9.30.2004

evil

Evil is separation from God. To be with God, to experience God’s presence, to desire and will and act in harmony with God’s will, this is beauty, truth, goodness. To turn away from this, to resist God, is evil, the ultimate source of all suffering.

To be attacked or harmed is not evil in itself. It is not evil to endure wrongdoing as a victim; it is evil to cause the suffering, to be the attacker, the oppressor, the abuser. The ugliness and horror of violence and destruction is evidence of evil, but destruction itself is not evil. Usually it serves as an unmistakable sign that evil is near, that evil motivations are involved, that some or all of the people involved are turned away from God at that moment. But evil is not an outward effect, it is an inward cause.

Evil is not something outside of me, that happens to me. Evil comes from within. I am not tainted by evil because of what is done to me or forced on me; any evil in me has to be born within me. As Jesus taught:

“Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him…

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mk 7.14-16, 20-23)
Often when I have been hurt (physically, emotionally, financially) by the evil of others, I have retaliated with evil of my own. And often when I am in physical pain or frustrated I have turned against God because I refuse to accept the reality of my situation. But this evil also is my own. It was not forced upon me, and it was not inevitable. It was my own choice.

And while evil is often recognized in outward actions and their effects, evil itself is not an outward act. Evil is intent. Evil is in my motivation, in my will, whether or not I am able to carry out my intention. A good example of this appeared in Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5.27-28)
Evil does not exist as some external thing, it exists “in the heart.” In the ever-changing movements of our will. In the moments when I turn my heart away from God.

So the fight against evil is not a struggle with something external. It is not a fight against disease or economic structures or soldiers. It is first of all a struggle in my own heart, not once, but moment by moment. And then it is a struggle with others—not against but with—that their hearts also might be free from evil.



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9.29.2004

a problem

OK, here goes. I'm attempting to do some longer, organized writing, expanding on the essay I posted about (and linked to) yesterday. And I think I can write in short pieces, posting them here daily, and have each piece be coherent in itself but all of them together presenting something more valuable than the parts. We'll see...



Obviously something is wrong.

I look around and I can see it everywhere. In my struggles every day, in the difficulty I have in working, in my reactions to other people, in the pain in my body. And I know I’m not the only one. There is suffering everywhere. People in pain, people in anguish, people in a rage, the people I spoke with today as well as people far away that I hear about. We have a serious problem.

But I have become convinced that the problem is not pain, or disease, or war, or poverty. We have struggled with such things for thousands of years, and managed to eliminate or reduce many of them, and yet the problem does not go away. New forms of suffering replace those that are removed. The problem is deeper. As far as I can tell, acts of violence and destruction are not the problem but rather symptoms of the problem. Disease and hunger and loss and death are not the problem, but rather severe challenges by which the problem becomes known. The effect of all these things on us is what makes us aware that there is a problem.

The problem itself is deeper. Many people have described it in many ways, but there is a similarity in their conclusions that I agree with. The problem is separation from God. This is the ultimate cause of all suffering.

This is not a physical separation; God is everywhere. God is here. I cannot go anywhere and be out of God’s presence. But I can turn myself against God. I can direct my heart, my will, my intent away from the will and intent of God. I have done this. And in doing so I have become confused, so that even when I want to turn back and unite myself with God again, I am not sure how. Since the moment I chose to act independently of God, I am no longer sure what is my desire and what is God’s, what is my intent and what is God’s. And this confusion is present in every choice and action in my life. Every moment. Often I recognize afterwards that my intent and action was not of God, and there is suffering in me and in those around me. And I know that there is a separation between me and God. This is my problem.

And from what I can see, it is not mine alone. It is the fundamental problem of human life.

9.27.2004

"Put not your trust in princes"

Well, life here is back to normal today. Everyone's home again. And I did write, though it's only a start. I decided to begin with a brief sketch of what I thought following Jesus meant, especially focusing on the words "My power is made perfect in weakness." And I wrote it to Heather, since she will be most immediately impacted, and I want to know her opinion. It's a good conversation starter for us, I think. But really only a rough outline of what I see as unique and intriguing in Jesus' way. I'm thinking of fleshing it out more, hopefully with the help of some feedback from others.

Maybe I could even serialize it here in my journal. Hmm...



Sunday, the pastor opened the service by reading Psalm 146, an excellent choice:

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have being.

Put not your trust in princes
[and here the pastor added, "or presidents or politicans"],
in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the sojourners,
he upholds the widow and the fatherless;
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign for ever,
thy God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

The irony was, after that great line about not putting our trust in politicians, he closed the announcements by saying there would be a table for voter registration after the service...

9.13.2004

taking a break

It looks like I may have less time to post for a while. Several people from the house are on vacation starting today, which means lots more for the rest of us to do.

I've also been thinking of putting some of these ideas together in a more presentable and comprehensive way. Like a short book. Or at least some longer essays. Something that could be offered as a more substantial gift, rather than just pouring out these thoughts piecemeal, in a disorganized way. I think I'll try it. But to do so it might be good to take a break from posting here and focus instead on collecting and organizing some of the stuff I have been writing here and in previous journals.

Let's see what happens...

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9.10.2004

turn and become like...

I think I'll ask if there are any documents about the beginning of this community, especially the ideals and original purposes of those who started it. This thought came to me as I contemplated origin and "calling back."

I already know there have been several changes over the years that I see as detrimental to the community here. Such as centralizing leadership, denominational affiliation, accumulation of property, increasing collaboration with government organizations (to get funding). Most of these were connected with increasing membership and trying to expand their ministries.

It's interesting how the history seems to follow that of most all organized communities (monastic orders, for example, or Protestant denominations). As they grow in numbers and wealth and influence, there in an increased institutionalization and a decrease in the spirit which inspired the community. These communities usually begin as reform movements (again, going back), then "mature" into almost exactly what they broke away from. It's like the human generations: Each new generation of young people are idealistic, dissatisfied with the compromises and spiritlessness of their parents, but then they get older and degenerate (become "realistic") in the same way so the next generation sees them too as compromised.

Can this be avoided? Can we stay with the originating, inspiring Spirit?

There seems to be a "maturing" or becoming "adult" that sends the Spirit away, or causes the Spirit to flee. A shift towards independence or self-dependence. A "responsibility" that makes it a duty to increase physical and economic security (usually by accumulating wealth and establishing law and authority structures). The drive for "effectiveness" or productivity (which again calls for increased wealth and political power). Jesus preaches against these things, and avoids them. To him, "maturity" seemed to mean something very different:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

And calling to him a child, [Jesus] put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18.1-3)

I am thirty five, contemplating marriage--the pressure to "be an adult" is huge. It's been conditioned into me; I've been taught to grow up and have been doing that for many years. Just the past five years have I been attempting to "turn and become like children." It's getting harder, not easier.

But this turning back is crucial. Because the Spirit is not with the adult-like, the owners, the authorities, the benefactors, the managers. The Spirit is with the childlike.

9.08.2004

radical

This is from an internet discussion two years ago:

Who is "the establishment"? Who is in control? If society's governments are in control, we could be rightly seen as rebels and subversives, trying to subvert their purposes and undermine their systems (the puposes and systems that we see controlling the world--to our dismay).

But if God is in control (insert words like "Providence" and "Sovereignty" here), then the puposes and systems of governments and corporations do not control the world. Rather those things that are commonly perceived as "in control of us," "ruling the world," are themselves acts of rebellion and subversion (against God's sovereignty). Is this not the truth?

Thus God (and we with him, hopefully) is not trying to overthrow the powers of the world, but they are trying to overthrow, or throw off, God. We stand with God's Establishment (which cannot be overthrown, by the way). It's not for us to rage against the powers that claim to control society and us--they are raging against God (and persecuting us, who stand with God, as an outlet for their rage...)


I was thinking along similar lines yesterday, trying to sort out how I fit both with Heather and in the Christian community. Though I seem to have radical or extreme ideas, I don't seem to fit the role of a revolutionary or activist, initiating change and pushing in new directions. Then I remembered that "radical" doesn't mean "new."
radical
[F., fr. L. radicalis having roots, fr. radix, -icis, a root]

Of or pertaining to the root or origin; reaching to the center, to the foundation, to the ultimate sources, to the principles, or the like; original; fundamental; thorough-going; unsparing; extreme...
What's most radical is what has the deepest roots. That which reaches to the center, the source, the foundation. The Origin.

And I thought about the prophets. They were not "prophetic" in the sense of being visionaries or coming up with new ideas. Rather, they called the people back to God. For example, here's God's call of Zechariah:
Say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

Be not like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.' But they did not hear or heed me, says the LORD. (Zech 1.3-4)
The prophets called those who had strayed to return. They were certainly radical, but not "progressive," not innovators. They were not creating a new thing, inventing their own new way of life. They called people back to God's creation, to the ways God had revealed from the beginning.

I see the same thing in Jesus, in his mission to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Calling God's people back. He seemed to be subversive to society and their traditions and structures, but really it was society that was rebellious and destructive, not him. Jesus stood, rooted to the absolute Source, and said "Return to me, says the LORD of hosts."

9.07.2004

membership?

Sunday some people became members of the church here. Each person made a few comments, and one woman said, "I've felt like a member here for a while, this is just a formality." Which is exactly right.

The ceremony wasn't about becoming a member of the church, Christ's body. These people were already members in that way (the only way that really matters to me). This was about organizational membership, joining "this" church. The pastor even made several references to "this body." I find this very confusing and even harmful--because Christians are all part of one Body, right? Not this body or that body...

It's the entering into the one Body, God's family, that unites us and makes us members of one another. That connection and the experience of relationship and interdependence is what makes us "Us." It's very sad that we don't recognize this, but instead find our identity and "unity" in limited, institutional memberships, making our churches just like any other worldly organization or club (where you're not considered "one of us" unless you're on the official roster; and of course this is also tied in with establishing institutional authority--one of the membership vows was declaring that "the leaders of this church are my leaders"). I don't know what to do about this, except reject such institutional memberships myself, and urge others to do so as well.

Why should any group of Christians demand that I become a member? I am a member!

Also, rejecting such limited, man-made memberships, I want to declare that my family, my "Us", is not restricted by institutional or denominational lines. Only God determines who is a member, not any human council, so I will ignore their rosters. I am a brother to all who are also part of Christ. I will recognize them, not by their official affiliation, but by their Christlike lives.


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9.05.2004

"which you did not build"

Some favorite passages that I was looking at again this morning:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land which he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, with great and goodly cities, which you did not build, and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant, and when you eat and are full, then take heed lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (Dt 6.10)


For to the man who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. (Eccles 2.26)

That first promise was fulfilled. And these promises continue to be fulfilled now, for those who "do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink... [But] instead, seek his kingdom." (Lk 12.29-31)



p.s. To see how God provided for us since I wrote this five years ago, read these entries: "morning prayer," "wedding pictures," and "we'll be taking the bus back"

9.04.2004

not a hair

Last night Heather and I talked about yesterday's post. And one important thing that came up was the value of having nothing to lose. For example, there's a freedom in knowing that I don't have anything that a collection agency would want or could take from me. But how does that apply to the relationships we don't want to lose?

This morning I thought of this passage that I didn't quote yesterday:

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake.

But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Lk 21.16-19)
It is important not to give in to family or friends who use their valued relationship to pressure us. As Paul warned about marriage (1 Cor 7.32-34), important relationships can divide us between pleasing God and pleasing our friends or family. But Jesus countered this by radically redefining family:
Then [Jesus'] mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you."

But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." (Lk 8.19-21)

But what about these loved ones "who hear the word of God and do it," who don't tempt or persecute us but who are one with us in God's family? They can still be threatened. We can fear losing them, and be tempted to do anything (or compromise anything) to protect them. I wonder about that as I grow closer to Heather and consider having children. Wonder and tremble a little.

But just as we are not to fear for ourselves, trusting that our lives are protected in God's hand, should we not also trust that the lives of those we love are protected? Isn't that what "eternal life" means? That though we who hear the word of God and do it will be "hated by all" and "some of you they will put to death," still "not a hair of your head will perish." Not a hair of our head, and not a hair of their head.

Which is so good, because I don't want to lose even a hair of the one I love.

9.03.2004

"Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy!"

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Erin was here yesterday on her way back to Colombia, and we talked about my medical bill situation (it's been sent to a collection agency now). An important part of that discussion, for me at least, was reaffirming that Christians are supposed to be attacked because of the way we live. Not honored, thought of as "good people," but attacked and hated.

Do we know this? Does this fit with our version of Christianity? Or, more importantly, do our lives fit with Jesus' version of Christianity?

I was reading in John this morning and came across this line in Jesus' prayer (17.14): "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world." Here's some more:

Even his brothers did not believe in him. Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil." (Jn 7.5-7)


"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me.

"I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." (Jn 15.19-21, 16.1-2)


"If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. ...Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household." (Mt 10.25,34-36)


"Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets." (Lk 6.22-23)


"You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved." (Mk 13.13)

And of course Jesus' life (and death) showed the reality of this. I'm not sure then, where we get the idea that Christians can be seen primarily as "nice people" or how we can expect to "fit in" with society--when our leader, our guide, our model was crucified.

Yet we do fit in so well, in so many ways. Doesn't that indicate a problem?

Do we "testify that its works are evil"? Are we excluded, reviled, our names cast out as evil because we "do not belong to the world"--economically, politically, spiritually? Jesus demonstrated what this looks like, in poverty, despising worldly power, obedient to and trusting God alone. And he showed us how society would respond to those who followed him.

9.01.2004

the Christian ideal

From What's Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult; and left untried.