Wednesday, December 2, 2015

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.

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