26 May 2012

Of Corners and Markets

No doubt about the reality that one is often judged by the company one keeps.  This can be as small as the company of an individual to the corporation for which one works.  My thesis here is that such judgment is a patently absurd method for determining the full nature and character of another human being.

It wouldn't hurt to begin by citing the one we call the Christ of God:  Jesus.  The disciples he chose were not the cream of the Jewish social world of his day.  One was employed by the Romans to collect the much hated taxes the Empire placed upon its subject peoples.  Jews thought such a person to be ritually unclean and no better than a common criminal.  Another was a political dissident whose aim, it ultimately seemed, was to enlist Jesus into the Zealot party....the radical anti-Roman and anti-Herodian rabble rousers.  The balance of the Twelve were tradesmen -- common working folk who were considered important to the economic life of Israel but of little merit when it came to the truly "important" political and social strata of culture.

Jesus was regularly found teaching in the company of prostitutes, those who were considered ritually unclean, diseased and not even part of Judaism (the Gentiles).  Jesus rarely responded to the accusations and judgments based upon the folks gathered around him.  When he did respond, it was along the lines of, "unless you accept the least of these, you also reject me...."  Of course, within that Aristotelian style logic, it also meant that they rejected the God of Creation.  As we know, this ultimately cost Jesus his life....or at least the one that both Jews and Romans believed would deliver them from this meddlesome, itinerant rabbi.  Oh, and speaking of rabbi, Jesus bore no credentials for that title....i.e. he had no "pedigree" of training (e.g. Paul was a student of Gameliel, the famous teacher of the Law).

Ultimately, the Church that is in place to reflect the very essence of its founding...Jesus...has become splintered asunder and about as elitist as the Sadducees that Jesus condemned for their kind of elitism and entitlement claims (they were the 1% of his day)*.  Immediately, you might be screaming, "Foul!!"  Fair enough.  Could I be wrong in my own assessment?  Perhaps.  Could I be exercising my own kind of judgmentalism?  Very possible.  Except for one small point:  I am intimately a part of the very thing of which I am currently being critical.  Oh, and I'm not done yet.

The second example of my above stated thesis on judging another human being is the essence of the very culture in which I am also intimately a part -- the United States of America.  I can hear it, "OMG, here he goes on a rant for sure."  Nope.  I encourage you to stay with me on this and at least catch my drift.

[As an aside for those who might not know me well:  I rarely go on a rant of any kind.  If I do, I usually believe I am within a boundary of some moral or ethical issue containing some depth.  Also, I follow a rule that I learned in my studies of Bowen theory of Family Emotional Process via my mentor Dr. Edwin Friedman:  In this life, no one gets better than 70% -- on a scale of 100 -- in terms of function.  What this means is that, at least 30% of the time every one of us is in a willful mode of thinking and doing.  A person who functions consistently at 70% is historically canonized by the Church or such institutions recognizing those who have achieved a level of "perfection" in this life.]

Back to the USA.  The largest number of folks who came to the shores of this country were either exiles politically or fled their European homes due to religious intolerance.  At first, this may not have been true of the English gentry and tradesmen who settled in Virginia and other colonies.  However, by the time of the Revolution, those folks were at the very heart of a kind of dissidence considered intolerable by the Mother Country, England.  The war was fought and independence from England won.

At the center of leadership were those who sponsored the Declaration of Independence and those who would constitute the First Continental Congress.  It was the latter that drafted the Constitution of the new United States.  This was, to be sure, a bold experiment in human culture....a system of government that recognized the capacity of human dignity in freedom and capability of living responsibly under laws crafted for mutual well-being.  Further, ongoing leadership would be elected from its own citizenry.  Any citizen could serve.

There were no legal boundaries for religious practices, lifestyles or ideologies.   Laws were crafted based upon principles considered more or less universal....the Ten Commandments.  Those Laws of Moses were foundational to mutual responsibility and dignity.   The argument that our founders were Christian is without merit.  There were deists, universalists and agnostics.  Seriously, I have read enough biographies to have this part down pretty well.  By many, God was "The Greatest Good" and not an entity or spiritual reality.  Remember, our country was founded by those who had read Rousseau, Voltaire, Descartes, and Spinoza.  Evangelical Christians of that time were Anglicans whose hearts had been "strangely stirred" (John Wesley's description).

My point in having our country as an example is its current state of affairs.  Some anonymous wag once said, "call a man names, and he will get angry; fool with a man's money, he is likely as anything to kill you."  Yep, I am hinting that money has become something of the Ultimate Reality and statement of human worth.  You got it?  You're in.  You don't got it?  You're out...or at least maximally marginalized.   So, when our economic system shows signs of cracking or peeling, we look for someone to blame.  It's usually the ones at the top of the elected heap.  I get that.  However, couldn't it be as much our chosen lifestyles and demands that have jacked things out of shape?  Just askin' here.

Like the Church, our system of democracy...that bold experiment...is not quite what its framers envisioned.  The Church isn't what Jesus envisioned...and that is based on my own experience as a priest in the Anglican (Episcopal) expression of this Body of Christ.  I am also a life-long citizen of this country.  My forebearers on both paternal and maternal sides fled from Scotland and northern England in the 1740s for political and religious reasons (both happened to be non-juring Anglicans living in a Calvinist country or in the northern part of a country that expected allegiance to the crown as part of their religious duty).  My paternal side also backed the wrong political wing claiming the English crown (Bonnie Prince Charlie...a Scotsman).  But all that is another story.

In our current climate, it seems as if those who would hold office want to move us back to a place of exclusivity and cultural monochromism.  One not only has to be Christian (because we are "a God-fearing Christian nation"...a very tired phrase), one has to be a particular kind of Christian or come from a particular kind of group.  The freedom and tolerance taught by our founders wasn't perfect by a long shot.  We had to fight a war that cost over 600,000 lives to get a foothold on racial tolerance.  We still aren't there in full measure.

When the radical Christian leadership of its day did have some clout, they claimed that God had "ordained" those from European countries to subdue and rule the land between the two great oceans.  This was termed "Manifest Destiny."  It cost the lives of many, many more thousands of indigenous people who had been here at least 10,000 years before us.  Some of those indigenous cultures were rendered extinct.  The rest were subjugated like a conquered and marginalized people.  To this day, the First Nations (Native American) peoples are judged harshly by many.   Personally, I truly think the Lakota should have the Black Hills returned to them.  It was their "cathedral" -- a sacred ground.  Why do we have it?  There was gold in those hills....the opportunity for wealth made it our "destiny" to possess the land....thus breaking the Treaty of 1868 (the 8th treaty with the Lakota alone).  Nope.  Not much has changed from the time of Jesus and the Sadducees.

I am not a cynic.  Thank goodness my parents did not raise us to be such.   My first question is always, "Okay, what's good about this?"  I do almost always find that good....maybe only a sliver, but that is all that is needed.  I don't whine when I am not getting my way.  God does know that we can be such whiners when our sandbox gets invaded by those not of our liking.  It's the adult version of, "he's playing with my stuff."  If we don't like who is leading, we live in a system that allows us to elect another at the appropriate time.  What good is it to cast judgment and call names?  For crying out loud folks!!  Whoever is in whatever office, they are created in the image of God the very same as we are...not more or less...the VERY same.  At least show the dignity due every human being.

I daily pray for those I don't necessarily care for.  I don't care for them insomuch as I don't want to spend quality time with them.  I DO care for them, because they are my brothers and sisters...regardless of where they come from, color of skin, education, socio-economic status.  As I pray, I do so for their safety, well-being and becoming what God has actually created them to be.  It is a grave error to pray for someone to become what WE think they should or need to be.  Who knows, but what we think is right and good may well be in that 30% that would be considered willful, dysfunctional or not of God (i.e. sin).  I have a right to hold on to that 30%, but I do not have a right to foist it on others as an expectation of their function and behavior.

This country has come a long way since World War II, but we are regressing a bit of late.  It does seem that we are risking a new kind of elitism, a kind of anarchy or a kind of oligarchy that would narrow the scope of who is in and who is out.  Do I worry about this?  You bet.  But I am hopeful.  In all such experiments as ours, there is risk.  Power is a dangerous thing, and our founders were experienced in the effects of power misused.  That's why our government is formed the way it is.  Power is divided.  Obamacare?  Give it a rest.  That is an oligarchic statement.  At least 537 people were involved in making that law...whether they supported it or not.  Am I supporting it in this statement?  No.  Am I going to tell you what I think about this new healthcare plan?  No.  It's non-sequitur to my thesis.

The only way out is the way we came in.  Whatever one wants to call God or how one wants to perceive God, the element of human life that gives it quality is a love that penetrates all barriers and embraces all creation.  It is the image in which we have been created.  It is the responsibility we have been given:  to exercise responsibility, to live with dignity, to embrace our fellow humans and to come to a place of being one in heart and spirit.  This Oneness was underneath the bold experiment that created our country.  It was at the heart of what was begun as the Church in Jesus.  It is at the heart of the Buddha, Mohammed, Wakan-tanka, and all who have sought the Highest Good....God.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

My Love to You,

Retired and, yes, Running Amok

*Note:  I am grateful to my friend, Dr. Kern Trembath, systematic theologian, New Testament scholar and coffee artisan.  He offered information regarding the Sanhedrin and roles of the Pharisees and Sadducees in that system.  Very appreciated!

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