Posts Tagged ‘demons’

The Gospel According to Buffy

// July 11th, 2014 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

I am a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I have watched the entire series, including the Angel spin-off, about six times.  I’m watching it again now.  Part of that is comfort; I know the show and know that I will enjoy it, so it’s easy to put on when I just want to relax.  However, when I want to pay attention, the show is very perceptive of the human condition.

For those who don’t follow the show – I’m not sure why such a person would exist, but I will try to have compassion for you – Buffy is a former cheerleader who is set apart by destiny to battle vampires and other monsters for the safety of humankind.  Or, as the intro explains: “In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”  This, of course, is typical hero genre rhetoric wherein there are good people and bad people and the job of the good people is to destroy the bad people.  While fun, that is not what makes the show great.

Rather, the show is great precisely because it proceeds, over the course of seven television seasons, to deconstruct that very premise.  It turns out the vampires and demons aren’t all bad.  Not only are there good demons, but all the characters, demon and Slayer alike, are a mix of good and bad.  Through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old, coming to terms with her identity and her place in the world, we find that our easy labels don’t really tell the whole story.  Perhaps they don’t even tell a very interesting story.  Perhaps the more interesting story is that struggle for identity and meaning, for morality and integrity, that does not take place out in the world, but inside ourselves.

In Romans 7.15-25, this is precisely what Paul describes.  Sometimes, if we are lucky, we know the good, but often, if we are honest, we are unable to do it.  Whether we call it demons or passions or id or sin, there is something that compels us to act in ways that are contrary to our own will.  This something can grow into, not merely a collection of unwanted behaviors, but the very way that we understand ourselves.  This is the thing that Paul – and Buffy – truly want to save us from.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we place Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Paul the Apostle in dialog with special guest stars Evagrius Ponticus and Sigmond Freud.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

P.S. If you haven’t voted yet, and want to, please email board@churchinthecliff.org or vote in person on Sunday when the vote will close.

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?

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?

Demons of Desire: Gluttony, Lust, and Avarice

// March 2nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

As I’m sure you all remember, dear readers, we are spending Lent with 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus, taking a pilgrimage back to the self and God. Sadly, our journey is thwarted by adversaries, demons that seek to distract us from our task. This past Sunday, we met our first adversary in the story of Jacob wrestling in the night. Through Jacob’s story, we learned that our struggles may not produce the certainty we seek, but they might tell us something about ourselves. For everything we might name, so much goes unnamed. This week, we meet the demons of desire: gluttony, lust, and avarice.

In the understanding of Evagrius’ time, these evil thoughts were lower thoughts that arise out of our experience of our bodies. Our bodies tell us we are hungry, so we eat. However, gluttony is not just about food, but a craving for experience, a need to consume. Our bodies tell us we need sex, so we… Well, I’ll let you work that out. However, lust is not just about sex, but a need to project the ego out into the world, to control it, to subdue it. And avarice is the fear that it will all run out, that at some point there will be no food and we will be impotent. So we consume and use and hoard to stave off or forget the inevitable: our mortality. Desire comes out of the very real limitations that go along with having bodies.

In our modern world, it is common to assume that bodies are the problem. We should just eliminate desire, detach from bodily yearnings, and engross ourselves in higher pursuits. Or perhaps we should simply desire better things, friends instead of feasts, salvation instead of sex, God instead of gold. Were it even possible, it would turn the body against itself and against God. The demons would have their victory.

Though the modern world has forgotten it, Evagrius knew that bodies and the desires they produce are good, drawing us toward God and neighbor. But the demons of desire are tricky. They tell the truth, but distort our view. They can turn noble desires, even our desire for God, toward evil. Join us at the Kessler on Sunday at 11:00 am to discover how they do it and how we can fight back.

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 Repulsion: Sadness, Anger, and Acedia
How do we push the world away 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?

When Demons Attack

// February 24th, 2012 // No Comments » // Uncategorized

I struggle with sin. Not so much the doing of it, though I do my fair share, but the naming of it. I struggle with how to talk about sin or think about sin. Like many of us, I grew up in a church that used guilt and shame to win conversions. And, after the conversion, the guilt and shame never stopped, leading to many tearful walks down many aisles hoping that this time would finally work. Sin was an affliction and Jesus was the cure, but I never felt cured. Instead, I just gave up, decided to find my own way. There had to be a better way, a new way. Perhaps in this Lenten season, that new way can be found in a very old way.

A fourth century mystic named Evagrius Ponticus included in his instruction manual for monks advice for fighting demons. Yes, demons: Gluttony, Lust, Avarice, Sadness, Anger, Acedia (bored restlessness), Vainglory, and Pride. Evagrius probably believed that these were literal demons that were literally attacking him, but he also clearly had a sense that it was an internal struggle in the soul. We all have voices in our heads telling us that we’re not good enough, that there is not enough in the world to have justice. And, worst of all, that God made it this way, meaning there’s probably no way out. So we grasp and we hoard and we fight, all to stave off the inevitable reality that there is an end to things. All of our hoarding, all of our control, only pushes that end a little farther away from us – and probably closer to someone else. Sin is ceding control to those voices, living into the fears and injustice that they construct.

Evagrius’ instructions were intended to prepare the monk for divinization, union with God. I cannot promise that we will get there. However, Lent is a time of preparation for life in Christ-Sophia, God’s dream for the world. Salvation for us; salvation for the world. In order to live more fully into that dream, we must deal with sin. Salvation is quieting the voices in our heads that tempt us to doubt the person that God made us, true faithlessness. Salvation comes to the world when we speak the Word of God and the Wisdom of God with the voice that God gave each of us.

I hope you’ll join us during our six-week Lenten series as we travel home to the self that God made and find the voice that proclaims justice to 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 Repulsion: Sadness, Anger, and Acedia
How do we push the world away 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?