Christian Existence and Modern Existence. 3. ‘It’s The Economy, Stupid!’ The demonic distortion of economy in ‘Modernity’

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
3. ‘It’s the Economy. stupid!’
The devil’s own work  . . .
The radical distortion of economy in Modernity
Community, Economy, Technology, and Creation

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

And let’s begin by once more drawing Christian Existence – The Crucified Man – the place of Reconciliation – held in the hospital of the Church (I shall return to this in the last lecture), betwixt the Creation and the Creator, and neighbour and neighbour.

So last time we ended up considering the abstract nature of shared life in the world today, under the label of ‘Society’ or ‘The Public’. Of how life was largely mediated to us, and increasingly experienced as either Private (individualistic), or Public (abstract).

In this respect of the unReality of ‘Society’ we quickly considered the work of Søren Kierkegaard, and we might also think of an influential distinction made by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies between ‘Gemeinschaft’ – Personal sociality – in which we know and and are known to each other – usually rendered ‘Community’, and Gesellschaft – the realm of impersonal and indirect relationships – usually rendered ‘Society’. We might think also of ‘The State’ in those terms. We do not encounter The State personally, in so far as it might be said to exist we cannot Know it – personal knowledge, merely know about it. So, what we might say has happened is that a word which once carried a concrete meaning, Society – that is deep rich human shared existence – or Community for our purposes, became increasingly abstract as human existence became more and more individualised. So it is sobering to ask young people if they are independent – and they say that they pretty much are. They have no sense that their existence depends on many many people and places they have no sense of. For Food, for clothing, for the raw materials which make up their consumer goods, for the fuel in their cars . . . We can only say we are Independent if we have lost touch with the truth of our existence – woven together . . . and of course in these things I am moving towards todays them, that of economy, or rather its contemporary distortion ‘The Economy’ For as Society became abstract, so too did economy and the shift in the two are inter related

. . . and here I am going to push my argument perhaps to what might be seen as an extreme position, but as I have spent time pondering these matters it seems a not unreasonable position to hold for all that. ‘It’s The Economy, Stupid!’ as Bill Clinton famously called out George Bush Senior . . . and we are SO attuned to The Economy, that we may well have applauded his profoundly impersonal indeed murderous words (if we take Jesus at His Word) ‘The Economy’ is the one thing we are so terrified of that all over the world we elect people who are ‘strong on ‘The Economy’, not realising that this is a death blow to our Human existence.
For ‘The Economy’ is profoundly abstract, inhuman and that it is nothing less than a demonic distortion of true economy which I would say is in Reality Κοινονια, this shared existence which I suggest is Christian Existence. Put slightly differently if we understand ‘economy’ correctly, we will find deep similarities with Κοινονια, that is the profound integrative nature of true Human existence. And we will understand how The Economy is in reality Anti-economy, that nothing is more destructive of true human flourishing than ‘The Economy’

Now a couple of points up front. Firstly as they say ‘I have skin in the game’ here. Like it or not I cannot but at some deep level participate in ‘The Economy’ – like The Matrix, I cannot touch it, but it is quite literally Everywhere. What is more that ‘skin in the game’ extends to my own kin for my son in law is a research economist. Clearly when we next meet, I am going to have some explaining to do 🙂

But secondly and perhaps counter intuitively in naming ‘The Economy’ as a truly demonic distortion we may perhaps have a key clue to Redemption, for as we note from our Scriptures, it is the presence of Jesus which reveals the demonic – which flushes them out. Not I must add that that means that we can redeem ‘The Economy’, for also like Society, it is an abstract, and a philosophical abstract which has profoundly inhuman presuppositions built into it. There is a Real sense in which is does not exist, in the same way neither do demons. The Economy is as we shall see both a significant part of the cause and also the product of our profound Alienation, from Creation, from one another and from God, and thus from our own selves. Remember our picture of The Human?

In this radical alienation – There is for the Economy no way back to the garden – after all it is protected by an angel with a flashing sword – BUT there is a way for us to come to know True economy in and through Jesus Christ and in the church. For as St Paul says, when someone is ‘in Christ’ There is New Creation – we may well say there is Κοινονια, there is indeed economy . . . but that will have to wait for a week or so. Firstly we need to understand how bad our plight is, to own up to our own place in Modernity 🙂

And I want to take you back – not all the way back to the Great Schism this time, but to C16 England. And yes, as one ponders the roots of Modernity, then ‘the home country’ has a lot to answer for. As one person put it, ‘Only England could have produced Richard Dawkins . . .’ and one might add Christopher Hitchens and other prominent atheists. And the English language which has been radically shaped by ‘Modern’ existence is very comfortable and ‘creative’ in this regard.

At that time, around the time of Henry VIII, something happened which had not been seen before – suddenly in Rural England chimneys started sprouting everywhere . . . not those of William Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’, we are still about 200 years short of that, but chimneys on houses. Suddenly LOTS of chimneys on big houses, where previously there had only been one . . . Yet as we shall see, the multiplication of chimneys on houses leads us to those smoke belching creations of Blake (and indeed Tolkien as he speaks of Isengard, the domain of Saruman, the deceived White Wizard. The arch pragmatist)
But why more house chimneys? Why might that be? Well put simply, growing wealth had meant that Lords of the manors were now following a fashion of wealthy aristocrats on the European content and in London, of installing inside what were Common shared living spaces, where ox and ass and human lived in ‘close’ proximity, separate rooms . . . each of course needing warming – hence the sudden proliferation of chimneys!

Prior to this, existence had often been shared both within and also outside of the house. You might hear an echo of last week when we spoke of the Inuit and how with all ‘indigenous people’s’ their perception did not lead them to think of an as it were ‘hidden’ interior life at odds with the exterior. Inner and outer were one. So the feudal system meant – and we heard another dim echo of this in my story about my grandmother’s childhood last week – a way of living of sharing in the proceeds of the land, and also that the Lord of the Manor had obligations to those who worked his land. Simply if people were ill etc etc rents were OF COURSE held back or reduced etc. If children were orphaned, they became the wards of the Lord of the manor. There was a deep sense of Obligation – noblesse oblige we might say – towards those further down the ladder. As Andro Linklater puts it in his work on Land Ownership – ‘the idea of the manor as a social contract was more important than its physical form’ The House, The Manor, a place of living under one roof was a way of living in the world, one might say. But under one roof or out on the Land – it was Life Together.

Rooted in? Well at the end of the day, Christian existence. For The Lord of the Manor Knew himself to be part of a hierarchy and he wasn’t the top!! For he was ‘under’ God and answerable to God for those in his care.

Now we see signs that as this order begins to crumble, The Church trying to hold it together. Witness this prayer of the 1553 Prayer Book, the first revision of the first prayer book of the Church of England (1549) “The earth O Lord is thine, and all that is contained therein; we heartily pray thee to send thy Holy Spirit into the hearts of them that possess the grounds, pastures and dwelling places of the earth that they, remembering themselves to be Thy tenants, (not at the top of the ladder) may not rack and stretch out the rents of their houses and lands, nor yet take unreasonable fines and incomes after the manner of covetous worldliness, but so let them out to others that the inhabitants thereof (those lower down) may both be able to pay the rents, and also honestly to live to nourish their families and to relieve the poor’
And remember how those to whom the prayer referred were sat in church  . . . You may wish to reflect on the rather abstract and bland wording of our prayers in church nowadays!! (For of course we work from the assumption that those in authority are NOT answerable to God . . . etc etc)
‘that they may be able to honestly live’ Marylinne Robinson in a book of her essays makes the astute point that no nation may call itself Christian where people literally cannot earn enough to live without theft . . . Indeed we may well ask ‘who really is the thief here?’. I’ll return to this at the close.
‘that they may be able . . . honestly to live to nourish their families and to relieve the poor’ For this duty went straight down the line, as I illustrated even form the recent past of my grandmother’s life last week.

Everything is God’s – and to be used for human flourishing within the care of HIs Creation. The Lord of the manor looked after those in his care who looked after the poor – for The Lord is God, and all things are His

So to comeback to Linklater’s observation that the manor, or ’house as social contract’ is PRECISELY where we get the word ‘economy’ from . Quite literally it is the οικο – νομοσ [oiko nomos] the law, or perhaps better the guide, the Way of the house – the oikos. How we are together in the house. Economy is the How of life together in the descriptive sense. Indeed it links us directly to the Life of God – not only in the phrase, ‘the economic Trinity’ meaning how are the three one and the one three . . . ‘Love one another as I have loved you . . .’ says Jesus ‘in my Father’s οικοσ . . .’

So I want to suggest that in this division of the oikos, what we see here is the beginning of the end of a way of life in which labour and social care went hand in hand in a shared existence we might call Community, economy, Κοινονια. And it involves a human disconnection from one another. Think how ‘Normal we think it that in a family ‘each person’ has their own room, whereas communal sleeping has been for all other cultures the norm – think Marae.

And that personal disconnection [breaking the one body] is also accompanied by a disconnection from Place. The shift from shared ‘feudal’ land practices, to the growing practise of turning the land over to sheep which removes people from the land – echoes here of Wendell Berry and his complaint that ‘the powers that be’ say “there are too many famers”. Flocks of sheep require less people, less care than the land, and as a happy coincidence might give a better economic (???) no let us be clear, not and ‘economic’ return for the oiko nomos (social contract we might say) is being taken to bits – this is to give a better financial return . . . The Landowner having lost sight of his place before God (as we shall see in fact subtly encouraged by the Church no less 0 now just looks at Land – field joined to field . . .
[Actually as many studies show if you really want to destroy an ecosystem, our ‘house’, then sheep are as good a way to do it as any . . . – think The Lake District]
As this is going on – Listen to the words of Sir Thomas More  from Utopia – “[the powerful magnates] enclose all in pasture; they throw down houses; they pluck down townes (villages by our standard); and leave nothing standynge, but only the church, to make of it a shepehouse . . .The rich men not only by private fraud, but also by common laws, do every day pluck and snatch away from the poor some part of their daily living . . . I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of commonwealth.” Now that reference to Common Wealth is of course rooted in the idea of a common ownership of things, the Earth is the Lord’s!  – Yet note how the 39 Articles of religion, in their final form 150 years later have changed this  – Listen for the contrast with the prayer of 1553

‘Article XXXVIII Of Christian men’s goods, which are not common. The Riches and goods of the Christian man are not common as touching to the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally give alms to the poor, according to his ability.’ And, we might say, so say all of us . . .

A couple of things to note here – first there is no sense in this Article that ‘everything actually belongs to God . . .’ and also secondarily there is no shared practise. This is a move from Shared Life to the realm of the Private – simply a moral enjoinder to the individual conscience of each. Something you ought to do – but not of necessity do. Note also to come back to More’s tirade in utopia – with the moral outlook, we do not ask whether the law is a good law. The Lawyer merely dispenses the law. So it is ‘by common laws’ that the powerful increase their holdings of land and drive off those further down the scale. And anyone who knows the history of this land will recognise in this C16 colonisation of the Land by the powerful a pattern for the legalised colonisation of lands globally. As I was reminded by an American friend this week, one of the strength s of the American legal system strangely enough is that the Judge may well decide that a Law is a bad law and throw a case out . . .
The move was from Shared lIfe with mutuality of obligation especially to the most vulnerable to privatised matters of conscience and the Law, with its move to individualistic piety.  In this regard it is worthwhile considering how ‘private’ is the so called Christian Ethic of the Anglican Church. So we have no practise which we share in together of giving alms to the poor as a special discipline in Lent. So we have moved away from the economy of the manor, towards The Economy of the powerful magnates who no longer live under the same roof, nor and this is fundamentally important do we Share the same table with the poor . . . I shall return to this when we come to look at Christian Existence in its fulness in the final lecture
And this change – a move away from a shared life of mutual obligation, to that of individual be it all so religious and moral, self interest – maps out not only the changing culture of the West but also of course its dominant religious outlook . . . ‘you in your small corner and I in mine . . .’ or as Fanny Alexander put it – ‘he died to make us good . . .’ plenty for the moralists there! Jesus did not die to make us morally good, he died that we might SHARE Life, This is the Christian Message – that we are born again into a living hope which is nothing less than a sharing in the divine nature . . .

To jump ahead slightly this is a very important point. So many complain about the collapse of the family as a moral issue – but the reality is that it is a Life issue – The Economy has all but destroyed Family existence. And I see this all around. So children are brought up by strangers, parents by carers, for The Economy has an appetite for life. You cannot even begin to have life as a family where both parents have to work every hour to keep a roof over your heads and children are drilled in the skills to make the matters worse,Educating them for ‘life in the Economy’

Let us return to our Picture of Christian Existence and explore what is happening as true economy – shared life, family, good work for observable ends – disintegrates. And we only have time to  look at this briefly – what happens to to that inter relation of Work and Place and Relationship. For of course we are under no illusions about the supposed relationship between Work and The Economy. As the Story goes, “we”, men and women go to work which builds or contributes to ‘The Economy’ . . . (And I think also that there is a significant connection between this ModernWorldview which we so comfortably seem to inhabit, such that it might have been made for us, by us, AND the language so common in the Church nowadays of ‘Building the Kingdom of God’. Both highly abstract, and both at least on the surface highly anthropocentric.)

Let us just start with that idea of ‘going to work’. What we note immediately is the shift of the focus of work. So people are removed from the land (in England – a sort of test bed for Scotland in the C18 – the notorious highland clearances, and of course here in New Zealand. Globally the infection of clearing people from the land has spread – of course many of those who set off to ‘find a new life in the New World or in Aotearoa, radically infected with this germ of disconnection from Place being either the descendants of or indeed the very people cleared from the land, became those who cleared others from the Land. Cf Tangata Whenua)

Initially people had work on the land and there was much to do. Not only of course all the eyes caring for it – for one could See the Land from where your food came – a practise of engagement – but also because it takes somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the energy we get from food, to grow food 🙂

We’ll come back to energy shortly. BUT we note that we worked in proximity to where we ate and slept. Place was Home was the arena of shared work and existence. yet following the clearances more and more people had to leave ‘home’, often a richly storied place of many generations ’to go to work’. Work thus becomes something dislocated from Home and Place, from Roots. ‘Going to Work’ unravelled this even further.
As it is in our culture, so we go home to get away from work, which suggests that our relationship with work has changed. (although as many might ruefully note work has a habit now of invading the home) This I suggest is how we might rightly distinguish between what we have in ‘The Economy’ which is ‘a job’, and truly human work which is engaged in in place and in relationship. Put another way so many of our jobs who I am with my history and roots etc etc are entirely irrelevant. Work in The Economy is nor respecter persons or place, or lest us forget, God. Thus I suggest we should be very very wary of attempts to justify work in this regard. Such justifications I only here from those who sit astride The Economy. ‘Work makes you Free!!’ they may well declare as train after train loads commuters to take them into the place of work, disconnected from house,home, family etc.
We cannot know who is benefitting, or where – and what is more our work and our consumption of goods are radically disconnected. So there is no connection between what our work is and what we consume. ‘Consumer goods’ are highly abstracted from place. We do not see the land from whence the raw materials have come. We do not experience the alienation of the land experienced by those for whom either ‘by private fraud, but also by common laws,’ have been removed from the land.
What is more this disengagement opens the door to the significant increase in the significance of MONEY. Now you no longer are working with others to grow food, you have to buy food (echoes of Egypt . . .). Buying food is a perilous business and out of your hands. The disconnection introduces all sorts of troubling possibilities, not least your own disconnection from the land, from the producers of food and so on.

All technologies are things that come between the human and the human or the human and the Creation. They are forms of Alienation. So the technology Money is about Alienation. We no longer share the fruits of our labours with others. The value of food is transferred to what it has financially cost us – to it nutrient value – not to place to shared life or increasingly shared meals as the hurried and harried worker – grabs something on the way home.

In The Economy ‘Work’ is a thing of alienation – it may be ‘the job you have always wanted’ but its connection to people and place has been largely lost. Its impact on others is largely irrelevant. It has no obvious place in connecting you to people and places you know and in which arena you share in Life together. In this sense we may well say that Work is no longer Good Work.

Because Economy has come to mean now ‘Money’ (and here I use a simplification for the sake of clarity) We work to live, to eat, to have money. Because of the collapse of true economy, you cannot live without money. We do not grow and make things that we share with one another without money.

‘The bottom line’ is no longer a purely financial expression, it describes anything that is fundamental – in other words, money has become what it is all about. And thus it is about radical alienation, separation from one another and the Land and God, as we serve Mammon, both rich and destitute alike

The monetisation of everything reaches deep deep into the modern Culture – a culture of things in separation. Every Thing is for sale – even the human body when the desperate sell themselves – for labour which kills, down to the selling of organs or the renting of wombs  . . . or worse.

Money is at base a technology and all technologies as we shall explore next time come with a story about what it means to be human

This monetisation of seemingly Everything – comes in the age of what one might call, the Total Economy. So in a terrible indictment on our thinking we are taught to believe that ‘Economic Independence’ is a Good thing . . .

Indeed the Economy might seem to so dominate everything – for example which government of late has ever been elected without a strong economic programme of one sort or another – that it might come as a surprise to hear that ‘The Economy’ only came into being as a political aim in the . . . 1950s . . . the beginning of The Great Acceleration

As we observed last week – of course there have always been forces at play which have sought to separate humans form each other, from the Land and from God – The prophets inveighed against those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
and you are left to live alone
in the midst of the land! . . . For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
but heard a cry!
But now it happens at an unprecedented and still accelerating rate

Following the Second world war , the great industrial machine lay idle as did many men who had fought  and we came to the Great Acceleration of all this the Modern World grew to dominate which it did with the mass use of fossil fuels. Firstly coal, mined at great human expense in so many ways – allowed the steam engines which took work from the home weavers. A true home industry became something to be done in the factories, the dark satanic mills. Places of Work efficiency studies as the human was more and more conformed to the machine. (By the way, I am not letting the Western Church off the hook here, clocks were the invention of the post Schism Catholic Church to make sure the monks prayed, like machines.)

Then at lesser cost in human terms gas and especially oil – at the end of the C19. Wendell Berry again noted the changes that came over farming and rural life. Firstly that machine which did more to actively destroy human community than any other perhaps the motor car. His novel ‘Jayber Crow’ speaks of the life of a community much like his own in Tennessee where the car starts to appear. Then one day a central character suffers the loss of a child as they walk down a lane and are hit by one of these cars – then how people stopped associating together as ‘entertainment’ was available in the town several miles along the road, and people could go to the big stores in town to by any number of wonderful goods not available at the local store which rooted in the reality of Creation could only sell what the land could bear to grow.

But chemical fertilisers, the product of Oil, increased the ‘productivity of the soil’ for a season. Soil has its own life. Its relation to a small number of grazing animals and the decay of some of that  which grows upon it – of communities who manure the fields, was a closed system. Chemical fertilisers ignored Place. More energy was pumped in, but as we are now beginning to see, the soil cannot bear it – only 60 years left at current levels of degradation – like a person living on endless cups of coffee – the body cannot ultimately handle it (and indeed those who work under those endlessly fuelled by coffee cannot either).
But it wasn’t just fertiliser of course, it was the tractor.

If we go back to the medieval era – people lived close to the land – in sympathy – hard hard existence (as it is for so many still today let us not forget) – but there was a sense of things being connected. Ploughs were not to be pulled by more than a pair of ox, for the violence done to the land was considered a sacrilege. Consider the enormous rose power of the tractor in comparison. Berry’s novel track all these changes as farmers with an eye to more money began to look at land not as a place of variety and distinction. With certain acres and corners better for certain crops than others. A work which required too much mental work and care for the land. Land now was just dirt in which things could be grown. Hedges were torn down to ‘make the land more productive’ – or more truly to abuse it and enslave it – to feed it supplements to make it do things it was never meant to. A development which we echoed in the dehumanisation of so much work – the adoption of the language of efficency, and Human resources (with their grim echoes of Auschwitz) the fortunate few have ‘the job they always dreamed of whilst so so many others hire their labour to whatever for whatever they can get. The fact that their is even any discussion of a living wage only reveals that.

And so it goes on ‘The Global Economy’ continues its destructive work. Nothing and nowhere is to be allowed to escape its clutches. So to take on simple example which we could replicate over and over again – On Valentines Day in the UK millions of red roses are sold, at a very reasonable cost, CHEAP especially when you consider that people were cleared from the land in places like Kenya, from their substance way of life, then invited back on to farm land which now ‘by common laws’ belongs to a corporation to grow roses. For which they obtain a pittance in money and have to go and buy food, often produced by the same corporation – far less food and often far worse food than they would have grown – and that also ignores the theft of water from a water stressed country. As I said, The Economy is no respecter of anything except Wealth

What is revealed in the end is that ‘The Economy’ is nothing more nor less than a system of legalised theft . . .’ For all things are God’s and not ours. In not sharing liberally with one another, in taking land from people for our own good, in putting people in a position where they have no option but to turn to crime to feed themselves and their family and I have encountered this myself here, we are taking that which is the Lord’s and stealing from his sheep . . .

Oh comes the cry, but if we paid people more then food would become more expensive – yes it would – for it is. The Food we enjoy has come to us at a cost hidden from us, but that cannot much longer be borne. And the Earth will have its say – all because we have exchanged economy, for The Economy

It has been sobering these past weeks to be reading Jeremiah at morning prayer – it is notable how the theme of ecological devastation runs through that book, as it also does in Isaiah. The reason? For they have broken the everlasting covenant. they have forgotten who they are and the earth lies ruined. The everlasting covenant is the Connection revealed to us in The Crucified God who is The Crucified Man – the true economy – the Koinonia – the Sharing in Life, and in all good things . . .

Well  . . . next week  – the place of technology and we shall be looking at Money, The Light bulb, the Clock, the Car and of course, the cell phone 🙂  In Week 5 we shall consider how The Modern Way has turned the message of Christian Existence inside out – before considering some of the riches available to us in the our story which might be seeds of the recovery of such Existence.

Sermon for Evensong – Lent 3 – Year A 2017

Sermon for Evensong – Lent 3 – Year A 2017

Joshua 1:1-9
Eph 6:10-20

The Subversion of the Gospel in the Modern World

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In our Lent studies, aside from Father Stephen’s book which explores the Orthodox way of seeing things – we have been considering the Contrast between Christian Existence, or profoundly human existence, and the nature of existence in ‘Modern’ Culture. As we explored a few days ago, one of the deeply troubling aspects of this culture is that it has no explicit account of ‘what it means to be human’. If as a culture we cannot begin to give an answer to that then to use the words of St Paul we open a door wide for ‘the authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’. To give an example which I have recently stumbled over; Elon Musk the owner and ‘visionary’ behind Tesla Corporation tells us that ‘we must as human beings merge with the machine if we are to have any future’ (and please be aware that the almost universal use of cell phones is a considerable step in that direction) Why must we merge with machines if we are to have any future? Because as Mr Musk tells us – his corporation is developing Alternative Intelligence, self driving cars which will put millions of people out of work . . .

Note the loss of the human implicit in all of this – if I can put it more clearly  – a small child says ‘look mummy, I’m smashing up my lovely toys and I won’t have any toys when I’m finished . . .’ Elon, if what you are doing is going to put millions out of work, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it?? We see here a picture of the human as an irresponsible agent swept along by the tides of technological determinism – like any revolutionary impelled by a vision of the future and leaving chaos in its wake.

One of the deep characteristics of the ‘Modern’ culture is its deep and growing enslavement to the Left Brain  – a place which is comfortable with abstract thought and has difficulty engaging with what is – a profoundly antisocial perspective – inhuman we may well say. That all too readily ‘takes things literally’ for it is absorbed with the power of words to describe and define reality – despite their final inability to get anywhere near to the truth of things, which of course also means we live in an age of anger, the Left brain response to this inability. Put another way the Modern culture is one of angry literalists, of various hues, but literalists all the same.

This of course affects us deeply in the Church – all of us even at best are about 95% Modern and 5% Christian in terms of what informs our day to day existence – statistics and numerical measurement are of course also part of the Left Brain dominant philosophy 🙂 So in every issue we end up fighting with one another over, and getting angry about – we are confronted by our mirror image – a group of literalists. Which is why the arguments are so unutterably tedious. For to use Mark Twain’s aphorism, Progressives and Conservatives, or Right and Left, or Evangelicals and Liberals – pick your own preferred Left Brain simplistic duality, the Left brain can’t cope with mess and needs to put everyone in a category – give them a label – We are two nations divided by a common tongue – that is we all speak and operate as Modernists.

To wit our texts this evening – and of course texts are the domain of the ‘literally’ minded. Herein we find two texts ‘about conflict’. In the text from the Tanakh, The LORD tells Joshua to be ‘strong and very courageous’ ‘for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.’ So here is God commanding Joshua before of course we know he goes into the promised land and commits Genocide – a literal reading and so we dismiss this. Or St Paul who goes on at length about putting our armour on . . . ‘all this militaristic imagery . . .’ so the literalist who says the problem is people taking the text literally, dismisses the text because of its ‘literal’ meaning.

Or as Father Stephen puts it in his book ‘‘Scripture becomes lost in a constant battle between opposing camps of literalists—those who believe literal history negates the Bible and those who believe the Bible is literal history’ Or in this case – those who don’t like the literal interpretation of the Scriptures they find. it is odd that those who dismiss fundamentalists are applying the same literal outlook on the scriptures which they thereby dismiss. One way and another, we are all pretty much fundamentalists now

And this tendency is further strengthened by the Modern perspective of The Observer, who looks out at the world to put their interpretation upon it – again Left Brain work. For Modern existence is one of profound individualism and isolationism. We live often alone, or in very small groups – we don’t have to change our way of life to suit others, for we live in self contained boxes, we may have the privilege of ‘doing the job we always wanted to do’ – rather than slave in sugar fields or electronics factories or indeed far worse, merely to keep body and souls together, and of course as I have said before we live in profound disconnection from the impact of our actions upon the wider world. We live in a profound isolation from all that is – Just like Elon Musk. The idea that I am the centre of existence is reinforced by our separation from those who might make our lives difficult. And SO as separated observers of life we look out at the things of the world and see all the problems and think that we can fix them. Now this is a profound Inversion, or subversion of the Christian tradition which taught that We were the ones who needed to change, that the world was changed as people through patience and discipline were themselves changed into the image and likeness of God.

We didn’t look out at say Donald Trump and go ‘image of God?? Seriously??? We need to get rid of him!! Instead we discovered that to use a turn of phrase ‘there was a bit of Donald Trump inside all of us’ and that the best thing we might perhaps do is to deal with that first.

As Jesus teaches us – ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.’ The Modern person is profoundly a Judge. We are all asked ‘what is your opinion about this or that or the other – as if it was a thing of ‘Great Consequence’  – you might even get on the TV ‘giving your opinion.’ and so we are obsessed with Opinion polls which ‘tell us what we think’ – and are in the end a way to the mob for they cause those who are in a minority to conform to the majority and finally unleash yet more violence in the name of Justice, or Freedom Liberty and Equality – those bastions of the French Revolution – utterly abstract and thus inhuman constructs  – the realm of the Left Brain 🙂

Jesus goes on – For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the [TINY} speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the [ENORMOUS] log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

I’ll come back to the last clause in a moment. Firstly to note that the work of co-operating with God in our own healing is a far greater work than that of ‘fixing’ my neighbour. So as St Paul says we need significant armoury – for example to be alert to our profound susceptibility to self deception. Of course if we are busy looking out at the world making our judgements of this or that person or this or that situation we are distracted from the fundamental deceits of our own heart which are fueling our Sense of Righteous Injustice, or worse our Anger. If you are angry with your brother – you will be liable to the counsel, says ?? Jesus. It is a HARD work, and it is not about flesh and blood , its not about ‘those people out there’ – it is about to use Paul’s language again
“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
It is only when we begin to treat with seriousness our own deep rooted sinful tendency that we begin to realise the scale of the battle – that there is a land which must be taken and the conflict to take it will require us to be strong and very courageous because it is looking the truth of our inner lives clearly in the eye’ Put another way you cannot heal another whom you hate.

But if we seek first the Kingdom – if we face up to and with God;s grace begin the long slow journey to our own healing, then that makes a HUGE difference to how we live in the world. ‘You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.’ to See clearly is to Perceive – the discern beyond the ‘literal’ to Behold – to Know things in their truth and in relationship with all people and all things created.

Just the other evening a crowd of us gathered at Holy Name to listen to Shane Claybourne. His is a name with which you may well not be familiar. He is famous as a Social Justice activist in the United States – but that is a most unhelpful label . . .

He too was a literalist in some regards – one of THAT sort – brought up the ‘the deep south’. But when he went to college in Philadelphia he noted something was perhaps amiss. For local homeless people, largely women with children had en masse taken over a derelict Catholic church and the Archdiocese wanted them out!! So he and some fellow students along with quite a few others went to support the homeless – for they saw there was something Wrong going on. Well one thing led to another, he and his friends phoned up Mother Theresa to ask if they could work with her for a time in Calcutta – she said come!! They said ‘but where will we sleep? What will we eat and Mother replied over the phone, God provides for the birds of the air – Come he will even provide for you’ 🙂

After that they went to live in one of the most poverty stricken areas of Philadelphia – to form community and to live amongst the poor – and they FOUND community – they found these people whom they had thought they were going to help were teaching them so much. The community is beautified – people are working together to grow their own food. The homeless are being homed and fed . . . Shane has gone to jail once – for feeding homeless people – and at present he is waiting another day in court for being involved in a protest on the steps of the supreme court with a huge banner which said ‘End Executions’

Shane it seems to me is a great example of the deep truth of the parable of splinters and logs. As I listened – what struck me more than anything was his complete lack of rancour about things – there was no ‘righteous’ anger about ‘what’s wrong in the world’  this is why I think the label social activist is so unhelpful – for these are usually deeply angry people — indeed much of what he said was stories against himself about his weaknesses and failings. He was constantly laughing, at himself 🙂 Here wasn’t a typical Modern person fighting for getting things right – he can SEE things aren’t good – but because he is very aware of the logs in his own eyes there was tremendous humility – and not a hint of Anger. Here I thought was a man on the way to healing who was becoming a healer . . .

As we closed he led us in a series of prayer meditations and one was on the fruit of the Spirit – which is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self control.

And it struck me how alternative these are to the Modern world and it ways – which can only bring healing through the violence of war or armed struggle or anger or  . . . I mentioned the French Revolution which was for ‘Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood’ and stopped at nothing to get there

The Life of Jesus was springing up in that young man. He knew and was realistic about the powers that held the lives of others, because he knew them within himself – he knows that you cannot be part of any solution unless you recognise that you  are just as much part of the problem – that you too need a healing from sin and its power. That is the Real conflict – the one closest to home, the one inner hearts – but literalists of any bent cannot see this. May God give us grace to see where the real problems lie

Christian Existence and Modern Existence. 2. The disappearance of Community – ‘Why Mrs Thatcher was right’

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
2. ‘There is no such thing as Society . . .’ Why Margaret Thatcher was correct
The Erosion of Community and why it matters
Community, Economy, Technology, and Creation

 

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

So last time we stood back in a sense from where we are to look at the historical developments which led to the developments of Science in the West – we should I think note that its deeper roots lie in the Arab World, and that coming into contact with Islam in the world of ideas in the C13 in Europe was part of the background to that which we talked about last time.

And my assertion is that the Modern Philosophy, the presuppositions upon which ‘Modernity’ is is one of ‘things apart’. To take but a single example form the life the the Church – our Synods. Here a list of Issues are discussed. That they may be somehow interconnected and that we cannot understand any of them is isolation, not only from each other but indeed from the wider culture we inhabit – either does not occur to us, or trained as we are to think in a manner of disconnection we don’t even go there, putting it in the two hard box. I can imagine a way in which we might progress better in this regard which is to consider everything at once and ask – well how do these things mutually inform one another? How might our consideration of Baptism – to pick one example from our last general Synod – affect our understanding of the Clergy Care document we also considered. For me one of the most frustrating things about the Synod was that we discussed Baptism with one set of presuppositions and philosophical arguments, and Clergy Care with another set – both of which were actually mutually contradictory . . . The Clergy Care document in a sense undid the best intents of the discussion of Baptism . . . but we didn’t notice 🙂

Well over the coming weeks I want to explore Technology, Economy, our relationship with the Creation, and Community. But if we are to think about these things better, it is going to be a bit messy for they are in Reality deeply woven together. Technological change affects our relationships with one another = Community – and also affects Economic things and of course impacts on the Creation. Things Are woven together. So although over the next few weeks we will major on one theme – the others will come into play.

But before all that – to root our conversations we need to say from where we start. And an aspect in wider conversation about the state of things that is missing is this ‘What does it mean to be a human being?’ What is a Person? If we live in a world where it is apparent that people are highly significant, after all almost everything we see and hear is some form of human artefact, and what is more that anything we do affects people – what Are people??

Now I put out there a couple of contemporary examples of why this is a very pertinent question and perhaps no moreso than Now. First let us think about AI – Artificial Intelligence – one of the if not the fastest developing areas of not only research but technological applications. Elon Musk the owner of the Tesla Corporation which is into driverless cars says ‘Humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in the AI age’ Put another way, some humans are making things which will do away with the need for humans. Musk says ‘[a] more immediate threat is how AI, particularly autonomous cars, which his own firm is developing, will displace jobs.’ So clearly to be human is not to be responsible for anything . . . As I suggested last week – the Modern Age is profoundly inhuman, despite some seeing it as the age in which the Human having thrown off the shackles of ‘superstition’ is coming of age.
I was discussing this with someone a few weeks ago who said – well obviously humans will need to move into the caring professions – yet as I told her, initial feedback from research on robots in care homes is that the tiny amount of empathy that they appear to show is more than enough for people who have lived in virtual isolation. In other words their sense of sociality is so weak that a robot appears to fit the bill . . .

Or another example – that of the human pig chimera or hybrid. This development was announced in January and involved injecting human cells into a pig embryo. the human pig hybrid was grown  to about four weeks old. Now I read about this in the paper – but what struck moe even more forcibly than my horror at this, was the almost total lack of horror expressed in the comments under the article . . .

Just What is it to be human? It would seem that the Anglican solitary Maggie Ross may possibly be correct in her assertion that “the human race is sleepwalking towards extinction”

Yet, There IS HOPE – Christ and Him Crucified, if we will but attend to what is. As I suggested last Time – Christian Existence is the most profound expression of what it is to be human. That we may look at cultures down through the ages – with the possible exception of our own and find common forms of expression of what it is to be human – a Truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ. The God-Man. Revealed in Glory upon the Cross. Held in position between God (more broadly – the divine – Spirit) and that God’s Creation (or The Earth, the soil – Adam let us not forget means ‘mud-man’ 🙂 ) AND is also held between Neighbour and neighbour.

I think that this IS a great starting point for discussing Christian Existence – the question ‘What is you account of the human – or more personally, ‘Who or What do you think you are?’

And it is that horizontal dimension which I want to focus on today – or ‘Community’ – whilst gently insisting that we cannot begin to comprehend Community without understanding that in some sense the Creation is also our neighbour. (There will also be a brief comment here in the context of Dairy Farming about ‘Pastoral Care’ 🙂 )

and I wish to do so by telling a few stories

Firstly to recall something I read a few weeks back – and I cannot for the life of me remember where!! 🙂 It was an account of those ancient people, the Inuit who inhabit the Northwestern part of what we call North America, and their existence upon the Land. When the Inuit go out to hunt they do so in The Wilderness. The Wilderness is a place of Reality and Truthfulness. It is Red in tooth and claw. The Wilderness can kill you. Yet this is  also Home to these people. They are not disappearing into the bush for a weeks tramping – their lives depend on this PLACE and on each other. It is Context for their lives and unlike we Modern people – their sense of being One with Creation is very strong – as one writer puts it, their inner and outer worlds are woven together – we might use the word – Sacramentally. Somehow the Place is part of who they are (as is the case for pretty much all non-Modern cultures) Only we hyper mobile Moderns are people who imagine we might know ourselves apart from Place. (cf mihimihi and whakapapa)

When they go out to hunt, they are of course alert. The Wilderness of course is Other, it must be approached with a degree of reverence and Awe and over thousands and thousands of years these people have used their senses to alert them to what is happening around them. And this knowledge they share – indeed they MUST share, to stay alive. Not around the camp fire after a successful hunt, but through apprenticeship AND most critically when out hunting.
To think you have noticed something ‘not right’ – ‘out of place’ – a potential source of danger and not to tell those with whom you are, for fear of being thought a fool, is thought amongst these people to be akin to murder. It is to put the psychological safety of your inner self ahead of the physical safety of the others, separating yourself out, denying your own truth which can only be known with others in place – and can be punished by exclusion from the community – cut off from the people, to use the language of the Tanakh. And to be so cut off as we know from the scriptures is a sentence of Death. Life was experienced as a profound Sharing of everything. Which we might call a profound self-forgetfulness.

So you are out there and you think you may have seen something – So the prophet Ezekiel “O Son of Man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one of their number as their sentinel; and if the sentinel sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people; then if any who hear the sound of the trumpet do not take warning, and the sword comes and takes them away, their blood shall be upon their own heads. They heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; their blood shall be upon themselves. But if they had taken warning, they would have saved their lives. But if the sentinel sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any of them, they are taken away in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at the sentinel’s hand.”

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.’

Jesus says that the Great Love is to Lose your life for your friend. Not to open one’s mouth for the sake of the others, because one fears for oneself is as Jesus says to try and save your life, and thus lose it . . .

I think that it says something for the individualism of this age that these texts do not resonate – I think the Inuit might understand them better than we do!  And we may think regarding the history of these isles how Maori whose lives had been richly and often violently interwoven, HEARD the gospel – and were staggered that the modern europeans they encountered seemed not to understand the message they delivered . . .

And as a measure of how far we have perhaps come from this – how odd the gospel of the forgiveness of sins sounds to us – indeed we have to try and rework it, not because it is untrue, but because we do not live lives of mutuality where we are dependent on one another. So as i have said before, the Orthodox ahead of Great Lent forgive every other in the Church for all the sins they may have had committed against them. One commenter was bold enough to express his befuddlement – ‘but I can not really think of anything I need to forgive others for . . .’ To which the response came back ‘that is because you do not live close enough to them to Love them.’ Love is unclose and personal – it is Real it is NOT an idea. it takes on flesh in the substance of our shared existence. (It is interesting at best to notice how it is used in such an abstract manner nowadays – not sharing bread, but social revolution . . . ) Without at least a degree of mutual interdependence  – forgiveness is a meaningless word to us. So we look for another gospel . . .

Now just to point out – in that story we have a profound interweaving of people with one another in a life or death mutual interdependence and in relation to the Land

Well lets move on and my remaining stories illustrate something of what has happened in the Modern era, this era of disconnection.

First, I want to read you something from Wendell Berry. Berry is an essayist, a former English Lecturer who gave it up to go back to The Land. And he farms in Kentucky. He is best known for his essays, but his novels are also very well worth reading for their accounts of lives in Context – people in Place

The extract I’m going to read is from an Essay called, perhaps unsurprisingly ‘What are people for?’ 🙂 [From the book of the same name. Pub North Point San Francisco First Edn 1990. p123]

And as I read you may wish to pay attention to how the themes of community, Creation, Economy and technology are woven together.

Note the UnPlacing. Decisions made far away apart from context, ‘in government offices, universities, and corporations’ “There are too many people on the farm” I’ll return to that “Too many people” in a moment

A second unPlacing – urbanisation – “millions of Rural people moving from country to city” – In 2009 the human race statistically [because we’re Modern] become Urban – for the first time in the human story – although with roots in the Rural communities had felt this change form afar off. It is getting harder and harder to say this, for those with best access to the media all live there –  but cities do us no good. Individuals may and do thrive there, but not Shared lIfe  the scriptures do not speak well of cities. What is more it seems that as humans, the Mass is not what we are made for.  Research on the size of primate brains shows that humans cannot live a meaningful existence in a community of more than 150 and before technological change made such a difference this seemed to be the natural limit on sizes of communities – one in which shared existence was possible – which of course has an impact on what we mean by the size of a healthy church, one in which life together is a real possibility . . . perhaps why larger churches ending up having small groups. The loneliness of modern urban existence amongst so many may well be a psychological response – we cannot cope with trying to make so many connections – also of course the ‘loneliness of Facebook”
but note also the unPlacing of people with respect to ‘The Land’ . . . so the abstraction that is ‘the environment’ – or the way in which hardly anyone grows their own food . . . That these then become as it were ‘issues’ is part of the problem . . . food and its production and the care of creation become largely abstract things. Ideas, Causes, campaigns etc etc – this in itself is another  form of disengagement. Berry talks with great knowledge about the specificity of The Land – every inch different – needing different care, suitable for different crops etc.

Note next the language of economic efficiency and how accustomed we are to this – as if being human was about being efficiency – and also the primacy of the financial economy in determining the Good. Both forms of Alienation – this time from ourselves – We’ll return to this next week
And with that depopulation – the loss of ‘care’ takers. My brother did some research a few years back. It’s results were not convenient to prevailing ideas about ‘the economy’ and so have not been worked through. He was interested in the relationship between how well a farm did and the number of its employees. Now we all know that the most expensive component of a system is the human 🙂 As a teacher we were regularly told by the powers that be, that our salaries were the chief financial problem the city council faced. Fewer teachers, more resources of reaching . . . or so we were told . . . But what Richard found was that the more people a farm employed, the better the condition of the land, the healthier the cows and lo and behold the more income generated . . . Why? Because as he said – their were more eyes . . . I’ll come back to this story next week – but for now, you may wish to ponder the question of pastoral care in the church . . . the more eyes, the better the care 🙂

To a story about my Grandma. My grandmother was born in 1913 – in the village of Kirkby Lonsdale, then in Westmoreland until the people in London thought it inconveneint. When some years later my father’s work meant we came to live in Kirkby Lonsdale, this was quite helpful to me, when I was accused of ‘not being local’ for unlike some, I could point to the house in the village where she was born and the hotel and stables where my great grandfather worked for a time. Yet it was not long before his own father released the family farm in South West Cumberland, and so my grandmother moved to The Green, a tiny settlement on the edge of the town of Millom, a centre for iron production, due to its proximity to fast running water and the sea – which was a significant means of transport of the raw materials even as late as the 1920’s. Note the account of Place

Life in that community was explicitly hierarchical. To her dying day she could tell you who sat where in church – from the Lord and Lady of the manor at the front, to the labourers at the back. Grandmas family – yeoman farmers, owning their own farm were towards the front of the middle 🙂 this was a close knit community in which place in community conferred on the one hand deference, but also on the other obligation. Whenever anyone in the village was ill, the Lady of the manor would visit, taking round a basket of vegetables, for often illness and the cost of doctors would mean  insufficient food for a family. And every Christmas the whole hamlet was invited to a big party at The Big House.
Similarly, in the midst of the three farms in the hamlet, there was also a small ‘tied’ cottage. Owned by the iron works, it housed the man who looked after the water pump which carried water from the fell to the works. He had seven children and as my grandmother put it, they were poor as church mice. But they never went hungry – which would have been a source of something unknown to us now – social shame – something we are well adjusted to flee from. Rather fresh eggs, milk and butter as well as vegetables were regularly given to the family. it was a form of truly Social Security. The Social, Community dimension provided the security.

Now of course life was not an idyll. My grandmother also NEVER forgot a neighbour coming into their kitchen one morning – ‘Bill! My girls off ill, can I have your Betty to make the butter!’ And off she was sent without a by your leave, for several hours of hard labour . . .’

but then Life in community is not a dream. It is a reality in which we are held in place and thus might grow as human beings – but its hardship means if we can we seek to avoid it . . . and so to the unreality of our modern existence and something I think I’d never hear myself say, I agree with Margaret Thatcher . . . Speaking to Woman’s Own October 31st 1987

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”
Now Margaret Thatcher was in fact right regarding society. Where IS society? Where might I encounter society – what is its human face?? Surely we can do better than the poor hapless soul sat behind the counter at WINZ?? Of course, it doesn’t exist, it is a set of arrangements at best.

This problem of the abstract form of human relating, called society has been recognised for over two hundred years!! [Tonniës – Gemeinschaft – Gesellschaft] Here is the Danish philosopher and observer of the urban scene – Søren Kierkegaard – “only when the sense of association in society [for the purposes of this argument ‘Community’] is no longer strong enough to give life to concrete realities is the Press able to create that abstraction ‘the Public’ [Society after MHT], consisting of unreal individuals who never are and never can be united in an actual situation” Now Kierkegaard’s argument is rooted in a further argument about the necessity of hierarchy. So he says “In order that everything should be reduced to the same level, it is first of all necessary to produce a phantom, its spirit, a monstrous abstraction, an all-embracing something which is nothing, a mirage – and that mirage is the public.” This present age p33 This disappearance of the hierarchical means no one is responsible any more – for the King in ancient times was responsible – see how for example Moses had EVERYONE coming to him to sort out their problems . . .

Because we can only talk about the abstract, because with Kierkegaard ‘the sense of association in Community is no longer strong enough to give life to concrete realities’ then to say ‘my life is with my brother – or we are all mutually interdependent is only an idea, an abstract in a world of abstracts. . . .
Now again, in a sense Margaret Thatcher was also right when she said ‘It’s our duty . . .to look after our neighbour.’ We would all nod in agreement – but perhaps today unlike any other we may well ask ‘But who is my neighbour?’, or perhaps better ‘WHO is my neighbour?’ In a world of the Abstract other – Society – The Public – The poor – The hungry – where do we meet the neighbour??

Christian existence has nothing to do with the Abstract. ‘My life is with my brother’ is no mere idea – it is Reality and if we do not have Life with one another in a way in which our mutual interdependence takes on flesh, Where it becomes visible to The World that not to Live Together is death – then we have no gospel – indeed we have become people ‘cut off from’ one another. This is Not to become ‘political’ except in the deepest sense that polis is of the people  – that sharing bread with our friends (the hungry we encounter) is giving flesh to Gospel – not as an abstract idea but a Fleshly Reality.
This is one of several reasons why ‘talking about issues,’ so common in Church circles, is a modern distortion or indeed a rejection of that Existence. ‘I was hungry and you formed a committee to discuss my plight’ as one writer puts it. The problem of hunger, the problem of Climate change, the problem of marriage – etc etc etc – all in the abstract and an exercise in avoiding the other which is so very very easy in the city where money divides rich from poor, the advantaged from those who would benefit from their help. As we will see next week money is a huge part of the issues – Money is both an instrument of division and then it is the tool of sustaining that division – things apart.

Communities are places of obligation and entitlement woven together – or where we learn to love our neighbour as ourself – to see to use older expressions that our lives Are woven together – not in an abstract way – as in ‘If we all don’t start living differently then the Climate will collapse – this is to us where we are in our place, intangible – it is just an idea – it is abstract.

Hardship and difficulty  – the fact that when we seek a life in connection we find it not at all easy – are if you like the crucible in which Community – or Shared human existence – or Koinonia may well form. Our existence as humans is cruciform – Christian existence is necessarily in ‘Community’ where our mutual obligations to one another reveal our inner poverty and through the suffering of this, Life is born – the healing power of Christ is released

Next time – Economy and the move away from Community – Money and Work

Christian Existence and Modern Existence. 1. The problem of Science

Modern Existence and Christian Existence
1. The problem with Science

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:1-4

‘He [Adam] moved contrary to his nature, madly (ανοητ0ς) and of his own initiative, making a bad use of the natural faculty which had been entrusted to him in his constitution with an eye to the unification of what was separated, so as rather to separate things united’ Maximos the Confessor. Quoted in ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Jean-Claud Larchet Volume I, p65

“We murder to dissect” William Wordsworth ‘The tables turned’

It needs to be said at the outset that my aim here is not to ‘have a go at science’ Rather to reveal the changes in the Church which led to it as a way of Knowing the World. I am very aware that contemporary Science is waking up to the interconnectedness of things – from Quantum Physics to Neurobiology. However in a world created by the privilege given to the Scientific way of Knowing, and it is all but total – ultimately our humanity is lost. For we are only human in relation to God, and all that is. Science starts from the assumption that the World might be known apart from God – further it is a way of knowing is attractive to us because of its tendency rooted in the human, to Power over that which is, Rather than Love for . . .

 

I had a mind to call this series ‘Things fall apart . . .’ picking on a line from WB Yeats poem ‘The second coming.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats is writing here at the end of the First World War, but his words if anything have yet more powerful echoes and resonances in the world in which we live, or rather, I would say the Culture, the Times . . . things fall apart, the Centre cannot hold – and of course this seems to be as true of the Church as of the World, and I would suggest, the two are not unrelated . . . Jesus says to his church ‘You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world’ If there is no salt or light . . .

Christian faith is at its core integrative. To walk in the light of Christ is to become whole, integrated. ‘God was in Christ reconciling the World to himself’ 2 Cor 5:19. This is the path of our healing. The Person so being healed, integrated, becomes a source of Integration for that over which they have dominion, If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Romans 5:17 their being inextricably woven into all that is in Christ.  ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together’  Col 1:15-17
That ‘things fall apart’ – that all around us and more especially within us is dis-integration [I recall with horror the recognition of the Horcrux in Harry Potter – saving a life by breaking it into parts . . .] can only mean that the Christian Existence has been largely abandoned in our day, even amongst those who profess otherwise. We may well ask ‘whatever happened to any practical understanding of how we might ‘grow up into our salvation (healing)’?

This disintegration is closely associated with the Scientific outlook – it is its fruit, but that Outlook is itself not a thing which sprang out of nowhere but is itself the fruit of a Root distortion of the Christian faith which ushered in what we now call ‘the Modern World’.

That said, whilst we will in these early weeks be concerned with the way in which things Have fallen apart, my longer aim is rather the Christian view of what is, a view summed up in a word which recurs several times in the New Testament – that is Koinonia – which might be taken to express a woven togetherness of things. What is more this Koinonia expresses a powerful HOPE for Existence made known to us in the Incarnation, the Life Death and Resurrection of a first century Palestinian Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. And that this Koinonia is made known in the Church, most clearly Revealed in the Eucharist. ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a Koinonia in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ A truly Cosmic Koinonia is the End of all things in Christ – and in a few weeks time we shall return here, but first . . .

Thesis

At the outset I’d like to state that my thesis is that the Modern World is ‘a culture of things in separation’, ‘things apart’ of ‘disintegration’ — e.g we are all too aware, not only as Christians of a culture of Individualism – but there is much more; and that our cultures many disquiets are precisely due to these manifold separations, but more, that it was changes in the Church, specifically in our Western tradition which I dare to suggest were the cause of Modern Society, and furthermore and highly ironically as such a view of things is antithetical to Christian existence in the world. Which is perhaps why Modern Western Christianity seems so helpless and ‘irrelevant’ in the face of our existence today. ‘Having the form of godliness but lacking its power’  2Tim 3:5
A hapless parent looking on aghast at its errant child wondering what on earth it has done wrong.

If at the heart of Christian Faith is Salvation, The Integration – the God Man – Jesus of Nazareth – why is a world which Western Christianity has given rise to, so profoundly inhuman, for so it unquestionably is. Except Western Christianity which was for a period so dominant and dominating has turned ‘faith’ into something that it is not.

The Essence of disintegration, its fruit is Violence. The argument for non-violence as essential to the Christian life is rooted profoundly in Integration. Only in disintegration can Violence be known.

As Wordsworth puts it ‘We murder to dissect.’ Like a small enquiring child we have a tendency to ‘take things apart, or better break things apart to see how they work’ but then sit amongst the ruins knowing not how to restore them.

We live in an era of unparalleled Violence, to which we have become so accustomed to that apart from a vague unease, we barely notice it. The monk Thomas Merton writing back in the 1960s says ‘There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.’ Conjectures of a Guilty bystander. 1965. Thus quote from 2014 ed. p81 Non Violence – Peace. The capacity for Peace destroyed by the Violence of Activism

We are all of course accustomed to ‘busyness’ in one form or another. We take the words of Jesus ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden . . . and I will give your rest to be little more than a spiritual gap in the day of our ‘important business’, and so we succumb to Violence. I recall sitting on some church committee or another where every half hour there was a two minute ‘pause for prayer’ It reminded me of that most violent of motor sports, Formula 1. A two minute penalty in the pit lane – engines running. Conversation almost inevitably carried on as if nothing had happened . . . It is a matter of some wry reflection on my part that the one text which whenever I preach on it, always provokes a response is the story of Martha and Mary.

Consider the Violence of the motor car. of how it has contributed to the tearing of the fabric of community as we find ourselves able to go far and wide – of how it systematically creates Violence in our world through its destruction of the created order and the covering in asphalt of everything, ‘You pave paradise, put up a parking lot’ As Joni Mitchell puts it. Of how their manufacture excavate and poison the place of their ‘construction’

Or – Violence from another not unrelated angle – the daily energy release from the combustion of oil is equivalent to 6000 Nagasaki atomic bombs, or two of the largest atomic explosions ever, the 50MT Tsar bomb detonated over Northern Russia in 1961. The total energy release from all fossil fuel combustion, is equivalent to the Krakatoa volcanic eruption happening almost on a daily basis, and fossil fuel energy release is only two thirds of the energy released on a daily basis. Energy accumulated over ages unimaginable to we mortals of three score and ten, released as it were in an instant . . . things fall apart.

Of course to suggest that the collapse of social structures, the plant and animal kingdom, and indeed the biosphere, which we are living through in what some writers have called ‘the great acceleration’ (more than half of all concrete ever produced has been made in the last 25 years) might seem absurd. Yes we can make a connection between this energy release and climate collapse, and perhaps link that to ‘the sixth great extinction’ as non human species disappear like water flooding from a ruptured dam, but human social structures?

This would not be a difficult idea to those of earlier ages, but to we moderns such thinking is to say the least a little odd, cranky or just down right laughable. But that is I suggest because the Modern person can give no account of the human or indeed of ‘existence itself’. Of what in its deepest essence it is to be a man or a woman – a human being. Before any Revolution it would be wise to ask – ‘but what exactly do we mean by ‘human’?? It almost goes without saying that we have no answer to this – indeed we do not even consider the question.
And lacking such an account any manner of violence is not only possible but unleashed upon the world, in the name of this or that ideology, Communism, Fascism. We cower at the thought of the Holocaust, 6 million Jews – or the 20 million murdered by Stalin, or the many millions who died under the great leap forward,  . . . or that great ‘god’ of our age, ’convenience’ for we have become accommodated to as many deaths of unborn children every year, let alone the untold misery of our consumer lifestyles, so called. How many die on the altar of convenience? No one it seems is all that troubled to ask the question of this smiling faced idol

Yet I want to suggest that it was Western Christianity which gave birth to this modern culture, and which is dying as a result, as is perhaps the entire Creation. For Church and Creation are woven together

We need a place to start . . . all accounts of Human existence and its meaning need as it were a place from which to start – so let us for a moment consider a picture of human existence.

[Picture of the ‘Crucified Man’] Vertical – Earth to heaven: Horizontal – Neighbour to Neighbour

We proclaim Christ, and him crucified . . . But what does it mean to proclaim Christ crucified?

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote a book a few years ago called ’The Crucified God’ – it is a very important work on the centrality of the Cross when considering human suffering and God’s response. I would like to suggest that we do not forget that Jesus is also ‘The Crucified Man’ and that as such he is paradigmatic for what it truly means to be human – not disconnected but utterly woven in, nailed into place between heaven and Earth, and between neighbour and neighbour, even if the neighbours are thieves.
Modernity and its reliance on scientific understandings has taken the man down from the Cross, disconnecting us, unweaving us from the Koinonia of Existence Life itself which can only be known in relation to a profound Love of God for his Creation and our Love for one another – subjects on which ‘science’ has nothing to say – but we hear the world in science – particularly as English speakers which is the most ‘scientific’ language to date

But just how has this happened? What happened in the Church? How did the Church create ‘Science’ as we know it and why is this such a problem for us?

Sub thesis
What we do in the Church is of inconceivable significance – and when we tamper with things ‘we do not know what we are doing’ – we can only give humble and hearty thanks every moment of our lives that from the Cross Jesus prays ‘Father forgive them for they do now know what they do . . .’

I would like to argue here that when Pope Leo IX got out of the wrong side of bed one day in the C11, perhaps he stood on that lost nail? – he set in process a chain of events which have led to our ecological peril and ‘things fall[ing] apart . . . This of course seems like an absurd claim – but I suggest that this is because we are so trained by our Modern world in seeing things in a particular way – through a lens of disconnection, that we do not see how things are woven together. Or to use the language of the Scriptures,we do not Behold!

We will all have heard the following poem

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

So what of that medieval Pope (the nail in the poem if you like – the start of a chain of consequences). . . of course the very words medieval pope suggest to us Moderns a problem 🙂 [not fairly I hold, but thats another question] A controversy in the church had been long brewing but it was thought had finally been put to bed – it was a controversy that showed up a widening fracture between the Church in Rome, and the Church in the East, or more precisely Churches – for Pope Leo IX decided of his own free will, as THE Pope, to reinsert a line in the creed which the Eastern Churches could not agree to. Previously within the Church the prevailing idea had been that controversies would only be decided by Councils of the whole Church – sitting together to come to a mind on a matter – dealing with the difficulties of a truly Koinonia, or woven together existence, but for whatever reason, lost in the mists of time Rome finally decided there was no point being first amongst equals – after all this business of having to agree stuff, of waiting for the Spirit to illumine the hearts and minds that The Church might have the mind of Christ was SO tedious . . . Why not Just Be First and decide for yourself?? {Perhaps we can discern here the antithesis of the group of Grace, humility, that is Pride.

And so the Great Schism happened. It is interesting that in the West we have until fairly recently forgotten The Great Schism. I was intrigued by one of Bishop Kelvin’s blog posts written before I came here – about ‘Why the Church is in the state it is in’ He listed many reasons people gave, some of them historic. He included the Constantinian settlement – and of course who can forget The Reformation, before dismissing all of them. As I read I found myself asking, ‘but what about The Great Schism’? For it was not on the list – yet I suggest it is the root of our difficulties – after all if the Unity of the Church is the thing Jesus prays for, such a monumental split is of some ‘material’ significance? Of course we as Protestant Christians of a sort have grown so used to these things we barely give it a moments thought, so trained are we by the water we swim in. we have enough denominations to have one each . . .

I say ‘material’ significance most deliberately. For at the heart of our faith is The Incarnation – the weaving together of heaven and Earth, of matter and the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ. The focus of this is of course the Eucharist. We might say therefore that everything Matters. If the Body of Christ – which holds everything together – is divided, then perhaps things fall apart – IF that is we accept a different understanding of things – one which pertained well into the middle ages. That Spiritual and material were woven together and one could not treat them in isolation. True Sacramental existence.

Shortly after Rome had in effect declared a form of UDI, certain things started to happen in the West. Rapidly there came to a head the issue of the nature of the Eucharist and the doctrine of Transubstantiation quickly became (Western) Church teaching. If the body of Christ The Church, is a profound, if perhaps not The Profound heart of all human existence, and The Eucharist is the the physico-spiritual expression of that, then fiddling around with the Eucharist is perhaps NOT ‘a good idea’ . . . How interesting that no sooner has the Unity of the Church been so disturbed, than the heart of the worship of the Church begins to change . . . Things fall apart . . . and so to Science and why as Christians we DO have a problem with it, but why in particular ‘a Scientific world view’ leads largely to an impoverishment of our faith . . .

The Great Schism – and it is much much more than the loss of a nail, set in course a train of events. If the Church is divided, then the woven togetherness of the Creation is at best under threat – that Koinonia, and events transpired or conspired to lead us down a path we had not thought before to follow – indeed within a very short space in time, The Church in the West was thinking previously unthinkable thoughts . . . and in that regard I introduce another character to the play – William of Ockham. In the Thirteenth century this fransiscan monk (surprisingly given our present thoughts about St Francis) suggested something utterly obvious to us, but a highly novel thought at the time. Put another way he created a set of glasses which distorted our view of the world and which we have worn since our birth – we always forget we are wearing glasses 🙂

Ockham suggested, contrary to all the previous thought of a thousand years of church tradition, that things were discrete and could be known in their totality by observing them. Now its really important to recognise that Ockham IS a theologian! He is not a medieval Richard Dawkins, out to get Christian faith. He’s grappling with ideas from within Christian culture and The Church. In large part because at this point in the West there wasn’t anything or anywhere else!
As all theologians were at that time, Ockham was what we call a natural scientist. He was looking into the ‘nature’ of things, and at a stroke radically changed the way we look at the world. [It must be said that for at least a hundred years his ideas were only entertained in incredibly high brow circles, but the rise of the modern University saw them spread like wild fire]

Now HERE is the thing. IF as I suggest Reality is Koinonia – a woven togetherness by which we cannot know anything except in relation to everything else – we cannot know or decide on the truth of something unless we understand the whole, then the World is Mystery to us.
But if we decide that there is no Essential relationship between things – then Ockham made the world in a sense a very much easier place to live. Indeed he is famous for ‘Ockham’s rasor’ The idea that the simplest explanation is the right one . . . that idea of course is essentially a biblical fundamentalist trope also – ‘the plain meaning is the main meaning’ Biblical fundamentalists are not at all medieval, they are thoroughly modern.]

Ockham in effect argued that this was not the case, that things might be known we might say ‘in and of themselves’ (BTW this thought also leads us to the modern idea of the self) This was a disastrous step.    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, – and I suggest if we might move from the nail of Pope Leo and the Schism, Ockham is the horseshoe. Now people were persuaded – we might say ‘set free’, but that is a difficult concept – persuaded that they might look at the world as a collection of objects – lacking in any essential [sic] relationship . . . we are introduced the world of objects and the objective observer. This was a double disaster for the nature of our existence.

Firstly it opened the door to our separation from one another – but more radically, also from God and Creation.

In our Accompanying book, ‘Everywhere present’ Father Stephen Freeman lays the blame for the ‘Two story universe hypothesis’ which we have all grown up with, at the door of of the C17 european religious wars – I suggest he’s missed the loss of the nail, the horseshoe, the rider and the message and moved straight to the loss of the battle 🙂 However if you want to find a philosophical shift, a change in the world of ideas which led to the religious wars – Ockham and his ‘nominalist’ philosophy is a better candidate and here comes the problem with science

Previous to this point things could not be understood on their own, in isolation, only in Participation or Koinonia. And that also meant the relation also of the Creation and the Creator – of Life and the Life Giver . . . The fallout from Ockham’s thought was this – that Creation might be known apart from the Creator, and that the human might also be known, AND that the human might be known apart from the Creation also . . . We shall come in a few weeks time to the Modern loss of the Human, but Ockham’s thought sets the train in motion . . . and sets up the conditions for what we call ‘science’

Now science is an interesting word – what does it mean? Answer ‘Knowledge’ The word science was not unknown before Ockham of course. Knowledge was important – and Theology was the Queen of Sciences, why? Because she pondered the mystery of our existence in the light of the knowledge of God. Bound up, as was Ockham in daily, and annual cycles of prayer and devotion. Theology said, to truly know anything or anyone, you must first know that all existence is bound up in God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, the Koinonia of Heaven and Earth . . . So prayer and worship was central.
BUT Now Ockham’s idea suggested something unheard of and in retrospect truly terrible [lit.] That one might as it were ‘park’ God here, and consider Creation (or as it became known ‘nature’ – point to which we shall return) over there. In other words to use picture language – we might stand in the gap between the discrete objects ‘God’ and ‘Nature’ and with our back to God look at nature to try to understand it. [And note the change of language. Creation is understood in relation to the Creator. But ‘Nature’ is understood in separation. This shift is the invention of ‘Nature’ – or as we now call it emphasising our distance from it ‘The Environment’]
Remember Ockham had said that things could be known in and of themselves. Yet this is an illusion. However with Science it is a very Power Full illusion [sic] Any observation involves ‘Interpretation’ We might call this ‘the experience of a thing’ We have no direct access to any thing. But Science in a primitive form promised such access. Yet, as the neuroscientist philosopher Iain McGilchrist says Science is ‘just one way of looking at things, a way which privileges detachment, a lack of commitment of the viewer to the object viewed’

Allied with the thoughts of John Duns Scotus (John of Dun, the Scot) who had suggested that God and Creation shared in Being, Ockham’s thought created a canyon of separation in the minds of humans – one which we are so used to we don’t even notice it. [it must be said that this was no overnight shift – even Isaac Newton 400 years later does not Assume this, but its assumption does underly his work – God and Nature sort of separated off – what Science cannot explain provides the space for God – God of the gaps – but note this is a Separation all the same]. BTW interestingly, Newton was primarily also a theologian. Although Modernity was already well established, like the collapse of the Greenland glacier, it had not yet accelerated, yet it was well under way. And Newton had terrible trouble with the Trinity. He said it could not be because The Bible said it could not. Here is an example of the modern approach. The Tradition of the Church is now seen in separation from The Bible. So the paradigmatic ‘Modern Scientist’ who pondered the force of this body upon that body – things in separation, had a theological problem with The Trinity . . . Koinonia? No, things fall apart.

To be a scientist in the Modern sense was at the time of the Schism and Ockham a very strange thing – it was to take as a Given that the Creation Could be known apart from the creator, in separation from. It created the illusion of Objectivity and subjectivity . Which is a problem. Because if it is true that in Christ and the Church God and Creation are intimately woven together in Koinonia, then Science is horribly blind. It introduces a way of looking at the world and our existence which is antithetical to the Truth of things because it takes a starting point that God is irrelevant . . .

This view – this way of seeing things was most eloquently allegedly expressed by Napoleon mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace who presented his model of the solar system to his master. Napoleon asked ‘but what about God?’ and Laplace answered ‘Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis’ . . . Put another way, if I don’t have to put God into my equations I can get an answer, and of course Ockham’s razor backed it up. [Oddly enough I read recently of a suggestion that some of the fundamental ‘problems of Science are easily resolved by reducing everything to 2 dimensions – Ockham would have at once been appalled and approving . . .]

Now I for one, with a science degree am not come to bury Modern Science (although it would help if we took the time to understand that it is far from the monolith we tend tot think it is  there is a world of difference for example between my own discipline, Physics, and psychology, or economics for example) — nor am I about to argue that ‘The Bible says one thing and Science another and thus we must choose’ – as I suggested earlier the idea ‘The Bible says . . .’ is itself a product of the same philosophical root [Briefly reading the Bible apart from  its place as living scripture in the worship of the Church,  is a curiously modern idea]

But . . . yes everything before the but 🙂 . . . BUT I suggest that given that ‘science’ this particular form of interpreting the world so dominates so very much of our world, in large part because of its power to predict and thereby control certain aspects of  our lives, aspects which we have been taught to particularly value – e.g. H&S 🙂 – that what we might call ‘scientific thinking’ extends into almost every aspect of the Modern Culture – that is provides The Glass through which we try and understand the world and leaves our faith under question. It has formed the world at which we look and so it is self reinforcing.

Put another way, if everyone around you speak German and you speak let us say Lea fakatonga, or Te Reo, you are going to feel bit out of place and wonder whether you are wrong – after all the only other solution is that the whole world has gone mad . . . and life in Modern Germany is so comfortable compared with our previous existence . . . because Science is So prevalent it is The language of the Modern Western world, moment by moment reorienting our existence, a language from which all understanding of God is erased. Language after all is the expression of a culture, a life. Recently a leading Japanese business man ( I think) said that in order to be better scientists, the Japanese would have to learn English 🙂 )

Of course this is not a unique situation 🙂 A friend of mine translated the bible into a language in which there was no word for God, having been a culture dominated by Bhuddism. We might consider science as another example of Mongolian – all the more so when I came across the first mongolian I’d ever met, a convinced Communist and thus of course someone to whom the idea of God was utterly alien.

In other words we are drilled in a certain language a way of seeing the world, one which we as Christians we may wish to suggest is less than ideal, ultimately for our humanity. For the Christian gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the GOD-HUMAN, the intersection of heaven and Earth, indeed the Koinonia of Heaven and Earth. Losing sight of God in the Christian Tradition also less to losing sight of the human, for not only is our way of understanding God to be found in Jesus Christ – ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the father’, so too our understanding of the human – or as Pontius Pilate, not knowing what he was saying would have it ‘Behold The Man’

We would want to say that apart from knowing God we cannot know our Creation in any way which fulfils who we are, only in ways which will lead towards our own disappearance. And that that knowing is LOVE which is that way in which we lose any sense of Object, or Observed. Personal Knowing is in the end deeply mysterious.

’Science’ at the end of the day is utterly impersonal – utterly in its own terms objective and thus objectifying – and thus there is a significant problem with Science. Put another way in describing a Universe apart from God it creates a World from which it appears God is Absent.

Fundamentally Science is a non participatory way of Knowledge – whereas in the classical Christian Tradition All Knowledge is Participatory – which is why we use the language of Knowing for Sexual relations etc.etc. ‘I have no knowledge of you except in relation to myself. I cannot know myself except in relation to you and God in Jesus Christ’ I cannot separate out my Self from Reality

There is no out there Objective ‘Other’ – ‘Love your neighbour “as yourself”’ – “My Life is with my brother” Anthony of Egypt. It is an account of existence that is deeply relational – and to see things as apart is deeply unrelational, deeply inhuman, and deeply wrong.

The consequences of such knowing are as we shall see nothing short of catastrophic for Creation and for the human

I close with a couple of short passages from John and Paul

John in his opening to his gospel,of Jesus Christ says

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.’

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Making Space in Lent

One of Father Thomas Hopko’s maxims for Life in Christ, is ‘Do nothing for someone else that they could or should do for themselves’. In our world of individualism this sounds like a recipe for ignoring other people, but it is not. It is rather a check on our own ‘self importance’ – which is such that we all too readily fill any vacant space, fill any silence, obliterate any sense that We are not the centre of the universe. This ‘itching’ to live other people’s lives for them, this inability to stay within our own space is a sign of the deep seated anxiety which besets our age.

The Modern world is one which we have created for ourselves and thus if we do not keep ‘hard at it’, ‘beavering away’ (although that is to be unfair to beavers which only make one lodge for themselves), Working to ‘keep things going’, then everything would fall apart.

Having eradicated God from our consciousness we believe utterly in our own self importance, for that is all that is left, and so the stronger amongst us fill the space and take over the lives of the weaker (As Nietzsche amongst others predicted of a world stripped bare of the Worship of the living God).

We see this in the famous 80:20 rule. 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. We (the 20 percent) mutter about those who ‘do not pull their weight’ but we are ‘whining compulsive ‘Marthas’’ overspilling our bounds. Less than gentle we take from others the small tasks given for them and them alone to do, and then complain that they should come and help us!

Our lives are actually quite small. Not many of us are more than 2m tall, or weigh more than 90 kilos . . . or so. This is the space that is given to us – but we have lost sense of the givenness of our boundedness – and thus many are deprived of life – either around us for we have spilled into their space or in the wider world, for in our anxiety driven consumption we have stolen their space from them.

It is hard to look out at the world and believe that really ‘we all need to work harder, to do more’, as the ‘natural world’ falls apart around us under the stress of our unboundedness.

Jesus is ‘gentle and humble in heart’. Put another way, he is very small. [We have a tendency to dwell on God’s Greatness, but He is at the same time humble beyond our imagining – the mightiest mountain has the very deepest roots]
Gentleness and humility do not fill other peoples’ space. So we could follow his example and learn to be small, learn to be our selves. Perhaps meditate upon the nature of Love as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13 – do you See how self-effacing Love is . . . ?

Yet in another way we ARE vast beyond imagination. As St Paul reminds us ‘your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit’. Lenten disciplines call us to small acts – to live with an open hand to all who ask for alms; restrain our bodily appetites – Come to our own space; and therein to pray. A world filled with compulsive work is prayerless. We are too busy to pray, to tired with ‘keeping it all going’. Of course we have little need of prayer for we are all ‘doing it for our selves’ keeping the world we have made in our own image going . . .
Yet we have all the space we need in which to pray, for if the Holy Spirit still dwells within us, if we have not driven the humble one from our lives with our own self importance, then the space for prayer within us, these Temples of our bodies, is infinitely large.

When we begin to see the illusory nature of what we call the Modern world and Behold the world as it truly is, as God’s, we realise that we do not need to overspill our lives, indeed that that is a grasping blasphemy, for in Truth All is Gift.
We can come back to our senses. We can leave others to the small work that is theirs as we do the small work which is ours. We need only be still, and Christ in us will do the rest . . . which of course brings us back to where we began . . .

Abandon distractions . . . Behold! OT8 Year A 2017

Abandon Distractions . . . Behold!

Sermon for next before Lent – OT8 Year A
Isaiah 49:9-16
Psalm 16
Matthew 6:24-35

The words of God through the Prophet Isaiah “Behold! I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”’

Behold! The everlasting God has carved you into the palms of his hands. Behold!

Of course that was not what we heard – we heard ‘See!’ There are times when one despairs of the committees which translate our scriptures out of Hebrew and Greek. The Command ‘Behold!’ occurs more than one thousand three hundred times throughout the Scriptures. Yet the NRSV has it just 27 times outside the New Testament and not at all in the New Testament. And this translation is the most widely used now in the Western Church . . . Perhaps it is no surprise that we have lost sight of God . . .

One thousand three hundred times, behold! Behold! Behold! The first word God directly addresses to the man and the woman in the Garden? Behold! God said, ‘See!’ NO ‘Behold!, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’

We are perhaps the first culture in the history of Mankind to have all but lost this facility. So people will say – ‘oh it is an old fashioned word for looking – so we will get rid of it’ Look! See! That will do.

Looking and Seeing as we shall discover in our Lent course are ways of blindness. They reduce the World to a set of objects for our use, for manipulating for putting to our own ends – because we do not ‘Behold!’ We perhaps do not even know how to begin and after all there is SO MUCH to SEE!!
We look this way and that – we lost the facility to Behold, rather we have advanced to the highest art form the facility to create a million and one things to look at. ‘Look here!’ Look there! Did you see?? we are held captive by a blizzard of images – and we can no longer Behold the Image of God. The author Matt Crawford – a motorcycle mechanic philosopher 🙂 – argues in his book ‘The World beyond your head’ for the right ‘not to be addressed’. He is writing about the fact that everywhere you look someone is trying to grab you attention – trying to get you to buy something. A local school is ‘Recognised by Apple as a distinguished school for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.’ Recognised by Apple . . . Does no one See? Are we blind to this?? Have you ever taken time to consider their logo . . .? We have created an existence in which we are surrounded by a million and one human artefacts – look! Look! Look!

Returning from retreat at Ngatiawa on Monday I took the bus to the airport. Disoriented by the sudden blizzard of visual stimuli having spent a week in the bush –  I glanced at the screen where our route was shown – only to see the name of a stop followed by ‘alight here for Burger King’.

And our distraction leaves us open and vulnerable to everything under the sun. We are an age like no other plagued by mental health issues and anxiety disorders. A young girl comes on retreat. She wants to know ‘what is the wifi code’ and is disturbed to find that there is no wifi available.’how will I keep in touch with what is happening in the world?’

In the time of Jesus – worries were sharp and upfront and pressing – what WILL we eat? what WILL we drink? What WILL we wear? And Jesus advice sounds at first like no more than a pragmatic answer. Who by worrying can add an hour to his life??

in the movie Bridge of spies – a Russian spy played by Mark Rylance, is caught in America. As his lawyer (Tom Hanks) explains his situation to him, of how he may well face the electric chair he seems unperturbed, so he asks ‘aren’t you worried’. Rylance putting more power into three words than most can in thirty three thousand replies ‘Would it help?’ But Jesus wants us not only to wake up to the futility of worry. He desires that we ‘Behold!’ And so in the fulfilment of those words first spoken in the Garden of Eden, he says ‘Behold! The birds of the air! they neither reap nor sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.’

The gentiles worry about these things – those who do not know that they are the children of God. Who do not Know God as their Father – who do not Behold his engraved palms and see themselves there. Those are the people who worry. Your Father in heaven knows you need all these things. So strive for his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you . . .

What does this mean? to strive for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness?? It is to desire God through all, above all and in all. it is nothing new – It is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and souls and mind and strength – it is to make every effort to enter in through the narrow Gate – to Love Him above and through and In all.

As St Augustine puts it – in the words of our collect – our hearts are restless – this is a matter of our desires – Look here! Look There! Did you See? Our hearts are restless until they find there rest in you.

Jesus has been teaching this all the way through the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth – where your treasure is – there will your heart be. If you set your heart on the things of this world they will fail you – they will rust and the moths will get them – or someone will hack your bank account – or or or a thousand and one worries . . . all because our hearts are not set on God. Where your treasure is there will be your heart . . . you will be devoted . . . you will gaze longingly on it . . . and the eye is the lamp of your body – so if your eye is set on things that will decay, then so will your heart – your Life, your existence. you cannot serve two masters – you will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other

For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, the church new this – they had a strong word for distraction – they called it ‘fornication’ – it was to have as it were those adulterous eyes that look for life anywhere but to the Life giver. Eyes set anywhere but on God – looking, Seeing, but not Beholding.

There is the lovely story of a man sat in a church  – same time each week he would turn up – finally the Vicar asked what he was doing sitting there. The man gave him a beatific smile – Oh, I just sit here smiling at God and he smiles back at me . .

The Psalmist speaks of this beholding – ‘For God alone my soul in silence waits – for my hope comes from him’

A brother came for a word from the Elder. Father, give me a Word/ Love the Lord your God with al your heart and soul and mind and strength’, The brother went form his teacher. Ten years later he returned, ‘Father, I have learned that word. Give me another Word. the Elder replied ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ The young man went out from him never to return. Such I suggest is the deep work which beholding God in Silence does. This Lent, if we have begun this work, let us continue. If we have put it down, let us pick it up again. If we have not yet picked it up, do so. for truly ‘Behold! He has engraved us in the palm of his hand’ This is not one fact amongst many – it is THE Fact – It is Life – it s The living God – it is We who are found there in His hand. It is there that our True Life is to be known

Amen