Sunday, January 16, 2005

“This is the time of tension between dying and birth” --T.S. Eliot

Hair on the beloved’s head is sensual. To run your fingers through it; to admire it; to note its color and sheen and gloss. Even to let it play about you: “Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown.” (T.S. Eliot).

But if your beloved’s hair comes off on your fingers? Do you run your hand through it then? Or when you find it on the bathroom floor? Or in the bathtub?

Dirt is matter out of place.

“Dirt” is what you find on the living room carpet. In the garden outside, it is soil.

It’s all a matter of boundaries.

Foreign nationals on our territory are “foreigners,” perhaps even suspicious. But when we travel to their countries, we are “tourists.”

“We” are never “dirty; but “they” can be.

It is all a matter of who is on the right side of the boundary.

Or “trolls,” since we are on the Internet. They are annoying, obstructive, abusive, distracting. “They” are out of place. Just as most of the country seems to feel, now: like everyone not with them, is against them.

Understanding is all about boundaries. How alike are these things we don’t yet know from these things we know? How are they different? What are the boundaries? What is its “place”?

Those who are not with us, are against us, we say, and we draw a boundary. Jesus even said it: “ ‘The one who isn’t with me is against me, and the one who doesn’t gather with me scatters.’ ” (Luke 11:23, SV) But earlier in the same gospel, John says: “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in you name, and we tried to stop him, because he isn’t one of us. But [Jesus] said to him, ‘Don’t stop him; in fact, whoever is not against you is on your side.’ ” (Luke 9:49-50, SV) It is the perfect description of the bounded, and unbounded, basilea tou Theou (“empire of God”).

And empire, of course, must have a boundary; it must have a place, and over against that are the people who are "out of place." Something out of place is “against us.” Against our sense of order, or decency, or what is “right.” The order we were taught; or that we understood from childhood; or that we finally accepted. “We” are never “dirty; but “they” can be. So: do we make our opponents? Or do we simply confirm their opposition? If we have opponents, doesn’t that confirm our power? Because there is no power, without resistance. But if we make our opponents, aren’t we then as guilty as they, whenever there is war, or the threat of war? Do we ever stand outside the economy of exchange? And does God stand within our economy, or the economy we can percieve?

God is with us. That is the Christian confession. But where is "here," and who is "us"? “Whoever is not against you, is on your side.” “The one who isn’t with me is against me, and the one who doesn’t gather with me scatters.” It’s an inclusive exclusion. Those who aren’t against you, are with you. Those who aren’t with you, are against you. There is a division; but it is not up to you to enforce. The center does not control the boundaries. It does not hold. Whether or not you hold to the center, is all that matters. Those who are holding with you, are with you. Those who are not holding with you, are against you. But to take a position against them, does not further define you. In fact, it moves you away from the center. When Jesus says it, it is a challenge to those who listen, to consider where they stand. When we say it, we move ourselves away from the center, and try to put our selves in its place.

This is why the peace of God passes all understanding. It is its own boundary (else it were boundless, and so at once everything and nothing), but it passes beyond all our boundaries, and so beyond all our understanding. It does not even define itself by boundaries, but by who comes to it. It is bounded and unbounded, and by focussing on the center, not the edges, it remains true. It does not allow us to worry about who, or what, may be out of place. About whether "they" are trolls, or foreigners, or even Democrats or Republicans.

Which makes it hard to stand under.

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