Archive for March, 2012

Palm Sunday at CitC

// March 31st, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

If you’re looking for a preview of church tomorrow, Matthew Skinner has an excellent article on Mark’s take on the Passion. (Thanks, Jaime!) We’ll be interweaving samplings of this text with music and liturgy. It will be participatory!

We’re also working up our own version of Ani DiFranco’s version of a protest song from the 1930s labor battles.  Which side are you on?  Which gate will you stand at and cheer?  The gate of the powerful?  Or the gate of the powerless?

I hope you’ll join us at 11am Sunday at the Kessler to speak a word, sing a song, or bang a drum.

Palm Sunday: Triumph and Loss

// March 28th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Throughout Lent, we have traveled with 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus, interrogating demons to prepare for an encounter with God in death and new life.  This season culminates in Holy Week, the annual remembrance of Jesus’ passion and death.  It begins on a bittersweet, perhaps ironic note in Palm Sunday.

Jesus has traveled to Jerusalem, which is presumably the site of his victory.  This is the home of the One Who Begat him, the house where he went as a youth.  It is the throne of his ancestor David, the seat of power for his people.  And so he enters like a king.  Sort of.  Instead of a horse, he rides a donkey.  Instead of a legion of soldiers, he has a small band of homeless people.  He is welcomed by the poor, not the powerful, with the spreading of coats and branches on his path.  It’s a carnival.  It’s a parallel universe to Pontius Pilate’s entry, designed to intimidate, on the other side of town.  Everyone in town is probably at one gate or the other.

This is the central conflict within which Holy Week’s events unfold.  We move from the celebratory satire of the Triumphal Entry, to the devastating disappointment and loss of the Passion.  Jesus is dangerous, so Jesus must die.

As any human would, Jesus experiences the gamut of emotions.  I imagine they are all mixed up, as emotions tend to be.  The adulation and adoration of the poor, the very people he has served during his ministry.  The hope in their eyes as they cheer him on.  Is this the year that Passover finally means liberation once again?  But he knows – how could he not? – that this stunt will set in motion a chain of events from which there is no return.  In the midst of the celebration, he knows the pain he faces.  He knows he will be betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and finally forsaken by the One.  This is the week we enter the tomb with Jesus.

Join us Sunday at 11am at the Kessler as we remember the triumph and the loss in word and song.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

The Demons’ Power: Fear (Program and Sermon)

// March 27th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Program

Opening Comments

Avoiding work is an art form.  When I delivered pizza and things were slow, I might take the long way back to the store.  When I worked in a warehouse, I was taught to “ghost,” which means to carry a clipboard and a pen and look purposeful.  But I really honed my craft in the business world of New Orleans.  With the resources of a sizeable corporation and advanced technology behind me, I could push things off forever.  The key is to put the ball in someone else’s court, preferably someone really busy.  You just have to ask one question and always ask via email.  They won’t really understand why you are asking them, so they won’t respond immediately.  It will disappear in their inbox.  They might even push it off to someone else.  Anytime someone asks what’s going on with that project, you say, “I sent Darlene an email with key questions two weeks ago, but haven’t heard anything.  I’ll follow up with her today.”  I’ve bought myself another couple of weeks.  This was especially helpful on projects that I didn’t want to do in the first place.

Moses has a project he doesn’t want to do, but he doesn’t have email.  He uses a tactic that I have also used: “It’s not that I don’t want to, I just think the networking team knows more about getting a new T-1 line.  I mean, I can call our vendor, but if they have any questions, I won’t know what to say.  Don’t you think it would be better to have someone else do it?”  Moses is clearly making excuses.  His speech about his lack of eloquence is actually quite eloquent: “O Adonai, I am not a man of words, not yesterday or the day before yesterday or even now that you have spoken to your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”  After a little more discussion, God relents by assigning Moses’ brother to help out. Wait, did we know Moses had a brother?  No, we didn’t.  It’s as if he were created out of thin air to fill a need.

We do the same thing.  We are afraid that we won’t be enough.  That we’re incompetent.  That someone will hurt us or betray us or control us.  So we create someone else, a persona to face the world, a mask.  This mask protects us.  It is probably an image that is the exact opposite of whatever we don’t want people to see.  If we fear being unworthy, we become helpful, sacrificial.  If we fear meaninglessness, we infuse everything with meaning.  Our lives are sad letters that we write to ourselves.  If we fear deprivation, we fill our lives with grand experiences so that, if we are ever alone with ourselves, we can always say, “Remember when…”  Because that is the greatest fear: being present to ourselves and to the world, being exactly who we are for the life we have.

Discussion Questions

What else do we notice from today’s story?  What was Moses really afraid of?

How does God respond to Moses’ excuse?

Is Aaron bad?  What is your Aaron?

What are you afraid of?

When are you unafraid?

Closing Comments

When Moses fled to Midian, he had a pretty good gig.  His father-in-law was the priest of Midian.  He had a flock of sheep to tend.  A wife.  He probably thought he would stay there.  Raise a family.  Build a house.  Join the country club.  But God had other ideas.  God saw Moses’ anger when he killed the Egyptian.  God saw his willingness to intervene when his people quarreled with one another.  God saw him drive away the shepherds that were harassing the women at the well.  God knew who Moses’ was.  Moses was the image of God: a liberator.  The challenge was in getting Moses to realize it, to snap out of the life he knew to the life he could have and the life he could bring to his people.

That is God’s challenge for us.  I don’t know if there is a singular purpose for each of us.  I don’t think time and space are organized in such a way that there is one thing for us to do and, if we miss it, we are consigned to wander.  However, I do think there is a person we are meant to be and that, in fact, we are.  But we become confused.  We know how precious that person is, so we try to protect it.  We construct a mask, a persona to deal with the world.  Then we think we are that mask; we forget who we really are.  We even forget that there was ever anyone there at all.  But God remembers.  As God did with Moses, God knows who we are because we are the image of God.  Maybe not a liberator.  Maybe a creator like Elohim.  Maybe a nurturer like El Shaddai.  Maybe a servant like Christ.  Maybe a source of wisdom like Sophia.  Maybe a judge like the Son of Man.  Maybe sustenance like the Bread of Life.  Maybe a revelator like the Light of the World.  Maybe a seer like El-Roi.  There is something that you are to be and, in fact, already are.

Lent, as we have said, is a time of preparation.  It is a special time of year that we set aside to focus, but this work can be done any time.  And, although God’s task for us is to discover the image of God, rest assured that God gives us everything we need to accomplish it.  The first step is to question the demons: Who are you and where are you from?  If we ask this persistently, we will begin to see that the voices are not who we are.  We will begin to cultivate an interior observer.  In time, we will see when the inner observer feels safe and alive.  In time, the inner observer can come out without the mask, confident and secure, without fear.

For me, this is when I create.  Painting, cooking, writing – each of these things is when I feel the most myself.  The more time I spend doing those things, the better I feel, the more capable I feel of facing the world.  And in those times, I find a purpose.  I am aware of when the world needs to be made anew and I am prepared to do something about it.  It doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes or get depressed or feel stupid.  But I know who I am and what I am here to do.  It also doesn’t mean I’m incapable of doing things outside of that comfortable space.  When I didn’t know who I was, when I was filled with fear, it was easy to think that I was nobody, that there was no place for me outside of the persona I showed to the world.  All those things that seemed to pull me away from myself – keeping schedules, planning ahead, meeting new people – dragged me into a dark nothingness.  Now there is an anchor.  I can make choices about when those other things are life-giving, when they create space for me to be myself.  I can go out from myself and come back to myself without fear of destruction.

God gives us what we need in this task because what we need is God and God is in us.  Each of us is the image of God and the image of God calls out to God.  Sometimes we may hear it from inside.  But sometimes, it is the kind voice of a friend or neighbor or stranger.  Sometimes, it is in the desperate wounds of the world.  Our task is to listen and to answer, to be the person we were made to be for the life that we find ourselves in.  That is salvation, for each of us and for the world.

The Demons’ Power: Fear

// March 23rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

This is our final stop on our journey with 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus.  On our travels, we have encountered Evagrius’ bestiary of demons – demons of desire: gluttony, lust, and avarice; demons of resistance: sadness, anger, and acedia; and demons of reason: vainglory and vanity.  We also added shame to Evagrius’ list.  I hope that this helped name the demons that speak to you, the demons that drive you.  I hope that it allowed you to “catch yourself in the act” of reacting to those voices and, in the process, to find out a little of who you are. This week, we will talk about the source of the demons’ power: fear.

Behind each of these demons is a particular fear.  Gluttony speaks to our fear of pain.  Vanity speaks to our fear of worthlessness.  Sadness speaks to our fear of meaninglessness.  When we listen to the demons, the fear grows.  At some point, we can no longer distinguish the fear from who we are.  But if we stop and listen closely, we can hear ourselves apart from the fear.  We can recover the image of God that we were made to be.

Join us at 11am this Sunday at the Kessler.  We’ll talk about fear and its antidote and what it might look like on the other side.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

Demons of Reason (Sermon and Program)

// March 19th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Some have requested that I make the opening and closing comments to our conversations available as well as our programs.  Bear in mind that the conversation is a conversation, so the middle part is just questions that may or may not have been asked on Sunday.  I hope they are questions readers will find fruitful to consider.

Program

Opening Comments

It’s getting to be that time in Lent when we’re just sick of it all.  Any commitments that didn’t fall in the first couple of days probably had a rough go this week.  I know mine did.  After 9 PM, I might want to just sit in a chair and watch TV.  Play some Sudoku.  Have a couple of drinks.  But I can’t.  Well, maybe just once.  Or twice.  Then it’s a Food Network binge until five in the morning and it’s hard to get up the next day.  And if I’ve already broken some commitments, why not break some more?  Or at least fudge a little.  It turns out there are more ways to waste time than the ones I thought of before Lent.  One can be very creative when self-awareness is looming.  And one thing Evagrius is very clear about: it never stops.  In fact, it only gets worse as we get closer to God.  In Evagrius’ view, once we have dispatched the demons of the passions, we have only left an opening for the demons of reason, vainglory and vanity, that tempt us to unrealistic confidence in our own virtue.

Vainglory tells us that the whole world depends on us, that everything is our responsibility.  It turns our own desire for goodness against us.  We should help others and think of others before ourselves.  However, Vainglory twists it around so that we help in order to win praise.  We might even overestimate our involvement in things, thinking that someone’s relationship or prosperity is because of what we have said or done. And maybe someone’s failure is our fault, too.  In the need to care for others, we can disappear completely.

But God and the image of God always call out to one another, always seek harmony with one another.  When we allow ourselves to disappear, even for noble reasons, we break that connection; we hide that image and ignore the call.  Without its counterpart, the image becomes distorted.  We become bitter and angry and sad that no one knows what we need.  No one even knows who we are, really.  We don’t know, either.

Vanity tells us that we are solely responsible for our good fortune.  This is the myth of the “job creator,” the ones who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  Malcolm Gladwell makes the common sense claim in his book Outliers that success seems to depend on more than intelligence or ability.  He notices, for example, that the most successful people in the technology field were born in 1954 or 1955.  They were born into the affluence and hope of the Post-War era.  They were entering college when computer programming was more accessible.  They were relatively affluent to start.  Certainly, they were smart and capable, but they walked through a maze of coincidences to achieve the fortunes they now hold.  It is common sense.  We all are who we are in part because of how we are connected to everything else.  Whether it’s a family that nurtured us, a society that educated us, or a planet that sustains us, we all depend on something or someone.  Some might say that web of connections in which we exist is God.  Process-relational theologians say it this way: God is that which is related to all things and to which all things are related.  Exodus says: “I will be with you.”

But there is a tragedy in the evolution of the ideas Evagrius pioneered.  When the Eight Evil Thoughts were compressed into the Seven Deadly Sins, vainglory and vanity were squished together as pride.  We lost some of the nuance there.  Even then the virtue opposite pride was humility.  But morality is as much about labeling and dividing as it is about good and evil.  The powerful demanded humility and sacrifice from the powerless until it became shame.  You’re not white enough, not male enough, not straight enough, and not rich enough.  You’re not young or able-bodied enough.  So your dignity gets crucified on the cross you are told you must bear.  Pride and shame cannot coexist; you see-saw up and down, never at rest.  But you can be proud and humble at the same time because they both consist of knowing who God made you to be.  When we know who we are as the image of God, we can be bold as lions and gentle as lambs.

Conversation Questions

Was this a rough week for Lenten commitments?

Who is Moses?  Who is God?

Do you feel pride?  Do you feel shame?

Should some people be ashamed of themselves who aren’t?  Should some people be proud of themselves who aren’t?

Closing Comments

Vanity and vainglory tell us we are important only because others say we are important.  Vainglory deceives us into thinking we don’t matter unless.  Vanity deceives us by presenting the image of success instead of the image of God.  This external validation dissipates into the ether and we need more.  It temporarily distracts us from the deeper work of self-awareness, of finding out who God made us to be.  We’ve never taken the time to find out because we are certain that love must be earned and not freely given.  We fear that deep down inside is something unlovable.  But God says we are lovable and we are loved.  Western theology has made us question whether we are acceptable to God.  I can’t think of anything more demonic than God’s beloved children living in fear and begging for mercy.  For God, there is no question.  We have always been acceptable to God.  Our struggle is to make us acceptable to ourselves.  We are loved and we are capable of loving if we just see ourselves as God sees us.  We have to ask: Who am I?

In the mystery of the Christian year, we will repeatedly confront suffering and death on the way to new life.  Vainglory tells us we need not even start the journey because we don’t count. Vanity tells us we can skip to the end, get on with the new life without going through the pain because we are just that good.  But we can’t have the resurrection without the death.  Without the suffering of the journey and the death of the shadow self, we can never fully have new life.  Evagrius is right, too, that it never ends.  We will always be set upon by temptation and we will always have to suffer and die and begin again.  Each time we take up that pilgrimage we become more aware of who God made us to be and what we are here to do.  In the resurrection, we become who we have always been: the image of God.  But first we must die.

Demons of Reason: Pride and Shame

// March 14th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

This week we continue our pilgrimage home to the self and to God through the eyes of 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus.  The past two weeks, we have discussed demons that attack through the body and the passions.  Now we arrive at the reasonable demons: vainglory and vanity, later known together as pride.  I say reasonable demons because, according to Evagrius’ understanding of the human soul, these demons attack the best part of the person, the reason.
Evagrius understood his eight evil thoughts hierarchically, progressing from the body to the mind, animal passions to divine reason.  The term “reason” may be confusing because he did not mean it exactly as we would today, as intellect, knowledge, or logic.  Instead, reason meant participation in a divine reality, the union of a person and God.  But as we draw closer to God, the demons simultaneously become more intense and clever.

Here, the demons turn our virtue, for which we have striven so long, against us.  Vainglory tempts us with praise.  The goal has always been to become compassionate and serve our neighbors.  This need and the validation we receive from filling it become ends in themselves.  We lie to others about our virtue and lie to ourselves about our own needs.  We not only harm ourselves for the good of others, but we forget what it means to be loved for ourselves rather than what we do for people.  Only our virtue matters because love must be earned.

Vanity is a different sort of deception.  We think that all our good is ours alone.  We have good things – money, success, relationships, beauty – because we are good.  In fact, we are better than everyone else.  We confuse ourselves with the image of success we present to the world.  Our energy goes toward propping up that ego image rather than discovering the self that God made us to be.

Vanity and vainglory later get collapsed into “pride” in the Seven Deadly Sins and I would like to add an evil thought as pride’s opposite: shame.  The opposite of pride was supposed to be humility.  It is not guilt and it is not shame, but a realistic understanding of ourselves as parts of a much larger whole – a community, a church, an ecosystem, even God.  Instead, we push virtue out of the picture entirely, forcing a choice between pride and shame.  This is particularly dangerous when it is superimposed on systems of power that divide us: race, gender, sexuality, class, ability.  “Humility” is demanded of the powerless by the powerful and becomes shame.  Shame is a means of oppression, which makes all moral reasoning useless.  That is, shame pulls us away from participation in the divine reality because we do not believe we can be loved.  But God says otherwise.

Join us this Sunday at 11am at the Kessler.  We’ll talk about pride, shame, and humility and how we can have clear sight of who we are in relation to God and the world.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

February 26: Our Demons, Our God, Ourselves
What does Jacob wrestle with?

March 4: Demons of Desire: Gluttony, Lust, and Avarice
How do we draw the world in and push God out?

March 11: Demons of Resistance: Sadness, Anger, and Acedia
How do we push the world away and God with it?

March 18: Demons of Reason: Pride (and Shame)
How do we lie to ourselves?

March 25: Fear
What is the source of the demons’ power?

April 1: Palm Sunday
What happens when we find the voice that God gave us?

CitC folk out and about

// March 13th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Always nice to see our people pursuing their passions and working for a better world.

Jann Aldredge-Clanton was awarded an honorable mention in a hymn writing contest with the Alliance of Baptists, the organization to which our church belongs.  The hymns were written to celebrate 25 years of ministry and mission by the Alliance and were intended to give voice to the values of the Alliance.  Jann’s hymn will be sung at the national meeting, which takes place in Austin, April 13-15.

And David Marquis wrote an editorial for the Dallas Morning News on water conservation.  Sadly, I cannot read it because the Dallas Morning News does not understand how the Internet works.  If you are a subscriber, enjoy!

Demons of Resistance (Sermon and Program)

// March 12th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Some have requested that I make the opening and closing comments to our conversations available as well as our programs.  Bear in mind that the conversation is a conversation, so the middle part is just questions that may or may not have been asked on Sunday.  I hope they are questions readers will find fruitful to consider.

Program

Opening Comments

This Lent, we are looking at sin through the eyes of the 4th century mystic, Evagrius Ponticus.  Temptation, for Evagrius, came in the form of demons attacking his soul.  The first week, we talked about how a person can be divided and then dominated by our personality, so that the thoughts that move us to action can appear to come from the inside and the outside.  We can no longer tell the difference between ourselves and the things that drive us.  Whether it is an evil thought or a message from God depends on how we name it because the truth is it is just a thought.  How we receive it and how we respond to it are matters of choice if we can separate ourselves, the spark of the divine, from our thoughts, emotions, personality, and ego.

The second week, we talked about the demons of desire: gluttony, lust, and avarice.  These demons convince us to retreat from ourselves and into the world.  We escape into the sensual, piling up experiences to drown out the depth of who we are.  We turn outward to try to control the world around us to keep us safe.  We hoard things to make sure we are never without.

While I love me some gluttony and lust as much as the next person, this is really my week.  When I wrestle with the demons of desire, it is only because I don’t want to have to deal with the demons of resistance: sadness, anger, and acedia.  I feel like I have the upper hand with the demons of desire; I can turn the tables pretty easily if I set my mind to it.  I can choose to eat or drink less.  I can choose not to treat people as objects.  I can live without a lot.  Not because I’m a particularly good person, but because those aren’t my particular issues most of the time.  Like Mike Tyson late in his career, I choose to fight the demons of desire because those are easy wins for me.  I decide when the fight is over.  But the demons of resistance, they don’t play.  These are my demons, the ones that have taken up residence in my soul, built a homestead in my heart.  The demons of resistance, unlike the demons of desire, push the world away.

As I mentioned in my e-mail, I’m highly susceptible to acedia, a bored restlessness that makes it impossible to focusEvagrius calls acedia the “noonday demon” because it strikes in the middle of the day and makes the sun move slowly across the sky.  It makes the day seem fifty hours long.  Monks under the sway of acedia look out the windows to see if any other monks have emerged from their cells.  Not seeing anyone, they become angry or depressed.  Acedia causes more trouble than all the other demons.  When acedia wins the battle, he props the door open for all the other demons to come back.

Some people turn to anger.  You may sense that something is wrong with your world and you know just how to fix it.  But first, you have to be perfect.  Anger sets up shop in your head and tells you all the things you are doing wrong.  You can’t make a move without wondering if it’s the right move and you never act without playing it over and over in your head, beating yourself up over what could have been.  You might feel guilt, as Moses did, and flee from the world.  Or perhaps the internal critique is too painful, so you turn it on the rest of the world.  It’s not me, it’s you.  If you would just do the right thing, I would be fine.  People won’t stick around for that.  In the end, you find yourself an alien in a foreign land even if you are at home.

Where some people get angry, I get sad.  I am certain that there is a place somewhere out there where everything is perfect.  And wherever I am right now is not that place.  I am certain that everyone else is happy and prosperous and loved.  But not me.  My friend Phil is just luckier than I am.  My friend Dan figured out his career path earlier than I did.  My brother is talented in a lucrative field.  Everyone else caught a break and I didn’t.  This isn’t the sadness of pain, but the sadness of envy.  I retreat into myself, living in imaginary worlds that can’t be tainted by the stench of the flesh.  Then I find out that I’m right.  There really is something wrong with me.  No one wants to be around that guy.  And I don’t want anyone around that guy, either, because, sooner or later, whoever is trying to help me, whoever thinks I might be worth being around, will finally figure out the truth.  Then I really will be alone after having dared to hope.

This is how the demons of resistance work: they isolate us.  They convince us that there is something wrong with us or something wrong with the world.  So we push the world away, whether to protect ourselves from the world or the world from us. Once we are isolated from the world, we are isolated from God.  We no longer see the spark of the divine in the other.  We no longer see the love or pain in the eyes of another or the immeasurable possibility of an outstretched hand.  We forget that we are the image of God, so we push everything away and finally feel nothing at all.

Conversation Questions

Anyone here ever fight these demons?  How’s it going?

Did anyone add something to your life for Lent?  Is anyone practicing a form of quiet or solitude?

What do we see in Moses’ story?  How do we characterize his anger?  Is he a hero?  Why does Moses go back?

Where do we see these demons in the world?  How do they affect justice?  What happens when we disconnect?

Closing Comments

When Moses first experienced his anger, he reacted.  One could argue that his anger was righteous and perhaps even that his actions were righteous.  But he did not know who he was.  A Hebrew raised as an Egyptian prince in a life of wealth and privilege, he had no connection to his blood, to his people.  He was an alien living a hybrid life on the boundary between two worlds.  He saw injustice and did something about it, but then the demon had him.  He had no way to understand what he had done, so he heard criticism in the voices of his people.  (This would not be the last time.)  So he fled to Midian.

When he arrived in Midian, he immediately saw another injustice.  Women gathered to get water were harassed by shepherds, so Moses drove them off.  Probably the right thing to do and it gained the favor of their father.  Yet he was not at home.  He was an alien in a foreign land.  He had not yet discovered the person he was created to be.  He  had anger and he had guilt and he had alienation, but he did not have a purpose.  As the story goes, it came to him in a burning bush.

Meeting God, Moses knew who he was.  He directed his anger toward God’s purpose of liberation.  He gained courage and pursued his mission with zeal.  He gained the conviction to convince not only Pharoah, but his own people.  Then he drove those people through the desert for forty years.  Through their grumbling and mutiny, he maintained a sense of purpose.  He knew justice and he knew its lack and he knew what to do about it.

When we know who we are, we take control of our anger and our sadness.  We become focused.  We still feel sadness, but it becomes compassion, feeling with.  This sadness is no longer the sadness of envy, but the sadness of concern.  It knows the other without possessing the other and without losing the self.  We still feel our anger, but it becomes a fire for justice.  It no longer destroys, but creates.  And acedia no longer has a home.  He will never stop trying, but knowing his name and where he is from renders him transparent.  We see what he seeks to hide: the image of God in ourselves and the world.

Demons of Desire (Sermon and Program)

// March 12th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

Some have requested that I make the opening and closing comments to our conversations available as well as our programs.  Bear in mind that the conversation is a conversation, so the middle part is just questions that may or may not have been asked on Sunday.  I hope they are questions readers will find fruitful to consider.

Program

Opening Comments

I remember a few years ago at a dinner at Laura’s house, many of us were trashing the doctrine of original sin.  It relies on an essentialist metaphysics that is completely implausible!  Augustine was wracked by guilt and shame and wanted everyone else to feel just as bad!  The story of the fall proscribes a role for women as the source of evil that generates oppressive, patriarchal systems of power!  All of this is true.  But Courtney, who had recently begun to attend Church in the Cliff, cut through the fancy talk with a story about her son, Coleman.

She was watching Coleman eat Cheerios, one at a time.  But as he ate, his pace accelerated.  He no longer wanted to wait until he was finished with one before taking the next.  He needed more before the last was even gone.  She asked him to slow down and he defiantly said, “No!” before shoving more in his mouth.  I’m sure we all have similar stories and not just with children.  But the fact that it was a child, unable to engage in complex reasoning or project much into the future, tells us that there is something about being embodied – what theologians call “creatureliness” – that tells us there are limits.

The defining characteristic of having a body is that it is bounded.  There is an end to us where everything that is not us begins.  Being embodied in a world of things allows us to distinguish between this and that.  It is the way the world works; there would be no reality without it.  But the very thing that makes reality possible is also frustrating, even terrifying.  There isn’t enough.  We are not enough.  And, in the end, we’re going to die.  Every time we bump up against our own boundaries, we grieve a loss – the loss of something or someone, the loss of our own ability, the loss of an idea we have of ourselves and our future.  We tell ourselves that it just isn’t right, that it just can’t be, that there must be something more.  And so we want.  We long.  We yearn.

The glutton yearns for enough experience to blot out the boundaries of life.  If I can just consume enough, I will forget about my limits.  To the glutton, the world is my oyster and the oyster gets eaten.  Even people are treated this way, like things to be devoured, consumed, destroyed in the quest for experience.  If they can’t provide an experience for me, what good are they?  We’ve all lived this, probably on both sides.  But, as the Handsome Family sings: “there’s only so much wine/you can drink/in one life/and it will never be enough/to save you/from the bottom of your glass.”

The lustful person yearns for control. The ego is pushed out into the world and the world is subdued.  This is also destructive.  The ever-expanding ego requires others to shrink.  In lust, I am the sole subject, and everything else is an object for my use.  The world must conform to my desire.

The avaricious person yearns for safety and security, stockpiling resources against limitation.  There is only so much in the world and it is not enough for everyone, so I will take more and more to make sure I’m not left without a chair when the music stops.  This is the rich man, in Luke 12, who had too much grain, so he built larger barns to store it.  But God says to the avaricious: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  Avarice only provides the illusion of safety and security.  Meanwhile, it deprives the world.

Conversation Questions

Is anyone giving up something for Lent?

How has desire played out in your Lenten experience?

If you fail in your Lenten sacrifice, how do you feel about it?  Ask the demon its name and where it is from.

Where do we see these demons in our Scripture passage?

Where do we see these demons in the world?  How does it affect justice?

Closing Comments

Evagrius knew that bodies and the desire that goes with them are good.  In his understanding, they are the necessary condition of our moral imperative: to love God and neighbor.  We can react to our desires in fear, embrace fear as our way of being in the world.  Or we can react to our desires in love.  There is a gap between the mortal and the immortal, between the bounded self and the ever-present mystery of the other.  Desire occupies that gap.

Desire as fear presses that opposition; it further divides to the point of destruction.  Within ourselves, we remain divided, desperately trying to widen the gap between our true selves and the threat of our emotions, building walls to keep things out.  We treat people as objects to be consumed or controlled or collected.  We do the same with the world, using it up, destroying it.  We even do it with God.  Hector Avalos, in his book Fighting Words argues that all violence is driven by scarcity, the limitation of creatureliness we’ve been discussing.  He examines religious violence and finds that it is the result of making God into a scarce resource, access to which is controlled by a small group of people.  So we fight over God.  This is how even our noble desire for God is turned toward evil.  We attempt to name God with our own name, turn God into another object to be used, devoured, and hoarded.

But desire as love negotiates and traverses the gap between the mortal and the immortal.  Love is always becoming and, as such, love is always creating.  In love, we need not consume the other or control the other or hold the other captive because love is forever generating something new.  In love, we need not put our name on the other.  We can let the other be a whole person.  And we can be most fully ourselves because love does not devour and there is nothing to fear.  This is immortality.  We need not wait for death to participate in the life eternal, the life of God.  In love, we are no longer bounded; we no longer feel the sting of death because we are forever creating something new as we draw toward the other.

So fear not.  Love and create something new.  In that, you will find yourself and find God.

Demons of Resistance: Sadness, Anger, and Acedia

// March 7th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

One of my Lenten practices this time is to fast on Mondays. The hunger is not the worst part. Rather, I find myself watching the clock and wondering when dinner is. When I realize that I’m not going to eat dinner, it is devastating, not because I want the food, but because I want to get away from what I’m doing and indulge the senses. But the real Lenten practice is interrogating these demons, so I now know who I’m dealing with: Acedia.

Evagrius calls Acedia the “noonday demon” because it strikes in the middle of the day. It is a bored restlessness that makes the sun move slowly across the sky. I did not think that I was vulnerable to it, but I think that is only because I did not know its name. We become so used to our own patterns of escape that we are no longer even conscious of them. It’s like there is nothing at all to be named, like we simply are this way.

As I work on being more attentive to these feeling during this Lenten season, I discover that Evagrius is right that the demons attack more viciously the closer we get to God. Preparing for Sunday is an intensely personal and spiritual activity for me. It cuts to the quick of who I am in all my strength and all my insecurity. I like the wrestling, but I also know I won’t leave unscathed. Right when I’m on the edge of an epiphany, the noonday demon tempts me to just walk away, so I quit. Get a snack, watch TV, play a game, drink some wine, check facebook – anything to avoid finding out who I am.

Evagrius also says that Acedia causes more trouble than all the other demons. When Acedia wins the battle, he props the door open for all the other demons to come back. Sadness, also known as Melancholy or Sloth, and Anger naturally follow Acedia. We know we have abandoned the fight and so we rage at the world or weep at its passing. We become certain that there is a better world out there and we are simply in the wrong place or with the wrong people or not the right person to be in that world. But God promises us that each of us is the right person for the life we have together and the world God desires.

Join us at 11am this Sunday at the Kessler as we discuss how to dismiss the demons that resist the world and find the way of Christ and the wisdom of Sophia, the very presence of God, in our lives.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

February 26: Our Demons, Our God, Ourselves
What does Jacob wrestle with?

March 4: Demons of Desire: Gluttony, Lust, and Avarice
How do we draw the world in and push God out?

March 11: Demons of Resistance: Sadness, Anger, and Acedia
How do we push the world away and God with it?

March 18: Demons of Reason: Pride (and Shame)
How do we lie to ourselves?

March 25: Fear
What is the source of the demons’ power?

April 1: Palm Sunday
What happens when we find the voice that God gave us?