Faith and Violence

We’re a violent species, we humans. It seems likely that we always have been. Five thousand years ago, when King Lugalzaggizi conquered a city he wrote proudly that he had built a wooden tower, and had the women and children thrown inside it. He impaled the surviving men on the outside, and set the whole thing on fire. He did not do this in the name of God. He did it for the joy of it. Behind him are millennia of tribal warfare, kings sitting on thrones made from human bones, drinking from the skulls of their enemies.

The great empires of the world have been won by slaughter, their borders held by men trained to kill.   The Empress Sophia, mother of the Emperor Constantine, became a Christian. To honour his mother, Constantine followed suit, and so did the Empire, and over time it came to be the case that one had either to profess Christianity or to die horribly. State religion got itself all tied up with power, and finally to be a human being living in the western world one was, by definition, a “Christian”.

But the forces of Empire, of oppression, of genocide, of sexual slavery, mass slaughter, torture and rapine all continued. The only difference was that they were now being done by people who called themselves Christians, and probably in large part thought of themselves as Christian.

So now we find ourselves culturally disentangling, dis-identifying with Christianity, and then blaming it for what we’ve done over the last thousand years or so. We didn’t sodomoze and ruin First Nations children in residential schools because we were Christian; we did it because we were human.

So now, when we no longer find ourselves situated in a Christian civilization, we have another chance, a chance to do it right, and remember always, at every moment, that Jesus was never about power over. Laws and jails and punishment belong to Caesar; love and charity and freedom belong to God.

So for God’s sake, in this time of possible war, let’s remember as hard as we can that no war is ever fought for Christ, and that no human being can ever be killed in His name.

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Struck dead. Struck blind. Power and the early Church.

I’m reading the Book of Acts right now and finding it a bit challenging. When Peter or Saul/Paul denounce someone, that unfortunate someone drops dead or is struck blind. Aside from blasting a fig tree (a disturbing enough story) Jesus was never an author or bringer of harm. He did his share of denouncing and confronting, pulled no punches at all, but he always left people the choice. Once Ananias and Saphira have dropped dead because, having sold all they had to give their goods to the new church, they kept half for themselves, they have no choice. They can hardly rectify their ways.

One could argue that it wasn’t Peter who struck them dead. He simply denounced them, told them they had lied in the presence of God. He didn’t tell them they’d drop dead. But hey, he was there when it happened. It’s a little dicier with Saul and the wizard. When Saul told him that he’d go blind now, was he speaking prophetically, or was there some causal relationship?

Jesus brought healing and strong warnings, never harm. When the sheep go astray the shepherd doesn’t kill them. He strives to bring them safely home, and if he can’t, he grieves for the loss.

Historically the Christian Church, not Christians, but the power structure of the Church, has done lots of harm, and at times has been Christianity’s greatest liability. Reading these stories I ask myself, did we start getting it wrong so early? Did it come to be about power so soon after Jesus died?

Fall and Falling.

The well feels dry this morning. As I sit down here I have no idea what to write. I’m supposing that just moving my fingers on the keyboard will prime the pump. It’s early fall, chilly nights, frost, northern lights, bright perfect days. I want to be splitting and stacking firewood, canning the last of the tomatoes, making the green ones into pickles, drying pears. I want to sit by the fire in the evening listening to the coyotes. I am filled with longing. I read somewhere recently that grief is the purest form of desire. Desire involves the acknowledgment that there is something you don’t have. Grief says not only that you don’t, but that you can’t.

When my son Tom was very small I found him sitting on the kitchen floor crying. I swung him up and asked him what was the matter. “I want some chockit canny,” he wept. It wasn’t the candy, exactly. I knew what was up with him. It was the sudden grief of discovering that you can want things you don’t have.

I find myself deeply afraid to acknowledge my own desire at this time. I am mostly blind. I have some physical challenges going on. These things leave me housebound. There’s still a visible world. I can watch the changing light, blued and chilled by fall/   I can see the mountains turning colour. But oh my, just to hike in the fall mountains, the air like a trumpet call, and just one more time to see great Orion lean up in the autumn night, bringing the winter in.

I spend time in thankfulness every day. I want for little. I live in peace and plenty, in a quiet little town tucked away in the mountains. I have food to eat, friends who love me. I remember this every day in my prayers. But I’m wondering a bit today if there’s another piece that needs attending to. The losses that come with blindness and other infirmities are stunningly painful. If I distract myself with gratitude, where does the grief go? Some days the gratitude string feels very thin, a single thread of awareness suspending me above what I don’t want to feel or know. As a result, my days are quiet and easy, but my nights are full of troubled dreams, and I wake myself crying or shouting with anger.

I feel that if I let out even a bit of it it will crack me, break me, that I’ll fall and . . . and what?

Nouns and verbs

I think I read somewhere about a language that had no nouns. I’m not sure about this; I have a feltboard for a mind. Everything sticks to it. Dust, dead moths, bits of information eroded by time and memory into something quite other than what they once were. But whether there was such a language or not, I’m enchanted by the idea. I point and say “Look, it’s dogging.” Whatever ‘it’ is, at this moment it’s manifesting itself in wagging, barking, running, chasing. There’s no dog at all. We just use language to capture a moment in time and perception, and to convey it to someone else.

 

There’s always, in human beings, this ache and longing to encapsulate, to put experience into containers, and given the complex requirements of the socio-economic-political construction we have to live in, it’s probably necessary. But it’s maybe wise to keep in mind that all those nouns are the possession not of our experience, but of the thing we live in, the great reef in which we are all polyps. We can go at least that far, and render unto Caesar those things which belong to him, in this case all the nouns. They’re all just the stamped currency of our culture.

 

I’ve come to this point through struggling to find my way in a community of believing Christians. As a verb love is dynamic. It won’t be held in containers. We make verbs into nouns and adjectives and suppose that because there’s a word, there must be a thing it stands for. It’s a weaelly way to turn fire to metal, to currency.

 

If God is, He is prior to our naming Him. If I had it to do myself, I’d make God (the word, not God) into a verb rather than a noun. The whole crazy immeasurable big bang of love and power all of it is the fire of Him loving. Nothing is still. It’s all an ongoing explosion, nuclear spin, the blas furnace of a star, there’s no still point, no true function for a noun.

 

Jesus said “Love God and love each other; let everything else take care of itself.” The truth of this is a little frightening. Love is a fire. God’s love is a fire. Everything gets burned up in it. At best all the nouns are only directional markers, pointing to the Fire of God.