Saturday, November 21, 2009

Negotiating extremes

Part of the stimulus for this post is from the creative writer, David Ker, and his short quizzical article on Zen and Christian habit. He entitles this Christian Zen - and right away I see red flags. Christian as adjective is working against itself. Zen is Zen whatever it is and its Christian-or-not-nature is not relevant. Here I think David has not escaped some commonplace, less-than-creative words and habits. I used habit above because the clothes we wear are critical to the wholeness we share - even, perhaps especially, when we are not in verbal agreement.

Extremes are front and center in the story of Cain. How will I read this on the fly without checking a dozen commentaries?

הֲלֹוא אִם־תֵּיטִיב שְׂאֵת
"If you do well"? No - the first word indicates a negative - And if you do not - seem to do well with respect to a lifting up - what is that "lifting up" - an offering? Anyway, regardless of how I translate it, it is clear in the story that there is an extreme here and it shows as Cain's anger. Is his anger because he has been rejected? Or is a comparative anger at someone else's acceptance? Whatever the cause, the anger is real and requires a resolution. Does the resolution lie in Cain's own power? The traditional translation might think so - but he fails, so his power was insufficient. A better "lifting up" is required.

Can a human technique really deal with anger? Not in my experience. Technique is important and useful but ultimately insufficient. We should have good poetry in our liturgy, beautiful buildings, and a well rehearsed and gifted choir - because beauty is good. But by themselves, these are not the power that does the job of dealing with our anger. I should deal with my anger - but just suppressing it doesn't work.

You will notice that I am not talking about appeasement of an angry God. I am considering only human anger. God's jealousy is for us so that we might know his own healing of our anger and defensiveness, such healing as devours the whole earth (to paraphrase Zephaniah 3:8). But that is a religious turn of phrase and even the religious turn of phrase is not sufficient. It too can amount to nothing more than technique. Technique can provide a little discipline and can also be holy but it does not do the job of dealing with our anger. Even knowing the right answer in terms of words (faith, Spirit, etc) is not sufficient.

Now to easier extremes and divisions in the commonplaces of David's post: secular vs sacred, individual vs corporate. Well only partly easier. When the veil of the temple is torn from the top to the bottom, the world can no longer be divided between the secular and the sacred. God is in all things no matter how mundane.
I take the wings of the morning
I live in the farthest part of the sea
also there your hand leads me
and holds me
your right hand

and I say surely darkness will crush me
and the night be light about me
even darkness is not darkness with you
and night like day shines
as darkness as light
Without the veil, there is nothing separating us from Glory whatever our profession or placement.

One can find the same lesson in Job of course: (chapter 7)
What is a mortal that you make him great
and that you fix on him your heart
and that you visit him every morning
and every moment scrutinize him?
How long till you not stare at me
or let me be till I swallow my spit?

Job is unhappily in the Presence. Should our experience be an improvement over Cain and Job?

Corporate vs individual, the personal and private. Hey - there is no private in God. All things are open...(Hebrews 4:13) Every secret thing will be shouted from the housetops (Matthew 10:26-27 and Lukan parallel). Yet there is the private - "go into your closet and shut the door". The Father sees in secret and will reward you openly (Matthew 6:6 no parallel).

And he says in Matthew, what I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. How, my Love? You have told me that I am not separated from you anywhere or at any time - why then should I gather? And what is the corporate where I should gather which so divides itself from itself and from the world you have loved?

How has he told me this in secret? The Zen master will appreciate the extremes in these verses. The Biblical Student whether pro or amateur will find excuses to talk about the talk rather than do it and will complain about the ultimate in subjectivity. There is no understanding without doing. It will be evident whether the bodily offering is accepted. It will be known as a repayment of a debt is known. It will be known in the body both individual and corporate in the manifestation of gifts that benefit both individual and all severally and together. Nothing will be lacking and cups will overflow. But some anger will continue.

I find no resolution of the individual and corporate extremes that I can put into words - except to appeal to the vine imagery. There is a wholeness in the vine and its branches even though the vine itself be destroyed and her fences broken down (Psalm 80). My suspicion is that if anyone will be still, there is room for the voice that heals.
Be still and know that I am God
I will be lifted up in the nations
I will be lifted up in the earth
יְהוָה of hosts is with us
our high tower the God of Jacob
Update: Bishop Alan's musings on corporate unity are revealing in the terms of clothing (habit) and doing.


David Ker said...

In my defense I will say that I wrote that title as a provocation. I have heard the argument that Zen isn't specifically ideological or religious but I'm not quite convinced by that.

The school where I'm teaching offers a Psychology degree but they operate with the assumption that they will bring along an entire worldview with it that will impact the society with Christian values. That seems similar to me to having Christians practice Zen.

I tried very hard in my post to not be judgmental although knowing me as you do you can imagine how hard it was not to rant or say ridiculous things to try to get a laugh! :)

Bob MacDonald said...

Your defense is good. Perhaps my response is too serious. I have just returned from a performance of Stravinski's The Rake's Progress - an opera from the 1950s. Not sure I can make head nor tail of a comment at the moment. You are asleep on the other side of the world - or just waking up. It seems to me that 'Christians' of some sorts are afraid of looking at other disciplines and we often lack discipline ourselves - jumping to conclusions without evidence. What is the human that we should ignore psychology or the disciplines of other cultures? But for me, I needed more than either could offer me. I don't know any practice that invites the equivalent of baptism into a new reality.