24 June 2011

out of the shadows

On this Sunday, the 26th, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture will be observed.  (Or for short, the International Day against Torture.)

For the past decade, starting with 9-11, our country has had a relationship with torture that we can safely call “conflicted.”  It’s probably true that most countries have engaged in torture at some level.  But rarely are the practices that constitute torture stated as public policy.  And very rarely are they stated as public policy in a country that prides itself on being a beacon of human rights.

In his book, On the Threshold of Transformation, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr speaks of Jung’s concept of “shadow” as “where we put our qualities and traits that we deem unacceptable.” (194)  It’s our blind spot; it’s where we put stuff that we don’t want to deal with.

Cultures also have shadows.  Cultures of all kinds have them:  businesses, churches, even nations.  “Everything that seems unsuitable goes underground…Soon we forget the shadow’s existence, and we believe our public image.  When that happens, a group or nation is capable of doing great evil without recognizing it as evil.” (210)

Sometimes feelings of guilt hinder us from resolution.  We try to deny or redefine our actions.  However it happens, we can find ourselves acting with impunity.  We act as though we are a special case; we should be exempted from the penalty that, in any otherwise objective sense of the law, might justly be imposed.

In the particular case of our country, for two presidents in a row, it has been stated public policy to keep torture in the dark.  None of the architects of torture has been legally charged, and Obama’s refusal to even call for an investigation puts us in the category of being a nation of men, not laws.

Jesus has interesting words on the shadow, words that apply to all of us.  “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3) 

On the matter of cultural shadow, Rohr notes that “God sends prophets to make nations aware of their shadow side, which usually results in the prophets getting persecuted or killed.” (210)

17 June 2011

systematic strongholds

When I was in college, I took several philosophy classes.  In one class, we looked at logical positivism.  Very roughly speaking, it holds that a statement is meaningless if it cannot be verified in an empirical, or experimental, manner.  It has the effect of ruling out, for example, theology.  When our professor asked us to critique this philosophy, I responded by saying that it simply chooses to ignore what doesn’t fit into its system.

In chapter 10 of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul deals directly with his opponents among the “super-apostles” and their followers.  Here is his reminder:  “The weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (vv. 4-5)

We don’t often think of “strongholds” as “arguments.”  But we are more than capable of letting a philosophy or a system of thought become a “proud obstacle.”  It can be a proud obstacle that hinders the flow of wisdom which opens us to “the knowledge of God.”  It can be an obstacle in other ways.  It can close our minds to other possibilities—possibilities which our self-imposed system doesn’t allow us to explore.  Maybe we think those other possibilities are meaningless. 

And maybe those other possibilities never occur to us because we only know our own system!

02 June 2011

ascending within

Today is the Ascension of the Lord. In the book of Acts, it is pictured this way. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus is speaking with the apostles, telling them to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit. Here is chapter 1, verse 9: “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

The ancients commonly perceived the cosmos as a “three story” universe: the heavens on top, our world in the middle, and the underworld down below. Today, thanks to quantum physics, we don’t perceive the cosmos—or ourselves—the same way. We might tell that story as Jesus as becoming interwoven with our space and time. Perhaps the resurrection body has access to dimensions that our bodies do not!

A few years ago, Nazarene professor Andy Johnson speculated that since “our very flesh is constantly interchanging elements with the rest of the material universe…Luke’s portrait of the body of the risen Lord stretches our own theological imagination, because…it would force us to make the theological claim that, in raising the entirety of the body of Jesus, God has begun the redemption of all aspects of space and all aspects of time, both past and future. This is because the stuff of Jesus’ body shared a history with the rest of the stuff of the old order, a history stretching back to the Big Bang. It also has a future that stretches into our own present in the bread and wine of the eucharist, our own anticipation of the messianic banquet of God's consummated reign.”

That’s a truly cosmic body and blood of the Lord!

Have an elevated Ascension Day!

(The quote is from Andy Johnson’s article, “Our God Reigns: The Body of the Risen Lord in Luke 24,” Word and World 22:2)