Monday, December 24, 2007

Silent night

There are physical laws of nature that are fixed, unchanging; immutable laws that govern, for example, how an airplane flies through the sky. I don’t think there is a reasonable person who would disagree with this. We accept and believe that these laws are true, not because we see them, but because the men who invented flight told us they were so, and we see and travel by air, confirming to us what they have said. If one were to claim that there were no such laws governing flight, and offer as “proof” the observable fact that airplanes crash, any reasonable person would counter with the fact that individual failures may be attributable to human error, malice, mechanical failure or suchlike. These failures, far from being a convincing refutation of natural laws and a demonstration of their inconstancy, server rather to clarify the relationship between the immutable laws and man’s actions; we can obey these laws and fly, or ignore them and crash.

Now our imaginary skeptic of the laws of nature governing flight is in some ways like the man without (or with weak) faith, who cites for proof of his rejection of certain revealed truth, the evidence of the evil doings of churchmen. The man who says: “Look at the crusades, the inquisition, Galileo; how can this be the work of a divine institution?” is in some sense, saying the same thing as the man who says “Look at the Challenger explosion, TWA Flt. 800, Lockerbie; how can you claim that flight is possible?”

I believe that nearly all men would reject the second thesis, except perhaps if you could go back in time and confront pre-flight man with only the three examples given; he might be inclined to doubt the possibility of flight based on such a dishonest representation and a natural skepticism of that which is unknown. We have no difficulty seeing that this second opinion does not hold water, yet many of the same folks are quick to accept the first thesis as though it did hold water; many otherwise reasonable people when confronted with truth claims are quick to abandon reason.

I have no difficulty accepting that air travel is made possible by immutable laws of nature, and that this reality is also accompanied by the risk that man’s very nature, which is inclined to error and even to malice, will result in people dying in air disasters of one sort or another. I suspect that many unreasonably reject the claims of the Church because of an error of reason, the error of believing that all men when faced with, and claiming acceptance of the Truth, would in actual fact, not err or do acts of malice in the moral order. Thus the existence of such failure is taken as proof that the church’s divine institution under immutable divine law is false.

Such an expectation is really an expected conclusion when on is confronted with a person who states they have been “born again,” “made a new creation in God,” who will “love their neighbor as themselves,” being “the body of Christ.” The measure of expectation is not the merely human, but Divine. Reality quickly demonstrates that not some of the planes fall, but, well, apparently all of them!

This seems to be a reasonable expectation and an easy way to dismiss the claims which would bind one to build a life different to the one currently being lived, it is an error. I think we all can admit that we accuse others of clinging to comfortable “lies” (especially in an election year), but fundamentally, we cling to what we believe is true; no one clings to what they believe is a lie (even if you believe it is). We believe planes can fly, or we would not enter them. We know some jerk might have put a bomb on it, but we board anyway. The error I speak of is believing that the evidence of the truth of the claims of the church would be the external and visible “holiness” – the Divine-like perfection of churchmen, something disproved by the obvious contradictions of the evil acts of churchmen.

Lets look at this; why the expectation of Divine-like perfection is an error. Consider the planes falling out of the sky; such a small portion of the millions of air miles safely traveled. Now if these planes, falling fro the sky, were all you ever saw or were aware of, I would understand a hesitancy to fly; for this is the initial state of many who have never flown (and some who never will); their entire focus is on the air travel failures at the expense of ignoring the great overall success. Most of us do not consider this rational, but irrational fear.

Likewise, the person who stands outside the church, is focused on the glaring failures he sees, and considers himself wise and intelligent to remain outside and apart. But do you not see how this is like the man who refuses to board the plane because it might crash? The errors and malice which produce a crash are exceptions, not the rule. Air travel judged by the acts of Osama bin Laden would be considered by most to be quite irrational. Likewise, judging the church by the acts of churchmen who have rejected and remained essentially immune to church teachings – the “immutable laws,” rather than considering the effects produced in the lives of those who have ordered and built their lives on what the church teaches as immutable laws, is the basis of the charge of error which I lay at the feet of those who adopt such a position.

I do well understand that a vast body of men cling to such a position. It comforts them in their rejection of submission to a law greater than themselves, a law administered by men, preferring instead to be a law unto themselves.

Let us look deeper at the thesis that churchmen would be perfect according to a divine measure; something observably not so, but a flawed thesis, hence a straw-man proving nothing. It is flawed on three counts; because God who became man and established the church, never promised it, and the church herself never claimed it, and the life of grace doesn’t work that way either.

With respect to the first, some of the more educated might object that “the bible says….,” offering for a counter argument the contents of scripture and/or creed. However, one who rejects the authoritative interpretation of scripture is hitting at wind when attempting to use it against itself. Only those pre-inclined to reject are deceived by this. To know what God has promised, we need to listen to those who he has authorized to speak for him. Until willing to do so, on will wander, tossed by every wind of false doctrine that can be imagined by the mind of man.

As for the second, the church, authorized to speak and teach in God’s very name, never promised a magical transformation either, rather, that grace requires participation according to our free will. Think of it like a checking account that pays cash-back; the initial deposit in this “charity” account is made at baptism, and but when charity is spent, the cash-back payment exceeds what we spent! The newly baptized scrooge who never spends the charity he is given looses even what he has due to account fees, and once negative, cannot even spend anything unless he appear before the judge and have his account wiped clean in confession. It is easy to see and judge great sinners, but they are completely immune to the life of grace offered by the church, content to write large bad checks instead. What comes as an unexpected surprise is the obscurity of the holiness we didn’t see – an obscurity that this time of year is meant to remind us of – that those who are docile and submissive to the life of grace, responding to it and living in accord with it, are remarkable by their lack of remarkableness. The obscurity of the Holy Family, to the outside completely unremarkable, yet this family of Joseph, holiest of men, and a young virgin named Mary, the absolute crowning jewel of human holiness, who gives birth to Jesus, the God who takes a human body and unites it to His divinity.

What our bible says is that you do not recognized the Christian for the very same reason that in his day, his contemporaries did not recognized HIM – you are looking for the wrong thing.

The birth of Jesus is bringing the “light” of understanding of God into the world – the light which overcomes the darkness of ignorance like a candle in a cave; this is the silent night of which we sing – soon Jesus’ mother will be looking for him- will she find him in the temple which you are meant to be; instructing you, silencing the night of darkness?

The sun sweeps across the timezones as the earth turns (I've already received Christmas morning blessings from Kampala); turn then, and let the Son sweep you into his embrace; he is closer to you than your are to yourself.

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