Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Donald Trump: A Paen

Given the insanity and whirling of the 2016 election, I hear a lot of noise everywhere and by everyone on the candidates and what's at stake in the upcoming election. I have no intention of voting, primarily because I think democracy is dead in America, and that it's a generally worthless system given an Empire of such magnitude (in terms of wealth, size, influence). The whole crop of candidates had to buy and whore their way into the spotlight. Occasionally, a rogue agent gets through. Someone like a Ron Paul or a Bernie Sanders. As for the former, he had no real chance, as for the latter, his popularity surprises me. But of course, I have to wonder whether his officially signing up with the Democrats means he made a couple deals. Why would Democrats take on an avowed socialist, when they spent 8+ years denying Obama was one (which he's not)?

Anyway, none of this matters. What really impresses me is the success of Donald Trump. The man is a hard-talking, no-nonsense New Yorker who just tells it as it is. At least, that's the act he puts on. Donald Trump is a real estate-mogul, but there was no reason for him to ever emerge from the shadows of the boardroom. He made himself into a celebrity. The persona he constructed for The Apprentice was brilliantly done. Shows copy-catting the basic premise continue to this day. This is his first presidential run, but not really. The race for the American presidency is more reality-show and carnival than any serious, white-knuckled, deliberation over politics. Our voting is akin to American Idol. I wouldn't be surprised if voting will eventually be done by texting it in, especially given the plummeting numbers of people who actually vote.

Donald Trump knows how to work this. He knows how to put on a show. He knows how to say the right things. In fact, he knows when the wrong things are actually the right things. Look at our pop-culture. Our favorite superhero is  Batman who must appear the "bad guy" in order to promote and protect the good. The most popular shows host anti-villains who we love to hate and secretly are enamored with (i.e. Walter White in Breaking Bad, Don Draper in Mad Men, Tony Soprano in The Sopranos). Not only that, look at shows like Game of Thrones, where politics is revealed to be a mad power-lunge. Most Millenials will look with horror and disgust on the political process, while maintaining a comfortable apathy.

Donald Trump senses this. Honestly, I think he is probably the most cunning and in-touch candidate of the whole lot. People like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are ideologues who only preach to the choir. Jeb Bush is the perfect bureaucrat, which in ages gone by would've been a suitable choice for the Presidency. Ben Carson is merely a celebrity, who rises and pops before the day is through. At first, this is what people assumed about Trump. But he's a media mogul, not a delusional dark-horse candidate who really believes he/she is popular because of their message and their purity of heart.

In fact, it may not be possible now, but Donald Trump sets the stage for the future candidate who can do the unthinkable: create a united, unanimous country-wide sweep. This sort of thing only happened with people like Reagan and FDR. Both of them knew how to run the media perfectly. They were able to play all parts for all people. Reagan could be the tough foreign policy cowboy, he was the soft-spoken man of God, he was the common-sensical average-joe candidate. FDR was the sophisticate of the New York establishment, he was a traditionalist to the Dixiecrats, he tried to appear pro-business and pro-labor simultaneously. Both appeared at a National Crisis giving solutions for a new dawn.

These are the legacies that Donald Trump is trying to draw upon. He may have played his hand too strongly. Hillary Clinton is the only other candidate who could have done that, but her affiliation with the Obama administration has only tainted her further (i.e. namely the Benghazi scandal). Instead of letting the tensions and agony of the Clinton eras pass into the myth that those were happy days, she has kept the animus alive. In her quest for power, she has cut herself off at the legs. She will never become the unanimous candidate, though she still might win.

Donald Trump might have done the same thing to himself, making himself into the bully and the hated-one. But if Trump and Clinton both clinch the nominations, it will become a vote off over which one is hated the least. It might drive voter-levels even further down, as Hillary will be searching after all those disaffected Bernie fans. If she chooses Sanders as her running mate, she will only destroy herself and eradicate Sanders' credibility. It might be very tempting, but securing her numbers through Sanders will only open her up to the charge she (beginning with her husband) has been running from her whole life: she is a pinko-commie. Trump would benefit hugely from this, and I'm sure he's hoping for it. As for Trump, I'm sure he'll pick a running mate that is out of the blue, leading to a huge media-spike. Even though Palin was a dud, think about all the excitement McCain generated. He was the middle-of-the-road candidate from the party everyone hated. The fact that he got as close to Obama as he did is in part due to the Palin surge.

But let's continue down this track a little more. Even though Palin was lambasted as a naive idiot, she remained exceptionally popular. Why? Because she channeled her hatred into a celebrity cause. Even when it was patently apparent that she was a dope, there was still a segment who wanted her as president. Trump, unlike Palin, is not an idiot. He knows how the system works. He is the manipulator, not the manipulated. Every insensitive remark, every hamfisted proposal, it's all a calculated risk to build his reputation. As per a line in Pirates of the Caribbean: "You're the worst pirate I've ever heard of"; "But you have heard of me..."

I think Nietzsche would be both disgusted and proud of Donald Trump. He would find the American social state as deplorable and disgusting. He would be horrified at the whoring Donald Trump is doing to make it to the top. But he would be in awe at how Donald Trump rewrites the rules. He would be in awe of how his presence commands people. He breaks people in verbal sparring. He knows how to play his role, and out play everyone else.

America politics are at a turning point. Both Liberals and Conservatives are at certain breaking points. The former are more and more willing to accept war and bloodshed, the latter more and more willing to accept more progressive social mores. Donald Trump, if he does it just right, might fuse the two together in his person. He could support bombing campaigns against ISIS and affirm gay-marriage, with the caveat that "it's gross, but whatever". In a Hegelian sense, he could ride the new synthesis and personify it.

A President Donald Trump could represent the creating of a new American era. But, as far as empires go, this era might result in the shattering of American dominance. Caesars can only push so far on social and geopolitical ethics before the whole tower comes crashing down. Creation can only bear so much wear and tear before it falls apart. God judges Empires at the right time. So who knows what could happen. Maybe the day hasn't come. Even if Donald Trump loses, he will return.

No matter what happens, the American Imperium will continue to rumble on. The goal is an American Century, one that is agreed upon by all Establishment apparatchniks. Whether its a snake like Hillary, a dragon like Trump, or one of the many other reptiles that lust after power, it will make little real difference in the quest for empire. Christians by and large remain blind to this, and continue down the same patterns. The love of power can blind even the most wise.

If this the twilight of the gods, that nihilism is true, Donald Trump is the most successful and most laudable. He really understands the game, a game where there are no ethics, no truth, only the will to power. But if God reigns in Jesus Christ, who is at the Right-Hand of the Father, then we really need to rethink our paradigms and reconsider our place in the world. We ought to stop trusting in princes, and bend the knee to the Prince of Peace. Not only in this era, but for all times everywhere, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Test the Spirits

This is a repost of an article I wrote. It contains many underdeveloped ideas. Contributions and commentaries are welcome.


I was dumbstruck by an insight that came through Slavoj Zizek’s Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (it’s not what it sounds like). He gives a scenario (and forgive me the crassness): there are times where someone, in the midst of sex, will be disenchanted and be perplexed. Why am I doing this? Why am I engaged in these repetitive motions, acting almost machine like? There a sense of stupidity pervades, as we become aware of what we’re doing and its emptiness.

Out of my own sexual insanity, I can testify to this feeling and experience. It’s also the same pervading sense that drove me away from my pornographic addiction in High School. There is an overwhelming sense of emptiness and foolishness. As I put it above, the enchantment is gone and we’re left with barebones physicality.

Zizek has an explanation for this. What drives sex, for both a man and a woman, is what he calls the ‘phantasmal’ element. There’s a fantasy at work that colors the context of everything that’s happening. There’s a dream or idea that motivates the on-going story. There’s a psychological projection that maintains the romantic relation.

It’s perhaps why lingerie and the ‘act’ of disrobing is more attractive than sheer nudity. The former leave a mystery to be explored, a lacuna to be filled in with the imagination. These objects and acts encourage desire. They excite the imagination, Mankind’s creative reason, to compose and make sense of things. More on that another time.

Now for Zizek, these are abstractions and artificial constructions. Humans create these feelings, moods, stories, and symbologies. It’s what they need to give meaning. But Zizek is a materialist and an atheist. What if, instead, these are not mere Human projections but part of the outworking of another dimension of reality? What if the spiritual dimension is indeed present, the folded fabric of the world we already indwell?

Now I’ve always had to take, at some value, the Biblical reality of spirits, demons, angels, and pervading darkness. In our modern world, it’s a bizarre and alien conception. Some have banished it to the text, a world away from us where, for some reason, these kinds of things no longer occur. Perhaps it’s on account of a new dispensation. Or perhaps it’s a part of a mythologizing that we no longer believe in or need. Whether you take a more biblicist approach or a liberal one, both are attempts to disconnect.

But I’m convicted otherwise. We are not in a world come of age. We live in an age that is as superstitious as the days of the Apostles. We live in a world full of religious rites, sacred symbolism, and cultic celebration. Our age of science is a new highly religious age, full of the demoniac and spiritual. I still believe in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to combat the Darkness, and give His people weapons to topple strongholds. Of course part of that work is to see Scripture rightly, which is cannon. But I digress.

In the Trinity, the role of the Spirit is the purveyance of love between the Lover (Father) and the Beloved (Son). Whether this is a helpful description of the Unity of the Godhead, there’s something there perhaps to glean. What if we do not have or participate in relationships or groupings without the presence of a spirit? This is present in off-hand sayings like esprit d’corps , but what if this means that all of relations are mediated through the presence of a ‘third’?

What I’m offering is something distinctly Human, distinctly 3rd dimensional, that is a part of relationships. Unlike mere animals, Mankind possesses a breath from On High. We are an enspirited creature, which does not mean we are mere hybrids between beast and angel. However, this touches on something that we may otherwise miss. C.S. Lewis believed mankind was amphibian, able to indwell both a world of water and land, a foot on both Earth and Heaven. This may be too much as well.

Paul commands us to keep in step with the Spirit, to be ‘in the Spirit’, which is equivalent, but not merely collapsed, with being ‘in Christ’. Being in the Spirit is the means for producing life-giving fruit (c.f. Galatians 5) and being in the Light. All of these fruit are not mere individual traits, but have consequence for group harmony and as group dynamics. Church communities are to be kind, self-disciplined, patient, loving, etc. To obey the Law of the Christ means to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

Now I don’t want to make much of it, but even the titular name ‘Angel’ has connotations of messenger, a medium, a go-between two parties. If our actions, like Zizek’s example, become merely mechanical and meaningless, perhaps this is a moment of absence. Perhaps our relationships are not uninhabited. Whether good or bad relationships, there’s a spirit at work and one that needs to be discerned.

In the life of the Church, we can see the difference in either the presence of a ‘Candlestick’ (the angel of the Church), or what the Christ refers to as a ‘synagogue of Satan’. That is, a community that has betrayed the brethren and now turned against the grace of God. A Church Community that is laden in gossip, in abuse, in manipulation, in deep seated and commended conflict (I could go on), perhaps is one that is under spiritual attack. Then, of course, there is the possibility is has ceased to be a Church of Christ, and now belongs to the demonic.

We can all think of examples of this. Mega-Church pastors that act as dictators. Legalistic enclaves practice shunning and shaming and are hostile to the outside. Quiet communities exist, where abuse, sexual immorality, viciousness, goes on unabated and unspoken. There are Communities that have openly sold their soul (candlestick?) for a particular set of cultural mores, national allegiance, or practice. This includes everything from churches bedecked in American flags and full of patriotic fervor, open-and-affirming bedecked in rainbow flags.

Perhaps 1 Corinthians 10, about headship and head-covering, needs re-examining. Maybe Paul’s argument ‘because of the angels’ has more punch. But this is for another time.
Then maybe there are spirits working in personal relations. Perhaps abusive, fear-driven, controlling, cold relationships are the haunt of the demonic and under another influence than the stubbornness or cruelty of one of the two parties. Maybe loving and thriving relationships have an angel over them.

Relationships are not mere anything, we are never just with another person. There is a third-dimension to it, and perhaps this is where we are called to ‘test the spirits’. This is for both communities and for individual relationships. This is the charisma of discernment, reading whether the voice of a community is preaching the Lamb or speaking like the Dragon. This is where we see if a particular relationship is health or unhealthy.

This topic needs further investigation and thought. But we need not fear. The Holy Spirit is the Lord of the Spirits, and it is He who raised the Christ from the dead. He indwells us, protects us, and teaches us. He will continue to do so.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Benedict Option: A Thought

Here's a post at Mocking Bird on the Benedict Option: Exploring Our Options

Here's the Comment I wrote in response:

The more I hear about the Benedict Option, the more I am suspicious. Particularly, the heuristic value for recapitulating a history. Benedict going out in the woods, and forming a community, on account of the Fall of Rome and invasion of “barbarians equals losing the culture wars and moral degeneracy?
Consider the fact that during the lifetime of the Apostles is considered one of the high-water marks of Roman cultural immorality. It was the age of the Julio-Claudians (i.e. Caligula and Nero), Ovid, Great Mother and Dionysiac cults. Augustus had to pretend to be a family man and passed many of his family-laws and moral regulations because of the mores of the era. Yet where were the Apostles hiding?
It’s also funny to note that the barbarians who conquered Rome were Arian Germans, not the “Lavender Mafia”, the “Feminazis”, or the Kardashians. Dreher sounds like Jerome when he wept for the fall of Rome. He had no idea how the gospel would survive without the Empire.
I am all for a call to discipleship, distance, and spiritual growth, but that’s not because of the times but because that is what the Church is about. As you pointed out, William Temple said it well. Dreher still sounds a lot like a Neuhaus kind of Roman Catholic, despite jumping ship.
The Church in America has lived through eras of chattel slavery, wage-slavery, American Indian extermination, Jim Crow, robber barons, global empire building, red panics, the 60’s, etc etc. I think the Church can survive this too.

CS Lewis: The Spy

Here's Christianity Today's article on C.S. Lewis as British Intelligence Operative

If you don't want to read through the whole article, here is the summary:

C.S. Lewis during World War 2 was asked by some anonymous agent in MI6 to assist in the war effort against Nazi Germany. Lewis had a reputation as a stirring public speaker and lecturer at Oxford. Lewis proceeded to record a message for Iceland, arguing for a shared kindred spirit between the English and the island-dwelling Norse. He argued that they must stand together, as allies, against the Nazis. This was crucial. With Denmark and Norway already fallen, it was not unlikely Iceland would follow suit. If this happened, this island would be a potential staging ground for Nazi invasion of both the British Isles, but also westward towards Canada. However, if friendly to England, it would act as an air-base to launch seeker missions against Nazi submarines attacking England's merchant fleet.

Now, honestly, this is a cool story. This is one reason why I study history, it's stranger than any fiction. Who would have thought that an Oxford don/popular Christian apologist was actually apart of an intelligence service.

However, this is what disturbs me. Lewis never mentioned this anywhere else. The author of the article stumbled into this truth by buying what he thought was a hoax on Ebay. In fact, the message that he delivers, about the importance of Nordic culture among the English, was never a serious topic Lewis ever spoke about. He dedicated no books, lectures, or public recordings to it. So how can he speak of it leaving an irremovable impression on him?

Yes, we can say it was World War 2, the good war. We can say it was for king and country, honor and duty, kith and kin. Dulce et Decorum Est.

I love a good spy story. But that is not the same thing as trusting or listening to a spy. Spies are liars, tricks, spinsters, deceivers, and manipulators. And yet the great radio personality, the man who defended Christianity on the air-waves was an active pawn in the great geo-political battle over the fate of Europe.

Now I understand that the times were serious. Britain had a real threat of invasion. The Nazis were ideological and ruthless. I am not equivocating here, between England and the Reich. But while the Nazi part channeled the spirit of Satan, the Nazis were misguided and lost souls. They were Human too, bearing the image of God, despite the atrocities of many. And England was not guiltless. The Dresden bombing campaign, of laying hellfire down upon a civilian center, is an Allies brutality that most conveniently forget. There was mass killings on both sides. This is the nature of Total War, the modern military doctrine.

So as I read the article, my heart dropped a bit. If C.S. Lewis can stretch the truth and employ it for country, what else did he do? What was the point of his apologetics? Yes, the Truth remains despite the deeds of men. But, it ought to give one pause. Is all the 'Mere Christianity' a load of bullshit, a unifying force around Western culture to resist the Soviet bloc? The Soviets used Peace, the People, Equality and the West used God, Freedom, Democracy. These were all ideological props. How can I trust a single word from Lewis' mouth?

This kind of thing can be dizzying. It's like the recent spate of Bond movies or the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. At the end of the day, what does any of it matter? It's all kind of a Nietzschean farce, a will to Power. It's who gets to run out the clock the longest. It's sheer nihilism dressed up in poetic and epic excitement.

I get the impression that the author of the article is proud of Lewis. It's fitting, he is the Chair of Chuck Colson at some no-name university. In the spirit of Colson, he would be proud that C.S. Lewis invested in real power, put his talking to some real use. For me, it is sick.

If Christianity is a load of symbols, a Western project for protecting the globe ala. Niebuhr, then I want no part of it. I'd rather just move on to something else; the 21st century US already seems to be doing that. But if Christianity is true, then I hope Lewis repented.

There are two kinds of Christianity: the one of the patriarchs, the prophets, and the apostles, and the other of the empire-builders. The latter is the Christianity of the Grand Inquisitor. A Christianity that, out of supposed love of man, hates God and must keep man bound. It's the Christianity of the imperial Roman Popes, it's the Christianity of Corporate backers, it's the Christianity of the Niebuhrs, Colsons, Richelieus. It is a Christianity of calculated pragmatism, not obedient fidelity. It's a Christianity who promotes Christ as a 'Beautiful Soul', and uses this to plan, build, and conquer. It doesn't matter if it is eloquent preaching, this Christianity has utilized a Schliermacher and a Billy Graham, whether willingly or not, I do not know.

God have mercy on the soul of C.S. Lewis. May God have mercy on us all.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Present State of Things

Nevertheless the age was essentially constructive. The theoretical scepticism of the Academy, the bold unbelief of Julius Caesar, and the practical atheism of Nero, had given place to a revival of belief in the Unseen. This often took the form of superstition, which is the Nemesis of outraged faith. Magic was widely practised[sic] by its pretenders and widely believed in by its dupes. People regulated their lives by omens. While the venerable oracles of Delphi and other ancient shrines were comparatively neglected, augury from the flight of birds or the inspection of entrails was more widely prevalent than ever. Nor was this all...
The heart of mankind "abhors a vacuum." If it has not spirituality [That is, the Holy Spirit--CP] it will welcome sorcery, accepting demonology in place of theology, and giving the conjurer the seat from which the prophet has been ejected...
Men were making frantic efforts to save themselves from drowning in a black ocean of spiritual corruption by catching at the floating wreckage of derelict cults.

This comes from Walter Adeney describing the state of the Roman Empire in the first-century. It doesn't take much of a stretch to see how this applies to our present state and age. Replace Julius Caesar with a host of modern politicians not nearly as dashing and cunning as Dictator Perpetua. Replace Delphi with national shrines like Mt. Vernon or Monticello. Replace augury, entrails-reading and omen-watching with horoscopes, opinion-polls, and popular-statistics.

And as for derelict cults people use to save themselves from? Of course we have old-timers like Voodoo and Freemasonry, but now the pervasiveness of Wicca, Goddess worship, and Age-of-Aquarius/Aliens New Age cults. There are also the many more secular-cults like CrossFit or some of the new dieting trends, which call Humanity to save itself by transformation.

For as much as people thing this is the Modern world, we seem to go in bizarre cycles. This is the same world that Christ entered to save. This is the same world that is beheld to the "god of this age".

Christ save us.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Walking Dead & Peacemaking

Though I am constantly irritated by the show, I have been a pretty avid fan of The Walking Dead. The show has become overbearing with its cliches, its rote dramatic performances, its almost cyclical developments, its inability to have a firm direction. And besides that, the show's pervasive darkness is a little grating. All TV now has taken up the theme of darkness. We see mankind revealed as utterly debased. Twenty years ago, the mask was just being ripped off. We saw feel good-shows begin to disappear. Paranoia, anxiety, despair, cruelty, malice, cold-calculations, and raw power became the domain of TV. These plot twists were to shock and awe. Now its getting a little hackneyed.

Anyway, The Walking Dead embraces this in some ways. It's a standard zombie-apocalypse trope, the living-dead show that we, the Humans, are the living-dead. Fictional monsters hold a mirror back up to our face. We are the ones who feed on each others indiscriminately; we are the ones who mindlessly congregate to get our fill. It's great stuff. But the other-side of that is that behind the mask of civilization, there is nothing but raw survival. The only ones who can make it are the ones who do what it takes. You see the moral-conscience of the group mauled to death, those people can't survive.

However, the one character that remains fascinating in this standard world of zombies is Morgan Jones.

Morgan underwent a conversion experience. Insane from the loss of wife and son, he becomes an animal, killing everyone and everything. His initial sensibilities about dignity and life are trashed. But through the patience and kindness of a stranger, Morgan slowly reconsiders the bestial existence he has subjected himself to. The kill-or-be-killed is challenged. It takes the death of his master for his repentance to become complete. Morgan begins to wrestle with his demons, his demeanor changes, his philosophy is radically transformed.

His new motto: All Life is Precious

This comes from a Zen book in Akido. It's a Buddhistic kind of thinking. And strangely, when explained and played out, is the most Christian thing in the show. Morgan has given up the right to judge in such a way. For him, life maintains a sense of possibility and change. Death is final and absolute. To take someone's life is to judge them unfit or incapable to live. Morgan resists this temptation tooth-and-nail. As one commenter said, Morgan is like a duck on water: calm on top, legs kicking on the bottom.

The last episode, the mid-season finale for season six, was a really good display.

*spoiler alerts*

Carol, a rather pragmatic, ruthless and survivalist member of the group, discovers Morgan has hidden a member of the Wolves in the basement of a house and has been talking with him. The Wolves are a mysterious group of near-insane survivalists who, for no rational reason, attacked the group in their community in Alexandria. Despite his protests that he will kill again, Morgan refuses to give up on his captive. Carol has other plans. In the midst of chaos, she escapes from Morgan's attention, and goes to kill the captive. Morgan catches up and protects him. In the ensuing fight, the Wolf gets free, takes a gun and knife, and leaves with a hostage. His survival is to be determined.

The significance of the scene will be determined with how the show judges the actions of Morgan. But it looks good from my point of view. It is Carol, who is truly no different than the Wolves in ruthless violence, who instigates this process. She takes it upon herself that she is the judge to declare, absolutely, that this member of the Wolves is not fit to live.

Morgan stands as a Peacemaker, one who is not constrained by liberality and utilitarian notions. Morgan is quite a proficient fighter. Peacemaking requires this. It requires the strength to stand your ground, to actually fight. But unlike other fictions where killing is outlawed for crude or simplistic reasons (i.e. non-identity with the evil that does kill, outright refusal, some traumatic experience), Morgan gives a basis, as stated above. Life comes with possibilities. If Morgan can turn around, and be different, then why should he be so quick to judge?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I hope Morgan's character remains and offers a principled challenge to the dominant philosophy of the rest of the group. Most characters so-far that have resisted the main-course have died. They are the ones who cannot live in this world anymore. They not only have died, but they must have died. They are slowly dying epidermis of the old world of niceties, civilized infrastructure, and diplomacy. But Morgan doesn't need that. He is no longer bound to an old-world, nor is he trapped in the paradigm of kill-or-die that most others function from.

Morgan represents a fictional character that has rejected the course of things, but remains. He is in the world, but not of the world. He does not stand idly by, not willing to get his hands dirty. He does not recourse to some vague notion of democracy. He does not cower or refuse to bear arms. But he bears arms in defense of life. He wants to live. It's not his time to die, not yet.

I am pessimistic about a show like this to maintain such a brilliant character without marking him as expendable and just one more warning against trying to remain different. I still have hopes though. For viewers, Morgan represents the possibility of difference in a world of blood and death. He shows that real change, real justice, doesn't come through death. Instead, real change, and the chance for real justice, can come through repentance. I guess that's a different kind of death.

All life is precious.

Power Resurrected

First read this article by my friend Proto:

If you don't have to look it over, you should make the time! Otherwise, be content with this truncated summary so I can respond, elaborate, rejoin, and dialog:

In essence, power has buried in it a pursuit of the absolute. Power comes with it the temptation and lure to acquire more of it and to protect it. Since we are living in a Fallen world, our feeble sin-sick persons cannot resist, in this age, the pull towards corruption. Our principles and ethics become Consequentialist. The perceived ends, the necessity of our person or office, the anxiety of loss, all of these will drive one who has power. In the end, those who seek power will become utterly corrupt, and even more so when such is justified for higher reasons, particularly theological reasons.

Much of this is true, but in a defined sense. What exactly is power? What exactly is the nature of authority? Does the manner, mode, disposition, and reception make any difference?

I don't think Proto is a Voluntarist. That is, I don't think God's Power is therefore just because God wills it to be. Our sense of justice may be warped, but in the fabric of creation, there are marks, both shining and vestigial, that testify to God's character. The Triune radiance comes to be reflected in just, right, fitting, and good.

So, in the same way, power reflects an attribute of His Character that we see revealed in Christ Jesus. Now, I think Christ Jesus represents power rightly. However this will take some detoxing and qualifying. I believe when one reads the Gospels properly, one does not see the limp-wristed "beautiful soul" of German Pietism, Victorian Sentimentalism, or all the other garbage that effaces the Gospel in truly vomitous works of art. Christmas music, by and large (though not all), stands under this condemnation. Many Christian-made movies of Christ are truly horrendous. It's sad that Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ", based not on the Gospels but a work of fiction utilizing Gnostic themes, is a more accurate portrayal.

Instead, we see a Jesus who stands a Judge to relieve the oppressed. We see a Jesus who destroys the tables of the money-changers. We see a Jesus who casts out demons, who argues with the Pharisees. Jesus' procession to the cross is a time of deep suffering, but it is a suffering endured by the Conqueror of Death. I understand some modern theologies that emphasize Jesus as Victim for pastoral reasons. But truly, the Gospels spend little time on the Passion in terms of violent details and more on the spiritual-work being accomplished. The Gospels do not read like a Medieval Passion play (such as Gibson's "Passion of the Christ").

There is no dichotomy in Christ in terms of His saving and judging. Christ as Prince of Peace is not in His First Coming. His being Prince of Peace is in the same vein as His bearing the wrath of the Lamb, His wearing His self-blooded robe with sword protruding from His mouth. Yes, Jesus stands as sacrifice, but the sacrifice who lays down His life only to reclaim it. He is God's Anointed King, bearing the Holy Spirit, who bears up the sins of the world.

Now, consider all of this in light of the discussion of power. As Christians, we ought to see the world differently. We understand the spiritual depths differently. All to often, American Christians have abandoned Christ's Kingdom and begin to work for earthly dominions. This is the case for both messianic Neo-Cons and Quaker pacifists. Both look for God in communities made of earth, whether in a blood-orgy called "making the world safe for democracy", which becomes a kind of neo-Pagan theology, or in Quakers thinking kingdoms made of mud can be given a Christian engine to run on.

The reality is that most of what we do falls under the qualifier 'power'. As I move my hand to type, I exercise power. As I use words to convince you of my position, I exercise power. There are a lot of types of power. The problem with Proto's article is that it conflates without elaboration. Alright, bureaucrats become corrupt and maniacal in their pursuit to climb the ladder. What of fathers? I know plenty of fathers who've had their fatherly prerogative go to their head and abuse their children. I've seen husbands berate their wives. I've seen teachers abuse authority. I had a teacher who abused his power and had sex with a 16 year-old girl (which, by a few months, evaded a charge of statutory rape).

The problem is the context and form of power. This is why Proto is right. The context of the Nation-State, enveloped in Empire, racial/cultural superiority, and a certain, less extreme, kind of ideological lebensraum is a wicked endeavor. Even if you can convince yourself of the good, think of the cost.

The monastics of the Desert were one group of Christians who understood this very deeply. The problem is not the presence of power, it's the call towards eternal vigilance. We are born in sin and iniquity, and yet the work of the Holy Spirit is refashioning us into that ancient beauty God always intended. We will not reach perfection in our lives, but in a sense, we are perfect if we are turned towards disarming ourselves, breaking down barriers, loving indiscriminate of friend/foe. That is what Jesus means when He says "Be perfect as My Father in Heaven is perfect". This is to bear God's likeness, to be conformed to the image of Christ.

We are too quick to be like the Quakers, idealistically making Jesus into the model of a middling government employee. Jesus becomes mushy and serene. It's perhaps for that reason that Quaker policies in Indian reservations turned to bloodlust in the end. It's why the Social Gospelites of the 19th century, quite easily transitioned into war-fiends driven by bloodlust in World War One. It's the process of the happy liberal being mugged by reality (to quote Irving Kristol). It's Colonel Jessup's speech at the end of "A Few Good Men": the Marines stand on the wall so everyone else can play make-pretend. He goes to jail at the end of the movie, the "good guys" win, but do they? I'm left harrowed.

But Christ Jesus calls us to a different kingdom. The world may be crafted by Imperial paradigms, that build the mazes that many run through like rats. The Church is to offer an alternative social-imagination, one that can envision the world differently. May out of the tombs of our failed projects and schemes, however many we've attempted, may Christ emerged alive and victorious. It's for this reason St. Anthony rejected his middle-class prospect to enter the Desert and face his demons. It's for this reason that St. Polycarp stood victorious as soldiers and the mob laughed at him, conquering the devil in his martyrdom.

In Lord of the Rings, the One Ring is destroyed, and yet Isildor's heir is crowned. Tolkein may not agree with my conceptualization, but Aragon as consummated king stands as power found in Godly form. God ordains all powers that be, using and purposing them for a time, but God still comes to reign in the Word and Spirit.

In Christ, Human power, in all its weakness, dies and is resurrected.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Heresy of Bridal Mysticism

Perhaps if you are a Christian man (or a discerning Christian woman), you may have shared my common discomfort over particular liturgical (I use this word generously for all ordered worship), lyrical, and theological forms that might be summed up in God as your Lover.

I recall my first face-to-face with this in a book called 'The Divine Romance', given to me by a psuedo-mentor. I remember looking at it on my desk with trepidation. I was hardly a year-old in my following Christ, and this book disturbed me. I tried to read a chapter, but couldn't stomach it. I ended up pawning the book off as a gift to my girlfriend at the time. There was something off-putting about thinking God as a Lover who was looking for me.

Now, I find it interesting that there is a common thread that runs between Bernard of Clairvaux, who pioneered a bridal mysticism recovered from Origen, leading up to our pop-ish Christian industrial-music-complex that pumps out "Jesus is my Boyfriend" type music. The similarity is that God is conceived as the active-male suitor and I (or whomever) is the beloved who is sought after. I have heard this kind of thing in sermons, trying to weaken my knees and turn my soul towards seeking after the God who has given me everything. Now, I'm not saying God is not love, nor am I saying that God has not poured out Himself in sending His Son, giving Himself over to death for oursakes.

What I am saying is that applying the lover label to us individually is to miss what the Bible articulates is a proper use of the marriage bride/bride-groom imagery that is present in the Scripture.

Bernard was a bizarre figure. He is a Cistercian who both sought to make himself a "woman" before the Lord, and also preached steel and blood in advocating and perpetuating the Crusades. Bernard was novel in his self-feminization, though he is not unique in applying a certain kind of eroticism to a man's relation with the Lord. Origen is the fount for this. He suggested that the bridal imagery of Song of Songs belongs to the relationship between God and the individual soul.

This is quite Platonic, given Socrates' discourse on eros in the Symposium. Eros is, according to Plato, the lust and desire that takes the separated, bounded, soul back into the Heavenlies and into the realm of the Forms. This would find its climax (pun intended) in the Neo-Platonists who saw the soul melting back into the One, the Ultimate, behind the penultimate, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

I am not faulting Origen for what we have now, only that it 'origenates' (again, the puns) with him. It was Bernard of Clairvaux who applied a gendered significance to the relationship. For Bernard, the male was the active element and the female was the passive element. To be a 'woman' thus meant to the passive recipient as God entered the bed-chamber of the Heart. Bernard's Augustinian bent only enforced this the more. There's a reason why Bernard has been considered a kind of "proto-Protestant", on account of his insistence on the monergism of God in salvation.

Personally I find the dichotomy of monergism and synergism as a false starter based on bad initial premises. The Reformed were able to maintain them together in their justification-sanctification division, but that division is itself unnatural, if not useful to maintain the Biblical witness. However, Bernard's monergism fit quite well with his self-feminization. He had to be a spiritual woman if he was to be a Christian.

This Bridal Mysticism is heretical and abhorrent. The Biblical imagery points to the Church, not the individual soul, as the Bride of Christ. This is a Corporate marriage, a metaphor of unity, bringing to light the kind of oneness sought, but also the desire behind such a union. It was for joy that Christ endured the pains of death, even death on a cross. It was the joy of His People that Christ died. We can say that Christ loves His people, poured out His life for the World, and yet calls particular people through the work of the Holy Spirit. We ought to maintain all three without collapsing them into each other. I am not the Bride of Christ, though I belong to her.

This Bridal Mysticism is not prevalent in the form I articulated above (though still existing in Roman monks and Protestant ecstatics). However, it has sublimated into a wider Evangelicalism that lacks the rich union language that had previously existed. Thus the sentimental God is the Prince-Charming to sweep me off my feet and love me in the near-erotic. I'm not saying union language prevents this, but actually makes it worse, despite it being more compelling to certain segments. Experiencing a kind of marriage and love-making, certain ecstatic and fanatical women and nuns have run with this teaching to their own sick fantasies. May God correct them.

This kind of Bridal Mysticism, whether deep or popular, is one of those sources of why men find church-meeting to be effete and bizarre. There is only a call to passively swoon and adore God as a Juliet. The fatal blow is if this coupled with a kind of moralizing, which is equally limp-wristed and uninspired. All of the main-line Protestant preaching I have hard has come across as being harangued and inspired by a self-important chattering gossip, sometimes a woman, sometimes a woman disguised in a man's body.

Forgive me if I seem to equate women and femininity with such cretins. God forbid. I only seek to illumine that perhaps Bernard as unleashed a torrent of androgynous spirituality that turns away men and gives women all but formal power; though this is changing as liberalized denominations are being honest with what they believe. I can applaud them for unveiling themselves as they are, even if it is a rejection of the Apostolic faith.

Christ brought a faith that is for both men and women, joined as one. There is no call for Muscular Christianity to suppress the woman, nor is there a call for the abomination we have so prevalent, the devaluing and rejection of the man. Instead, Christ called all to Himself, though there are many roads on that Path. There are womanly and manly roads, there are roads for Jews and Gentile, there are roads for the slave or the free, the employed or the employer. There are roads of quietude; there are roads of robust community. There are roads that lead through the desert; there are roads that lead through the city.

Christians should reject Bridal mysticism and correct those who teach it. Christians should turn away from foolish teachings. If you are a man, teach a robust Gospel to other men, one that does not make one passive before the grace of God. That would be a grace that leaves us in the tomb. Instead, the ministrations of the Holy Spirit make us alive to fulfill our purposes. We are made alive to overcome the spiritual darknesses in our own lives, whether our flesh or the demonic.

Renounce the passivity ascribed to the Bridal-Mystics and the Pop Jesus-Is-My-Lover and take up the Sword of the Spirit!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

American Thanksgiving

This ought to be read over and considered as many of us, that is, those who are Christians, leave to go eat our turkey and drink our wine.

Now I still celebrate this day as a family custom and as a particularly lonely time of the year. This is a matter of care and love. The blackmagik of the cultural engine brings a swathe of depression on those who have nothing, no food, no family etc. This is a good day to reverse these sort of things and offer up a different kind of feast; a feast made with one of love and peace, and contrary to the Civil Religion my friend Proto talks about.

Again, read what he has to say in the above link, and take it to heart. This is a day (and tomorrow too) where gluttony, psuedo-religion, materialism, endless craving (aka Lust), etc etc. is celebrated and condoned. This is a day where the religious connotations of American football and military show their face. This is a day where clan/kin trump the connectedness of Christ's people, and we close our doors with our fat bellies and fat wallets.

But this is also a day where we can invite in those who are alone today, left by everyone else. This is a day where Christians can reveal their love, not by giving the homeless turkey-dinners, but by inviting in friends, a motley crew, and modestly enjoying one-another. This is a day where repairing family ties might be received, where inviting disparate family over will be accepted and a relationship will be restored. This is a day of working, earning more now so you will have more time later, and giving God thanks for such a mercy; or perhaps you work so a co-worker can take the day off and see his family gathered.

Yes, Christians must be aware of what American Thanksgiving means, its history, and we must not be lured to think its practice is fine on account that the State says so. But this day is an opportunity to love and to work. This is contrary to its initial purposes. We should give thanks every moment of every day, so today is not about thanksgiving. But it is a particular moment where we, Christians, can subvert the typical story and use it for better purposes. Some of us can, some of us can't, being stronger or weaker. But let's use the moment as it comes to us.

We worship in Spirit and Truth, let this day be a day to do so, subverting the National cult in the process.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

To Show Oneself a Man

Recently, I read Leon Podle's The Church Impotent that attempts to tackle the question of why men, in almost all forms of Western Christianity, find Christianity insufferable. This is not whether or not men identify with being Christian, there are plenty who do. Rather, it's about a functional rejection: "going to church" is womanly, spiritual practice is unbecoming, etc.

At first a preliminary:

I really enjoyed this book and Podles is pointing out a problem that may be easy to overlook depending on who or where you are. He whirls through history, starting from the 12th century and going onwards till the modern. He cites a lot, and it can get your head swimming if you don't have a command of the timeline. It's a good survey of his topic that keeps a big picture. This is despite imbibing somewhat bizarre psychological presuppositions, and bordering on a psuedo-fascism (he speaks highly of fascism in contrast to the nihilism of the Nazis).

However, the key point of the book is his discussion on the binary of masculine-feminine. Most people, Christians or not, recognizes it exists as a cultural construct grounded in something real. But what is it? Podles posits that Western society has fully adopted Aristotle's bifurcation:

The Male is Active; the Female is Passive.

This is the source of many problems, both in acceptance or rejecting. In accepting, we have men who are uncomfortable being put into a 'passive' role and reject Christian involvement. I understand this in the modern "Jesus is my Boyfriend" pop-songs that exist. But this is not a modern phenom. It goes back to Bernard of Clairvaux, who revives Origen, with his bridal mysticism; that is God is the Groom-Lover, and you/your soul is the Bride-Beloved. The sensuality borders on the erotic, and is off-putting. I recall never really picking up the Divine Romance by Dallas Willard because of the overtones. I do not desire to be a Juliet awaiting her Romeo to woo her from her balcony.

Podles ascribes the above to the reason why many church-communities function as male-led 'sowing circles'. I doubt that's the only reason, and I doubt that the situation is truly as bad as Podles makes it sound. But it is bad and it is a problem.

The rejection comes in men thus refusing to engage in the life of their church-community, to reject spiritual disciplines (where they exist!), and generally spending their energy and life in places that keep such Christianity out. Again, this is not only because church-communities are geared toward the feminine. We are sinners and Christ remains a stumbling block against the arrogant. We don't like to hear that much of what we do is at odds with God's will. But again, he's right, and it's a problem. Podle's articulation of masculinity and femininity stands perhaps to begin to fix the rift:

The Male is Separator; The Female is Unifier

I still haven't given this the thought that it warrants, but allow me to explain. Both of these roles require action. The Male has desire (at whatever level) to break-bonds and stand-out. It manifests in the need, in every culture that I'm aware of, to have a coming-of-age for a boy to be a man. There is some kind of test, commission, sacrifice, etc. that initiates from one into the other. The boy separates from the world of women into being a man, only to then later be unified to a woman. For Podles, this is a way that men break bad unity (absorption) and enter into a true unity (I-Thou, respect of the Other). The balance of the genders keeps one from overwhelming the other. Femininity unbalanced ends in Eastern mysticisms, mother goddesses, the One. Masculinity unbalanced ends in sky-gods, Wholly Other, Allah.

Take all this worth a grain of salt, though it's interesting to consider.

However, Podles' definition is a good starting point. In God we see both the Masculine and the Feminine, but we relate to Him as a 'He'. Not because God is a Man (though, in the Person of the Son, He is a man), but He is the Holy One, literally the Set-Apart. To the creature, God is a He because we are not Him. But the Church is a She, because in Her Unity, the Body of Christ, we participate in God. The Bridal motif applies to the Church, not the individual Christian or his/her soul.

What does this actually mean for the problem of men in the Church? Well, it certainly doesn't look like a lot of men's programs that are out there. Most of these either valorize sin or play make-pretend. The former end up boosting for sports obsessions, physical violence, drunkenness, patriotism, sexual immorality (yes, married couples can be sexually immoral with each other). For these I think about some Christian biker-groups, Mark Driscoll, and the so-called Christian militia groups. For the latter, well, I've been among enough of these. It never gets towards sin because it is so foppish in its self-consciousness. It involves images of knights, watching war movies, beer, burgers (YEAH!! MANFOOD!!), and lots of self-conscious talk about being men.

The former are wayward, the latter are moronic and pitiable. The insecure man still trying to prove his masculinity is truly a wretched sight. But then what is the solution if not the above? Well, for one, we ought to worry less about being men, and instead get on with doing it. Well, how do we do that? What am I to do?

There is no quick solution, but let's consider, in seriousness and not fantasy, the Apostolic images of a soldier and an athlete. Both of these come from St. Paul, and I'll summarize and expand on his points. The soldier is one who must give his focus to the task at hand, and not be caught up civilian affairs  This metaphor is one for the Christian to be attentive to what is truly important. For a soldier to stay on duty is not merely waiting, but an active sort of patrol. We wait to see who might come, who might be there. Is it a friend or foe? Discernment is a huge part of this. Without discernment, a soldier might be foolishly chasing shadows, a soldier might get distracted by things going on around him, whether alluring or chaotic, a soldier might fall asleep as nothing occurs.

An athlete is one who trains vigorously, day after day, striving to win the prize when the contest arrives. It is only when considering the end goal does all the activity make sense. If there was no event, if there was no prize, then all of the training may seem only as vain struggle. But if there is a prize, then the exercise and training makes sense. In fact, it is a burning requirement. An athlete may feel tired or sluggish, but he knows if he doesn't maintain his regiment, then he will slip behind and risk losing it all.

Both of these images St. Paul uses to articulate the Christian life. This is not an endorsement of sports or soldiery. Instead, it's considering how these things make sense to us as we go through our days living in This World. Christ is the Warrior-King who sends us out into the world to carry out His message. Christ is the Judge who crowns us with eternal-life as we win the race and enter into glory. These are metaphors, they are not definitive, but instructive.

What if spiritual practice was conceived as war? We war against our flesh. We pray to do battle against spiritual darkness, to tear down principalities. We read and meditate on Scripture to be given the weapons of our warfare, particularly a shield to defend against a constant onslaught. For the silly manly-men prayer meeting, this imagery appears as buffoonish. For one who has truly struggled with lustful thoughts, who has fasted, who has kept a vigil, who angry at his contempt, this is no exercise in pretend.

The image of the soldier or athlete are not necessary. We don't need to talk about doing this or that, but as men reaching other men for Christ and His Kingdom, we do not need to resort to the world with the praise of violence and debauchery, whether in the form of the American military or sports-stars who commit all sorts of vice and vanities (whether self-obsession, camera hoarding, lying, cruelty, sex with minors, rape, murder etc.). Instead begin by your own practice.

There are all sorts of other changes that might help in regards to the life of the Church generally (liturgical, pastoral council, community presence etc.), but right now, the first step might be taking up (or continuing in) the practices of walking the Road of Life. The Greek term is askesis, meaning 'exercise' and giving us the word 'ascetic'. A brief aside:

The theological concept of Merit, which poisoned the Latin church throughout the Middle Ages, doesn't enter into this. We are not 'earning' our salvation. One cannot 'earn' their salvation. Christ's blood does not contain a 'value' that is 'accredited' to me. Instead it effected the shape of the world and the destiny of mankind. Jesus didn't pay any price, except in that His death undid the demonic system of accounting charges. Jesus throws the accounting book out. His Death pardoned us. He dropped Sin into the Grave. That's what being accounted righteous means. It is doing away with any kind of merit-debt, positive-negative, system.

Anyway, committing ourselves to being 'ascetics' is a task that calls for sacrifice. It calls for bearing one's cross and dying. It means rising with the only Risen Son of God. It means working out our salvation with fear and trembling. It means fasts, prayers, spiritual warfare, it means protecting the innocent with words, posture, demeanor, and touch. Christ fashions us into the men that we are to be in Him, no longer bound by Adam's road to perdition. This is the path Christian men have before them, and it is both easy and hard. It is life-giving and endless joy. This is Royal Road is where we show ourselves a man.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Paris Attacks

I appreciate the sentiments that many share about the need to pray and the need to commentate on the attacks in Paris. This might indeed be an event of great magnitude in terms of the future of European politics.

Will it lead to the vibrant success of the psuedo-Fascist Right-Wing under people like Le Pen in France or Wilders in the Netherlands? Will it lead to the EU becoming a secularized, anti-Islam, militaristic confederacy? Or will the EU explode as every nation tries to secure itself against outsiders? Will the US use this to further suck France into the matrix of NATO, further expanding its vast military empire across the world?

There are many more questions, and it is yet to be known whether this event will be a huge turn for the future of Europe. But of course, before the dust settles, everyone has a quip. I guess, in some sense, I'm not guiltless. However, I am offended that Facebook is very quick to offer a solidarity sticker, putting your profile in red, white, and blue. We can't even allow quiet before the "world" can offer its condolences. Does anyone feel better that while their son/brother/father/mother/etc. died, a bunch of random people had the pleasure of putting the French flag superimposed over their profile picture? Is that really any sort of consolation?

And of course, everyone has their 2-cents to add in. If you have internet, TV, radio etc. you have heard that Paris has been attacked and a hundred plus have died. Why do we need an incessant need to produce a theodicy, to try and moralize, spiritualize, evangelize before the bodies are even buried? Why do we need to constantly chatter?

And then of course, we have the soaring war-hawks. We have Chicken-Little Trump give his quick hit on France's gun-policy to explain the events. We have all sorts of people who want to bang the war-drums against ISIS. I'm not saying ISIS isn't evil and hell-bent on murder. It is. But do we even have a clue as to why ISIS exists in the first place? Maybe before you post your rage and need to 'do something', you should read a history book or two about the West's role in the Middle East, including the propping up the House of Saud, the wheeling and dealing with people like Saddam Hussein, and making and breaking Middle East states for the purposes of US advancement. Iran, in-and-of-itself is a case example of US foreign policy (i.e. the assassination of Mosadegh, the propping up of the Shah for oil and thus control, and the eventual blowback).

But back to my point. Why do we need to give our two cents about the events? Why do we need to try and explain so quickly? We're not in Paris. No one cares what any blogger, or foreign news agent, or personal opinion has to say. If you're not in Paris, if you haven't lost someone, then maybe we need to shut our mouths.

Do not be a Pharisee and make a show of your prayers or your compassion. It means nothing except in the eyes of men. If you are going to pray, pray and do it silently. Do not quote your philosophers, your theologians, your common-sense policy makers.

Just shut-up and kneel.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Another keen insight Ivan Illich brought to light is the concept of shadow-work. In this way he prefigured modern Feminism and stands as its antithesis and hated for it. Allow me to explain:

In our economy, the only thing measured is the production of wealth. That is, for all intents and purposes, work = money. My productivity in the national economy comes in terms of work that makes money. The eight hours spent in an office, the six hours at the retail store, the ten hours on the Construction site. What is not measured is the 'economy beneath the economy'. This includes all the work involved in washing clothes, preparing meals, cleaning one's living space etc. that is skipped over. No one would be able to work at the office if one had not put in the work in traveling there in the first place.

Ivan Illich's problem lay at the heart of how we even define the word 'economy'. In modern parlance, the word has to do with the exchange of wealth. But, as a parsing of the Greek would tell you, the word economy has to do with the functioning of the home. Economy has (should have!) a broader definition than merely the possession and use of wealth. It has to do with the daily rhythms and procedures of social life.

In the 1950's, Ivan Illich was cheered by supporters of Modern Feminists. Of course, they misunderstood him, and in his correction, they reviled him. When viewing things through the wealth-defined economy (hence-forth a capital-E Economy), women were (and still are) disadvantaged. Men were, seemingly justifiably, the wielders of power because they participated in the real economy. They were the ones that generated the wealth, and thus were full and active participants in the Economy. In revealing the shadow-economy, the work beneath the work, which includes everything from child-rearing, to cleaning, to home prep, proponents of Feminism had the discursive ammunition to attack the system.

Feminism desired access for women into the Economy. The shadow-economy was a form of slavery, and thus should be eradicated. Women were now called to actively participate in the Economy, and turn all the shadow-work now undone into a servile lower-rung in society, a place to be filled by maids and day-care. This was a way for the whole of society to be enveloped into the dominant power-structure, the Economy.

But here is where Illich and Feminism part ways. Illich had no desire to advocate for the Economy. Instead, he saw that it was itself a 'power and principality' that had grown idolatrous. His intent was not to eradicate the shadow-economy and "liberate" women. Instead, he saw the shadow-economy as a reality that attacked the power-monopoly the Economy possessed. Generating wealth is not all there is to the functioning of a home or a social order. Instead, he hoped that recognizing the shadow-work of women would subversively attack the pretensions of the Economy. Life would be fuller and richer without the Idol of Mammon ruling our lives.

For this he was vilified as a reactionary, a misogynist, and a patriarchist.  But that is because, frankly, Feminism does not reject the Idol, but only seeks to expand the franchise of its sacred ministry. Now, granted, the concerns of Feminism have changed with the times. As Jacques Ellul would put it, modern people have grown to distrusts the priests of Mammon, the bankers and stock-brokers, and now label them witch-doctors and warlocks. They are no longer the spiritual heads of the Nation. Gordon Gecko's "Greed is Good" is maligned and rejected.

Well, not exactly. Perhaps rhetorically, but Wealth still remains the democratic solvent. It remains the ghost in the machine that drives forward all the twenty-first century dreams of authenticity and life-experience. Advertisements that tell us to go live, to have a good time, to experience life, etc. are still founded upon the old bones of Mammon. Of course, the old factory tycoons have passed into oblivion. The giant firms are dinosaurs who are being cast down. But our modern heroes are the non-profits, the start-ups, the small businessmen. All of these revolve around wealth. A Zuckerberg in reality is not far from a Carnegie.

In the process, the Feminist attack has sunk the ship of the Old Boys Club. The work-force is, in many ways, now open to women and the shadow-economy has been absorbed, slowly and surely, into the Economy. One does not need to be rich to hire a cleaning service for your house. Day-cares are everywhere for people of every income bracket. Fast-Food (even healthy Fast-Food) has replaced the need to cook at home. Hell, there are apps for people to do your shopping and dry-cleaning.

The above instances of the Economy's absorption are not listed to make you feel bad if you in anyway have participated. This is not an attack or complaint on women in the work-place. Instead, this is a warning for Christians against partaking of the Ideology of the Economy.

The Church is where the power of Mammon is called into question. She is a place where measuring-money is to be rejected and slowly abolished. Even as I write this I reflect on my gut-instinct to think that whenever I am earning money is the time when I am actually doing something. In fact, most of my work is done without any monetary compensation. True wealth is not marked by Caesar's imprinted coins (or bills for that matter), but the presence of Sophia, Wisdom, the Spirit's good work of restoring Humanity to mankind.

Generally, the Stay-at-Home mom is a despised figure, a left-over, an antiquated and ignorant figure, who is still trapped in bondage to the old system. In homes where the Economy reigns, men will oppress women and the shadow-work is a kind of bondage. But that is because the reign of the Economy is bondage. Stay-at-Home moms are in fact a means to subvert and reject the rule of Mammon for the rule of Christ. Power is not defined by a democratic money, but by the presence of the Spirit.

In some ways, Feminism is God's scourge to attack the idolatrous ideology of the Economy. This should alarm Christians to turn back to the Almighty Father of Jesus Christ, and to seek all good and blessing from Him. I'm not saying money is evil, but it is merely a base tool, one which Christ easily acquired from the mouth of a fish. The love of money is the root of many evils, and one that cut us through the heart. We ought to use the wedge of shadow-work to attack all habits and practices that move us into participants in the Economy, instead of participants in ever-giving economy of the Triune God, forever thrice blessed.

To end, I will give examples of what this might mean:

-This might mean that Christians should work less, or work part-time, in money making endeavors in order to work elsewhere. It also might mean taking more time to rest.

-It means that perhaps Christians who have much should be willing to give more away. And not just in terms of almsgiving (though this too).Use your money to pay people to help in whatever work you're in. Create jobs.

-If you have a large home, open it to strangers. Be willing to have beds for whomever comes to you. And open up opportunities to meet new people. Open up opportunities to meet struggling people and invite them into your homes.

-Spend time in prayer and discern your commitment to the Economy, to Mammon. If you are weak, admit your weakness. Voluntarily take pay-cuts if you earn more than you need.

-If you have a stay-at-home wife or mom, praise her. If you know a stay-at-home wife or mom, praise her. If you are a stay-at-home wife or mom, rejoice.

Let thanksgiving, charity, and grace be weapons against the god of This Age.

The Corruption of the Best is the Worst

Ivan Illich is a Roman Priest who is truly a Catholic and Prophetic voice in our modern times. He is an unsung hero who is usually misunderstood as a Modernist or as Reactionary. As Christians who try to navigate the politics of This World, we need good prophetic guidance. Especially since we live in a world of sound-byte intellects and talking-heads. I believe Christians are called to engage politics, but this is doing politics From Above. What I'm saying is that it doesn't easily conform to the forms and modes of our present time and space.

So, for example, let's look at voting. Most people dissolve politics into who one votes for. I don't vote. I'm not registered to vote. I have no intention of ever registering. I do not believe in any of the false promises and illusions that this kleptocratic, near ochlocratic, democracy holds. I thank God for the pluralism, it is a ground for the Church to work her mission. However, this doesn't mean I have any intention to prop up Establishment regimes. Democratic and Republican are far more similar in their policies than their differences. They are both pro-empire, hence Obama putting troops in Syria. Barack Obama was one of more radical (I don't necessarily mean this pejoratively) candidates to win the office in a long time, yet he is truly not much different than George W. Bush before him. His Middle East policy might be rather different than Bush, but one only needs to look at East Asia to see it's not a different vision but a different course.

Anyway, Ivan Illich is a Christian voice who calls into question the basic forms of our political discourse. He is able to do this by considering that our present-state is the fruition of a truly terrible monstrosity: a mutated, heretical Christianity.

Ivan Illich does by calling to mind the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Being the good liberal peoples we are, we don't find the teaching terribly radical anymore. But it's for this reason we miss the accent of the parable. We tend to think that the Parable answers the question of "Who is my Neighbor?" with "Everyone!". We see that the Good Samaritan, an outcast in Hebrew society, is the one who lifts up the beaten and dying Jew and brings him health. Thus, everyone is to be our neighbor.

There is truth to this. The parable tears down the walls that separate the us from them. For Jesus' audience, this calls into question the division between Jew and Gentile, those who worship God and those who worship idols. But the resolution to this problem is found in His own Body. His death tore the curtain in the Holy-of-Holies in two. In Christ, there is now no division between peoples. Men and Women can stand side-by-side in worshiping the Lord.

Many communities fail even at this level. They chop people up by clan. In the States, there are 'white' and 'black' churches, which, when taken seriously, are no Church at all. Race, culture, wealth, status, clan, kin, if these things get in the way, Jesus confronts us with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In Christ, there is no separate-but-equal (even if there still remains differences).

But, anyway, back to the main-point.

For the generally liberal among us, though, this universal application is not really much of a problem. Yet, the problem is this is not a real answer to the question the lawyer asked Christ. For truly, who is this 'Everyone' we are called to love? Isn't it a mere ideological construct, a phantom non-entity that people commit themselves to? The answer Jesus provides is not 'everyone, but 'anyone'. The break-down of division is that anyone could be your neighbor.

This is the key here. When we apply universality to this story, we collapse the particularity. We turn the individual person into a concept, the law of love becomes a duty. Thus we are able to consider ourselves charitable when we give to a giant bureaucratic organization, yet we tip waiters poorly, neglect the poor in front of us, and excuse our insolence to the people we actually know and are around.

St John Chrysostom complained bitterly about the construction of 'foreigner-homes' in Constantinople. These were essentially shelters for those coming from abroad. The problem was, according to John, that Christian now passed their own responsibility to an 'organization'. It gave them a pass to not keep an extra bed open for any who needed a night's rest. It allowed Christians to neglect the poor.

What does this do to the Church? As Ivan Illich might have put it, this corruption turns she into it. I'm not denying the corporate life and ability of the Church proper. But when the Church is so fundamentally institutionalized, real people, real life, and real structure are collapsed into the idealized and non-real. Living voices and a rich tradition, powerful and binding, becomes ideological fodder to beat people around the head with.

An example I've considered: Perhaps the East is right to reject the 'filioque' as an attack on the Person of the Holy Spirit. I won't get into this here. However, if we lay all the blame upon a particular dogmatic formulation, then we've idealized a conflict. I'm not saying dogma is not important. But the problem is not the presence of the 'filioque' but the real fact that people do not trust God's Spirit to lead their own lives, and to instruct and move the decisions of the Church. We make the Holy Spirit into an instrument and power-node, instead of the captain of our ship, carrying out His Will, the Will of Christ the Lord.

So how does this affect politics? Well, we Christians become trapped in liberal-democratic form and end up propagating insanity. Perhaps we clamor for the rights of the poor. But perhaps we should start with our own actions and our own disrespect and bigotry for those right before us. Perhaps we clamor for responsibility and work-ethic. But perhaps you are lazy and wealth hoarding. In fact, all of these words 'responsibility', 'bigotry', 'lazy' etc. need to be reconsidered in light of the Kingdom of God. Maybe responsibility means resting enough to be present for friends, family, and strangers. Maybe laziness means less about how much money is in your pocket, and instead refers to "working out your salvation with fear and trembling"?

The result of this corruption is the false-church of the Nation-State, the false-church of the modern political vision, the false-church of liberal sensibility. In today's age you can argue that a mass-bombing campaign can be done in love and is a form of loving your enemies.

Truly, the Corruption of the Best is the Worst.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Waging War

Now, there are many kinds of battles and wars in life. The most intense and demanding is entering into the spiritual battle the Lord Jesus Christ calls us into.

Yes, the atonement and remission of sins is complete. Christ has bore God's Wrath (A Wrath that belongs to Father, Son, and Spirit) against sin, emptied death of its power and fear, and smashed the Devil's skull and his legion of demons with the Jaw-Bone of His own Humiliation. The Victory is for Christ and His Church. But the war is not over. As the Apostle tells us, we bear about the marks of Christ in our bodies. We are called into imitation, losing our lives so we may find them, bearing our own crosses towards Salvation's Hill.

We receive salvation, passively awoken by the grace of God (i.e. Jesus calling us). I think Augustine read the Scriptures rightly. But once we are awake, we are called into a life of battle, a repetition of Christ's victory over sin, death, and the devil. Some might call this the divide between justification and sanctification. I think that's poorly applying words to the reality. We are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.

But what many have lost is the demand for this kind of battle. It's not a battle waged by moralism or propping up cultural practices. It's not a battle waged through passivity and searching for nirvana. It's not a battle of medieval ladder climbing, turning sacraments into magik. It's the kind of battle many Christians have seen and engaged in many ways. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, and to be a disciple is to move, out of the love of God and our neighbor*, towards healing. It is to become a Human as a Human is supposed to be, namely Christ, which is why we are the diminutive (Christian means 'little Christ').

We war against the machinations of many sins. St. Paul lists many of them and calls them the 'fruit of the flesh'. Cut off from life, cut off from the Source of Life, we turn inward and feed off ourselves. What we find is greed, pettiness, lying, vicious jealousy, idolatry, sexual immorality, violence, murder, cruelty, contempt, etc. The work of the evil in us is not merely head-liners. Sin working in us produces sneering, gossip, two-facedness, saccharine niceness without compassion, manipulation, word-breaking, passive-aggression, and many more.

The war is doing battle with these. How? By using the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. What does this actually mean? I end with a quote from the Desert Fathers:

A brother asked one of the Fathers, What shall I do? My thoughts are always turned to lust without allowing me an hour’s respite, and my soul is tormented by it. He said to him, Every time the demons suggest these thoughts to you, do not argue with them. For the activity of demons always is to suggest, and suggestions are not sins, for they cannot compel; but it rests with you to welcome them, or not to welcome them. Do you know what the Midianites did? They adorned their daughters and presented them to the Israelites. They did not compel anyone, but those who consented, sinned with them, while the others were enraged and put them to death. It is the same with thoughts.

The brother answered the old man, What shall I do, then, for I am weak and passion overcomes me?? He said to him, Watch your thoughts, and every time they begin to say something to you, do not answer them but rise and pray; kneel down, saying, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Then the brother said to him, Look, Abba, I meditate, and there is no compunction in my heart because I do not understand the meaning of the words. The other said to him, Be content to meditate. Indeed, I have learned that Abba Poemen and many other Fathers uttered the following saying, The magician does not understand the meaning of the words which he pronounces, but the wild animal who hears it understands, submits, and bows to it. So it is with us also; even if we do not understand the meaning of the words we are saying, when the demons hear them, they take fright and go away.

*By neighbor, I mean and don't mean how most people understand this. One's neighbor is not just anyone, but could be anyone. The particularity is important. This is the difference between liberal thought and Christian thought. I will expand on this in another post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Predestined by Beauty

"What the Heart loves, the Will chooses, and the Mind justifies"- Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

This post will be part biographical and part dogmatic.

Most of my life I highly valued my will and my struggle to be (and remain) incorruptible. There was something that warmed me about Robespierre being nicknamed such. I high valued the stoics Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius for their candid rejection of worldly pomp for the inner-solitude of being right and refusing to be touched by emotion. I was a vain pagan who will-worshiped.

Yet, having become a Christian and reading the Scriptures and many who followed them, I began to struggle with the remnants of my stoicism. Now, granted, Stoicism teaches a compatibility of the will with an already mapped Destiny. As one philosopher put it, "you can follow Fate, or be dragged by her". But I resisted this. I wanted to retain my emphasis on my free-will, unfettered and strong. Christ the Lord is many times merciful in when certain truths seize the mind.

But eventually I cracked as the question "how did I get here?" I could not reconcile the turns and twists of my past with the choices I made. I battled the logic of any kind of 'predestination', but it was futile. I squirmed as God placed this before me, haunting me with the implications. I tried to be an Arminian, I tried to be a Molinist, I tried to do some sort of bamboozled calculus. None of it could get around God as initiator. I was confronted with the simple scene from the Gospel where Christ merely says to Matthew, "Follow Me", and Matthew up and left his booth.

I was still up in the air. My only exposure with predestination was within the world of the Reformation. I was mostly disgusted with Calvin and his offspring. I had accepted their point of contention, that grace alone saved, it was the single-handed work of God from On High who condescended to those below. But it had ruthless implications that I struggled to come to terms with. I was merely exposed to bare-bones decretal theology and the arid rationalism that came with it.

I was aided in this quest by two things: a rejection of rationalism in a more dynamic redemptive-history, and a 'Barthian' redefinition of election. But these both really only spun me in circles. Redemptive-History is a must for approaching the Scriptures, and Barth is a titan, but neither helped me deeply understand predestination.

It took the old African bishop, st. Augustine, to strike me in the deep. I became a predestinarian when I saw Augustine's explication of God's love. The overwhelming love of God, the grace offered and incarnated as Jesus Christ, is what defined and undergirded my election and, despite the appearance, affirmed my freedom. I was freed in my being called. I was in chains and had to be set loose. The initial nagging was both realized and completed. I had wandered through life into Christ's arms, but only at His beckoning.

Now, I understand that the presentations of Reformed theology may seem lopped sided. It is. But I am merely articulating the presentations I received, and this is important. It took Augustine, the theologian of love, to channel the passion and flames and confidence in such a doctrine. He was the one who provided the ideas to retool my imagination. The Holy Spirit used this saint's writings to turn my head upside down.

But here is why I would affirm being an Augustinian without necessarily proceeding to call myself a Calvinist on this issue. Augustine maintained a physicality in his writings, a deep sacramentality in the life of the Church. What I am saying is that Augustine's battles with his own Manichaean learning led him to affirming a Church that existed in material form, not according to magik, but in mystery. Augustine was able to maintain aesthetics in the life of the Church.

Aesthetics becomes a dangerous area to tread. I have since renounced my Puritan instincts, but the initial suspicion is not unwarranted. How are we to know if we are worshiping at God's Temple or at the High Places? I will write on this later, but the answer is that being able to affirm the Beauty of the Creation, especially embedded in the worship of the Church, is not evil but good and necessary.

Thus, thinking about beauty and enrapture is the only way to approach predestination and the call of God. We do not know why the Apostle Matthew got up to follow Jesus. But perhaps, as the crowds were, he was touched by the Holy Spirit. As they were moved to grief, overcome with the glory they had suppressed, perhaps Matthew was moved by joy. He saw a touch of the glory, the glory that exuded from His robe to heal the bleeding woman, the glory which Peter saw on the mount of Transfiguration.

Predestination, the election of the person into Christ, is irresistible. But it is irresistible like a beautiful artwork. It is irresistible like the smell of a delicious meal. It is irresistible like a warm embrace. This beauty is the defining feature of such a call. Salvation comes by our "doors" being covered by the "blood of the Lamb". But such a process touches all parts of us.