Tuesday, January 28, 2014

He will surely come

It must hurt deeply to be a conservative today in countries like France or America. Here in the States, to be a conservative means one wants to live a common sense and decent life, to be responsible in one’s personal economy, to do as one wants to be done by. It means wanting to conserve the principles of the American Revolution (if one has had enough education to know what these are). It doesn’t have anything to do with gay bashing or blowing up abortion clinics, or even with standing around for hours protesting with placards, or having ‘tea parties.’ It doesn’t necessarily mean living in the past either. It does mean, however, that one believes in America, in its moral strengths (not the publicity kind, but the quiet kind that keeps the country moving forward, inch by inch). It pains the conservative here, to see one’s President bowing and kissing the hand of a Sa’udi king, as if he were his liege man, while not even nodding before the current Queen of our ancient royal line, of whom George III was our last king. And for the conservative Frenchman, what to make of a president whose ‘First Lady’ was almost this one, then was that one, but insecurely because of the possibly next one. Even for the French, this really must be too much.

I dropped out of political debate ages ago, and even though my precinct card shows me as a Republican, it’s not with the Republican Party that I identify. I identify with reason. I associate with tolerance. I support compassion. In actual fact, I inherited my party affiliation in the same way I became a Catholic: it was handed down to me by my parents. I thought that being a Republican meant that I held up as my hero the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who came from my home state, Illinois, and I loved the party mascot, the elephant, strong and wise and able to remove obstacles like a Hindu god of the same species. But I grew up. I saw what was happening to my country, and whether run by this or that party, we were drifting off course. Our captains were becoming smaller and weaker of stature, until finally we found ourselves with no captain at all. I thought to myself, ‘It’s time to move to Japan.’ But I didn’t do that. It was just a frustrating dream. When problems are on the rise, it’s not time to fall asleep and dream of escape. It’s time to awake.

This is not a time to criticize or to denounce what it is that is wrong with America, or France, or any of the countries of the declining West, but a time to draw ourselves together and really seek the good that we desire. Not a time to divide or keep divided what mere rhetoric and slogan has torn apart, pitting brother against brother, and sisters against both. I remember a time, just barely remember, but it did happen, when there was a spirit in the air over my country that infiltrated many hearts and warmed them to right action, to compassion and commitment. I hear a song echoing from that past time, ‘If I had a hammer…’ and when I even whistle the tune (for I’ve forgotten enough of the words to not be able to sing it) my soul, that which animates this old body and inspires this flagging mind, is aroused by the memory of what once was, and what could yet be. ‘This song would be a better national anthem for today,’ I think to myself. ‘What we need now,’ I muse, ‘is not another president, but a Hero.’ That man is already waiting in the wings, he’s still growing in strength. But yes, he will surely come.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

For the choirmaster…

The psalms appointed for the eleventh day, as I read, prayed, learned from, and was strengthened by them—praying the psalms takes away every base desire, and fills the soul with grace!—as I offered them, and as the Lord offered them to me, the unworthy, I found many savory verses that have fed and still sustain me in my earthly pilgrimage,

Take pity on me, God, as they harry me,
pressing their attacks home all day.

Yes, today as always, I am like the timid hare, who has no help, except for the God who pities me and gives me strength to run, for my enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil—press their attacks home all day. One verse that I love so much because for me it has proven so true, is this,

Raise me up when I am most afraid,
I put my trust in You;
in God, whose Word I praise,
in God I put my trust, fearing nothing;
what can men do to me?

Yes, the Lord does in fact raise me up when I am most afraid, and though in myself I have no courage, He lifts me up into His certainty, where there is nothing to fear. The fifty-sixth psalm recounts the ways that our enemies attack us,

All day long they twist what I say,
all they think of is how to harm me,
they conspire, lurk, spy on my movements,
determined to take my life.

Yes, even though we are beset—all of us, whether we believe and desire God or not—by dangerous enemies on every side, the Lord is faithful to rescue us, seeing what we need before we ask, ‘You have noted my agitation, now collect my tears in Your wineskin!’ and He is ready, always and forever, to push back those fierce, merciless forces that attack us, ‘my enemies will have to fall back as soon as I call for help.’

In the fifty-seventh psalm is a wonderful verse that, whenever I hear it, reminds me that every adversity, like a storm, will pass, and that the best way to endure is to trust in God, and lie low,

Take pity on me, God, take pity on me,
in You my soul takes shelter;
I take shelter in the shadow of Your wings
until the destroying storm is over.

Yes, and I hear the truth that fills my whole being with gratitude whenever I remember it, that it is not by anything that I have done, or can do, that I am saved from my enemies,

I call on God the Most High,
on God who has done everything for me:
to send from heaven and save me,

But that by their own operations, those who seek our destruction are themselves destroyed,

They laid a net where I was walking
when I was bowed with care;
they dug a pitfall for me
but fell into it themselves,

Yes, how faithful, and merciful, is the Lord, both to us, and to our enemies! Merciful to us in that He saves us from them, and merciful to them because He permits their bent will to destroy others to check themselves. The focus of the psalms appointed for the eleventh day seems to be on the struggle between those who seek and serve God, the virtuous, in Hebrew, tzaddiqim, and those who seek and serve themselves, in Hebrew, resha’im. They start with the struggle from a single soul’s angle, and proceed to a social one—in society operate the same forces that attack and seek to exterminate us one by one,

Gods you may be,
but do you give the sentences you should,
and dispense impartial justice to mankind?

On the contrary, in your hearts you meditate oppression,
with your hands you dole out tyranny on earth.
Right from the womb these wicked men have gone astray,
these double talkers have been in error since their birth,

Yes, we have this to deal with too, as all of us know, who live in these declining years of mankind’s imperial systems, both in the State, and in the Church: there are those who believe themselves to be higher than the rest of us, so high that they can assert themselves to rule over us, not in righteousness, which is the way of the King (blessed be He!), but according to their corruption. The psalmist spares no words in his poetic prayer that these miscreants be removed,

God, break their teeth in their mouths,
Yahweh, wrench out the fangs of these savage lions!

May they drain away like water running to waste,
may they wither like trodden grass,
like a slug that melts as it moves,
like an abortion, denied the light of day!

Before they sprout thorns like the bramble,
green or scorched, may the wrath whirl them away!
What joy for the virtuous, seeing this vengeance,
bathing their feet in the blood of the wicked!

‘So,’ people will say, ‘the virtuous do have their harvest;
so there is a God who dispenses justice on earth!’

In the fifty-ninth psalm the focus returns to the individual in a most poignant way, and reminds me of the time of my own youth, when I had just such an enemy as the psalmist described, ‘lurking to ambush me,’

Back they come at nightfall,
snarling like curs,
prowling through the town.
See how they slaver at the mouth,
with swords between their teeth,
‘There is no one listening.’

Yes, as the psalmist testifies, I was delivered from my enemy just as he was, and without really doing anything on my own, but by waiting for the Lord to act, for He does, and without fail, never too early, never too late,

Yahweh, You laugh at them,
You make fun of these pagans.
My Strength, I look to You.
My citadel is God Himself,
the God who loves me is coming,
God will show me my enemies defeated.

Do people who know me wonder why I so often sing, especially while I work? The answer is in this psalm,

I, for my part, celebrate Your strength,
I sing of Your love morning by morning;
You have always been my citadel,
a shelter when I am in trouble.
My Strength, I play for You,
my citadel is God Himself,
the God who loves me.

Again, the struggle, now at the level of the nation, as the larger unit of human society, when I come to the sixtieth psalm I cannot but think of, and pray for, my own country and people. Its verses also memorialize for me the disaster and tragedy of ‘Nine Eleven,’ which has changed our world forever,

God, You have rejected us, broken us;
You have been angry, come back to us!

You have made the earth tremble, torn it apart;
now mend the rifts, it is tottering still!
You have allowed Your people to suffer,
to drink a wine that makes us reel.

Hoist the standard to rally those who fear You,
to put them out of range of bow and arrow, selah.
To bring rescue to those You love,
save with Your right hand and answer us!

Though the psalm calls on God to answer us, we know what the answer is, it is repentance, for the nation, just as it is for the individual. It is only this, real repentance, not official displays of it to ‘keep up appearances’ and to ‘save face,’ because only when we humble ourselves, can the Most High reign among us,

Help us in this hour of crisis,
the help that man can give is worthless.
With God among us we shall fight like heroes,
He will trample on our enemies.

Yes, He will trample on our enemies—no, He has trampled on them, ‘by death trampling down death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.’

The final psalm appointed for the eleventh day, the sixty-first, is my plea, yes, mine, not just the psalmist’s, but mine, and every man’s,

God, hear my cry for help,
listen to my prayer!

From the end of the earth I call to You,
with sinking heart.
To the rock too high for me,
lead me!

For You are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me stay in Your tent forever,
taking refuge in the shadow of Your wings, selah.

You, God, accept my vows,
You grant me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
Let the king live on and on,
prolong his years, generation on generation.

May he sit enthroned in God's presence for ever!
Assign Your love and faithfulness to guard him!
So I shall always sing of Your name,
fulfilling the vows I have taken, day after day.

Yes, ‘for the choirmaster, for strings, of David.’

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

For the time is close

Belligerent advocates of ignorant opinions held to be infallible, these are believers, though that is all they are. They have no theology. They are, in fact, atheological, locked in a mindset that is cryptically atheistic, because their god is manufactured, a crucible of molten brass that emerges as self-fashioned as the golden calf of Old Testament Aaron’s mistake, not the living God whom his brother Moses meets and speaks with, face to face.

This is islamification of the gospel—production of a false Christ, adoration by a false Bride, purification without suffering, sanctification without grace, seduction into pretended virginity, reduction of the Holy Bible into sharia law, devotion to man-made glory, not to the Glory ‘not made by hands.’ These are the greatest lies and the boldest. Once they have captured, it is hard to escape.

We think we are newly besieged by hijackers of ‘the religion of peace,’ that is, if we are politic and polite deceitful dreamers, but a brief foray into history will show us which religions, if any, are truly peaceful, and which are not, yet all are nothing more than religions.

The two closest rivals, Islam and Christianity, are both violent in history, but there seems to be this difference: In the one, following his scriptures faithfully, the believer will slay the infidel. In the other, following his Lord, he betrays Him if he slays, no matter who is slain. Yet neither can look back and claim either faithfulness or innocence.

It is Spirit, always the living God, that alone is Truth, tells the truth, and commands in truth, whose Word none can evade without retreating into falsehood, who speaks in peace, ‘Apart from me, all is nothing,’ uncoercing, and receives his servants as sons without recourse to any mediation on the part of man, ‘always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.’

We know by hearing and seeing who brings the everlasting gospel, inwardly grasping what it is because it is already our being. And when we sense not truth but lies we flee, not into the arms of men but into our hearts, where the Kingdom has been buried deep by Him who has seeded it within us, ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you.’

Our world has long been held, pillaged and raped by purveyors of all that Christ is not, while saying they do all he commands, but his letters to us, the seven churches, are all true. All has been foretold, all has been decreed, all have followed their hearts’ desire, and therein all have hidden their personal apocalypse, yet all that is hidden is soon to be revealed.

Brethren, watch and wait. The ten day trial is about to close. Those who claim to be… and are not, will soon, for them too late, confess that it is you he loves, and go down before you. These liars will soon be silenced. And finally, finally we shall understand who these Nicolaitans really were.

For the Time is close.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

To Him that was crucified

My spirit to yours, dear brother,
Do not mind because many sounding your name
    do not understand you,
I do not sound your name, but I understand you,
I specify you with joy O my comrade to salute you,
    and to salute those who are with you, before and since,
    and those to come also,
That we all labor together
    transmitting the same charge and succession,
We few equals indifferent of lands, indifferent of times,
We, enclosers of all continents, all castes,
    allowers of all theologies,
Compassionaters, perceivers, rapport of men,
We walk silent among disputes and assertions,
    but reject not the disputers nor any thing that is asserted,
We hear the bawling and din, we are reach’d at by divisions,
    jealousies, recriminations on every side,
They close peremptorily upon us to surround us, my comrade,
Yet we walk unheld, free, the whole earth over,
    journeying up and down
    till we make our ineffaceable mark upon time
    and the diverse eras,
Till we saturate time and eras,
    that the men and women of races, ages to come,
    may prove brethren and lovers, as we are.

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


The history of mankind is shaped and given direction, we tend to think, by great events, by pivotal persons strategically placed, visible to all, as implacable as fate, that drag us in their wake, as they plow ahead into a future that could not have been any other than the one we now live in.

The vast machine and scope of the Roman Empire seeded by a single individual, Julius Caesar, which itself seeded the whole of Western civilization. The intricate apparatus and miraculous achievements of the modern natural sciences seeded by great thinkers and scientists of the Renaissance, themselves the product of plantations seeded by ancient Greek philosophers.

Our current political map of the world seeded by revolutions and wars that we know by name, caused by great men we can also name, great though not always good. Luther, Cromwell, Robespierre, Washington, Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, Gandhi, and Mao. All very visible in their time, and forever after. We study them to try to understand today, which they godlike made.

But these are the externals of history only. They are not what and who really drive the race irresistibly forward, only the agents that keep us from going over the edge, or maybe bring us closer to it.

The real movers of mankind are mostly hidden, invisible to nearly all humanity when they appeared, though in time their epiphanies gradually came to light, and then slowly faded from sight as they became foundation and framework to everything else we know and see.

The world, believers and unbelievers alike, celebrates the birth of a child two thousands of years ago, born poor, homeless, and endangered, a refugee unknown to all except a mad monarch, a handful of shepherds, and perhaps three mystery men, born hidden.

A remnant of believers in who this child is today celebrate an event obscure when it occurred, his baptism in a remote river by a religious prodigy, who alone recognized when he performed it the epiphany of his God, signaled by a voice, to all but him, hidden.

A space of only three years provided this child, now a man, time to make his message known, despite the miracles that followed him, to only a few thousands of persons in a land that, though the crossroads of the world, was a backwater avoided by the wise, again hidden.

And finally, condemned to death as a common criminal by hanging on a scaffold along the roadside, exposed to the ridicule of the rabble that he came to rescue, his work the redemption by resurrection of the race of Adam, wholly unknown when it happened, was hidden.

Hidden from the world, who yet shapes and directs it, who writes its history on a hidden scroll stretched wider than the heavens and just as invisible to those who see only sky and reject it, he was, he is, and he is to come, who is Lord of all, and who is with us now, as we live even as he, hidden.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Be perfect, therefore

Sometimes it takes a lifetime before an obvious truth that we have somehow not recognized before starts staring us unflinchingly in the face. Unnerving, to say the least, but it wasn’t at first. No, at first, when I finally noticed it, it seemed an interesting and very novel discovery, and I made capital of it in my thinking and writing. It seemed no one around me had noticed this truth either, but once you see it, you wonder how it could’ve eluded you so long. At least, that’s what you might think if you haven’t already filed it in a mental ‘to do’ list, I mean, buried it, since most of the items on my ‘to do’ list usually fade out on their own because of neglect.

What truth am I referring to? Well, in my own words it is this: For a human being, to be ‘perfect’ does not mean to be morally perfect, in other words, ‘he never does anything wrong.’ Instead, it means to look upon everyone, and probably everything, and to love everyone (I won’t say probably love everything) with an equal and impartial eye. Now, what’s so obvious about this truth? And what makes me think it is true in the first place? Well, I am a Christian, which means I believe in, and try to follow, Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish rabbi who was proven to be more than a mere human being by his death on a cross and his resurrection from the dead.

There is a curious passage in the gospels where Christ, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, actually commands his followers to be perfect. He says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ It seems, everyone remembers this verse, but very few remember or meditate on the preceding words, to which Christ draws our attention by his word ‘therefore.’ Being left alone with the ‘Be perfect’ command causes us to fall into some very unfortunate misconceptions, unless we think of Christ’s words as just a suggestion and not a command. In that case, they’re only an interesting proposition to be bantered about without really wanting to know what he means.

When we believe in Jesus Christ and ‘take the Bible at its word’ can we be blamed if we think that he means what he says, that he is asking us to do, and be, the impossible, and resign ourselves to confessing we’re just sinners, unworthy, incapable of living a gospel life, capping it all off with a commitment to go to church regularly and repeat ‘Lord, have mercy!’ endless times to make up for it? But this is, in fact, what most of us do, again, thinking this thought somewhere in the back of our minds, ‘I am a sinner. I can’t be perfect. Only God can be perfect. But I can at least believe. I can have faith that Christ will save me in spite of myself. Now I’m safe, right?’ Meanwhile… 

The obvious truth didn’t take long to discover, except that I never really paid attention to the first part of Christ’s words. ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?’ Well, yes, I’ve read and heard this before…

‘Well, knucklehead,’ I berated myself one day, ‘why don’t you get it? Why are you still judging? Why are you still drawing distinctions between classes of people? It doesn’t matter if the people themselves help you by classifying themselves as this or that, so that you can respond by judging them more precisely, and sorting them into sheep and goats. And even if the classifications were true, that only gives you more reason to subvert them by practicing the unconditional love that is shown by God, you know, the One that Jesus calls his Father? Take another look at what Christ says about being perfect, and stop making excuses. Perfection is not about being good or bad.’

‘What? Perfection is not about being good or bad? You mean I’ve wasted all these years trying to be good, and it doesn’t really matter?’ That’s every man’s reaction to the good news. We can’t help it. It’s our nature. The only God there is appears and he isn’t what we expected. We want him to be just like us. From another angle, it’s just this: Jesus Christ comes to turn all our worlds up-side-down, but we keep turning them right-side-up again as soon as we think his back is turned. We think we can call people whom we approve of ‘good,’ but we’d never, or very rarely, risk calling anyone ‘perfect.’ ‘Nobody’s perfect,’ we like to say, usually in reference to ourselves.

And that’s not what Jesus does. In fact he doesn’t even call himself good, nor does he let others do so. When they try, he as much as says, ‘Don’t call me good. No one is good except God,’ throwing his religious hearers off their chosen roads. No one can be called ‘good’ but God, but if we take his command to be perfect seriously, we can be called ‘perfect.’ Even the apostle Paul refers to this when he says, ‘We who are called “perfect” must all think in this way.’ What way? Well, go back and read all of his epistles, starting with Philippians if you like, for that’s the one I’ve just quoted him from. The gospels point the way. The epistles of Paul put us on it, if we want to go.

So we can be ‘perfect’ but not ‘good.’ I should say that seems a fair bargain. We’ve been let off the hook, then, is that right? To be perfect doesn’t mean to be righteous, to be morally perfect? We just have to love everyone indiscriminately, without judging them? And treating them impartially? If we do that, we can get away with any fantasy we desire? Nothing is morally wrong, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone? Well, yes and no. Since Christ’s command to be ‘perfect’ isn’t addressed only to Christians (there weren’t any yet) but to all men, believers and unbelievers, it can be called universal. In fact, deep inside, everyone knows it’s true. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

For those who believe in God and accept Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah), we can kick the universal command ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ back a notch, to where it begins, even where it springs from, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your soul, all your strength, and all your heart.’ Now we see why we’re commanded to love all humans (and maybe even all creatures). And if we want a word to confirm for us the religious importance of these two commands, we need look no further than, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ So, we’ve been tricked by God to be good by being perfect without knowing it! Very sly! 

To be perfect is nothing other than to love as God loves, and to love the other as much as we love our own. When we do this, not only do we visibly change, but everyone we encounter changes, for the better. We already knew full well what being imperfect means. We’ve spent most of our lives noticing imperfection in others, and more often than not tried to ‘correct’ it by everything from ‘constructive criticism’ to frontal assault, all in the name of love. We know what we’re doing, but worse (or better) yet, God also knows. You know, that ‘our Father who art in heaven’ fellow we’re always asking to do his will ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Fortunately, we can’t fool him.

All good deeds, all moral acts, all benevolence, all generosity, every good quality that we wish so hard we had been born with but are too lazy to acquire, yes, every good thing can be ours by following the command of Jesus Christ, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Sunday, January 5, 2014


One of the first lessons we learn as young adults, if not earlier, and sometimes at great pain, is not to make a decision when we are angry. The decision can be to speak or not to speak, to act or not to act, or even more subtly, to think, that is, to believe, or not to think. With some reflection and further maturity, we come to realize that it isn’t just anger that is taboo territory for decision making, but almost any strong emotional state. Delight or its opposite, repugnance. Love or hate. High spirits or low. Perhaps one can even include faith or doubt, although faith is more, much more than an emotional state, though its evil twin certainly is.

It’s easy to see how and why we shouldn’t act when in strong emotional states, a little harder to see how and why we shouldn’t speak, and even harder to understand the limitations we should impose on our own thoughts when we are ruled by a strong emotion. Aren’t some emotions good? Well, yes, perhaps some are, and there’s relatively few occasions when we are totally emotion-free, maybe none. The decisions we make when we are feeling good (not just feeling well) would seem to be risk-free, but uh-uh, sorry, they are not. My point is not to flaunt the obvious, or to save myself from its implications, but to say, it’s our nature.

Human beings are not God, god, or gods and goddesses (depending on your choice of religion). We are not minerals. Though some of us seem to be vegetables, that is only a metaphor we use to chasten ourselves. We are not spirits either, despite what the poets and theologians tell, but that is almost what we are and possibly what we will become ‘if we make it.’ What we are is, in a word, unstable. We flicker. We are blown to and fro. We blaze up. We die down. We can merge and lose our identity as we move on to consume other fuels. Eventually we go out, either snuffed or, retreating to our coals, glow dimly and then go black.

What does this sound like? You’ve already pictured it in your minds if you’ve read this far. It is, we are, fire. Now, think of a campfire at night. It glows. It doesn’t keep a shape. Every little shift of the wind contorts it. It burns because it has fuel. There’s wood under it. Other fires burning in other places still consume fuel, couldn’t exist without it, coal, oil, gas, it doesn’t matter what. Fire burns, and unless it has fuel, there is no fire. This is just another metaphor, but it does shed some light on our human nature. What I also want to say is, don’t take your human nature, your life really, too terribly seriously. Even most of your decisions.

Just as fire needs that fuel to keep burning, to keep existing, we cannot live, at least not for long, unless we have fuel. It may seem harsh or judgmental to hint that some fuel is better than others to keep the fire alive and burning, but it is still true. Start a handful of steel wool on fire, watch it sparkle as it is consumed, and then see the fire go out, all in a matter of seconds. Tear up a phone book and use its pages as kindling under the grate in your family fireplace. Light it and hope that it will burn long enough to catch the real fuel, alder, maple or oak logs, on fire. No one believes filling his grate with just paper will keep him warm.

It’s no accident in my choice of metaphor that wood is the fuel and paper the kindling. To get your fire going, you may start with paper, but ‘paper Christianity doesn’t have much holding power,’ I mean, it can’t hold its own, keep burning. It goes out after a few minutes. If we think a little bit harder, we can also see what the wood might be. Some of us wear tiny copies of that wood and say we stake our lives on it, but few of us bear it. Yet that wood is the only fuel that will keep us burning, and burning is our nature. ‘There is no higher way above nor safer way below…’ It seems odd to me that we should be made this way, but we are.

As I enter another calendar year of my life with wretched trepidation, I confess my humanity, my fallenness, my instability, my inability to exist on my own, my need for fuel to keep me going another year. I confess that all my thoughts, words, and actions are flawed, and the decisions I have made and continue to make are somehow outside my control, that I am just a fire blown about by the wind. But I know that the fuel I need to keep burning, because burning is my nature, has been provided. I cannot provide it. Only One can provide it and He has, so that others can be warmed by the heat as I burn, and maybe see by the light.