Sunday, December 30, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

For all my old BSU friends, I've been meaning to get this digitized for years, but didn't have the means to get it from VHS to DVD until recently. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Forgiveness and the Inversion of Power - Part II

What do I mean when I say an "inversion of power'?

A brief survey of history reveals that the structures humans have produced (sometimes in God’s name) tend to serve self-satisfaction through oppression, abuse, and privilege. Such an exercise in power inevitably leads towards the oppressed rising up and demanding justice through the very means once used against them. I could go on and on about the natural urge for dominance and fulfillment, and the cycle of violence that creates, but ultimately Gandhi was right when he said an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. And, I might add, still angry.

In contrast to human structures, Jesus’ way of thinking about power, love, freedom, and humanity was so radical to those around him that he said one had to be "born again" to understand it. In fact, being born again is a prerequisite for entering into the "kingdom of God".

In earthly kingdoms, people sacrifice freedom to make the king rich and powerful in exchange for protection and provision. But, by and large, the kingdom of God is an inversion of this. In an earthly kingdom, commoners are often forced to give their lives to protect the king’s son. In the kingdom of God, the king’s son willingly gives up his life to protect the people. In earthly kingdoms, people pay taxes so that the king can have more power. In the kingdom of God, the king gives of his infinite excess so that the people can become rich.

This biblical intuition of the inversion of power can be seen throughout the old testament (how often was the rule of primogeniture reversed?), culminating in the beatitudes, the apostles, and the very life of Jesus given for us all.

Here is my point - the inversion of power isn’t just about the weak become powerful, though it is about that, too. The inversion of power is also about giving away power out of a desire for something better than primal self-satisfaction. Power tends to seek more power so that the powerful can get good things. The inversion of power seeks to give power away for the benefit of everyone.

So, how does this relate to forgiveness, especially when the flow of forgiveness seems to be one-way?

I don't want to speak for others, but there have been times in my life when I was not able to forgive until I realized the turmoil within those who harmed me. And, as time passed and my days were colored by God, I realized that He had made me powerful. Not some worldly power that derives its strength from taking things from others, or some physical show of force that commands attention, but a divine power that is able to give itself away out of excess. For me, this kind of power has become emotional stability, spiritual purpose, and hope for the future to the point where I could risk my very well-being because I am so blessed. I don’t want to take back what people, in their weakness, felt compelled to steal from me. Instead, forgiveness for me has become a time of mercy in which I mourn over the depths of weakness and confusion that lead to others taking things from me under the guise of power, but which I could now forgive out of my excess. However, this process takes time.

For those individuals who have been raped or molested, or for those peoples who are systematically oppressed, I wonder how long the process of forgiveness might take. How long until a woman can feel powerful enough to forgive the debt that the rapist incurred? Again, not power rooted in taking from others, but power rooted in being filled to excess. How long until those who have been oppressed for many generations can find the internal fortitude to forgive their oppressors?

I don’t have good answers to these questions. Maybe, on some tangible level, restitution makes sense in the process of forgiveness. Maybe counseling makes sense. Maybe being separated from the actual person and place forever is the only way to regain a permanent sense of well-being out of which forgiveness can spring. I don’t know how long is too long to wait for true forgiveness. But I’ve become convinced that the healing embrace that will cure the world happens when people come to grips with the inversion of power demonstrated to us by Christ, and instead of using their resources to take, use their resources to love.

"Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs."
"So let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love..."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ye Olde Journale - Creatione & Destructione

Part II of the forgiveness post is taking me longer to articulate than I expected. Sometimes getting things from head and heart to paper (or blog) is like giving birth. Things tear and bleed and hurt.

In any case, while I get an epidural, here is a blast from the very distant past. I journaled a bit when I was a teenager, and I believe the following snippet was written when I was 17 or so. My actual thoughts have shifted quite a bit since writing this (I'm almost twice as old!), so don't go commenting as if this something I accept today. Since a lot of the conversation I've been hearing lately has been about the journey of faith, I thought I would look into mine a bit more. As far as I remember, this is my first written attempt at articulating the relation of God to creation, and the beginning of my rejection of creation ex nihilo for creation ex dei.

Does anyone see any glaring problems in the following framework?

...which does bring up another good point to pursue. Why is Satan still here? Why is it that God can destroy the entirety of civilization with Noah with the justification that they are evil and have turned from Him, yet not destroy Satan himself? I think that we have to look at the way the universe is set up to explain.

Physics tells us that all things are constant in the universe. Nothing is either created or destroyed. Matter is always conserved in a reaction; energy is always conserved in a process; momentum is always conserved in a collision. Granted, there are times when matter can be converted to energy and vise versa, but the rule is that all things are conserved. No exceptions. When we die, our bodies decay and rot and become life again while our souls soar towards the heavens and eternity. Everything is conserved. Almost as if God is not willing to destroy anything that He as created.

Which makes sense to me. God created the universe, and after each step said “It is good,”. Why would he destroy something that He Himself has deemed good? He may destroy, like He did Sodom and Gomorrah, but isn’t that just the destruction of something man made? Don’t those atoms still exist, just in a different form? And don’t the souls of those who died still exist? You see, God didn’t really destroy, He just changed the things that he had created. And it seems that changing and creating is the only thing God ever does. Lack of destruction on the part of God gives a new meaning of sacredness to the things He has created.

Satan, however, is a different story. Satan has a spirit of destruction within him. Satan destroyed the bond between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Satan destroyed the bond between brothers when Cain killed Abel. Satan destroyed the connection between man and woman with lust and perversion. And Satan destroys the bond between me and God. The times I feel furthest from God, have the craving and desire to destroy. Not only to destroy, but to obliterate from existence, so that nothing remains of the object of my anger. Satan is a destroyer.

Which may, in fact, be the definition of sin to God. The act of destruction. God could no longer be with Adam because Adam had taken part in the destruction of something God had created. And this continues. God cannot be with man because man has destroyed something that He as created, and that is an abomination to Him. And God despises Satan because Satan is the Destroyer. Probably, that is what separated God and Lucifer in the first place. God created Something, and Lucifer thought that the Something would be best destroyed. God refused to destroy the Something, so Lucifer tried to go behind God’s back and destroy it. Hence the separation of God and Lucifer. Other angels thought that Lucifer had the right idea, that destruction of the Something was the way to go, so they were cast out of heaven also.

Whether or not Lucifer succeeded in destroying the Something is irrelevant, and whether or not Satan has the ability to create is fairly irrelevant also. The fact is that Satan destroyed, if not the Something, then the relationship he had with God. And the destruction of what God had created was reprehensible.

God still refuses to destroy, which is fine by me. Even in the End there will be no destruction. Except for the destruction of evil, which is something that God never created anyway. All of our souls will live eternally, either with God or in the Lake of Fire, and Satan and his henchmen will burn in the Lake of Fire as well. And what an amazing end for them. They will be conserved, these spirits that burn but are never consumed, yet the evil that caused them to destroy will be burned away forever, leaving only the glorious things that God has created.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Forgiveness and the Inversion of Power - Part I

I'm intrigued by the concept of forgiveness.

Upon occasion, I get to teach various groups at my church, which is astounding if you really think about it. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to teach in a class about some of the examples Jesus gave for good relationships.

Jesus taught many things, and one of them was forgiveness. He taught that people will be forgiven to the extent that they forgive, which encompasses both quality (from your heart), and quanity (seventy times seven). I won't go into all of it here, but the the divine call to forgive is powerful and vast.

Indubitably, Christians are called to forgive. This often translates into a Christian imperative that a Christian must forgive no matter what, or they aren't being a good Christian. This leads to all sorts of strange behaviors that parade under the guise of "forgiveness", but are really nothing more than faking it. Sometimes, it leads to a sort of forced servitude in which the forgiver submits to the forgiven in an attempt to follow Christ's example. This is cheap forgiveness.

This sort of forgiveness enables those who are powerful to abuse those who are less powerful. With the kind of forgiveness that must be applied no matter what, those who are beaten, shamed, and violated (emtionally, physically, spiritually, or otherwise) by those who are more powerful are prevented from taking action against those who are stronger. Such a system enables oppression, and ignores the Biblical mandate to fight against injustice - to protect the downtrodden and weak, and to pursue justice for all people. One could even argue that such a view of forgiveness erodes the legal system, since forgiveness must be applied seventy-times-seven no matter the crime. Should our call to forgive really supersede our call to justice, and protection of the oppressed?

As I've groped for a better understanding of the complex beast that is forgiveness, Matthew 18:21-35 continues to stick in my mind. In this passage, Jesus is asked about forgiveness, and he responds with telling a story about a man who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants. One servant owed the king more than he could ever pay, and so the king, in his mercy, let the servant go. This first servant, in turn, went to a servant coworker that owed him just a few dollars and had him thrown in jail for not paying the debt. When the king found that his servant had done such a thing, he was livid, and had the first servant thrown in jail and tortured until he could pay the unpayable debt. The story ends with an admonition from Jesus:
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

It seems to me that something is happening in this parable that we often don't think about. In every instance of forgiveness in this parable, forgiveness flows from one more powerful to one less powerful. The king, who is the ultimate authority, forgives his servant. The servant, who has legal power over his debtors, is in turn supposed to forgive his debtors. There is no speaking of the debtor, who is the one in danger of being oppressed, doing any forgiving.

But if only the powerful do the forgiving, then what do we make out of Jesus being crucified, or of Stephen being stoned, or of the beatings suffered by Paul, or of the persecution of the church? Doesn't it seem that these were beaten and oppressed by ones more powerful, and yet forgave anyway?

As I reflect upon the power tactics of Jesus, I'm not so sure he was killed by those more powerful. Those who are the greatest in Jesus' kingdom are those who are the least, those who come to him as a child, those who give up their life to save it. Jesus' example is that real power is the inversion of power. Power occurs not when you find satisfaction on the intoxication of being above others, but instead satisfaction is found in the healing embrace of God, who welcomes us into a new way of living no matter our previous offense.

So, who was greater - the Son of God who could call a host of angels, or those who thought nailing him to a tree was the best way to get rid of him? Who was greater - Stephen, who looked into heaven and saw the Son of God smiling back at him, or those who picked up sticks and rocks in a blind rage? Who was greater - Paul, who found the worth of his being in the affirmations of Christ, or those who hated him for the message he preached?

Biblically, the direction of flow is a heavy theme of forgiveness. In every case I've ever come across, the more powerful one always forgives the less powerful. In every case, the oppressed cry out, and the powerful forgive. Never to do the oppressed, violated, or abused forgive the powerful unless the powerful are first humbled and the oppressed gain power over them. The flow seems to be only one-way.

I've realized that most people find this view of forgiveness radical and strange - the Sunday School class I taught sure thought it was strange. What do you think about it? Can you think of a Biblical example of forgiveness that does not come from the one who is more powerful? What is the Biblical intuition of power?