Pistis and Polis, roughly rendered from the Greek as “Faith and the City,” is the ministers’ blog from All Saints Church. Here you’ll find commentary on matters relating to faith and contemporary culture.
I hear a lot about anxiety disorders in children. After all I have 465 of them in my school, and a good number of them are on one medication or another. That’s so common these days we hardly think about it. In our homily at All Saints this morning, Fr. Davidson shared from Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount – “Don’t be anxious…” Here are four things I heard:
1 – Get to know God better through prayer, Bible reading and worship. God may not fit our pre-conceived notions either as a harsh judge, or someone “out there” playing a big game of “gotcha” when you’re trying to have fun. Allowing ourselves to be shaped by the Scriptures and the faith community is better for the soul.
2 – Break enslavement to possessions by giving to the poor. Alms-giving is a little-known aspect of Christian piety, but the Church has encouraged it from the beginning (no, the money the government takes from you to fund welfare with your taxes doesn’t count). The point is that most of us are enslaved in some fashion to our possessions, and we worry about them. Billionaires worry as much as middle class soccer moms. And did you know that heroin use is up 400% among white middle class women over the last ten years? Wow. That’s a symptom of a growing problem with anxiety and pressure. By giving to others less fortunate than ourselves we can not only bless them, we can receive by faith the truth that the birds of the air and the lilies of the field really are less important to God than we are.
3 – Have a financial plan. That means no debt. Overcoming anxiety is not a matter of carelessness. Jesus didn’t say that we shouldn’t plan. The Proverbs send us to the ant to observe provident behavior, noting how she lays up food for the winter, and does it with high efficiency with no apparent captain to tell everybody what to do. Don’t have a plan? Make one. Need a will? Get one. You do have a future. Get about creating it thoughtfully.
4 – Finally, tithe to your church. Seeking first the kingdom of God is message about getting priorities straight and subordinating our personal kingdoms to what God is doing in the world. The work of God does not go forward without the support and the means that God’s own people provide from what he first gives to them. The Bible teaches this from cover to cover.
Feeling anxious? Maybe your body needs some medication, but you’ll have to see your doctor about that. It could be, however, that you’re suffering from something deeper. Before you make that doctor’s appointment, consider that your soul might need better habits of Christian piety.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is more than a morality tale. Loving your neighbor means that you treat all other people fairly, respectfully, and kindly. But you don’t get crucified for telling stories about being nice, so we have to look deeper. And the story is sharper: Which of the three men turned out to be the neighbor to the Jew in the ditch? Here’s another way to put it, “Which person in the story counts as the ‘neighbor’ whom the Law commands us to love as yourself?”
The answer is obvious; but in Jesus day, the answer was revolutionary. After all there were two very big competing stories going on here. Shortly before Jesus was born, Virgil had just published the Aeneid, which provided the mythical back-story for the origin of the Roman World. Rome is founded by the refugees of fallen Troy. Virgil is said to have recited Books 2, 4 and 6 to Augustus (Octavian) who is the emperor when Jesus is born. Octavian took the title, Divi Filius (Son of God). At the time of Jesus the Pax Romana is ascending and Rome self-consciously believes itself to be a messianic state. Naturally, the Jews have another story. Their story pre-dates Rome, Troy and Greece, and doesn’t include Romans, Trojans or Greeks. It doesn’t even include Samaritans. It goes without saying that it doesn’t expect or include what George Bush calls ‘Muricans.
To put it in modern terms, there would have been wall to wall coverage on Zionist TV. You could hear Chris Matthews or Piers Morgan saying, “These are not neighbors; their enemies. If this non-violent demonstrator Jesus believes otherwise, he’s a total enemy of the Jewish state, and quite possibly an existential threat.”
The Jew in the ditch discovered that the Samaritan was his neighbor. And the other two were not. Remember the original question: Who would inherit the age to come? Who will have a stake in the kingdom? Jesus is saying that outsiders are coming in; insiders are going out. All the boundaries his audience thought were clear and fixed were being redrawn by Jesus.
The parable of the Good Samaritan therefore is a story that Jesus used to call Israel back to its original story, that in Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed.
A national sin is to be distinguished from your personal life. Each of us is a son of
Adam, born in sin, and each of us has personally offended the Almighty. We understand that Jesus died for our sins. We pray the prayer of confession each week. We take comfort in individualizing the absolution that is pronounced to us by the priest.
But we also participate in a body politic, a corporate existence in which we act together. In the OT we find the people of God sinning as a people, promoting abominations vastly greater in scale than that of individuals, sins that become embedded into the structure of society. These included sins like idol worship and the construction of what the Bible calls “the high places.” The oppression of the poor registers high in the OT catalog of sins and there are many others. These are the kind of sins to which the prophets of the OT call attention over and over.
I tell my students that there are three great sins in America today. I didn’t get this out of a book; and maybe your list would be different than mine. But here they are: 1) the national sin of abortion, which was legalized when I was 11 years old in 1973. Number 2) national debt; it is unthinkable that people personally acquire overwhelming amounts of debt. This often happens, sometimes by design, sometimes by a turn of circumstances. But I am referring to something different. On a national scale, it is an immoral thing that the whole country is drowning in debt that is at once intentional as it is avoidable. We are told that the nation’s deficit is now approaching $18T, but the truth be told the figure of unfunded entitlements is somewhere north of $200T. That means that our representatives have made promises to whole classes of people for entitlements that cannot be paid. These entitlement promises encumber our posterity without their consent or participation. Someday, the sky above is going to fall in the form of political upheaval or economic calamity – or both. Nevertheless, our grandchildren and great grandchildren will inherit a country that is economically wrecked. I know you can’t imagine what that looks like, any more than the ancients believed that Babylon or Nineveh, or Solomon’s temple for that matter, could fall. They did; we can.
And the third national sin is 3) gender confusion. History is full of examples from Sodom to Rome to the French Revolution that homosexuality evidences the twilight of a civilization. But these three sins, dominate the entire West – not just America – and they have one thing in common: they all militate against life. Abortion is the taking of a life; national debt chokes the life out of capital formation and economic activity that is essential to the development and use of life-sustaining resources; and gender confusion is the complete narcissism of self love that is by definition sterile and anti-life. It’s no coincidence that a nation committed to the murder of the unborn is also addicted to debt. These two things are connected at the deepest level.
It is this third sin that I determined to address today as I sat in front of my television watching the analysts and pundits argue about what the Supreme Court had just done this week. The clincher for me, I guess, was watching the President in the afternoon lead a Charleston congregation in the singing of Amazing Grace at the funeral of Senator Pinkney in memory of the nine who lost their lives in the recent shooting at Mother Emanuel Church. Later that night he retired to the White House which was shown last evening bathed in the soft, rainbow-colored lighting of the gay coalition. The contrast could not have been more stark.
I thought of King Saul, that terribly conflicted individual who knew enough of the grace of God, and who appears in the record as alternately sorrowful for sin, and yet determined to resist the spirit when it suited him. At the end of Saul’s life, we find him – a deeply conflicted individual – meeting secretly with the witch of Endor in a scene that clearly published where his ultimate allegiances were lodged. This week, it was clear to me that our political rulers have officially pitched their tents on the grassy plains of Sodom, in the shadow of the mountains of Gomorrah, identifying with the loving intolerances of those would assault the very angels of God in their quest to suppress the dissent of one man, Lot.
As a young child of 11, I remember the shock of the Roe vs. Wade ruling against the unborn. I want to be sure that I bear witness to the youngsters a generation later, so that they feel the shock of what has happened to our country. Forty years ago, my generation was determined to enthrone the fundamental right of promiscuity, and the absolute – not equality – but sameness of men and women. In my generation they recognized that obvious testament to differences between men and women was pregnancy, which changes a woman’s personal history forever, and teaches her fundamentally that she cannot live for herself. Abortion was the great eliminator of the last and final difference, and made it possible for women to be like men; intimacy with no responsibility. Forty years from now, the moral unraveling in our society set into motion by unbelief, may likely be stronger. It might well be more difficult for you to be a faithful Christian, than it has been for me.
In his book De unico Baptismo Augustine says that a man who
spurns the truth, is either envious of his brethren to whom the truth is revealed, or ungrateful to God, by whose inspiration the Church is taught, and therefore, sins against the Holy Ghost. More on this sin in my homily here.
One has only to read the OP-ED page of our local newspaper to see what this looks like in action. As recently as this week we have been presented with arguments from our village atheists who object to graduates of Liberty University teaching in our public schools. The fact is that dozens of Christians, some who are graduates of LU, teach in our public schools, but who, in the opinion of some, should be disqualified, not because they are incompetent, but because of who they are. They are Christians. On that basis alone, they ought to be disqualified regardless of the good work they may do among us and for the children of this city.
This is the definition of envy that Augustine spoke about. Envy is not mere disagreement; envy requires at the least, the nullification of its object, and at worst, the destruction of its object. The Jews delivered Jesus to Pilate out of envy (Mark 15:10), a script that he read with deadly accuracy. This fact is why Augustine registers envy as the sinful circumstance which gives rise to the unpardonable sin.
Jesus baptism preceded his announcement that he was the anointed one who came to proclaim liberty to the captives. His baptism signaled the inauguration of the New Creation, breaking into history. All of this was anticipated in the jubilee Sabbath of Lev. 25
Isaiah 61 is a detailed statement of the Messianic era, in which the very principle of freedom, liberty – heaven-like conditions – would arrive.
In heaven there is no debt, only the Lord’s free men; in heaven there are no slaves, only the servants of God; in heaven, no one can be dispossessed of their inheritance. In heaven there is no sorrow, because God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. In heaven there is no distinction of race, the nations will participate in the economy of the kingdom of God. The coming of Messiah to earth is the coming of heaven; it is the coming of a new creation.
Epiphany is a significant feast of the Church, older than Christmas, and it introduces a space of “ordinary time” in our calendar. It heralds the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, personified by the Magi who brought worship to the newborn king. They are the first ‘stand-ins’ for the Gentile nations who would come to Jesus – and who are still coming. The Christian claim has always been that Jesus is Lord, and that this claim is immanently relevant to the kings of the earth. Herod certainly thought so. Caesar figured it out, too.
At present, however, the visible Church seems a little obscured by the conflict raging around us. Like you, I have a sense that terrorist acts have escalated in frequency and severity. It matters not if they are coordinated events. There are a bunch of people on the planet who buy into the doctrine of Islamic Jihad, and they have awakened to their common enemy. And the common enemy is the secular, decadent, post-Christian West.
We are committed now to one thing: the secular state and the total individualization of freedom, untethered from any moral code. This manifests itself in almost every area of civil life – personal and institutional. Moreover, those who govern us insist upon governing with the creed that there is no universal or transcendent principle by which to govern. Nevermind that this commitment is in itself a transcendent, insisted upon as rigidly as the most committed jihadist. To Islam, our very existence is an affront to the prophet, and deserves annihilation. That, too, has been the claim of Muslims since Mohammed.
Which brings us down to the question in this conflict: which side will prevail? I would guess that it would be the side that has the will to push its ideology to its logical conclusion. At present, it is apparent which side is serious about taking the fight to the other. The terroristic incursions from Islam may be nothing more than sharp jabs in the early rounds of long fight, but there is little doubt that Islam is in it for the knockout.
Rallying around a military that seeks to prop up our secular monstronsity is a real temptation. After all, Vietnam taught us that we have to “support the troops” at all costs. And, of course, we live here; this is our home; and if the fight comes to our cities, we will be affected.
Just remember that both sides in this fight are each pursuing idolatry. Neither side has any use for our Lord. Both sides repudiate the claims of Jesus Christ that are promulgated through his Church. Both sides should be looking back to our Persian ancestors who found Christ, the Lord.
I tell my students that there are three great sins in America today. I didn’t get this out of a book; and maybe your list would be different than mine. These three sins, dominate the entire West – not just America – and they have one thing in common: they all militate against life. Abortion is the taking of a life; national debt chokes the life out of capital formation and economic activity that is essential to the development and use of life-sustaining resources; and gender confusion is the complete narcissism of self love that is by definition sterile and anti-life.
The Christian mystery of the Incarnation can never be contemplated without a quick glance forward to his Second Coming, at which Jesus will judge the “quick and the dead.” This helps push back a little more firmly against the culture for the nurture and cultivation of those graces of patience, selflessness, mercy, which are frequently threatened by the consumer superficiality that marks our current season. The secularization of Christmas relentlessly plays to the weakness of our being, and would pluck from us the fruit of the spirit.
Advent piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord’s birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and marginalized. The expectation of the Lord’s birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it.
Advent piety intuitively understands that it is not possible to celebrate coherently the birth of him “who saves his people from their sins” without some effort to overcome sin in one’s own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time.
The piety of Advent is shaped by the realization that the world
waited a very long time for the Messiah. The first thing we learn therefore is patience. Christian faith is characterized by what is, for Western Christians, a maddening requirement that we slow down and wait on the Lord.
The piety of Advent is also shaped by the fact that when Messiah came, it was first to the lowly, the marginalized, the unimportant. A poor Galilean girl, her hardworking husband, shepherds and the like. Walking with the Lord should put us into meaningful contact with the same kind of people. This is the heart of God.
The piety of Advent thus gives us a motivation and a means to “hit back” against the grossly commercialized and indulgent habits of secular “pieties” of the sacred season. It really is hard to overstate the distraction that mass advertising is to the true peace and comfort this season is intended to cultivate.
Feeling stressed at Christmas? You didn’t get the right gift yet? Does your gift have to be ordered on the internet now in order to get here on time? Is this complicating your life? You’re probably missing the whole point.