The “invaders” — a psalmic reflection

Featured

The Power of Language for good and for evil

According to the New York Times, the Trump 2020 re-election campaign has run 2,000+ Facebook ads framing the national conversation by calling the migration at our southern border “an invasion”.

Introducing an exercise

It gets harder every day. The carnage is in full sight. So are the tweets. It’s depressing. In times like this a Psalm sometimes comes along that expresses the emotions. They laments. The anger at cruelty. Hope for something better beyond what we can see as possible.

Psalm 79: How Long, O Lord?

 O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance;
    they have defiled your holy temple;
    they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

America today is not the sweet land of liberty of whom we sing. We grieve amid the latest ruins in El Paso and Dayton. We lament the human sacrifice that defile the good green Earth,Your holy temple, the inheritance of global grace.

  They have given the bodies of your servants
    to the birds of the heavens for food,
    the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They trade doves for vultures, and olive branches for military materiele on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul, El Paso, and Dayton, Virginia Beach, Aurora, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Annapolis, Santa Fe, Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Burlington, Orlando, San Bernardino, Roseburg, Chattanooga, Charleston, Sandy Hook . . . . Mankato and Wounded Knee.

They have poured out their blood like water
    all around Jerusalem,
    and there was no one to bury them.

  We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
    mocked and derided by those around us.

The invaders call the tired and the poor, yearning to breathe free; the homeless, and tempest-tossed “invaders” — caravans of an invasion crossing the southern border. The vultures prey on fathers and daughters drowned and lying face-down on the Texas bank of the Rio Grande. In the name of national security they take nursing children far from their mothers’ breasts, separate families, and forget where they have placed the invaders’ children, while the authorities retreat to golf courses and sent their children to fancy summer camps.

Let the groans of the prisoners come before You;
    according to Your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

May the groans that hurt Your ears rouse the nation’s conscience to close the prisons and preserve all those White Nationalism dooms to die.

“National extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. . . . Idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as ‘the other’ while flying ‘the sore point’ in ourselves that we conscious animals seek to avoid.”

“Idealism and Terror,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), p. 33-39

Return sevenfold into the lap of [their captors]
    the taunts with which they have taunted You, O Lord!
But we Your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will give thanks to You forever;
    from generation to generation we will recount Your praise.

“I’m ninety-six,” wrote Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore of Downside Abbey, introducing his last book, “and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, a search for God as real.”

Dom Sebastian Moore, OSB, Remembered Bliss (2014, Lapwing Publications)
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2019

God as Policeman or Lover

Sebastian Moore, OSB

Sebastian Moore, OSB

In the eyes of Views from the Edge, the  late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. (12.17.1917 – 02.21-2014) of Downside Abbey, England, is one of our time’s more interesting thinkers.

Steeped in the psychology of Carl Jung, the spiritual discipline of the Benedictine Order, the theology of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., and the mimetic theory of Rene Girard, his eyes were penetrating, his vision both deep and far-reaching. During a long life os spiritual searching, he wrote in his book The Inner Loneliness:

[O]nce you see the self as naturally self-centered, you deny that the self wants God above all things, and you degrade God from being the fulfiller, the lover, into being the policeman. Paul’s conversion, through the stunning vision of Jesus he had on the road to Damascus, was from God the policeman to God the lover.

[The Inner Loneliness, Crossroads Press, 1982, p.49]

We met briefly in 1971 at a meeting of campus ministers in Milwaukee. He was chaplain at Marquette University at the same time I served as campus minister at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Gathered at the Episcopal Campus Ministry Center at UW-Milwaukee, I wondered who this strange monk was who seemed to observe everyone very closely without saying more than a word or two. I’m not sure I even knew his name. I just knew he was unusual.

Twenty-six years later, during a period of personal and professional turmoil, a therapist mentioned the name Sebastian Moore. I purchased The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger and saw his picture on the jacket. His perspective left me in awe and anchors me still. I’ve been knocked off my horse on the way to way to Damascus. Every real conversion is the turning from God the policeman to God the Lover.

Idealism and Terror

When one thinks of idealism, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi comes to mind. Moral and spiritual giants who stand for ideals that make the world a better place. We think of Idealism as good in the face of evil, or of ideals lifting us up from the dirt of reality, purifying life from its toxins. Ah, but there lies the fatal flaw in idealism itself.

George Will’s Washington Post opinion piece “A Murderer’s Warped Idealism” looks afresh at idealism and evil, not just evil masquerading as idealism, but idealism as a source and form of evil itself.

Will’s commentary zooms in on Adolf Eichmann, executed at midnight 1961 for his role in the German State’s systematic extermination of 6,000,000 Jews. During the trial in Jerusalem Eichmann minimized his role in the Holocaust, presenting himself as a thoughtless functionary carrying out the orders of his superiors.

Referring to newly discovered writings by Eichmann which form the backbone of a new book by German philosopher Bettina Stangneth, Will writes:

Before he donned his miniaturizing mask in Jerusalem, Eichmann proclaimed that he did what he did in the service of idealism. This supposedly “thoughtless” man’s devotion to ideas was such that, Stangneth says, he “was still composing his last lines when they came to take him to the gallows.” (Bolding added by Views from the Edge)

Eichmann and Hitler were not without ideas or ideals. They were not thoughtless. Nor were they irrational, as those who believe that reason can sea us believe. They were idealists who sought to lift up a super race, burning away the world’s impurities as their deranged hearts conceived of them.

The late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. shone a different light on idealism and the remedy for human madness. He put it this way in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger:

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of [God] not as standing at the end of the we way take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

We are, says Moore, “conscious animals scared of our animality and seeking to ennoble ourselves.”

Eichmann, Himmler, and Hitler were idealists. Nationalist extremists are idealists. Racial and religious extremists are idealists. ISIL is idealist. American exceptionalism is idealist. Whether behind the banner of the State, or of religion, gender, ideology, scientism, or rationalism – idealistic terrorism lives to rid the world of evil as its adherents understand it, projecting evil as “the other” while fleeing “the sore point” that we conscious animals seek to avoid.

Only the God who meets us at the sore point of our shared animality can save us from fantasies. In his last book, Remembered Bliss ((Lapwing Publications: 2014), Dom Sebastian told the reader, “I’m ninety-six, and for most of my life I’ve been a monk. My life as a monk has been, for the most part, the search for God as real.” RIP.

 

 

 

Out from the caves of fear

Fear.

“There is no passion so contagious as that of fear,” wrote Michel de Montaigne.

During the five minute drive to Auburn Manor in downtown Chaska Monday morning, I turn on the radio to hear what they’re saying about the Vikings’ overtime victory over the Bears.

I turn to the ESPN sports channel. But it’s not about sports. It’s Glenn Beck advising listeners to buy food insurance. On the heels of the call to buy food insurance in preparation for catastrophe comes the advice on how to buy your first gun.

Passion. Contagion. Fear. They’re everywhere. Not just Glenn Beck and the far right, but on the left, in the middle, and among the apathetic and the cynical. Fear does not have one opinion. It is a contagious passion that has a thousand different voices. While the foundations of the familiar shake, we are infected by a pandemic of fear.

Fear does terrible things to a person and to a society. It is for this reason that the New Testament Gospels see fear as the root source of ill-will, self-absorption, greed, and war. The “Fear not” uttered by the heavenly messengers in Luke’s birth narrative is repeated in the middle and at the end of the Christ story. “Fear not, little flock.” “Fear not, for I am with you.” It is both invitation and command: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…”.

We are always prone to fall back into fear. We fear because we are mortals. We die and we know it. We seek to secure ourselves against the threats, overt or covert, that cast death’s dark shadow over us.

In such times the psalmist comes to mind. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I will buy no food insurance. I will buy no gun. To do so is to run straight into the arms of death as a living power that robs us of life’s goodness and meaning.

“Man’s self-absorption is the movement of our flight from death,” writes Sebastian Moore OSB. “This is what is meant by the scripture’s description of man as ‘under the shadow of death’. It does not mean ‘man knowing he will die’ but ‘what man does and becomes under this knowledge.’. It is not to our mortality, our animality, that scripture offers a remedy. It is to the death that we become in our self-absorption. It is to what we allow death to become in us by fleeing from it in the hopeless pride of man.” (The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger, Paulist Press, 1977)

I turn off the radio. I dial back the passion. I interrupt the contagion of fear by repeating an old psalm, and drive over to the community food pantry to volunteer.

Poem on working with Autistic Gabriel

Poem by Sebastian Moore OSB, Downside Abbey, England

Poem by Sebastian Moore OSB, Downside Abbey, England

Dom Sebastian Moore OSB, a Benedictine Monk at Downside Abbey, England, was featured yesterday on Views from the Edge. The poem in the form it appears here was featured in an Archbishop’s e-newsletter. In his later years Sebastian Moore has come to express himself increasingly in poetry. This one is from his book The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as if It Mattered, Orbis Books, 2007.

The strange man: Honest to God

Yesterday we published a sermon by Robert Hamerton-Kelly, whose thought had ben influenced by Rene Girard. Today we draw attention to another provocative thinker influenced by Girard. His name is Sebastian Moore.

Years ago I met a strange-looking man at the Episcopal Campus Ministry Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I was a campus minister at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and had gone there to a meeting of campus ministers. There was this strange monk who said nothing. He just observed. He was weird, but his eyes were penetrating.

Sebastian Moore OSB

Sebastian Moore OSB

I never gave it much thought until much later when I recognized him from a picture related to the book that had changed my perspective on the cross: The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger. I’ve been reading Sebastian Moore OSB, for fifteen years now. Moore is influenced, to some degree, by Rene Girard, the ground-breaking French anthropological philosopher at Stanford whose theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat system have impacted the fields of anthropology, social psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology.

In a recent search for Moore’s latest works, of culture, I ran across a radio interview with Sebastian Moore. Here’s a link that includes another link to Moore’s radio interview.

It appears that Moore’s The Body of Christ is the latest published book of this strange monk, published when he was of the ripe old age of 94. Here’s the link.

Progress and the Pit of Babel

Ever since Hegel , the view of inevitable progress has held sway in much of philosophy and in some schools of theology. In Christian theology, which is my faith context, fundamentalists project the ideal world backward in time to human origins in the Garden of Eden. For them, the Garden is not myth; it’s fact. “The Bible tells me so” and that’s that. Those who view the Genesis story as myth (not “untrue” but a literary genre expressing a timeless truth) tend to look at evolution as the unfolding of the Will of God toward what the Bible calls the Eschaton, the Great Last Thing, perceived as the achievement of the ideal or perfected state toward which the whole creation groans. The Ideal is not behind us but ahead of us as the conclusion of history.

Ever since my undergraduate philosophy professor, Esther Swenson, plunged me into existentialism – which was and still is a protest against all idealistic suppositions and conclusions about the world and humankind – I’ve been a skeptic of idealism. The projection of an Ideal or perfect world ignores, it seems to me, the fact that the end point of the planet itself is death, as it is for all of life. There is no permanence. There was no Garden of Eden in the past and there will not be one in the future. Projections or imaginations that place the Garden ahead of us are as flawed as the fundamentalist assumption that human history began with one.

Franz Kafka remains my favorite writer, in part because of his honesty and in part because of his economy of words. Dom Sebastian Moore, a rather eccentric Benedictine theologian, is linked with Kafka only in this one shared conclusion: the human project of an ideal human being or society is a flight from death into the arms of death itself.

Moore writes that the flight from death “is opting for an ultimate solitude.

“This choice can be made not only by the individual as the unconscious of his desperation, but also by the whole human race. It is being made by the whole human race, as between two poles, taking seriously only our self-awareness. Ignoring our being-part-of, that is the ecology of whose balance we are partly animals. The human race thinks it can go on with all its Narcissistic human normalities, of war, of politics, of religion, and that somehow the vast other side of the picture will look after itself. So in opting for ‘himself as conscious’, man is opting for an ultimate solitude.

“And ultimate solitude is death. It is to be cut off from the tree of life, and to whither.”
– Sebastian Moore, The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger

Two parables of Kafka offer food for reflection. They are reverse images of the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel.

The Tower of Babel

If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it,
the work would have been permitted.

The Pit of Babel

What are you building? – I want to dig a subterranean passage.
Some progress must be made. My station up there is too high.
We are digging the pit of Babel.

On Monday mornings I meet for an hour with a group of wise octogenarians. When Kate had listened to the reading of Jeremiah – “my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13) – she had a far off look in her eyes. “What are you thinking, Kate? Where did you go?”

“Oh,” she said, “I went way off track. I couldn’t help but think of those leaking nuclear reactors in Japan.”

A penny for your thoughts.

The Donkey: a Kid’s Verse

“The Donkey” has been waiting for the right occasion. Dennis Aubrey’s photographs and commentary “The Ineffable” on Via Lucis Photography linking suffering and beauty led me fetch “The Donkey” from the “draft” file today for reasons hard to explain.

What I love about Dennis’s commentaries is that he refuses to engage in simplicities that reduce ambiguity to something manageable.

It led me this morning to The Passion (“suffering”) of Jesus, which begins Palm Sunday with a mistaken public perception: the Redeemer is a King who will vanquish the Roman “King” and who, perhaps, by his “Triumphal” Entry, will triumph over suffering.

The wish to escape suffering is, in some way, the kiss of death. There are Christian theologians today who argue that we should remove the cross as the central Christian faith symbol because it glorifies suffering, shifts the focus away from Jesus’ life, and contributes to the perpetuation of violence. But to do so would be to run and hide from the peculiar mystery of the human condition described by Dennis Aubrey’s piece – the ineffable and the beautiful in the face of suffering. The truth is in the paradox and the contradiction.

Steve’s poem brings all of that to mind. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem to free it from its military-economic occupiers and from its own violent self. The Passion continues to arrest our deepest soul in the mystery of life in the face of suffering and the abyss of nothingness. As Dom Sebastian Moore observed, “the crucified Jesus is no stranger” – we put him there…and we are he.

A Poem for Palm Sunday: “The Donkey: a Kid’s Verse…”

The coats the folks are throwing down

sure make it hard for me to walk

especially carrying this clown

whose feet are almost to the ground.

“Hosannah King!” is all the talk,

but this guy seems to be as poor

as I am–no one could mistake

him for a Royal–he’s just a fake!

They wave palm branches, and they roar,

but my long ears can hear the real

parade across the city square:

the General, the Priests, the score

of war horses–the whole grand deal.

This pitiful parade will fail

to save a soul, and soon the yell

will change from “Hail!” to…”Kill!”

– Verse by Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 28, 2012

A Song for each kind of day

Scheduling Calendar - differrent kinds of days

Scheduling Calendar - different kinds of days

Two years ago during my step-daughter’s final months with terminal cancer, I spent three days in quiet reflecton at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.Worshiping with the Benedictines was part of the structure of my day, the chants and readings opening space for fresh air to enter my angry soul…except for…the Psalms. Outrageously violent, vindictive, intolerant, self-righteous…horrible expressions of emotions I had gone there to revoke.

One day following morning prayer, I asked my Benedictine spiritual guide “Why do you read them aloud? Over and over again. They’re horrible.”

“Yes,” he replied, “because they’re real.” And words to this effect: “All those emotions are in us. Every one. Only if we recognize and remember can hate be transformed into love, fear into trust, self-centeredness into compassion. The gospel makes no sense unless it is a word spoken directly into these parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there, the sides of us we deny or from which we take flight into illusions of perfection.”

The words of another Benedictine, Dom Sebastian Moore of Downside Abbey in England, had hit the mark once before during the greatest personal crisis of my life – a time filled with the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow at the very same time. The words are heavily underlined in my copy of Moore’s The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger. They were a lifeline to a drowning man.

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of God not as standing at the end of the way we take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Or, as Steve concludes his poem, “there is a Psalm for each one of our days.”  Here’s the poem.

“A Song for Each Kind of Day”

Steve Shoemaker, April 12, 2012

 

One Hebrew word for “god” was “jah.”

(It was a time of many words

for god–and many gods.)  To say

“hallel” was for all to sing praise,

so HALLELUJAH meant “Praise God!”

(or “Thanks to you, oh God!”– for some

words could be truly translated

more than one way.

 

And so, a Psalm, or Song, that offered thanks or praise

might well be paired with a lament:

a cry of pain from one who prays

for help, relief, from gods who sent

disaster.  (But, of course, some Psalms

wisely acknowledged that some wrongs

 

were caused by those who sang the songs!)

There is a Psalm for each one of our days…

“Good” Friday?

It’s Good Friday. Why would anyone call it “GOOD”? Today the Roman Empire executed Jesus. Beat him, stripped him, mocked him, jeered at him, hoisted him intot he air on cross, threw dice for the purple royal robe in which they had clothed him, pierced his side with a soldier’s spear, heard him cry from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani!” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Why would anyone in their right mind call this horror “GOOD”?

The raising of the cross - James Tissot

Sebastian Moore, O.B, speaks to this in The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger (Seabury Press, 1977).

The meaning of the Christ-event is that in it the wrestle of man with his God-intended self is dramatized and led through the phases of rejection, hatred, crucifixion, destruction, surrender, new life. Oscar Wilde said, “each man kills the thing he loves.” Those who stop short of evil in themselves will never know what love is about. They will never receive the crucified. – p. 37

The human race thinks it can go on with all its Narcissistic human normalities, of war, of politics, of religion, and that somehow the vast other side of the picture will look after itself. So in opting for “himself as conscious”, man is opting for an ultimate solitude.

And ultimate solitude is death. It is to be cut off from the tree of life, and to wither. – pp. 69-70

For your further reflection, this poem received today from Steve Shoemaker.

Good Friday?

What makes this Friday Good is not what Rome

did to Jesus: torture, false witnesses,

and finally capital punishment.

In all regimes these standard practices

preserve the powerful, but then foment

disgust, infamy,  abroad– shame at home.

The dying one, the empty tomb was good

only if we are justified by trust,

mysteriously by God’s grace made whole.

The goodness cannot stay with us, it must

be passed on to the world–this is our role.

The Good is recalled in the feast:  soul food.

In a few moments I will host the Good Friday meditation – readings from the Gospels, long silences, the movements of Garbriel Faure’s Requiem…silence…reading… until it all soaks in.

I can’t get to Easter by by-passing the cross. Click  to hear the music.