Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: May 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Thomas Merton on the nature of personhood

Here’s a great quote on the human person from Thomas Merton:

“The person is defined in terms of freedom, hence in terms of responsibility also: responsibility to other persons, responsibility for other persons. To put it in concrete terms, the Christian is not only one who seeks the expansion and development of his own individuality and the satisfaction of his most legitimate natural needs but one who recognizes himself responsible for the good of others, for their own temporal fulfillment, and ultimately for their eternal salvation. Hence, the Christian person reaches maturity with the realization that each one of us is indeed his “brother’s keeper,” and that if men are suffering and dying in Asia or Africa, other men in Europe and America are summoned to self-judgment before the bar of conscience to see whether, in fact, some choice or neglect on their own part has had a part in this suffering and this dying, which otherwise may seem so strange and remote. For today the whole world is bound tightly together by economic, cultural and sociological ties which make us all, to some extent, responsible for what happens to others on the far side of the earth. Man is now not only a social being; his social nature transcends national and regional limits, and whether we like it or not, we must think in terms of one human family, one world.”

Thomas Merton. Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979: 152-153 

Jerry Falwell, Heaven, Hell and the Kingdom Come

Yesterday Ryan asked the question, “Did Jerry Falwell go to heaven or hell?” I jotted out a few responses in my late night stupor. I awoke this morning still wrestling with the other questions that his one question set off. Beneath the particular question relating to the fate of a specific person, I hear the question about justice.

What significance do our words and actions have? If we violate other people and the world around us, is there a price to pay? As I think about these questions, I think about the idea of rectitude. Will there redress for every wrong? Can every wrong by righted in some way? These are questions better left to greater minds than mine, but at the risk of becoming a treading fool, I will proceed.

As I think about these questions, the bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” comes to mind. In a short phrase this sticker attempts to reflect something of the grace and forgiveness of God. At the same time, it may have some disquieting implications.

Are Christians claiming that their faith functions like a “get out of hell” free card? Does my faith in Jesus mean that I am not accountable for my actions. I can cut in front of you at the grocery store, or shake my fist at you on the highway, but it doesn’t really count: because of Jesus, the Father sort of winks at my indiscretions.

While these minor infractions seem innocuous, what happens when my words and actions set in motion violation upon violation upon violation of other people? I can cheat on my taxes and cheat on my wife but rest secure that I’m not perfect just forgiven. I can buy discounted clothes and foods that may come at the price of enslaving someone in another country whom I will never know or see.

I can enjoy the benefits of a culture that built its wealth on enslavement, torture and dehumanizing an entire race. The more I think about the implications of our actions, it becomes evident that either directly or indirectly each of us are oppressors. “Does God simply wink at this evil because we have faith in Jesus?”

If God is good, shouldn’t wrongs be righted? Do Christians suggest that because God forgives us for our wrong actions, everyone else should to? This obviously could cause some people to line up, ready to damn every Christian that acted though they had a right to condemn and/or mistreat the people around them.

Then I wonder, what if the Judgment Day looked very different then we expect. What if Judgment Day is not about God giving all my enemies their just deserts? What if it really is about redressing wrongs?

What if I had the opportunity to face all my oppressors on Judgment Day? My word would carry the power to determine their sentence. Each person who ever hurt me, oppressed me, or in any way violated me (directly or indirectly), would stand before me. By direct violation, I mean people who personally violated me. By indirect, I mean people whose actions hurt me even though we never faced (politicians, people’s action in other cities, states, nations, and even times). In fact, each oppressor would stand before every single person they harmed through words or actions.

The Prosecutor would show in detail every form of harm each oppressor ever caused. As the Defender, Jesus would stand on behalf of the accused. Because there are no longer any time restraints, this judgment would proceed until every single person faced his oppressors and all those he oppressed. Therefore, even as I looked upon those who caused me pain, I would know that I faced the same trial for all my offences (direct or indirect).

As I prepare to pass judgment, the Defender would make the audacious claim that he had took the wrong of each violation upon his own body. Then he would proclaim that his resurrection is a sign that rectitude has been made and will be eventually realized by every harmed person.

As I faced my oppressors, he would explain, “You can use condemnation or mercy as your measure for justice. If you choose condemnation, this person will bear the full weight of their offense. If you choose mercy, you are trusting that I will redress your grievance.” And then he would offer one last reminder, “The measure you use, will also be the same measure used for you.”

Please forgive my presumption to explain and or envision something beyond our human capacity to full grasp. I have no idea what the judgment seat looks like.

But I do think that Christianity claims that Jesus death and resurrection assure us of justice. Jesus and Paul both indicate that to follow Jesus means to bear his cross, his suffering. Oddly, this means that I might walk in the reality of Judgment Day today; that I might choose to bear the offence, the grievance of another so that mercy might prevail.

As I face those who oppress me, might I trust in the promise of both forgiveness for my failures and vindication for the wrongs against me? Might I have the power to offer mercy? This seems impossible and yet some have manifested in their lives.

My hero Richard Wurmbrand, suffering under daily torture for 14 years, pleads to God for mercy on behalf of his oppressors. More recently, South Africans facing the threat of inevitable civil war chose to enter into this model as a means of justice. The oppressors faced their victims. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, confession and forgiveness became a model of justice. The reality of Jesus’ cross manifested in a national policy, attempting to heal of deeply divided nation.

This model of justice involves personal suffering, intentional forgiveness and trust. Instead of me trying to determine who goes to heaven and who is bound for hell, can I live in this world in a way that fosters peace and reconciliation? Can you imagine what our world might look like if we lived the reality of confessing our faults one to another and forgiving one another. Maybe we might finally see a glimpse of the kingdom come.
(Note: Please forgive my shortcomings. What I am trying to think about is more complex than this simple essay can address. And there are others like Miroslav Volf who are far more articulate and theologically astute than myself.)

Potatoes and Peace!

During the middle of the Cold War, as America and the Soviet Union raided their children’s future to fund a space program, Welsh poet Bobi Jones wrote a plea for peace with the potato as a love messenger. Could the poor potato bring that love message to our warring world?

Sending a Potato as a Love-Messenger to the Spacemen of America and Russia

Will you go for me to the moon-struck men?
Oh political matter, will you go?
(Stars and moon are political matters now:
A potato’s a political matter in our enlightened age.)
I’d like to see you go because you know what it is
To be in hot water, old friend of peas,
Fellow union-member with meat. You know
The slums of the earth, and on your crooked back
Is found the mark of toil; through your pits
You’ve heard the simple cursing of the unchosen people
Of worms and the beetles (neighbor of beans).
I’ll send you, because you’re a fist, and your smile
Is almost kind; and tell them
(The interworldists who are worse than the almost unmentionable internationalists)
Of solid lands, stupid potato
Of good leaves, of deep soil with roots, of fat ants
That lick a hollow through your side. I know
That will be a void of meaning, but at least
It will be a void fit for them to fly through
On a new course. So they will sing to hear you,
And you know how a seed can grow
When the forests have doffed their shadows
And when the mornings come to ride their big-bellied colts.
You needn’t insist you can’t possibly go
Because you’re so fatigued: ask someone to fling you.

(from Bobi Jones, Selected Poems, Christopher Davies Ltd: Swansea, Wales, 1987.)

Friend of Fools

Much like a zen master, G.K. Chesterton reminds me where to turn for mentors:

Distribute to dignified people and the capable people and the highly businesslike people among all the situations which their ambition or their innate corruption may demand, but keep close to your heart, keep deep in your inner councils the absurd people; let the clever people pretend to govern you, let the unimpeachable people pretend to advise you, but lets the fools alone influence you; let the laughable peope whose faults you see and understand be the only people who are really inside your life, who really come near you or accompany you on your lonely march towards the last impossibility.

Philosophy Dictionary for Us Novices

I like ideas and I like to read people who have them. The longer I live, the more I realize I don’t know much about anything. So anytime I can find help in making sense of people who really do know something, I smile real big. Paul Martin provided a nice link to Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names.

Can Christians and Atheists Make Love and Not War?

After several years of quiet, the atheists have found their voice again. Every other day I see another article where atheists are mad and their not gonna take it anymore. Then again, every other day I see articles where Christians are mad and their not gonna take it anymore.

This vitriolic exchange seems more pronounced on the web as bloggers and commenters discuss Dawkins, Harris, Falwell or Robertson. At Newsvine, Washington Post’s On Faith discussions, and a host of other places, I observe two angry groups lobbing verbal grenades back and forth. On occasion, there is a bit of kindness, but most of what I’ve read is lacking any true dialogue.

I long for the intellectually rigorous, yet highly entertaining debates between Chesterton and Shaw. While I’m waiting, it’s nice to know that some Christians and atheists have decided to put down their swords. A friend pointed me to this interesting article about Christians and atheists declaring a truce by listening and learning from one another. At least two books have resulted thus far from the discussion: Jim and Casper Go to Church and I Sold My Soul on Ebay: Faith through an Atheists Eyes.

I haven’t read either book so I can’t comment on them. As a Jesus fanatic myself, I am not much for fighting. I am simply trying to learn what it means to follow Him and proclaim Him. I think that has something to do with love…and a cross.

Update: Check out Jim Henderson’s Off the Map site and  Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist site.

The Woman at the Well

I posted a little mini story about the woman at the well over at scribd.

Eastern Orthodox MySpace

I heard an ad on Ancient Faith Radio for an Orthodox MySpace. Interesting. If you’re Orthodox and want to enter into an online community of Eastern Orthodox Christian visit the Orthodox Circle.

Rush Limbaugh and Viral Communication

Yesterday morning, a Rush Limbaugh billboard was defaced.  A public official made a phone call to the local paper at 8 am; he quipped,  “It looks great. It did my heart good.” By 8:28 am the story was posted on the Balimore Sun website and Drudgereport picked it up shortly after that. The story traveled across the country, causing a flood of calls to the city, and even became a point of humor on Limbaugh’s show.

By 5 pm, the story was one of the top stories in the history of the newspaper’s website. This story is fascinating not for the political nature but the speed of viral information when people feel passionate about that information.

Obviously the viral nature was not anticipated by the local official and no one probably anticipated the fast response. This is pretty amazing how fast information can travel across the nation/globe and generate immediate response.

Jesus at the Margins

People like to make Jesus the spokesman for their cause. From politics to health care to environmental concerns, I’ve seen his visage commondeered for unending causes. Many of these causes may be just and good and we should do them. But if you’re looing for Jesus, he often shows up in disrespectable settings.

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