07 October 2010

Faith and certainty (again)

 Happy thousandth 
 birthday, Yaroslavl!
 Above: Church of Elijah 
 the Prophet
 Inside the church
 Judy inside the church
 The Cathedral Church
 The Trinity
 Epiphany Church, seen
 from the grounds of
 Transfiguration Monastery
 War memorial
 Above and below: Mayolika 
 ceramics factory
Irony happens when you compare what is claimed as certain with what is actually true; it's the bittersweet, understated commentary on that discrepancy.

One of the gifts of Russian spirituality is its capacity for paradox and irony, its unwillingness to substitute happy-talk for reality. Older people here endured many years of having to live in two realities at once: the official certainty ("Life is getting better, comrades, life is sweeter") and what they saw in their Soviet reality. Without a sense of humor, as many tell me, "we would have shriveled up and died." Instead of dying, they invented Radio Yerevan, the sarcastic ditties known as chastushki, and many other ways of laughing through tears.

Faith itself implies irony, being "...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1, my emphases) We live by God's promises that the faithful will never be abandoned, and we work to build a community around those promises. At the same time we know that, in this life, some of those faithful will become martyrs. And others claiming to be faithful will contribute toward their martyrdom. Can't say we weren't warned:
"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. [Mark 10:29-30, NIV.]
Having experienced the "hundred times as much"--the global church has literally become my family--it's easy for me to forget about "... and with them, persecution...." But if I pretend that all will be perfect sweetness and light, will my evangelism have integrity? Or will my glowing words be repeated back to me, ironically, by those experiencing inner attacks of doubt, or outer attacks of persecution?

Sometimes Eastern Orthodox commentators criticize Western Christians, perhaps especially Protestants, for a thin, over-familiar Jesus-and-me presentation of Christianity, insufficiently grounded in earthy, contradictory, messy reality on one end, and insufficiently resting in the fullness of the Trinity on the other.

The Bible shows that a warm certainty and a sharp sense of irony are mutually compatible. My favorite example is a passage I've mentioned before, one that I often used in talking about Right Sharing: the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31. At the end of the story, I can almost hear Jesus daring us to prove him wrong: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

An even more deadpan delivery, perhaps, here, as Jesus talks to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15, NIV; see Numbers 21:4-9.)

How am I "lifting up" Jesus? Hopefully in a way that exalts, not in a way that continues the work of his executioners. But who can doubt that the spirit of "execution" dominates much of the way things work in this world. Even those who don't kill are tempted to consign each other to rhetorical oblivion.
You're familiar with the command to the ancients, "Do not murder." I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother "idiot!" and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell "stupid!" at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. [Matthew 5:21-22 in Eugene Peterson's interpretation.]
It's wonderful to be certain! But I hope we can remember--certainty is not a license to kill, even rhetorically.

Internet Monk: "Why is faith so hard?"

Here's a link that is guaranteed to go stale in a few hours--as soon as the Nobel Peace Prize winner is announced Friday in Oslo.

Friday P.S. One of the first post-announcement stories from Oslo: "Nobel peace prize goes to Liu Xiaobo."

Michael Cunningham, "Found in Translation"-- "... translation is not merely a job assigned to a translator expert in a foreign language, but a long, complex and even profound series of transformations that involve the writer and reader as well."

"Being Salt and Light" at West Knoxville Friends Meeting, Tennessee, USA--the first in a series of North American gatherings in preparation for the World Conference of Friends in 2012.

A news item that really marks the passage of time for me: "Georgy Arbatov, foreign policy adviser to Soviet presidents, dies at 87." I remember hearing countless interviews with and commentaries from Arbatov in the late Soviet era.

"On the 10th of October this year (10.10.10) Micah Challenge are calling Christians all over the world to join them in a dedicated day of prayer and promise for the poor. The hope is for 100 million Christians to pray and for 10 million to become actively involved in reminding their leaders of the promises they made to the worlds poorest 10 years ago." More here.

"Immigrant Advocates Issue Report Card on ICE Reform Efforts."

A guitar and washboard all in one...

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