Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blogger

Update on Haiti: Don’t be discouraged by the reports of overwhelming aid, and too much of one thing at one time. The aid is going to be needed for the long haul. There is no decent running water, and where that’s true, and people have no homes, families are destroyed, and most things are just a pile, it’s going to be an ongoing need to get people to the point they can survive and rebuild. The “overwhelming” part is a testament to how quickly the world responded – quicker than ever before on anything. The duplication – e.g. with so many countries sending field hospitals – demonstrates the need for better international coordination of aid. We still act like nations – we still believe in the made-up construct of nationhood and act in a disjointed way, because of it. At a minimum, we need to act as a federation of nations, with some federal coordination. But that doesn’t mean the ongoing aid is not needed. Please keep helping.

As usual, that was preface, and I don’t intend a discourse on the passion of anger or divine anger or any such thing. It’s preface to personal confession. I experience anger whenever I start something new. It’s a kind of outrage. And I don’t know if it’s the passion of anger or not. I’m not going to try to sort that out here. It’ll take more than a platitude or two. I just know it’s there. When I first decided to work for myself, I felt anger at all the pretences that had been foisted on me by the culture and corporate life, the bondage I had placed in, unknowingly, since infancy – sculpted to become a slave. And I spent the first weeks after expressing that anger, or outrage, or what have you. When battered by ridiculous pagan mantras (no negative energy, no negative energy…) I became outraged and began throwing those shackles off. It felt as if they would handcuff me to something that can’t sustain life, mold me into the output of a philosophical meat grinder – a concept not a human. Nothing more complex than a few mantras. And I railed against it. When I began writing again here, I also felt anger. Anger at the chains put on others, and the chains once clamped on me. And I cried out and am still crying out against them. If my experience here matches the other venues, this will last a while, and then it’ll be done, and I’ll either talk about other things or have nothing more to say for a while, so that it becomes a protest venue, for when raids are made against my sanity and my liberty by the world. I don’t know which it’ll be, of course.You know, we deny that there is such a thing as righteous anger, good anger, or the anger of God – if, by that, we mean anything remotely like human anger. God is not subject to the passions, because God is not subject to death. To deny this is to make God part of the universe – not the creator, but rather himself the created. To deny it is heresy and gnosticism. It is also to turn the scriptures against themselves, a common characteristic of both gnosticism and Protestantism – quoting proof texts that elsewhere are seemingly contradicted. When the Apostle calls anger a passion, how then can the prophets say that God is angry? The apparent disymmetry comes from attempting to treat the scriptures like a book, external and separate from the thinking community that wrote them – external to its liturgy, it’s understanding. And even now, as people convert to Orthodoxy, from other religions or from the culture at large, they bring with them this disymmetry and find it difficult to learn to understand the holy scriptures in an Orthodox manner. As Christ said, “let him who has ears to hear, let him hear”. It is difficult to hear when listening with ears that are alien to the faith of the first man, the faith of our fathers, the faith of all ages. But the Orthodox mind does not attribute anger to God as some higher form of the passion experienced by man, any more than we can think that God forgets or that God grows weary. Genuine Christianity is all of one piece, not a jumble of statements in a book that you can toss onto your kindle and get your head around on a plane. In fact, the more people attempt that, the less they really understand, because they acquire the delusion that they have understood. The books are liturgical, and cannot be understood externally to the liturgy. That’s just the facts.

I believe anger is so often the result of pain. I know from experience that mine is. The Haiti thing tho is the latest example. I think it’s one thing to listen to ongoing interviews on the ground, listen to people pulled from the wreckage, listen to the husbands burying their wives, listen to the overwhelmed doctors and the people trying to find others in the rubble, and the people learning that their loved ones have died. When you listen to that, if you’re human, if you haven’t converted your humanity into ideology, which is genocide on all human beings everywhere for all time – Christ included, you feel… solidarity, symmetry with the suffering, pain. Not pain like theirs, not suffering like theirs. After all, you have a radio, you are driving a car, you are on the way to buy food or to earn money. You take a drink of water or coffee and you have everything they do not have. You cannot feel what they feel. But you don’t feel nothing, either, unless you’ve killed your human soul. You feel pain.

It’s another thing entirely to listen to 40-second clips on TV news punctuating 3-hour rants by a Rush Limbaugh figure on how it’s being politicized, ironically politicizing it just by making that statement. Over and over, building it into an ideological agenda. No pain, no humanity, just ideology. An intellectual meat grinder for quasi-intellectual, half-intelligent armchair philosophers. The Sadducees of our time. The cultural gnostics. There is no Christianity in that. To borrow from Lewis Black, right wing, conservative cultural religion is to Christianity what KFC is to chicken. And it distorts, warps, and finally deprives one of humanity. It eradicates the human soul, substituting for it a set of platitudes, much like Protestantism and gnosticism from which, unrealized perhaps by the listener, it originates. It is the translation of those premises into popular culture.

And it doesn’t let you feel pain, it causes pain. It doesn’t lessen the suffering of the world, it adds to it. And when you feel the pain in your soul that is the shared life with other human beings, and someone comes along and turns on a loudspeaker of droning, caustic, antagonistic vitriol against and pollution of the fundamental connection we share with all of creation, and foremost with all human beings, not only are they attacking the gospel, by which God became a human being, the very meaning of salvation – the Incarnation, they are trying to crumble the underpinnings of your human soul – creating their own earthquake, their own disturbance, to bring down the part of you that makes you a man. And the pain felt by sharing, by connection, by what we Christians can only reach for and describe as love, is drowned out by the pain of blunt trauma to all connections, all sharing, all solidarity, in fact to the very nature and essence of man, which is one thing, summed up in Christ, expressed in the diversity of all. And that pain fills me with outrage. It makes me angry. And I try to overcome the passion. And fathers help me, saints save me, but I don’t know whether what’s left is my sin or something else. St. John Cassian, I completely submit to thy teaching that there is no righteous anger. And I have no recourse but to do as the fathers tell me – namely, when in doubt, attribute sin to myself, and so escape the wrath of God, which is not like my illicit wrath, not a more nobler version, but is justice in the very uncreate energies of an all-consuming God. Consume me so I am not destroyed. Consume me, so that my life is preserved.

We say, among the faithful, that God does not absorb us. But union with God, theosis, to be consumed, is the very preservation of our unique persons, the very protection of diversity, while the God who became man, wedding but not confusing the two natures, joined in on person, joins us to himself. It is not a thing for the armchair theologian. It is a thing to understand by becoming a real part of the community of people whose liturgy expresses through the year the mystery of this union, enacted through the days of the calendar and the fasts and the feasts, and in the life inside the timeless temple that is one with the temple in Heaven, all us with the angels in the one liturgy, with all the Saints, everywhere unceasingly, mystically representing the Cherubim, finding thereby the union with “all mortal flesh”.

That talk radio garbage is an outrage against God and an enmity with all men. But I don’t wish to fight on God’s behalf. I am not a nice man. I am “meaner” than that. The worst thing one can do to one’s enemies is to refuse to strike them, consigning them instead to the judgment of God. Christ withheld his hand, though he could have turned the world inside out and swallowed them in flame bathed in blood. But he went like a lamb. “I am not here to judge. There is one who judges.” How foolish to think this means he was not hear to point out wrong and elevate good. He did precisely that, all the time. No, but real judgment is when God decides what to do with each of us. And that is a “terrifying thing”, is it not? I am angry, but I am trying not to strike, because God will do what is right, and know what is right, and the passions will not be his guide. He is ever free from Death, and has liberated us likewise to his freedom. I wish to go into it. Lord have mercy.

Shut your pie hole and help Haiti!

As I listen to people calling in to radio shows, I think, you know, the level of duplicity among right-wing (fascist), Republican (corporate), evangelical (made-up religion), “christians” whenever there’s brutality or disaster elsewhere in the world, is obscene. If it was England, there wouldn’t be a debate. When it’s black people with dreadlocks, we ask all these questions about “whether it’s our responsibility”. One gets a little tired of inbred, toothless, backwoods-drawl “believers” and their nouveau riche suburban counterparts expressing their pride and anger about doing the very thing Christ asked of us – help those who are poor or in distress: “If you see your brother in need and withhold the world’s goods from him, how does the love of God abide in you?”

Image by Nite_Owl via Flickr

These folks aren’t Christians – the Christian is the pagan, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or whatever that pulls someone from the rubble, bandages his wounds, carries him to the hospital, and puts down his own money to feed and care for him (by their prayers save me). The Christian is the Samaritan, the heretic, the alien, the foreigner, the false religious person, not the Judeo-Christian who sits at home bitching about the cost. I wouldn’t want to be standing in the congregation of those whose verbal ejaculations are a mockery of the gospels, because one day the floor is going to fall in, the grave open up, and the Devil take them all.

If you were singing songs of triumph when we bombed villages in Serbia and shot children in Fallujah, but saying “Yeah, it’s not our job to save the Tutsis from massacre by the Hutu in Rwanda – that’s another part of the world, not our business” – then besides being a hypocrite to reason, and an obvious liar therefore, you’ve hardly got a claim to being Christian. You may be Republican. You may be “conservative”. You may “believe in the Bible”. You may “have a personal savior”. But whoever it is, it’s not the historic Christ of the gospels. It’s not Jesus Christ. It’s a figment of your imagination. A fictious person to whom you’ve merely attributed your own attributes, carving out an idol of God in your own image, rather than leaving behind the world you love, as did the Holy Apostles, and following Christ. Christ is helping those in Haiti. You’re just bitching that other people are casting out demons and healing the sick in his name. You fundamentally don’t get it, and your fundamentalism has clouded your judgment.

Almost every religious person I know has let his politics pollute his faith. Among some of my people, it has been the obscenity of rhetorically beating up Muslims (funny, they weren’t bold enough to talk smack before 9/11 – what, did their faith change with the times? – is it “post-9/11 religion”?). They’ve become tools of Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s bandwagon. They’re not autonomous, which is the kingdom of which Christ spoke, “my power is not of this world”, but appendages of the political and social machine. It’s not everyone, of course. But religion sets up camp in faith all the time, busily appointing itself like storefront preachers, to the “ministry” of translating the premises of the world into the lingo of religious belief. You want to know if I’m guilty of it too? I don’t know, but my faith teaches me to say that I am, whenever anyone accuses me of a failing, and to accuse myself so that the enemy can own nothing in me. So whether I can think of a specific instance or not, I’m guilty. I’ve been religious. And damn every stitch of it, when I have been. Let’s repent together!

In Haiti, thousands are dead, families left fatherless, widows wailing in the streets, orphans looking for their parents, people have lost their homes and have nothing. Remember, you are charged with the words of our father St. James, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Brother of God, “Pure and undefiled religion is this, helping orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeping oneself unstained by the world.” Don’t mouth off about “yeah, but is it really our responsibility?” like you’ve been smoking too much conservative crack and it’s made you too high to hear the gospel – you’re putting shame and judgment on your head, and it’s just adding to the agony of the world. It’s not about you, and it’s not your job to turn everything into an ideology like you long ago did to your faith. It’s not all a belief system. The Samaritan has more faith than you or I, he will judge us in the last day, not vice versa. And if you think otherwise, you’ve been spoon fed too much triumphalist baby food that was just what your pride wanted to hear. Tell your pastor to go to hell and do something to help Haiti. Protest by withholding what you normally put in the offering plate, if he stands up there and tells you it’s not your concern. The Red Cross is the ‘church’ in that moment more than whatever cheesy architecture is wrapping those pews.

There’s plenty of stuff on the web about how to help, and what’s needed, so before anyone says I should light a candle not curse the dark (there’s a nice double entendre there), we just don’t need that extra voice on that side of the delivery truck. But I don’t see a lot of hands helping shove people off the rice sacks that have planted flags in them and are giving the finger to the desperate because they can’t find a “bible verse” to tell them they “have to” show compassion and mercy. So that’s my job. Get off the sacks you freaking false prophets, you cheats and stealers from the poor, you horders of the provisions God gave you to precisely to give away. I’m not “saying it with love” (timidly and in a pretty, Downy-soft, impressionistic manner). I’m just saying it.

Remember, these words, “You didn’t visit me in my distress. You didn’t give me food when I was hungry. You didn’t give me drink when I was dying of thirst. Depart from me, I never knew you.” What do you think is the penalty for stealing from the poor in the sight of God? “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.” – St. John Chrysostom

For those interested in helping, I recommend Global Giving (they’re solid – we use them all the time – and you can give any amount using paypal, credit card, or online check) or text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 via your cell phone bill. 100% of your $10 donation passes thru to RedCross for Haiti relief. Your cell carrier keeps nothing.

Text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate. 100% of your $10 donation passes thru to @RedCross for Haiti relief. Your cell carrier keeps nothingText “Haiti” to 90999 to donate. 100% of your $10 donation passes thru to @RedCross for Haiti relief. Your cell carrier keeps nothing..
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