Yesterday I watched a video post on Facebook by an Episcopal priest. Dressed in her uniform, you can’t see the tattoos on her arms and shoulders, and you have to look closely to see the scars from piercings. In the post called “Blessed are the Unemployed, Unimpressive, Underrepresented | Have a Little Faith,” Nadia Bolz-Weber sits in her church and recites a different version of the Beatitudes. Blessed are the…and she named so many ways people are marginalized in our society, and ways that these people bless us unknowingly. She starts out by saying, “Blessed are the agnostics.” She gets more and more close-to-home as she goes on.
We have all been misjudged somehow, and we have all misjudged. We see the outward appearance, forgetting that there is an inner truth that may not be so evident, so quickly. We misjudge ourselves, and put ourselves in little boxes that are really too small for us. We do it because it’s just easier that way. We don’t have to stop and think, or reach out beyond our own little bubble of existence to notice another in their bubble.
Maybe, “Stop, look and listen,” is for more than daisies along the roadside.
I read an interesting article this morning showing how Omarosa Manigault Newman is using Donald Trump’s own plays against him. We all know how Trump attacks when he feels attacked. She has written a book of attacks, and is using the same media savvy that made Trump a celebrity to promote it. The article argues that he taught her the tricks. If so, then if this is the art of making a deal, she read the playbook carefully. Time (and possibly the courts) will sort out who is using what amount of truth vs. untruth in this fractious face-off. It’s quite the drama. They ought to take it on daytime TV.
However, as always, there are other implications. The moral question of which sword one uses in the fight for truth is one people of faith need to be raising.
Gerald May, in his book, Will and Spirit, shows how surrender lies at the heart of the spiritual life. Most of the book discusses what willing surrender means for spiritual health and vitality, and the way the ego tries its hardest to avoid full surrender. In one telling chapter, however, he shows how there are powers to which surrender is destructive. He says, “To direct one’s will toward ‘getting even’ may provide a temporary release of aggressive energy and a transient boost for pride, but it can never make one feel good about oneself. Pride always involves consideration of how one appears to others, and it erodes that deep inner feeling of self-worth that is known as integrity.”1 He argues that to surrender to the desire for vengeance is to choose to destroy the world within and without.
It DOES matter what playbook one is reading, for it defines what constitutes winning. Pride is always its own destruction. One cannot use hell’s sword to fight for heaven.
1May, Gerald G. Will and Spirit (p. 266). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Meister Eckhart held to a concept often called “panentheism.” For this great mystic of the Church, God is in all things. The beauty and majesty of a Gothic cathedral captures our imagination and lifts our hearts to God. God is in the cathedral. God is to be found, as Eckhart says, in the essence of anything that is truly real. Open your eyes, ears, and heart to the Present God who is everywhere. Fill your soul with the beautiful, the true and the good. The Illustrated Gospels of Ireland and Northumbria express the same heart-desire.
The oratory on the Isle of Iona, on the other hand, is very simple. Inside it is merely a rectangular room with a very simple altar at one end. It stands in counterpoint to the beauty of the cathedral, and bids the human soul look past the physical rather than through it, to find the mystery of God in the denial rather than the affirmation. Less is more. Don’t get caught up in the illusion of the visible. Look beyond. The Gutenberg Bible’s stark simplicity expresses this desire.
In and beyond, here and there. The family and the foreigner. The familiar and the strange. Boundaries and crossings. Liturgy and silence. Open and closed. Life is lived in the tension between these apparent opposites, for only from in that tension can we realize that there really is no tension at all.
Canterbury Cathedral: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/best-gothic-cathedrals
2 Though the word is not used, for an explanation of the concept see https://www.iep.utm.edu/eckhart/#H5, topic #5
Yesterday I was in a meeting of the Immigrant Justice Network of Grant and Luna Counties. We were discussing the legal status of undocumented immigrants, and someone used the word “apprehended” in reference to those who have been picked up by ICE or other immigration authorities and placed in custody. They were discovered and caught, their free movement was restricted severely, they were taken where they did not want to go, and charged with the crime of entering the country illegally. They were apprehended in a legal sense. Whereas I believe that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants need not be treated in this way, there are some (about 3% of that population, 6% of the US population as a whole) who need to be legally apprehended for the sake of the common good. Nonetheless, I don’t want to be the object of this kind of apprehension.
I preached last Sunday that Truth (in contrast to merely true statements) is approached, not controlled. In a similar vein, I like to say that God is not comprehended, but apprehended. We approach, we wonder and we are in awe, but we recognize that the fullness of God will never be something we understand. Some of the early Church Fathers described heaven as eternal in the sense that we will be forever plumbing the depths of the heart of God and never reaching bottom. I want to be the subject of this kind of apprehension.
One is protective while the other is expansive. One is coercive while one is seductive. One makes another the object while the other makes another the subject. Ultimately, one is about me and mine, and the other is about you and yours.
Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher of the last century described these two movements of the soul in relation to another in terms of the I-It relationship vs. the I-Thou relationship. 1 He says that in the I-It relationship everything and everyone are ultimately utilitarian. In the I-Thou relationship, on the other hand, we touch eternity. In all our apprehending, let us not fail to apprehend.
1 Buber, Martin. I and Thou, Trans. Kaufmann . Kindle Edition. Translation Copyright © 1970 Charles Scribner’s Sons Introduction Copyright © 1970 Walter Kaufmann
The late medieval Carmelite mystics like to write about pain in prayer. Teresa of Avila is especially vivid, feeling a sword pierce her very heart in the context of inexpressible ecstasy. On a first read I found it put me off. What kind of spirituality demands such suffering as the price of such glory? I do not pretend to her heights of holiness, but I had a revelation this morning that is perhaps my version of something similar.
I arrived in the U.S. at age 18, a newly minted High School graduate, intelligent, sporting a strong faith, with about two and a half years’ experience in the country already, with family in the area I moved to, and speaking the language fluently with no accent. You would think that such an immigration effort might go smoothly, but it didn’t. For all the favorable portents, there were others at play. I had no driver’s license. I didn’t know who the football players of fame were (frankly, the game bored me) I found TV tedious. I didn’t understand the woods around me (not at all like the jungles of Ecuador) and the highest hill didn’t even make your ears pop (like the Andes Mountains.) I didn’t know what the little social cues were, like when a girl was flirting with me and when she wasn’t. Maybe most profoundly, I found run-of-the-mill Christianity shallow and provincial. It took me 10 years to forge a synthesis of my past and present. My anchor throughout was my loving, long-suffering wife, who was a few years ahead of me in the process, having come from similar circumstances in the Central African Republic when she was 13.
This morning I began to see how that synthesis has become the wellspring of what I bring to the Church and society. It lives out in a penchant for the underdog, the migrant and foreigner, and (unfortunately) a very short store of patience with people who disregard others out-of-hand for pretty much any reason at all. It fuels my passion for immigration reform and diversity in the Church. It has given sharp focus to my education. It grounds my theology of welcome and inclusion. I find it too easy to overlook the gifts of the deeply grounded life that knows a limited patch of soil down to its bedrock and up to its stars, but I tell myself, if my breadth is important, so are those who know the depths. Glory and pain, hand-in-hand, bring great riches.
“Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”1
1 Martin Luther about his trial for heresy at the Diet of Worms, 1521.
I was speaking with a psychologist this morning, comparing notes on confidentiality. He, like I, have strict limits on what can and cannot be discussed outside our offices. Some of them are legal, and those were largely the same. We must report intent to harm oneself or others. Beyond that he is governed by the ethics of his trade and me by mine. He hears slightly different things in his office than mine. I have the benefit of practiced and time-proven spiritual resources to deal with the issues I hear about, he has the benefit of science. Each of us receives into our offices people who willingly make themselves vulnerable. Confidentiality keeps our offices safe.
Confidentiality makes people confident to share, to con (with) fide (have faith,) to share vulnerable truths in the surety of good faith. Faith is always shared—good faith or bad faith is held between people, not within them—it is always con, and never solum. Confidentiality vs. solitude, the we vs. the I, community and individuality: confidentiality is the atomic energy that holds the diversity in unity. Without confidentiality there is no we, only the I, no community in which individuality has meaning and context, and no unity in the diversity. Breaking confidence rips at the very fabric of the world.
Where is your confidence? It is a sacred thing.
For many years my barber has been my wonderful wife with her hair buzzer. When I was a child my father would buzz all my hair off in the tropical heat, leaving me with toe-head peach fuzz. My wife is quite a bit more sophisticated than that, but this time when it was time for a mowing she sent me to the Silver Clippers here in town. It’s the first professional hair-cut I’ve had for a very long time. I had my hair and beard shorn down to size.
The young man who attended to me was respectful and gentle, and, though he took off just a touch more than I anticipated, did a fine job. As he tilted my head back to buzz off the extra whisker length I was touched by his gentleness. It was surprisingly intimate, really. He was awfully close to very vulnerable parts of me, this total stranger, for there I was, sitting quietly draped, letting him take a sharp object to my neck. It was almost like being in the doctor’s office, or even surgery, but less formal, and I am reminded that barbers and doctors were, in medieval times, the same trade. Both attended the needs of the body. Both got to know you better than most due only to their profession. Both required a certain kind of vulnerability by trade.
It reminds me also of my priesthood, where people assume a one-sided intimacy in my office, telling me things that only the walls and my heart hear, and hopefully leaving with a bit more hope, answers or comfort than when they came in.
The barber’s gentleness was a kind of priesting of my face, and I am grateful for his pastoral skill. In his youth he taught me.