Reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice

I finished Deuteronomy. It was hard work, not so much the reading of it as the holding back of judgment. The best (maybe the only way to truly read and understand something is to suspend judgment. It’s easy to have all kinds of opinions, but finally it’s mostly irrelevant, and it’s certainly the lazy way out. Cultural and political opinion lenses make it so easy, but every time we use them the agendas that made them sink deeper into our minds, inviting us to forget who we are.

 

Looking steadily at a hard thing without releasing into opinion could certainly be seen as morally ambiguous. How could you witness such-and-such without having an opinion?

 

The interesting backside of the question is, “How can you have had the moral opinion you did, and still have behaved as you did?” I’m not sure that having moral opinions affects our behaviour all that much. “I have done those things I ought not to have done, and have left undone those things I ought to have done, and there is no health in me.”

 

I think a case could be made for moral judgment being the ongoing gabble of our culture, incorporated, even sometimes somaticized, but always and only a social construct, not a place from which to understand or act.

 

It’s scary for sure. If we can’t act out of our ‘moral compass’ then we have to hand it over, as we have to hand over all of our transactions. “Not I, but You in me.” “To be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice,” And so on.

 

The night I finished reading Deuteronomy I dreamed I was in a warren of streets, tiny, interconnected, kind of like a hutong, those mazy Chinese tangles of alley, houses, markets, all woven together into an Escheresque anthill. It was interesting, some of it seemed familiar, but there was no way out of it. I came upon a tiny shop, open at the front, as shops are in warm countries. It was tiny, maybe six or seven feet wide, about the same in depth, with a very low ceiling, but I knew that there was a back door to it that would take me out of the warren I was lost in. I asked the owner, a Middle Eastern man, if I might pass through. He politely agreed, and let me into the house. It was a Middle Eastern home, small, spare, beautiful. A small courtyard floored with white gravel, some desert plants growing from the gravel in a garden-like way. I understood that good manners required me to take off my shoes. I delayed a little, then understood the disrespect of doing so. I took them off and apologized, at which point I met his wife. She was old-style, secluded, and while her face was not covered she kept her eyes lowered. Except for one very short moment when she looked me in the eye. She was stunningly, alarmingly beautiful, and her eyes were expressive of great power. Then she looked down again, and the host led me to the door, and out into the open road.

 

I think that was a dream of Deuteronomy.

 

 

Surviving the Pentateuch

I’m just about done Deuteronomy. It’s been a brutal read, in more ways than one. Following God’s instructions, Moses makes it clear that if a woman is raped in the city she must be stoned. The rationale is that she can’t have screamed very loudly. And stoned at her father’s door. Disobedient or rebellious sons must be handed over to the men, who will stone them at the gates of the town. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Recently I remember following the story of an Irnanian woman whose husband had thrown acid in her face, burning her horribly and destroying one eye. She was offered the choice. Do this back to him, or allow some other legal action to be taken. She chose to do it. Herself. Extreme Sharia law calls for an adulterous couple to be stoned. So does Moses.

 

Then Moses, still following God’s command, orders that every human being, man, woman, child, baby, be slaughtered in the cities God has told the Israelites to take. It was the times, we can say. Or we can watch ISIS at work and think ‘”It’s still the times.”

 

The challenge for me here is not to demonize Moses or the people who had followed him. They weren’t doing anything different than the Assyrians were doing. Or the Taliban.

 

The challenge is relating to all of this as God’s command, being prepared to accept and integrate the Bible as sacred text. Not much “God so loved the world that He gave His Son,” and not much of the God Incarnate who simply said “Love each other, love God, and the law will take care of itself.”

 

Did God change? Of did our understanding?

 

If we’re going to pick and choose among the laws laid down in the Pentateuch, what criterion should be use? The ones we like? The ones that feel humane? If we obey them all we’re going to end up burning promiscuous daughters of clergypeople at the stake and stoning girls who get raped.

 

I’m really struggling with this, not wanting to throw the baby out with the bath-water. If God did not specifically say to Moses “Burn promiscuous girls. Stone rebellious boys,” then did He say “Thou shalt not kill”?

 

The Jews of that time were tribal, nomadic, not much on the rights of the individual, vengeful, clannish, a violent culture held in check by violent laws. Cultures with that kind of social structure need the laws they have in order to stay coherent and survive. The Law kept them intact as a society.

 

The tricky piece here is maybe Moses himself. “God spoke to Moses”, every section begins. And then Noses told everyone what God had said. Moses translated the raw, undifferentiated power of God into social laws. That Moses was an interesting guy. Was he a magician himself? Did he sometimes get confused between his own considerable power, and God’s?

 

 

Heading for Narnia

The Narnia books may have saved my soul, whatever that means. My childhood was spent in a pretty nasty situation. Had I formed just on the basis of the environment that I found myself in, things might have got pretty bad. When I was nine I read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, and my heart moved to Narnia. I read and re-read the books, and in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” I saw my way home. Just to feel the wind blowing from Aslan’s country and to breathe the living air of Narnia.

 

When I was a kid I didn’t think about Aslan as Christ, about the End Times, about the Garden. It all just was, in and of itself, and I knew it to be true.

 

Not long ago I was talking with my good friend Joanne, moaning and groaning a little, as she kindly lets me do, and wishing that I could just wake up and find myself on the Dawn Treader. “But you already are,” she said.

 

More and more I dream of the sea, being in it. by it, flying (I fly in my dreams) over it. There’s always, in the dreams, a wild hope and a terror. Hope that I will just leave shore forever. And terror that I might.

 

Or is it that I already have?

Evangelizing Reality

Evangelizing Reality

 

I’m thinking that each time we identify something in our experience as evil, as the work of the Devil, or the Enemy, or whatever we like to call that thing, we hand a piece of reality over. It’s spiritual warfare for sure, but not exactly the way we’ve usually thought of it. I think it’s not that any particular phenomenon is the work of the Enemy – it’s how we hold it. If we want being ill to be an evil, we can make it be so. In doing that we let go of the integrity of the world. Every living thing gets sick, and everything dies. The trick is to inhabit those things with grace, and recognize that God is everywhere. It’s okay to be sick, and it’s okay to die. In my own life the prayer becomes “Lord, let each minute of my experience be Yours”.

 

I think there’s a real danger in identifying illness as evil. We can pray for healing. If it doesn’t come does that mean God is random and fickle in His work? Or that we’ve done something wrong, and don’t have access to His love right now? It’s enough to be coping with illness and pain without having to fuss over it being the Devil’s work. this might be even more the case when it comes to mental illness. If my state of mind is botched, as it sometimes is, and I’m depressed and sure I’m going to die, when my body shuts down and I’m living at the bottom of a well, it would be less than productive simply to say that I’m under attack. The attack isn’t in the illness; it’s in the approach. In every state of mind God leads me through, there’s something to be learned. If I recoil from my mind, seeing it as a stronghold, I miss the opportunity to find out who I really am, and in that find healing. God made me and placed me in this life. To identify any part of me, or it, as other than His work is to miss the point, I think.

 

Maybe it takes us right back to the Garden of Eden, and the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If I identify things as Evil, Evil they become. Jesus died to undo what Adam did.

 

This has to start at home. If I distract myself with images of evil outside of me, in the world, the horrors and cruelties that riddle our history, I miss the point again. You can only fight the battle you’re in. Feeding oneself on atrocities and demonology is simply feeding the Demon,.