JOURNAL 8/23/11: London Fog (Pt. 2)
[Part 2] SIGNS OF HOPE IN THE LONDON FOG
“A day of little things,
no doubt, but who
would dare despise it?”
~ Zechariah 4:10a (NJB)
* * * * * * *
Rioters came to a pharmacy.
The druggist begged them
not to destroy the place.
It was, he begged, all he
had. The rioters left.
~ an eyewitness, on Twitter
* * * * * * *
DURING the London riots, so many of us looked down (at the rioters) for compelling evidence and “proof” of sinfulness, and looked up (at those in positions of power and wealth) for models of righteousness, decency and order.
Now, after the London riots, so many of us are looking down (at the rioters) for signs that the guilty still are being punished; and up (at those in positions of power and wealth) for signs of decency and order, and for answers, and maybe above all for signs of hope.
Both ways of looking – before the riots, after the riots -- are themselves signs and symptoms of our problem.
Both ways of looking – before and after -- are symptoms of the human condition.
“Our human condition” – our Fallenness – means that somehow, somewhere in our human ancestry – a “somehow” and “somewhere” summed up in the complex parable of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) – we made choices that “leaked” into the “atmosphere,” the ethos of living in this world.
Both ways of looking – before the riots, after the riots – are symptoms of oursin. “Sin” in the singular – meaning a condition. As opposed to “sin” in the plural, meaning separate acts.
This isn’t to justify greed and rampage, plunder and arson.
Rather, it’s to remind us that by mis-looking in these ways, we have missed two terribly terribly crucial features of reality. Biblical reality.
* * * * * * *
THE FIRST feature of biblical reality that we missed was the focus of the first part of this blog (8.12.11 “London Fog [Pt. 1]”).
Most of us missed the simple and biblical fact that greed and rampage, plunder and arson also happens “up there” – in the highest strata of society.
They happen day-in and day-out among crooked media and their moguls, crooked cops, crooked banks and politicians, amoral and greedy mortgage lenders and pharmaceuticals and oil companies and health insurance companies.
And the latter do, by far, immeasurably by far, the most damage. Their decisions and actions hurt the most people, desolate the most villages and towns and even nations, wreck the most homes and health and lives, take away futures beyond imagining for people beyond counting.
All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yes.
All are guilty before a Holy God. Yes!
But some – some few – are inconceivably more responsible for the outcome of their sins.
And just how do we go on missing this first major feature of biblical reality?
We do it by living upside-down and wrong-side-out.
We were created spiritual beings, who were meant to live from the inside-out: everything starting from our spirit, that capacity of the human being for direct connection with spiritual reality in general and Holy Spirit in particular, working outward to soul and body. And the body/soul unity followed the initiative, the lead, of the spirit.
"Soul," it needs to be said, is located in -- is a region of -- the physical matrix of the body. They are not "two different things," but two regions or dimensions ofone "thing -- body/soul. Soul refers to the thinking, imagining and imaging (the two are related), and emotional or feeling capacities of the body. And the body and its capacity for thinking, feeling, imagining and dreaming and imaging, is created to live at the behest of spirit.
We do our living, sadly and often tragically, the other way around. Body and soul dictate to spirit.
We live -- and meet, see, hear and value the world, and ourselves and all others in it -- upside-down. Wrong-side-out.
That is the human condition.
That is what it means to be Fallen.
Our past choices – somehow and somewhere, as sung by that complex parable of Genesis 2-3 – reversed our created nature. As a result – and a result of greed and intense self-centeredness, be it noted; of preferring private consuming to inter-Personal communion with the Holy One – we have chosen to live in reverse.
Now we follow the “lead” of body/soul, of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure of body (physical) and soul (emotional and mental).
Spirit is at best the wagging tail, at worst the bobbed-off tail, long ago left in the dirt.
Our spirit joins the Holy One on the sidelines of life, cheerleaders for what thereal players are all about.
“Spiritual” life is confounded with soul life; spiritual encounters have become aesthetic pleasures. There is no Cross left, no Suffering Servant, no Self-Emptying Savior (Philippians 2:5-11) whose mind is thus to transform ours from within, from spirit.
At best, in the religious communities, there is Entertainment Christianity. Spiritual blessing as emotional thrill, as aesthetic pleasure surge.
We are built upside-down, as it were.
We live outside-in, as it were. Backwards. In reverse.
No wonder we look upwards (in this world) rather than downwards (in this world).
There is -- from the inverted perspective of our inverted life -- only pain, suffering, loneliness “down there.”
There is pleasure, dignity, righteousness, decency and order “up there.”
We miss what the Bible is tying itself in knots to show us, which is exactly the reverse.
Those “up there” have less chance of getting into the Kingdom of Heaven than a mastodon has of doing hip-hop on a postage stamp. (Or, in faithfulness to Jesus’ analogy, as a dromedary does of threading a needle, Matthew 19:24.)
And it’s not so much because they are greater sinners, as it is because they damage more of God’s creation, hurt more of God’s people, out of their vastly greater power and wealth.
But we just go right on looking to them for values and role models and clues and cues.
* * * * * * *
THE SECOND feature of biblical reality we miss, therefore, is the fact hope just isn’t going to be found “up there.”
As always, it’s going to be found where – time after time, age after age, generation after generation after generation without fail – our God always locates these things.
Hope will be found “in the day of little things,” as the New Jerusalem Bible translates those words at the beginning of this post. “The day of small things,” as Today’s New International Version translates it.
Hope will be found, as it always is found in the Bible, among the Abram’s and Sarai’s – the migrants, the undocumented!– of this world.
Among people who drift out to the wilderness wells to get a bucket of life-saving water, but come back with revelations, as is so common throughout the Bible.
Among, not the customary first-born and eldest, but the later-born and youngest.
Among con artists like Jacob, whores like Rahab, foreign immigrants like Ruth, adulterers and murderers like David, tree-tenders like Amos, the immature and verbally awkward like Jeremiah, terrorists like Paul, outcasts at the very bottom of the social scale like the shepherds who first learned of The Birth of them all.
In the cardboard box hidden beneath the expressway interchanges or within the piss-stinking rat-rattling unused subway tunnels beneath the sooted city, a box that in the elegant language of yore might have been called a manger.
Among the sinners everyone else wants to kill (John 8:1-11. The fact this story appears in other gospels, and seems ultimately not to have a single identifiable "home" in any, tells me not that the jabber of the "higher critics" is correct -- namely, this story never happened -- but that it belongs to all the gospels.)
With the Samaritan (foreign and unclean) women who come outside the nice neat polite structures of human social arrangements, to visit with the One Who doesn't live there either (John 4) ... the One Who in fact has nowhere to hang for the night, and indeed, ultimately hangs only at, or on, the Cross.
Among the hungry and homeless, poor and imprisoned and naked, where our Lord Himself continues to be found (Matthew 25).
Among insignificant start-up tries, like a mustard seed, a lost coin, a single smelly sheep out of 100.
Why we haven’t caught on to God’s great slapstick reversals like these! (That's rhetorical, so undeserving of a question mark.) It's not as though they are exactly rare.
Rare, instead, is the one with eyes to see them, ears to hear the lines.
Because, alas and most likely, we are built upside-down and just cannot seem to unlearn those wretched – and often dangerous – old ways of seeing and valuing things. We are slow, at best, to rely on Liturgy and Eucharist, on askesis of world and flesh, on the Word along with those Bible and Holy Tradition words that witness to the Word … all to help us begin to grow ears that can hear the Sacred Silence in Elijah’s silent cave, the silence of a rioting mob walking away from a helpless man’s store … eyes to see the sight of small beginnings, small things.
May we learn them while there still is hope.
While those small beginnings, by the astounding grace of the Holy One, just keep on happening where He said they would.