Monday, December 30, 2013

The Dirty Hands of God

"How long will You look on? [...] O Lord, be not far from me." Ps. 35:17, 22

An old friend of mine has been leaving much of the faith he grew up with, and it has made him say some strange things. For example: one of his step-daughters (who's about six or seven) came up to him and asked if he would like to donate some money to her church. He asked her why and she said her church was trying to raise money to build a well or water pump (I forget which) in some African village that did not have a consistent and clean water supply. My friend then asked her if she knew God really loved those people, and she said He did. His response was: "Then why doesn't He give them water?"

Knowing my friend, I'm sure he thought he was being clever or funny, though I don't know whether or not he gave her any money. What I do know is that his final statement was ironic, ironic because of its ignorance about God and His main means of operation in the world today: the Church. The Church is made up of all true believers everywhere and is referred to in Scripture as "the body of Christ" (Rom. 12:3-5; I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:15-16), which means several things, but one in particular is that the Church is the continuing presence of Christ (and thus, God) on earth in human form after His ascension. That is why my friend's statement was ignorantly ironic: he wondered aloud why a loving God wouldn't give people water, not seeing that God was in the process of doing just that through His body, viz., the people of a local church, including my friend's own step-daughter.

I suppose the fact that God doesn't play by our rules (or our logic or "good" ideas) can be quite frustrating. It would seem simpler and smarter for God to just snap His fingers and fix a problem, any problem, all problems, in an instant. But He doesn't. He seems instead to take the long way around: holding off the apocalypse while working out His will through people and their actions. It does seem counter-intuitive, though why it's not is an issue for another post. For now, the point is that what the story of Scripture (and I would posit common Christian experience as well) seems to say is that God prefers to work through things: actual objects and places as well as people and their actions. He does not work in the abstract nor perform out of thin air. As with the creation in Genesis and on through to today, all God's works are gritty and tangible, even if they're often too subtle to be a spectacle.

The god of this world.
We demand a spectacle. We often demand (as my friend did in a roundabout way) that God "prove" himself though some spectacle, some instantaneous feat from nowhere, like He's a magician performing tricks for an audience. It is the attitude Mussolini had when he said, "God, if you are there, strike me dead!" It is the sentiment expressed in a very moving scene in The Grey when Liam Neeson's character calls out for God to save him from the dire situation he's in (which of course "God" doesn't do). It is the position held by the Pharisees when they demanded a "sign" from Jesus (Matt. 12:38; Matt. 16:1; Mark 8:11), and Jesus' answer then seems to be God's answer now: "no sign will be given" (Mark 8:12). No performance, no spectacle, no show. It is not the way He works.

"Let's get down to 'de nitty-gritty."
God's work is concrete and patient, like an invincible yet currently invisible seed planted in the earth, growing unstoppably though subtly. He does not work through instantaneous nothingness but rather though all the solid substances He has made: through flesh and blood, through dirt and water, through all the elements of nature and man. His presence has been marked by pillars of fire and cloud as well as whispers and whirlwinds, and His influence has been felt by thunder and hail as well as plagues of famine and pests and diseases. He wrought His will through the lives of nations and empires as well as individual people, from Moses and Joshua and Samuel to Balaam and Rahab to Peter and Paul. He has revealed Himself, first in words through voices and writings, and then by becoming a man Himself. And all of His acts take their time, from 40 years in the wilderness to 400 years of silence to 2000 years of the Church. He is always practical, methodical, and patient.

The hands of God.
Again, this can seem counter-intuitive to us, or at least counter to our intuition, which is necessarily limited, finite, and fallen, and of course God's thoughts are not our thoughts, etc. However, I don't care to leave the whole thing at the feet of "God works in mysterious ways," because I actually like the way He works. Seriously. I like that it is concrete, actual, gritty, a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-your-hands- dirty affair. I like that the heart of the king (or president) is in God's hands (Prov. 21:1), and that my sanctification is God working through me (Phil. 2:12-13) rather than outside of me or in spite of me. I like that he can work and chooses to work through a local church and a little girl in order to bring water to someone. In short, I like that God is an incarnational God, a God of flesh and blood and earth. He is not "out there" or "over there" somewhere but rather right here with us, in the midst of all of us (Acts 17:26-28), both our pains and our joys, weeping and rejoicing in turn, and all the while working His unstoppable will and way through the actual, everyday lives of His actual, everyday people.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Lover and a Fighter (a Christmas postscript)

The following is from pages 124-125 & 130 of C.S. Lewis' book Reflections on the Psalms:

[The Psalms' focus on the Messiah as a conquering hero] emphasizes an aspect of the Nativity to which our later sentiment about Christmas (excellent in itself) does less than justice. For those who first read these [messianic] Psalms as poems about the birth of Christ, that birth meant something very militant: the hero, the "judge" or champion or giant-killer, who was to fight and beat death, hell and the devils, had at last arrived, and the evidence suggests that Our Lord also thought of Himself in those terms.


The hero has come.
Read in this sense, the [messianic] Psalm restores Christmas to its proper complexity. The birth of Christ is the arrival of the great warrior and the great king. Also of the Lover, the Bridegroom, whose beauty surpasses that of man. But not only the Bridegroom as the lover, the desired; the Bridegroom also as he who makes fruitful, the father of children still to be begotten and born. Certainly the image of a Child in a manger by no means suggests to us a king, giant-killer, bridegroom, and father. But it would not suggest the eternal Word either---if we didn't know. All alike are aspects of the same central paradox.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Man of Sorrows

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." Ps. 34:19

"I'm having my best life now."
Our God is a man of sorrows. He has been acquainted with grief and affliction (Is. 53:3-4), and He has promised the same to those who follow Him (Matt. 10:16-25; John 15:18-20). I find an odd comfort in this. Our God has made a plan for pain. He does not ignore it or downplay it or frown upon those who experience it. He experienced it, deliberately (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 12:2-3), and has sanctified it into an avenue of glory (II Cor. 4:16-18). This does not suddenly candy-coat it. This does not mean that all who suffer should "buck up" and smile more. Pain is still pain. Affliction is still affliction, and suffering is still suffering. It all still hurts and wears you out. The difference is that it isn't meaningless anymore; nothing is meaningless anymore. All has been infused with purpose, and thus infused with hope: not just that you'll get through it all but also that it is all leading somewhere good (Rom. 8:18, 28-30).

This is what makes "prosperity" teachings or any other syrupy Christianity so laughable and damnable. Laughable because they so blatantly contradict common sense about the fundamental tragedy in existence, and damnable because they attempt to undo the deeper comedy that God has done. He gave pain a purpose, but they would undo that purpose in our minds, returning suffering to a sign of disfavor and failure. They have displaced hope with despair, for who can truly say they are living their best life now? Who can truly say they have claimed all that they've named? Who can say that their afflictions have all ended because they had just enough faith (as if faith were a cure for suffering rather than the strength and succor to endure it)?

The world does not need another rabid optimism to spread childish lies; rather, it needs something stronger, something more robust, something adult. It needs something that can face all the rugged realities of life without flinching or excusing or dismissing. In short, it needs a God who is acquainted with grief to take pity on our frail frames (Ps. 103:13-14) and provide a purpose for pain.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"...the blue sapphire of the year..." (by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

Thou hast not made, or taught me, Lord, to care
For times and seasons---but this one glad day
Is the blue sapphire clasping all the lights
That flash in the girdle of the year so fair---
When thou wast born a man, because alway
Thou wast and art a man, through all the flights
Of thought, and time, and thousandfold creation's play.

(George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Christmas music from Fernando Ortega (with apologies for a few cheesy images):

In Our Midst (Christmas Homily)

"...eyes to see..."
"O taste and see that the Lord is good." Ps. 34:8

The goodness of God is not an abstraction, not a mere dog- matic assertion requiring no more than intellectual assent. Rather, the goodness of God is to be a sensory experience (and not the only one). It is meant to be tactile and fragrant, audible and visible and flavorful. This does not mean that you will suddenly receive complete comprehension of the incom- prehensible God. What it does mean is that His goodness is meant to be experienced in the actual moments of your life. It is to be a point of contact between you and the Divine, a moment of Incarnation, a moment where God leaves the ivory tower of your mind and becomes real in the midst of your experience.

As close as the house you're standing in.
If our God is hidden, it is because He is too immense and not because He is too obscure, like the house you're living in, which is the only one you don't see when you look out your window. It is too close for perception, and so is God. The incomprehensibly im- mense God is in your midst always, and though the limits of our mind cannot grasp Him fully, He is meant to be experienced. He is meant to be met in the moment. In ancient days, though veils and walls kept Him separate from His people, He still had a place amongst them, an actual dwelling in the Holiest of Holies. Today, though time and space and perception seem to separate us, He is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:26-28). Furthermore, He has made His people His dwelling place (John 14:23; II Cor. 6:16), a body fitly joined together (Eph. 4:15-16), so that He may be experienced by us as well as through us to the world (Matt. 5:14-16).

Our God believes in making Himself known, believes in revelation and incarnation, believes in proving Himself to be real. If he had not spoken through His word, if He had not come in the likeness of men, then we would have cause to call Him an obscurantist. But He did, so we do not. He has proven His presence (Is. 45:18-19; Heb. 1:1-2), he has proven His love (Rom. 5:8; I John 4:9-10), and He continually proves His goodness. Therefore, ask for eyes to see Him, to see His goodness, and to let that goodness build a monument to His presence in your life.

"I have not spoken in secret...."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

All in One (and nothing more or less)

"Guess who?"
"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.... He spoke, and it was done. He commanded, and it stood fast. [...] The counsel of the Lord stands forever, and the thoughts of His heart to all generations. [...] He is our help and our shield. Our hearts shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted His holy name." Ps. 33:8-21

There is that oft-quoted phrase from Narnia about how Aslan "isn't safe" but is "good." The idea comes from the terror of God in the light of His sovereignty: He wills what He wants and speaks what He wills and none can stop Him. That is power you cannot buy nor inherit or steal. It is absolute power, power belonging to Power Himself, and alone it is a terror. If the God that rules all is merely a Being of power, then we have cause to be uneasy.

If He has no wisdom to guide His power to its proper means and ends, then He is no more than a child playing with a weapon of mass destruction. If He has no love to influence His power for the good of others, then He is no more than a spoiled child playing with a weapon of mass destruction. If He has no justice to allot His power into proper amounts, then He is a reckless, spoiled child playing with a weapon of mass destruction. And if He has no goodness shaping His power towards benevolent ends, then He is no child at all but rather a demonic force supreme. Again, we would have cause to be uneasy.

Every facet finds its place.
Of course, the praise of the saints for God is directed towards His terrific power, but not it alone. We praise God for all that He is, and He is all that is good: power and wisdom and love and justice and goodness and all else that is right and proper, all united into a single, harmonious, active, personal Being called God. His power is as wise as it is terrible, and his wisdom as powerful as it is wise, and both as just as they are terrible and wise, and on and on and on, every layer intertwining until no twines remain and all is whole and one and inseparably God. He knows no isolation. His power cannot be isolated into a single action, devoid of everything else belonging to Him. Rather, it is always and forever buttressed by and buttressing every attribute that He is. For this, for His completeness and balance, for us having everything to fear and yet nothing to fear, we praise Him and rejoice in Him and call blessed all those who have Him as God. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dexter and the Necessity of Confession

"When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long." Ps. 32:3

"Get it? It's a pun."
In the T.V. show Dexter, the eponymous protagonist is a sociopath whose foster father taught to direct his homicidal tendencies in more "con- structive" directions, i.e., becoming a serial killer of serial killers and other atrocious criminals. Some of the show's dramatic tension revolves around the usual nonsense about moral ambiguity (which as I've mentioned elsewhere is simply another proof of moral absolutes and our guilt before them), but the primary dramatic tension comes from Dexter's loneliness. Who he is and what he does isolates him from everyone: his coworkers, his sister, his girlfriend/wife. Regardless of the moral question over his actions, he feels there is no one who can really understand him and what he's going through (except his father, who's dead, and other crazy people, who he always winds up having to kill). Thus, the true tragedy of the show is not all the death Dexter causes but the silence he must endure. He longs to be honest with someone about who he is, but he knows he can't.

When God said, "It is not good for man to be alone," He was making a relational proposition. We were not meant for isolation or separation, to hear those awful words, "Depart from me. I never knew you." We are meant to be with others, even if it's just one other, for we are made in the image of the trinitarian God, who has never been alone, even in the time-before-time when He was by Himself. This is what makes Dexter a tragic character: his is the tragedy of Eden. He hides himself because of himself. Fearing rejection, he self-imposes isolation. It is not impossible to imagine that if he did not fear rejection, if he knew that confession would be met with forgiveness and mercy, that shame would be met with love (from his sister, his wife, or anyone)---it is not impossible to imagine that in such a scenario, he would find peace.

Confession is good for the soul, because it is not good for us to be alone. Silence is isolation, and isolation is a slow (perhaps infinite) death, a growing old of the bones through groaning. But unless forgiveness and mercy are guaranteed, unless we know that stepping out in confession is a step into a loving environment, then we will keep silent out of fear. This is what spearheads David's praise in Psalm 32: the truth that "perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). When he kept silent, he found the shadow of death upon him (Ps. 32:3). But when he confessed, he found forgiveness from God, an occasion that causes him to stand still (Ps. 32:5, including the "Selah"). Because of this radical forgiveness, David calls God "my hiding place," a place of safety and deliverance rather than judgment (Ps. 32:7). Forgiveness and mercy are the end of silence and fear and isolation, and "he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall encompass him" (Ps. 32:10).

God's house is on the corner.
That is why it is "radical" forgiveness: it is completely unexpected. The Holy, Perfect, All-Powerful God who is absolutely and intimately aware of all that you are and have done---that is the one place where we rightly expect judgment, and yet it is the one place we find perfect love desiring to forgive. "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," says the Holy, Perfect God, "but that the wicked would turn from his way and live" (Eze. 33:11). "I knew," said Jonah, "that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and revoking condemnation and calamity" (Jonah 4:2). "Who is a God like you?" exclaims Micah. "Pardoning iniquity and passing by transgression because you delight in mercy and compassion" (Micah 7:18-19). Where is fear now? It is removed. Why should we run and hide? Love is waiting to replace all our ashes with beauty and all our shame with peace.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Heart of Worship (isn't us)

Leave yourself at the door.
"You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have removed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, to this end: that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto You forever." Ps. 30:11-12

It is the goodness of God in all its facets that drives our worship and nothing else. We do not worship out of fear, either of His power or His wrath, His great strength or His great fury. We do not worship out of duty, following the formalities and commands of maxims and generations. And we do not worship a mercenary goodness, one we must continually purchase or be cut off. Other gods have demanded worship out of fear, duty, or bribery, but our God is not shallow like them. He is greater than they, and our worship is substanced with greater things, i.e., true love and joy coming in response to eternal, fundamental Goodness that comes without a price (Is. 55:1-3).

Gasp! Not about me?
This is a radical notion of worship, not only because it smashes the legalistic and pagan view of worship by fear or duty or bribery, but also because it smashes the sentimentalist view that worship is centered on us: our sincerity, our emotions, our needs. Such things do play a part, but only as fruit plays a part in a tree. They are not the center, just as we are not the center. Worship is not a subjective experience. It is our subjective response to our subjective experience of the objective reality that is God and His goodness towards us. Our emotional fervor, in any degree, is not the point of worship but rather a natural effect of the real point: the contemplation and comprehension (however slight) of God and His goodness. Without that objective center to fixate our subjective minds and hearts, worship becomes an empty, narcissistic affair, a chorus of clanging gongs and crashing cymbals.

Common sense. And physics.
It is objective reality that creates worship. It is truth that creates wonder and awe. I cannot stress this point enough. Our generation has bought the lie that wonder comes from ignorance, and thus objective, absolute truth must be doubted into oblivion. It is a tragic, evil thing because we are left twisting in the wind without waypoint or guide, and eventually our wonder will dissolve into confusion, frustration, and despair. Only fixed truth creates wonder. Only objective reality creates worship. It is the strong anchor point that allows a kite to fly. It is a strong, gripping root system that allows a tree to grow so tall and flourish so brightly. That is common sense, a common sense we abandon the instant we talk about the most important thing: God.

The road to modern "worship."
My generation has been deceived. We think we worship in the dark because it is dark, but that is a lie. We worship in the light because it is light. There may be blindness in both cases (for you may be blinded by an excess of light as well as an absence), but in the case of light we are blinded by something. In the dark we are blinded by nothing. That difference, so simple and obvious, makes all the difference in the world, both in worship itself and life in general. Is there really something there to which you respond? Or is it just you, alone in the dark, with no way of knowing what's really out there? Your answer will literally shape your world, either into a world of glorious light creating awe and worship, or a world of smothering dark creating doubt and fear, and breeding unbelief.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Trees (and the beauty of God)

We shall behold Him....
"Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Ps. 29:2b

A standard Hebrew word for "beauty" is "noam," which means "pleasing or delightful to the senses." It is the word David uses in Psalm 27:4 when he said that part of his great desire was to "behold the beauty of the Lord." It is a bold statement, not just in what it's asking but also in what it's implying, i.e., God's beauty is a sensory experience (and not just a mental abstraction). However, David did not use "noam" here in Psalm 29:2. He uses "hadarah" instead, which includes the idea of "noam" but carries it further. "Hadarah" means "ornamentation" or "decoration," and could be associated with one's apparel ("adornment"). It is similar to the Greek word "κοσμος" in that they both mean "order," a specific kind of order: an arranging or arrangement of beauties ("noam") that accentuates and maximizes their overall beauty.

The beauty of holiness.
Think of it like a Christmas tree, which we decorate ("hadarah") with beautiful things ("noam") in order to make an even more beautiful thing, a summation of beautiful parts. I can think of other examples, like jewelry, which is the taking of separate, individual jewels ("noam") and arranging them in a particular sequence ("hadarah") to create an even greater beauty. Another good example, as I mentioned earlier, would be clothing. The "beauty of holiness" is sometimes translated the "attire of holiness," a less poetic but not unfair reading. Individual pieces of clothing may be beautiful ("noam") with their own colors and patterns, but style (and occasionally fashion) comes from arranging ("hadarah") these pieces together into a single, stylish ensemble.

There are more examples I could give: a stained-glass window, the human body, and even the Bible itself are all examples of separate, individual beauties ("noam") brought together to make a beautiful arrangement ("hadarah"). The overall point, however, can be summarized in three startling thoughts: (1) God's beauty is for the senses; (2) beauty belongs to order, and the greater the order the greater the beauty; and (3) holiness is a kind of beauty, a "hadarah" beauty, an arranging of single beauties into a magnificent whole. Perhaps it is the greatest beauty of all, since it is the beauty that belongs to God, a beauty that our sense are capable of beholding and desire to behold.

"When shall I come and see the face of God?"

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Courage of Gandalf (is the courage to wait)

Wait for it....
"I would have fainted if I had not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in my life. Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord." Ps. 27:13-14

We often equate courage with bravery and get nowhere because the two are synonyms. It is another dead-end tautology. The older (and truer) meaning of courage had to do with endurance. "Guts," as C.S. Lewis called it. Guts to endure, to hang on through the assault, through the storm, through the siege and the struggle. It has nothing to do with winning; the brave do not always win. Rather, it has to do with not giving in, to reach your breaking point and not break.

This is the meaning behind that strange aside Paul makes in Ephesians. After taking over five chapters to assert the romantically heroic image of our oneness in Christ, how God sees us in Him, how He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing so that we may edify the Church and do battle along side Him against the forces of spiritual darkness---after this vigorous onslaught, there comes an odd punctuation: "and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13). It is as if victory is not the point. It is already won in Christ (I Cor. 15:57), but it is not the point. Endurance is the point. Holding on. Standing strong. Not moving forward but neither moving backward. Like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad Dum, we stand as "a wizened tree before the onset of a storm." We cannot move, but they shall not pass.

This is why Psalm 27 equates courage with waiting on God. Waiting is the frustrating thing, the annoying thing, the gnawing, agonizing thing, but it is the courageous thing because it is the epitome of endurance, of hope, of faith. We wait and do not faint because we believe, not only that God is good, but that we will see His goodness with our own eyes, that we will taste it with our own lips. We believe in this hope, the hope of His goodness, of His promise to work all things out to our good. So we have courage: we wait. We endure, and in the midst of it all we find that God strengthens our heart for the endurance, because His goodness comes to those who wait.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Strength (Homily Magnus)

"Be thou exalted, Lord, in Thine own strength. So we will sing and praise Thy power." Ps. 21:13

The babe with the power!
The modern western world is obsessed with power. From our most intellectual blather to our most common jargon, we've got power on the brains. In literary circles, we're concerned with characters having "agency," the ability to make their own choices and choose their own destiny. In the world of pop psychology, we endlessly seek "empower- ment," an affirmation and enabling of our own self and desires. Popular culture regularly feeds into our need for self-actualization, and in the revolving-door insane asylum of social and political activism, power is the key agenda: who has it, how they're abusing it, and how we can acquire more for ourselves and others.

"Come at me, bro."
It feels cheap and easy to lay this particular mania at the feet of Nietzsche, but I cannot help it. He is too obvious a target, as he would prefer. No doubt he had his inspirations, and he has definitely inspired others who carried his ideas further and further, but if you observe all the assumptions of our postmodern society and reduce them back to their source, you get Nietzsche. He was the voice crying in the wilderness, the first step in a new direction. It is he who successfully reduced all of life to power, to dominance and submission, to masters and slaves, to supermen and sheep. It is he who declared (ironically) that all language is the myriad masks of power, and it is his postmodern disciples of the mid to late 20th century that stretched his ideas all the way into popular consciousness. Now there is no truth; there is only power, and all claims on truth are merely disguised plays at power. There is nothing left for us but the destruction of all the "truths" and then the mad scramble for power that pours out of them like candy from a sad, shattered pinata.

There can be only one.
It is no wonder that Nietzsche (and everyone poisoned by his epistemological children) hated Christianity. It is a great rebuke to his worldview of power, for not only will the meek inherit the earth, but also all-power already belongs to One. Forever and endlessly belongs to One. God has all the power, for He is all the power. He infinitely is it and has it and gives it to all without once diminishing His surplus. Before Him, the mad scramble for power and the mad cycle of dominance and submission end. There is only one Power, and it is God. Likewise, there is only one dominance, and that is His. And there is only one submission, and that is ours. The superman already exists, has always existed. He is God incomprehensible, the Father Almighty.

All of Him, all at once.
Yet it is not mere power that makes God incomprehensible, but rather all of His divine attributes at once. He brings all of Himself to bear on every action that He takes, and included in Himself is not only infinite power but also infinite love and justice and grace and wisdom and goodness. Perhaps the greatest rebuke to the Nietzschean ethic is God's irreducibility: His incomprehensible nature is not a complexion of parts but rather a single, harmonious whole with every attribute working in perfect interwoven tandem and solidarity. Thus, His all-power can only come prepackaged with His all-love and all-wisdom and all-goodness and everything else that He infinitely is.

Think of it this way. We know what it means to leave a part of ourselves behind when we make a decision. We leave a part of ourselves "at the door," so to speak. There are times when we make a solely emotional decision (with our children or loved ones), where we leave logic and reason and other factors behind. On the other hand, we can with effort make solely logical decisions, blocking out emotional elements and trying to make a cold, rational choice. In either case, something is left out. This is not necessarily the best or worst way to make decisions, but it is a way we are familiar with, because it is true to who we are: we are not like God. We are not a harmonious whole of attributes; He is. He never leaves any of Himself "at the door." He brings all that He is into every action He makes, for He cannot be reduced to any one part of Himself. That is what is meant by His "irreducibility."

Portrait of the superman.
Every heresy and error of man can be traced to a reduction of God (or the ultimate "thing"). Every crazed philosopher or good natured guru has made the same mistake, though they make it in a myriad of ways. Reduce all to peace, and you create a rabid pacifism that would allow horrific injustices to occur just to keep its hands clean. Reduce all to power, and you unleash a world of merciless narcissism, cruelty, and brutality. God is a slap in the face to all our nonsense, the spitting in the eye of our reductionistic insanities. He will not be reduced to our minimalist understanding. He will not be confined by our finite categories. He will be Himself and nothing less. His peace will not rest until it has broken every peace-breaker, and His power wrought its most awesome work in a poor carpenter from Nazareth who would not revile when He was reviled, and whose humiliating submission to death crushed the power of death forever, for the weakness of God is still stronger than the strength of supermen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas (sort of)

Classic Christmas cheer from "Straight No Chaser":

On Gentleness (Homily 59)

We're all labeled.
"...Thy gentleness has made me great." Ps. 18:35b

To speak of God's gentleness is to speak of His understanding. He knows us. He knows how small and frail we are, how limited and imperfect in our knowledge and abilities. He knows our propensity to fear, and He knows our frustrated desire to be better than what we are. We cannot fool Him. Our weakness is like an open book before Him, like an open wound, and He sees us for the bumbling fools that we are, sees our strutting and posturing for the facades that they are. He sees. He knows. He understands, and on the basis of that understanding He pities us. Not as our betters "pity" us, with a smirk hiding a sneer, but as a father would his children (Ps. 103:13-14): with a smile, and a loving, helping, outstretched hand.

God handles with care.
It is the gentleness of God that makes us great. It is by His mercies that we are not consumed. Where is boasting? It is removed. Where is pride? It has been swallowed up in love. What can we say to these things, for who is a god like this? Many gods have understood who we are and what we're made of, but they have not responded with gentleness, nor with pity, save the "pity" of the smirk-painted sneer. Our God never smirks or sneers. He forgives. He heals. He upholds by His right hand. He reaches out to lift up, to redeem our souls out of hell, to show us the paths of life (Ps. 16:10-11). We have deserved none of this, earned none of this. How could we? We are weak and frail, but God responds to our weakness with gentleness, breathing boundless grace and mercy through our lifelessness like a soft breeze sends dead leaves dancing across the ground. And because we are always weak, God is always gracious. Therefore, we only have grounds for joy, for we are caught up in a whirl of gentleness, of God's gentleness making us greater than we ever were before. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013