Monday, June 22, 2009

Too comfortable

"Feeling free from constraint, free to act on one's wishes, means reaching a balance between the wishes, the imagination and the ability to act: one feels free in so far as the imagination is not greater than one's actual desires, while neither of the two reaches beyond the ability to act. the balance may therefore be established and kept unimpaired in two different ways either by tapering, cutting down the desires and/or imagination, or by expanding ones ability to act. Once the balance is achieved, and as long as it stays intact, 'liberation' is a meaningless slogan, lacking motivational force.  

"...It could be the case that the will to improvement has been frustrated or not allowed to arise in the first place (fore example by the pressure of the 'reality principle' exerted, according to Sigmund Freud, on the human drive to pleasure and happiness); intentions, whether really experienced or just imaginable, have been cut down to the size of the ability to act, and particularly the ability to act reasonably- with a chance of success. On the other hand, it could be the case that through the direct manipulation of the intentions- some sort of 'brainwashing',- one could never put the 'objective' ability to act to the test, let alone find out what they really are, and therefore would set the ambitions below the level of the 'objective' freedom.  

"...One such issue was the possibility that what feels like freedom is not in fact freedom at all; that people may be satisfied with their lot even though that lot were fare fro being 'objectively' satisfactory; that living in slavery, they feel free and so experience no urge to liberate themselves, thus forsaking or forfeiting the chance of becoming genuinely free. "
pg. 17 
Liquid Modernity
Zygmunt Bauman
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: 
“ ‘Why do the nations rage 
and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand 
and the rulers gather together 
against the Lord 
and against his Anointed One.' Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 4: 23-31 (NIV)  

In my college years I ran with a Charismatic/Pentecostal crowd.  I actually had a pretty decent prayer life during that part of my history.  I would go for long walks around the campus, sometimes sitting up at the top of the bleachers at the football field, talking to God.  I prayed with friends too.  It wasn't uncommon to be involved in a late night, sometimes impromptu, hours long prayer meeting.  We would meet with friends in someone's apartment discuss the Bible and pray for what we saw as God's Kingdom to come.  

We were passionate in our prayer lives, both individual and corporate.  We were conspirators.  We prayed about our interactions with our friends, asking that they “saw Jesus” in us.  We lifted up our classmates and teachers to a loving God.  We fervently believed that is was God's will, and consequently our will, that everyone we know be “saved”.   We prayed about how we were going to make ends meet until our student loan or Pell Grant checks were going to be available.  We also wanted God  to change us, to make us into the image of Jesus (granted, we kind of had figured out what that meant and knew what we would end up looking like). And...  we actually saw what appeared to be God intervening and people's lives changing.

Looking back I can see legitimate prayer taking place in my life.  It was often times motivated by an acknowledgement of my inability to control certain things in my life or in the life of others and a real dependence upon God.  I really wanted to see people's lives changed for the better, even if that change was actually wasn't enough to correspond with what it really meant to be truly saved in the sense that the New Testament talks about.   

I'm in a different place now.  Looking back I consider my previous way of viewing the world as truncated and incomplete.  I no longer view the Gospel as only about being “saved”.  I see focusing on people's status being changed from the out-group of  “the lost” to the in-group of “the saved” as an easy and unfalsifiable substitute for the real point of the Gospel, someone's life totally reorienting around the teachings of Jesus in the context of a community submitting to the rule, kingdom, of God now. I was blind to certain forms of freedom that the Gospel brought. I would go so far as to say I was participating in a system that by it's design (not necessarily intent) hid some of these deficiencies from view.  Following certain expected norms that reinforced systemic evils (the abuse of the poor by free market capitalism in Third World countries, marginalizing those of different religions, political ideology, or sexual orientation, to name a few) was labeled as unquestioned and unmitigated virtues.  

I run with a different crowd now.  I'm a participant in a liturgical tradition, Episcopal in particular.  Our congregation appears to be in the process of rising from the dead.  We have gone from a situation where we fully expected to shut the doors in a year to a place where we are growing.  We're reevaluating our current ministry model to try to eliminate the rigid distinction between clergy and laity and reform our theology and practice to having the Body of Christ actually address the needs of the Body of Christ and surrounding community rather than place the responsibility on the 'professional religious' folks in our midst.   Our little congregation is taking on an interesting flavor that melds a Charismatic pneumatology and a strong Social Justice streak.    

Additionally I have a group of friends with which I regularly meet to consume irresponsible amounts of caffeine and discuss theology.  We lament how our current vocations and lifestyles aren't congruent with the Gospel.  We hatch grand schemes on how to reconfigure our communities of faith to be a source of God's blessing and an outpost of God's Kingdom in our local community.  Two of our congregations are participating in a growing network that is feeding the people of our town.  

But...  despite our needs, despite our love for God and the Gospel, we simply don't have passionate vigorous corporate prayer lives (to be fair, I don't personally have a vigorous prayer life).  Why?

(I began writing after this point in a corporate first person (We) standpoint.  I don't feel comfortable with that in that I can't pretend to be the exemplar for the world I now live in.  I will use first person singular in order to more honestly and responsibly express my concerns).

Many options seem to present themselves. Below is a small sampling:

Have I begun the process of, on a functional level, jettisoning an otherworldly Santa Claus figure that I call God?  Have I taken full responsibility and control for my own life and my moral choices and in a faithfulness to God's agenda/Kingdom begun to move through the world as if God was not responsible for the world around me, but I am?

Has the world evolved in light of the presence of the Gospel into a world less hostile to that Gospel?  Does attempting to live out that Gospel require less conflict with the “principalities and powers”, thus necessitating less in the way of passionate situational prayer to walk in the way of Jesus?

Or, have I traded blindness to part of the Gospel for blindness to parts of what I walked away from?  Have I stopped drinking the fundamentalist Cool-Aid to drinking deeply of the spirits of the Enlightenment?  Was I sold a bill of goods, a world view that mollifies me, that makes me comfortable with my incremental 'improvement' in how I spend my money, or how I view those, both near and far, that are less financially, mentally, or physically well off than I am?  Am I still at peace with the world at large because I do not yet understand how pervasive, how radically different than the status quo, the Gospel actually is?  Am I still part of the problem?

I know some of my compatriots may feel comfortable dismissing the parts of the New Testament that depict corporate prayer to an interventionist God as ancient superstition.  I can't.  Label me a primitive and I shall put the button right next to the ones labelled “heretic” and “savage” and I will wear them all with pride.  I'm fine with being viewed as a fool by some, but I cannot simply be satisfied that the parts of the New Testament that don't match up to my life are the things that must be scratched out. 

I speak on the behalf of justice at my place of work.  I'm a member of my congregation's Vestry and I try to advocate for us to spend ourselves on the behalf of those outside the congregation.  I meet with my friends and discuss how God want's us to live his Kingdom in the here and now.  I try to be more responsible with how and where I spend my money so as to at least reduce my participation in systemic evil.  

But I have no battles.  It's all so damned abstract and slow.  Is this right?  Is this how the Kingdom is to come?  I have no need to pray, to wrestle with God, in a real way.  Or, is it more accurate that I am blind to my need?  Have I labelled my inadequacies as normal, my impotence as virtue?  

I was not made for this.  I was made to have an enemy, be it just an abstraction.  The whole peace as an absence of war thing is gonna drive me insane.  

God, I'm afraid to ask this, but would you mind slapping me around a bit?  Crush my illusions, offend my sensibilities.  Set me free from my prison of comfort. 

1 comment:

Jason Winton said...

Thanks, patrick...this post is excellent. I appreciate the originality--looking beyond extreme fundamentalism and detached humanism.

By the way, I might also add, this is not just *your* complacency, comfortability, disquiet, etc. It's mine too! I think the next time we meet for breakfast and conversation, we should begin with the (passionate?) prayer you end with.

Thanks again.