Monday, February 07, 2005

Responsibility for being at-one

Part of the point of the last post was to indicate that we are hardly a "religious" nation, because we abandon responsibility at the drop of a hat. As I've mentioned before, one of the largest churches in Houston puts up billboards that advertise "We Believe in You!" Ostensibly it is a Christian church, but with slogans like that (and since when did churches need slogans?), it's hard to tell just what's being advertised, or why.

It's church as consumer product. And, as mentioned below, now we have patriotism as consumer product. As long as it reflects well on the "brand" (Budweiser; the United States of America), it does its job. Of course, neither should it demand anything of us. When was the last time any consumer product required any sacrifice on your part? Would you buy it if it did?

Which brings us to this:


I'm intrigued by the words "national atonement," because they remind me of the practice of the scapegoat whereon all the sins of the community were placed on the head of the goat which was sent out to die and symbolically remove the sins with the sacrifice.

My impression at this time, is that there is no overt sense of atonement in this nation, at least from the leadership. The thought that displays such as this commercial could be percieved subconsciously as a form of national atonement makes me wonder if perhaps there is something at work among those who believe that they are in the right as regards this war and our nation's responsibilities.

I'm probably being too vauge here. The concept I'm trying to address is the inner workings of grace and spirit on those who already feel that they have received the intentions of God and are working them out in the world (or those who could frankly care less about the intentions of God, but like to pretend that they do).

"Atonement" means, quite literally, "at one ment." The term arises from religion, and refers to reconciliation with the one offended; rapprochement; healing caused by a confession of error and request of forgiveness. Serendipitous or not, the Rector of my church yesterday preached on forgiveness, telling stories of people who had been insulted by others, and carried the wound of that insult for decades. It can be something impossible to put aside if the one who offended you doesn't offer an apology, doesn't accept fault. There are clearly two sides to forgiveness, and one of them comes from you when you are guilty of hurting someone else. Atonement is impossible until you take up that responsibility.

A responsibility absolutely rejected by our society, by our nation. How many wounded veterans do we honor, except in very special cases? How many times to do say "Support our Troops" and show a bandaged soldier, a legless soldier, a blinded soldier? Perhaps "left rev." is right, and those are the ones we put our "sins" on. The scapegoat is never honored for its work; to honor it, would be to admit some responsibility for your "sin."

Are there people who believe they are in the "right" regarding this war? I know some of them. They are old friends of mine, people I literally grew up with. Do they have a sense of atonement? From their religion, they know the term. But do they apply it to their public life, to their national concerns? No. They make a very careful separation. (and that is one of the dangers of separating religion from public life.) This is, to them "one nation, under God." But God makes no demands on them that middle-class morality doesn't make on them. God and their comfort zones are co-terminous. If there is a need for atonement, it is not for their sins, but for the sins of Vietnam, for the sins of those who "spat on the soldiers" when they came home. If there is an atonement for people who think that Budweiser commercial was stirring, moving, and right, it is the sense rather that "things" are finally being put back into place. And that their attitudes and beliefs are finally being confirmed by circumstances.

The "inner workings of grace and spirit," on the other hand, are just that: inner workings. Jesus says it is not what goes into a man, but what comes out of him, that matters. He was talking about pure and impure, but we don't know what is in someone's heart; we only know what their actions are. God tells Jeremiah the same thing: that God tests the heart, to find out what is there. And letting the inner workings of the Spirit and of grace change you, means first taking responsibility for your errors, your mistakes, for the sinful nature of the world you have adopted, and called "God's own." Creation is good; but what we do in it, is sometimes our own work alone. Are these people, these friends of mine, bad? No. I think they are wrong, but I am in no position to change their thinking. To them, "atonement" means not "getting right with God," but "getting right with what's right." They think that is God.

I don't; but that difference is my responsibility. Atonement without responsibility, is delusion, is denial. It is empty. But then, our consumer culture is filled with empty gestures. Because consumerism is all about money; and money is the emptiest symbol of all.

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