I – as though we’d just been let out of solitary.
I sent out a similar letter today to my Congressman, urging him to co-sponsor H.R.4618 – the Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014.