The Taser's Edge


Michael König via Kottke via Gizmodo

OWS, Bank Transfer Day, and Christian Discipleship

Today, as you may already be aware, is Bank Transfer Day, a day to organize people to move their money from the mega-banks to local banks and especially to credit unions, with the hope that it spurs financial reforms in those big banks. The actual “day” parallels the Occupy Wall Street movement, but there are plenty of people fed up with American banking-as-usual who have no sympathy for OWS protesters.

For me, having moved from Bank of America to Central Illinois Credit Union here in Champaigna couple months ago, I am glad it’s happening. I indeed hope that there is enough momentum away from the big five banks to force some self-regulation, as the government continues to show little interest in enforcing existing regulations or in crafting smarter regulations. At the same time, statistically speaking (in terms of both numbers of accounts and especially in terms of the amount of capital shifting) there is no reason that an unbelievably popular Bank Transfer Day will have any effect, unless it makes the big banks feel “guilty,” and by “guilty” I mean “scrutinized” or at least “in the spotlight.”

Bank Transfer Day was designed to be a populist event where even people who would never march with a sign might finally follow through on doing something about their annoyance with talking to telephone-answering-robots about little-published fees on their bank statements. However, it will have no long-term impact on the economic systems which caused the current global recession.

That is, it will have no impact in itself. It must be part of a larger reformation, and, as yet, there is no evidence that there is a reformation to come.

For Christians, there is a larger context for understanding Bank Transfer Day and larger economic reforms: the life of God in Christ and the coming of the Kingdom which Christ proclaimed. The Christian God has Justice as a quality of character. Justice, therefore, is not and cannot be an abstraction for Christians to talk about in philosophy classes or election seasons or populist movements or angry Facebook back-and-forths alone. This is because the question, “What is justice?” is one way of asking, “Who is God?”

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A Prayer for Healing

Jesus, let me not be so concerned to have clean suturing and to be infection-free and to have no visible scars and to grieve all of this in the “right” way that I miss something that your body is saying to mine. I don’t understand how or why you still have the wounds we gave you, but I know that the way you teach me is to bend your broken body over mine, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, stripe-to-stripe, bruise-to-bruise. Your healing is mystery, woundedness touching woundedness and sanctifying it into wholeness. What I’m asking is, help my wounds to be like yours. Let me know that these cuts and gashes and holes do not say that I am not whole. In your name, Amen.

Hooray for Amazon!

Or at least for new books (now with enhanced clickability)…

And Life…Was Very Good
September 24, 2011, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Bible, Books, Discipleship, Family, Life, Prayer, The Holy Spirit, The Trinity, Worship | Tags: ,

Life is very good in the exact same since that it was when God said so at Creation. Despite all? Including all? Yes. To both.

Tonight I sat outside in the Illinois September behind my parents’ house, with a miniature cigar, two sloshes of Suntory, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

The crickets suddenly became intensely perfect, a perfect part of the perfect silence. And it got colder, and my top lip got burned by the cigar, and the cold was perfect, and the burning was perfect.

And then I got too cold, and I came inside. And perfect ended. And that was perfect too.

O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are
fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in
quietness and trust shall be our strength.

(Isa. 26:3; 30:15; 1979 BCP)

The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

In a conversation with a dear friend of mine today, while talking about what I’ve been reading recently, I was reminded that I hadn’t said a word on this blog about Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, which I finished reading last week.

Inner Voice was drawn from some of Nouwen’s most intimate personal journals (written first for his personal use and only later published by his choice), and it’s presented in bite-size chapters (easy snacking for those on their own journeys from anguish toward freedom).

So here’s one complete chapterette, “Go Into the Place of Your Pain”:

You have to live through your pain gradually and thus deprive it of its power over you. Yes, you must go into the place of your pain, but only when you have gained some new ground. When you enter your pain simply to experience it in its rawness, it can pull you away from where you want to go.

What is your pain? It is the experience of not receiving what you most need. It is a place of emptiness where you feel sharply the absence of the love you most desire. To go back to that place is hard, because you are confronted there with your wounds as well as with your powerlessness to heal yourself. You are so afraid of that place that you think of it as a place of death. Your instinct for survival makes you run away and go looking for something else that can give you a sense of at-homeness, even though you know full well that it can’t be found out in the world.

You have to begin to trust that your experience of emptiness is not the final experience, that beyond it is a place where you are being held in love. As long as you do not trust that place beyond your emptiness, you cannot safely reenter the place of pain.

So you have to go into the place of your pain with the knowledge in your heart that you have already found the new place. You have already tasted some of its fruits. The more roots you have in the new place, the more capable you are of mourning the loss of the old place and letting go of the pain that lies there. You cannot mourn something that has not died. Still, the old pains, attachments, and desires that once meant so much to you need to be buried.

You have to weep over your lost pains so that they can gradually leave you and you can become free to live fully in the new place without melancholy or homesickness.

I don’t know exactly what it is about Nouwen that makes him able to be so balm-like. But I would highly recommend this book to most people. Even if you’re not going through a specific major trial right now, it’s just as much about the hurts that all human beings (or at least those who are paying attention) feel.

Now That’s Thinking With Your Bowels

In the midst of this still-ongoing most stressful time of my life, I preemptively set up some self-rules. When reading the Bible, I’m only reading the Gospels and the Psalms. The Gospels because Jesus is there and it’s easy to forget what he’s like even if you just saw him last week, and the Psalms because suffering and faith and perseverance and grace are there (and Jesus is there and it’s easy to forget what he’s like even if you just saw him in the Gospels). Beyond the Bible, I’m not reading anything challenging to my soul.

Don’t worry. By “challenging,” in this case, I don’t mean “stretching” or “growing,” but I’ll take the long way around to tell you what I do mean…

It took me a long time to realize that despite what other people used to tell me, I am not primarily an intellectual person. Intellect is great, and it’s gotten me some successes, but what I’m really about is getting into things with my guts. I think viscerally (and I mean for you to think of that visually).

To think is not to sit somewhere safe and away from where real things are happening (whether in ivory tower or pastor’s study). It is to head into the boxing ring with your whole self, but to fight with your face. Yes, that’s a violent image, but it’s about offering up my vulnerability to the blows of the text in order to experience it fully. You get bloodied up that way, but it’s worth it.

Except sometimes (now), what is more important than having your face rearranged by the blows from the text, is to take care of yourself. There’ll be plenty of fights for your face later if you’re into that sort of thing, and in the mean-time, there are plenty of face-friendly learning adventures to try.

My questioning was my attentive spirit

from St. Augustine’s Confessions (X.6, 9), translated by Maria Boulding, OSB

And what is this?
I put my question to the earth, and it replied, “I am not he”;
I questioned everything it held, and they confessed the same.
I questioned the sea and the great deep,
and the teeming live creatures that crawl,
and they replied,
“We are not God; seek higher.”
I questioned the gusty winds,
and every breeze with all its flying creatures told me,
“Anaximenes was wrong: I am not God.”
To the sky I put my question, to sun, moon, stars,
but they denied me: “We are not the God you seek.”
And to all things which stood around the portals of my flesh I said,
“Tell me of my God.
You are not he, but tell me something of him.”
Then they lifted up their mighty voices and cried,
“He made us.”
My questioning was my attentive spirit,
and their reply, their beauty.

The Fear of Freedom

How hard it is to be forgiven, how hard to be healed, how hard to be free. I’m not talking about being the provider of those things (which people often talk about). I’m talking about being the one in need of them.

Imagine an animal which has grown up in captivity and then is released into the wild. In the best case, it is harder than we can imagine. And sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the journey from captivity to freedom is just impossible. Death comes first.

Now imagine those folks healed in Jesus’ ministry. The man lowered through a ceiling with the help of his friends. The blind folks reduced to begging because there was no other place for them in their society. Zacchaeus who had to leave his old way of life behind after his Jesus encounter. The woman who had had five husbands, was forgiven, and then told to go and sin no more. Lazarus, raised from the dead. Not to mention every single disciple.

Is it really possible to re-enter life after that? Or, rather, what life is it possible to enter? And why doesn’t Jesus say anything about it? Why doesn’t he mention at all how hard life will continue to be for the man whose life has given him no apparent skills but the ability to find a good spot from which to beg for others’ charity?

Now think of a loved one or an acquaintance who has a chronic health issue, the person who suffers from cystic fibrosis or kidney failure and needs an organ transplant in order to survive. Even if the operation goes smoothly, and the recovery progresses beyond all expectations, that organ recipient will need to be on a constant pharmaceutical therapy for the rest of her life. And beyond that, what does it mean for someone to have been shut out of life as they wanted to live it for years or even longer, then suddenly to be given the gift of reentry to “normalcy?”

What do you do if you’ve been disabled for as long as you can remember and then one day you are fully able to get a job, support yourself, re-enter the life that you had longed for, make choices unbounded by so many chains that have suddenly (or not-so-suddenly) been shattered? It’s not only muscles that atrophy and waste away. Hopes and dreams do too.

All this is to say, no one ever mentions that healing sometimes makes life harder. Remove all the hurts and fears and impediments which have so long blocked living into the fullness and freedom of the abundant life God has for us and…prepare to be terrified.

The exhilaration of forgiveness, healing, wholeness, and freedom is directly tied to the possibility of falling and being hurt again. It’s the difference between the excitement of jumping and the excitement of flight.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pope Benedict XVI’s homily from today reflects on his ordination on this feast day sixty years ago, meditating on what it means that Christ has called us “friends.” It’s definitely worth reading to hear the personal faith of a pope.