Monthly Archives: November, 2006

Demons and Lepers

I was recently ambushed by a Nadine Gordimer quote: “The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms.”

Roman-afflicted Israel was, and modern “America” is, in such a time. If Paul Goodman, writing in the early 1960’s, described us as suffering from “unfinished business,” what can we say for our current selves, except that we are heirs of all he meant and more?

As the gains of the 60’s were rolled back, the long onset of the BGH Economy (Say “Moo!”) began. When our rulers began talking of a “kinder, gentler” world, it was a timely reminder of the crueler, harsher (and infinitely pettier!) world they had in fact been imposing for one very long time.

Playing musical chairs for jobs–no longer hoping much for the advertised
‘rewarding’ careers, gradually settling for bait-&-switch at best–has psychologically deformed most all of us. For people who once hoped only for honest work and a tough-but-endurable life, the concept of what Buddhists call “right livelihood” has become an unimaginable, inaffordable luxury.

Self-images warp and shatter. Mania and depression are the twin sides of this coin. And for that lucky class of people in (more or less) beautiful cliffside homes… the many faces of denial.

The lepers are on your corners. They’re a scurvy lot; I don’t recommend kissing them. But you can’t truly say they aren’t your brothers and sisters.

An old, alcoholic friend has just gone over the edge; her little booze-devil isn’t cute anymore, has started to tell her who’s in charge and what she “has” to do. She doesn’t want to hear how big it’s gotten, how it will eat her if she doesn’t put it down.

Pray for her? What does that mean? Pray God to make her do something she doesn’t want to do? How many friends of alcoholics have prayed that futile prayer?–and what is the prayer we should pray instead?

A booze-devil is individual-size, obvious to everyone except the one afflicted. What other, larger, unrecognized devils leer out from kindly, oblivious eyes?

What is a devil? A conscious, malicious being? Or an angel twisted by our desires?

Does it order us to act like zombies? Or do we lull ourselves by dreams of mechanical efficacy?

The other night I was remembering my youth, how I’d done ever so many foolish things only to keep from clearly looking at myself. Last night I told some friends; they said, “Isn’t that how everybody’s youth goes?” Lucky if we’ve gotten past that, at all. Shouldn’t we have compassion, for everyone with their heads still stuck in dark places?

We made it (to those dubious heights we now inhabit); there’s hope for us all. Unlikely as it looks…

gospel according mark 1:40-45

Jesus cures leprosy

1:40 Then a leper came to Jesus, knelt in front of him and appealed to him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

1:41 Jesus was filled with pity for him, and stretched out his hand and placed it on the leper, saying, “Of course I want to – be clean!”

1:42-44 At once the leprosy left him and he was quite clean. Jesus sent him away there and then with the strict injunction, “Mind you say nothing at all to anybody. Go straight off and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing which Moses prescribed, as public proof of your recovery.”

1:45 But he went off and began to talk a great deal about it in public, spreading his story far and wide. Consequently, it became impossible for Jesus to show his face in the towns and he had to stay outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from all quarters.

in the grip of an evil spirit

The significance of this figure to me is as a type of me (and perhaps you) or of the nation to which I (we) belong.

Theologically we serve God– or the devil (there’s certainly a grey area, on the fence, indeterminte, some good, some bad). But what I (we) do less than God is readily seen as an evil spirit.

I am many- Legion. Or more properly Legion is within me. It causes me to cut myself on the stones: the law, preconceived notions of what is good for us (but not for them). Separating ourselves from the rest of the world like all those with evil spirits do.

Thankfully we, too may be blessed with the healing seen in this story. I have been so blessed, am being blessed, and will be blessed. Hurrah!

gospel according to mark 1:35-39

He retires for private prayer

1:35-37 Then, in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Simon and his companions went in search of him, and when they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

1:38 “Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighbouring towns,” he replied, “so that I may give my message there too – that is why I have come.”

1:39 So he continued preaching in their synagogues and expelling evil spirits throughout the whole of Galilee.

teaching with authority/david

Why he even gives his orders to evil spirits and they obey him!

I notice a parallel with my favourite passage in Mark. The calming the sea miracle recorded in 4:35-41 — which opened my kwakersaur blog 2 years ago — ends with Jesus’ very disciples saying:

Who ever can he be? – even the wind and the waves do what he tells them!

Now that I’ve read Berkhof and Stringfellow as well as Wink I can see clearly that evil spirits and forces of nature were not seen as significantly different kinds of critter to Jesus’ contemporaries. These were the powers and principalities, the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil (Ephesians 6).

But that just nuances the core issue for me. The crowds (and later is very disciples) just don’t get it. They accept him as a teacher, they are amazed at his miracles, they don’t get that he has authority over the forces which oppress their lives.

Authority is important here. It maps to my earlier discussion with crystal on omnipotence. In these stories (unlike for example the story of the woman healed of a blood issue, Mark 5:24-34) it is not some supernatural power that Jesus has that allows him to work miracles but a superhuman authority. He doesn’t impose his will in some psychic power kind of way. He speaks, and the forces of destruction submit.

I know I sometimes split hairs in these scripture studies but I think this time the distinction is important. Its important in a political way. Judea is occupied by two Roman legions; it has become a province of a world empire whose emperor demands worship as the incarnation of a god. Jesus’ power is not the power of an individual centurion with simply a bigger nastier sword. It is the authority of a world emperor, who commands and the individual centurions obey. Indeed, he commands even those in rebellion against him, and they obey.

It is significant in another way. One I have not integrated into my spirituality as yet. It is implicit in Mark’s second prologue:

These signs will follow those who do believe: they will drive out evil spirits in my name; they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous it will do them no harm; they will lay their hands upon the sick and they will recover.

It is explicit in the gospel of John:

I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father. Whatever you ask the Father in my name, I will do – that the Son may bring glory to the Father. And if you ask me anything in my name, I will grant it.

and

You will find trouble in the world – but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!

Since Jesus’ power is an authority over the forces that oppress us, then we too as his followers have such authority. I have not figured out how to exercise that authority. And I have not figured out how to integrate it into my basic spirituality, which is one of consecration and kenosis: not my will, but thy will be done.

gospel according to mark 1:21-34

Jesus begins healing the sick

1:21-24 They arrived at Capernaum, and on the Sabbath day Jesus walked straight into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at his way of teaching, for he taught with the ring of authority – quite unlike the scribes. All at once, a man in the grip of an evil spirit appeared in the synagogue shouting out, “What have you got to do with us, Jesus from Nazareth? Have you come to kill us? I know who you are – you’re God’s holy one!”

1:25 But Jesus cut him short and spoke sharply, “Hold your tongue and get out of him!”

1:26-27 At this the evil spirit convulsed the man, let out a loud scream and left him. Everyone present was so astounded that people kept saying to each other, “What on earth has happened? This new teaching has authority behind it. Why he even gives his orders to evil spirits and they obey him!”

1:28 And his reputation spread like wild-fire through the whole Galilean district.

1:29-31 Then he got up and went straight from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever, and they lost no time in telling Jesus about her. He went up to her, took her hand and helped her to her feet. The fever left her, and she began to see to their needs.

1:32-34 Late that evening, after sunset, they kept bringing to him all who were sick or troubled by evil spirits. The whole population of the town gathered round the doorway. And he healed great numbers of people who were suffering from various forms of disease. In many cases he expelled evil spirits; but he would not allow them to say a word, for they knew perfectly well who he was.

christology/scripture (david)

I cast down the gauntlet so to speak. So here goes.

I became a Christian in November of 1982. At the time and for some time following I found it very important to direct my prayer toward the God of Jesus. I remained agnostic on Christ’s divinity — not because I doubted but because I felt my call clearly to be to the God Jesus revealed and to Christ as his revealer. Overtime I have become more explicitly Trinitarian (Tri-unitarian) mostly by osmosis. I’m mean Trinitarian is the default position of Christianity and without strong reasons/incentives otherwise that’s where a Christian ends up.


Then I ran into ran into Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Instead of trying to reason his way into faith through what is called Natural Theology or Philosophical Theology he starts with the core fact God’s self-revelation in Christ Jesus. His Christology is logically prior to his doctrine of reconciliation. You have to have studied Protestant theology to know how truly radical that move is. He starts with revelation qua revelation even before the content of that revelation. And suddenly this troublesome notion of God, three persons in one Godhead which I sort of embraced knowing full well that it was utterly incoherent — suddenly it made sense to me.

christology

What I have is a Quaker peculiarity. I hold to what church types call a “high christology”. As Barth would say, Christ Jesus was fully human, fully God, and fully God-man. Now my friend Larry is squirming in his boots. Because everytime I affirm the divinity of Christ he feels a need to qualify it. Yes Jesus is divine, but so are we all. They taught us at AVP everything before a “but” is a lie.


Like Larry I affirm that doctrine all but lost to Protestantism, theosis. We’re all on the God-track. Salvation doesn’t just mean escaping the horny guys with pitchforks — it means becoming divine. And that offer that opportunity and that reality is available to all of us. So we both affirm universal theosis. And maybe just maybe this theosis extends to the universe itself and not just everybody in it.

But in the meantime, I know I’m not quite there yet. I’m not even fully human let alone fully divine. And that goes for anyone I know or have heard of including those I love most in this world. So while we’re all human and divine, Christ Jesus is human and divine in a different way I cannot fully articulate — only that this difference remains important for me to affirm.

I’m going through a time of foment right now. Not sure where its taking me. The name(s) I call God in prayer and in public suddenly aren’t working for me any longer.
Time will tell where it takes me. Maybe I’ll pack it all in and become a cyber-Daoist.

scripture

If my christology is high my doctrine of scripture is low. The bible is a collection of ANETs: Ancient Near Eastern Texts. What marks it a different from other ANETs is simply that it is held to be scripture by a fluid cluster of interrelated sects calling themselves Christian.

I do not deny the spiritual validity or utility of other scriptures — Daodejing, Quran, Torah, Analects. But I also note these are not my scriptures. I come to them as an outsider. I’m presently a practitioner of the Christian path and I can only read other people’s scriptures in light of that practice. Reading is always done form within a tradition or set of (often conflicting) traditions.

I also affirm with Karl Barth (and early Quakers), that our scriptures, are faithful witnesses to the Word of God. I also affirm with Karl Barth, that when reading them in faith, seeking the Word they bear witness to, they become the word of God to/for us. I have experienced it. But for me it is not the Bible but the Word that has the authority and power. And faith has to be there prior to the reading.

David’s Questions: Our personal notions of scripture and Christ

I don’t think I can talk about the nature of scriptures without talking about revelation.

And I can’t talk about Christology without talking about what it means to be “a human being.”

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of it, how does Creation happen? Much as poems are “written,” or plants grow. We live in our dream.

What is there to dream us?

Given the miracle that anything exists at all–that there is spirit to live this story–I’m inclined to believe the notion that God intrinsically exists. If it were possible for God not to exist, there would not be any existence, any being to experience the nothingness that wouldn’t be anywhere–but my experience contradicts that alternative (and so does yours!)

God “became” us because that was the only way we could have any reality whatsoever.

The Whole Thing is within us, within each of us, and so is whatever we call “the outside world.” But is not limited to that.

We experience our moment-to-moment existence. This could be, as in a dream, a succession of (seemingly) unrelated images, but instead we have continuity, the past morphing into the future–So something holds it all together, and whatever that is–is beyond our conscious self. Whatever that is, it is not some brute unreasoning “subconscious,” not a mental working that’s less conscious than we are but obviously something conscious of much more. I can imagine no limit to it.

And yet it has “peopled” itself into this universe. It is not possible to exist without being, intrinsically, It itself. And thus it loves us “as we love ourselves.” If we are hungry to know the truth, it feeds us. But it’s such a bewildering truth, and we’re so little.

Scripture is our baby food.

Is it “the Truth”? How can words or letters be true or false, except as we translate them into our minds? Scriptures nourish the truth growing in us, if we chew them and digest them properly. Like what we might tell a child who wants to know, “Why is the sky blue?”

“Inspiration is not dictation.” We can read scripture (like anything in this world, but particularly scriptures) as containing messages addressed to us. The passage we need (like anything else in this world) is likely to come to our attention at the appropriate moment, when it will be most helpful. At best, scripture is written by people in a state of communion with God, but it is not written by infallible people, nor can it make us infallible. It is merely one form that our mental/spiritual “daily bread” can take.

Is Jesus “just another human being,” then? Yes. But what is a human being?

Is Jesus sent by God to let us know what God is like? Yes.

Is God like Jesus in character and personality, then? That appears to be the message.

son of God?

Often it’s illuminating to look for the original meaning of a religious phrase. Often you find that it’s been distorted beyond recognition–but then you also find that the new meanings it’s taken on have an illuminating power of their own.

So. The “Son of God” once meant simply the “King of Israel,” period. Like “the Son of Heaven” was ruler of China.

To call someone a “son of” anything can merely mean that he somehow resembles whatever he is “son of.” Like the “Sons of Thunder.” But there’s also that metaphorical family relationship.

Jesus led us to understand ourselves as “God’s children.” Outside of John, he doesn’t go around sounding like: “I’m the Son of God and you’re not.” He tells us to look on God as a good father to us, to trust God, depend on God, love and obey God, not as a ruler or a boss but as one truly akin to us.

Ursula Le Guin in _The Lathe of Heaven_ quotes from Chuange Tse XXIII:

“Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn it by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason…”

The good news for us is that we are all God’s children in this sense.

But if we don’t believe this… then we don’t believe it.

It’s hard to help someone who’s too busy struggling, dispairing, or frantically maintaining denial of imagined horrors. And for the “wicked,” mercy can look a lot like wrath.

{A friend of mine, counselling men whom courts had referred in cases of wife-beating, found many of them utterly unrepentant, sure that what they’d done was entirely right and proper. All he could do for some was to pray. At the moment he was praying for one particularly bad example, the man was on his way to his wife’s with every intention of killing her. The police caught him on the way, and he ended up spending a long time in jail, time enough to think things over and sort them out differently. Our jails and prisons are a scandal, an accustomed atrocity, institutions that should be abolished. But the effect, this time, was good.}

Theological types have gotten fond of calling God “wholly other.” This is valid in the sense of “wholly unlike our habitual selves”–even when our habits are good ones. But we can understand God better as “wholly akin.” Wholly akin to what is deepest in us, most alive, most creative and unexpected.

gospel according to mark 1:14-20

Jesus begins to preach the gospel, and to call men to follow him

1:14-15 – It was after John’s arrest that Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, saying, “The time has come at last – the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.”

1:16-17 – As he walked along the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the water. “Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!” he cried.

1:18 – At once they dropped their nets, and followed him.

1:19-20 – Then he went a little further along the shore and saw James the son of Zebedee, aboard a boat with his brother John, overhauling their nets. At once he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went off after him.