Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Stories



O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people; Come and set us free, Lord our God.
Bill Moyers says what I was thinking but, of course, says it better:

The Christian story begins simply: A child is given, a son. He grows up to be a teacher, sage, healer and prophet. He gains a large following. To many he is a divine savior; to the rich and powerful he is an enemy. They put him to death in brutal fashion, befitting his humble beginnings in peasant Galilee and his birth in a stall thick with the raw odor of animals.

Toward the end of his life, Jesus preached in the Temple to large crowds, reaching the height of his power. There he told the parable that likely sealed his fate. He said there was a man who created a prosperous vineyard and then rented it to some tenants while he went away on a journey. At harvest time, the owner of vineyard sent a servant to collect a portion from the tenants, but they beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. Another servant came, and they struck him on the head. Another they killed. Finally, the owner sent his own son to collect the back payments. “They will respect my son,” he thought. But when the tenants saw the son, and knew him to be the heir, they saw their chance to take full possession of the harvest. And so they killed the son, thinking now they would owe nothing from the vineyard to anyone.

The listeners understood the symbolism: God, of course, is the owner of the vineyard, and the vineyard is Israel or the covenant, or, more broadly, the whole creation. It is all that God entrusts to the leaders of his people. And what is in question is their stewardship of this bounty.
Religion, the majority of Britons believe, is divisive, not uniting. They mean, of course, religious tensions; and undoubtedly have deep memories (far older than American memories) of religious wars and goernments toppled by the Church. Put in that context, the poll results almost make sense. It was certainly so in Jesus' day, but the shoe was on the other foot, and the ones divided away from Empire were the Hebrews, soon to be the Jews (with a helpful push out of Jerusalem by Rome). Britain has, to be honest, never wandered far from the Roman standard of civilization, though it has never been quite as brutal. Not at home, anyway.

But then consider the American experience, as Moyers puts it:

I grew up in East Texas, in a county that once had more slaves than any other in Texas. It is impossible to forget that as the slave power grew in the South and King Cotton catapulted the new nation into the global marketplace, the whole politics of the country was infected with a rule of property that did not—indeed could not—distinguish the ownership of things from the ownership of human beings. Drawing from the Hebrew prophets and the Book of Revelation, the abolitionists simply said this: the rule of law has become moral anarchy. God’s light clarified that the rule of law had become moral anarchy.
Something repeated again, a century later, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And this, by the way, is how one writes with moral authority:

The scale of the disorder in our national priorities right now is truly staggering; it approaches moral anarchy. Alexander Hamilton, the conservative genius of the financial class, warned this could happen. Speaking to the New York State legislature in 1788, he said:

As riches increase and accumulate in few hands; as luxury prevails in society; virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature: It is what, neither the honorable member nor myself can correct. It is common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution, as well as others.

Conservatives who revere the founding fathers tend to stress the last point—that there is nothing to be done about this "common misfortune." It is up to the rest of us, who see the founding fathers not as gods but as inspired although flawed human beings—the hand that scribbled "All men are created equal" also stroked the breasts and thighs of a slave woman, whom he considered his property—to take on "the tendency of things " to "depart from the republican standard," and hold our country to its highest, and most humane, ideals.

As stewards of democracy, we, too, have a covenant—with one another.
Or: "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."

Which aren't my words either; but it's almost Christmas, so whattya want from me?

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