Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sustaining hope....risking alienation...both traits of an active faith

Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: Leave behind all hope, you who enter here……
That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.
Faith sees in the resurrection of Christ not the eternity of heaven, but the future of the very earth on which his cross stands. It sees in him the future of the very humanity for which he died. That is why it finds the cross the hope of the earth. (Jurgen Moltmann)

Conflict with the world, contradicting it, suffering under it….as the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. This seems the antithesis of the “warm fuzzies” that have been seized by conventional secular culture, and by many clergy and pew-dwellers as the “essence” of Christian theology. Impatient with many of the extrinsic definitions of how too many configure the life of discipleship, making peace at any cost, repressing deep and confused feelings, turning away from each situation in which your body’s choice to stay and confront the racism, ageism sexism, bigotry, and oppression in what form it rears its ugly face….these are the very indications of a rejection, denial and trashing of hope…the hope that for a brief moment, the light of a healing light, a brilliant insight never before considered, and the light of one’s own resistance to change to shine into the mind and the heart and spirit of the fossilized one.

Not only has the last period of history witnessed the death of shame and the triumph of narcissism, conventional thought holds that the gurney carrying our shared hope has been rushed into the Critical Care ward of our shared spiritual hospital. Through our compliance with desperation, we deny the existence and the power of hope that cannot be extinguished. We have made a huge mistake, thinking and believing that hope is gasping for oxygen. It is merely our perceptions that have become starved of the higher truth, that we not only thrive on the combined gift of oxygen and hydrogen mixed so tenderly in a drink and a breath of new life, available every moment, every day, in all situations.

It is our sensibilities that have dried from our turning away from both the breezes and the mists of the spirit of hope that relentlessly and compassionately passes through our lungs and our throats and back again into the body and spirit of every other.
In Moltmann’s vision, some would believe that we already entered into the Hell of hopelessness, where Dante’s inscription has seduced us as it hangs over the gate. The dream-merchants (their self-definition) “sell” us on the notion of grasping the here and now, the latest cell phone and the  most salacious tweet, for getting noticed, and “liked”. There is a story in today’s papers about teens, declaring ‘the more skin you show, the more likes you get’! And the infantile, grasping, groping, ambition is not restricted to adolescents.

Wall Street gallops to a Dow that punches through the 20,000 ceiling based on the deceptions and the sales puffery of a president who has not delivered on a single ethical commitment in his life. “Box-office” ratings, viewer ratings for television, advertising rates in daily newspapers….these are all measurements of “popularity” and thereby “success”. And the race to the “top” of the executive suites, the best parties, and the biggest portfolios is a desperation for “achievement” that leaves 20,000,000 starving in the midst of draught, war, famine and disease.

Now, how could you possibly connect the Wall Street ‘triumph’ with the impending disaster, currently focussing on four desperate countries; Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria? It is the human capacity to ignore, deny, distract and to avoid confronting the full dimensions of our patterns that have been proven to have already joined the parade of “death”. Freud posited the notion that all human beings were driven by forces he ascribed to “love” (life) and death. Our poisoning of the former, again for profit and dominance, has enabled us to forget or ignore the Thanatos impetus we all share.

Thanatos, by itself is neither positive nor negative, merely extant. In fact, a healthy relationship with this ‘energy’ reminds us of the limits to our existence. We are not immortal in the literal, empirical sense. And any headlong plunge into self-aggrandizement, of the kind epitomized by Trump, is, among other things, a hubristic and fatal denial of limits, both in time and in capacity. However, when a culture slides inexorably into the mire of worshipping the idols of death  (Hell is where there is no hope) then it risks its own collapse.

Power politics, whether of the personal or the state variety, is a game that has been practiced by mostly men for centuries. Power, itself, has been written about as the greatest aphrodisiac, the most corrupting influence, the ‘art of the possible’ and the way to get things done among other things. Personal ambition has driven emperors, dictators, presidents, prime ministers and generals, along with their more moderate imitators: principals, CEO’s, COO’s, coaches and managers, generals, lieutenants, captains, popes, bishops archbishops…all of whom have mapped individual and then collated patterns of power that have instructed their succeeding imitators.

Library stacks are filled with books and research documents that have attempted to describe, predict, analyse and dissect the intersection of organizations with their leadership. Barnard, for example, wrote that the person in charge cannot operate without the consent of those s/he leads or governs. MacGregor wrote that the art of leadership comprises both initiating structure and the human side of the enterprise. Iacocca wrote about “straight talk” as his legacy to the chief executive literature. John F. Kennedy wrote “Profiles in Courage” as his contribution to the same lexicon. Barack Obama wrote about the “audacity of hope” as his meal ticket to the White House. As the culture became increasingly conscious of the important balance between “actions” and “relationships” within organizations and families, over the last half century, there has also been an ironic and counter-intuitive shift away from respecting the ordinary workers, and more attention and financial remuneration shovelled off to the corner offices.

Irritation, unrest, even disgust among those free enough to express their observations (without being held hostage to the power structures of their employers, investors) has risen laws and tax initiatives have lined the pockets of the already richest among us. And with that atmospheric change has also come an rise in military conflict, a rise in poverty levels, a rise in terrorist movements and an insouciance that is beyond memory for the larger and more complicated issues facing humanity by many charged with forming and executing public policy.*

Just as the technology makes it possible for everyone everywhere to know more details about the plight facing millions, and the plight of global warming and climate change, the walls of isolation, nationalism, insularity, and a kind of racial superiority and bigotry has risen from the streets of the developed world. Another irony in this development is that, we had always thought that one of the characteristics of “development” in the advanced world was the spread of formal education, including a broad base of access to post-secondary learning opportunities. And yet, it is these very countries where the bigotry and the nationalism, and the insularity are becoming not only prominent, but may in fact form government in countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands as it already has in the United States.

Trump claims to be a very smart person, in his own mind, smarter than most. And yet, his “intellect” is “lasered” on his own narcissistic ambition, mounted on the backs of unsuspecting and angry, frustrated and selfish voters, many of them men.

Chris Hedges argues in his recent essay on truthdig.com that the united States is deep in the throes of Thanatos, and Trump is merely the latest icon of death.

Carelessness about the air we breathe and the water we drink is a sign of a death wish.
Carelessness about the millions of starving men women and children is a sign of being caught in the throes of Thanatos.

Refusing to provide affordable and accessible health care, while padding the pockets of the rich is a sign of the shadow of the angel of death, as she hovers overhead.

Refusing to engage in international bodies like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, as well as other needed structures that support, promote, train and foster collaboration, conflict resolution, and restrictions on the production and sale of arms is a sign that the world is sipping into a form of mere existence that endangers both life and hope.

“Going it alone” as a mantra for “health living” by individuals, families, corporations, nations is a sign that the masculine archetype of “rugged individualism” lingers as one of the death angels hanging over the lives of millions of men, and casting her shadow over too many of the world’s cancerous tumors, for which only a radical shift in diagnosis and treatment will neutralize.

Male fear, insecurity, neurosis, even psychosis in families and organizations is a sign that the wind of self-sabotaging habit has taken root in the hearts and minds of millions of men destined for the cardiac ward, long before they need to ride the ambulance, another of the many dark clouds hanging over the pursuit of power, especially power as conceived by other men whose own truth has never been transmitted to their grandsons.

The abuse of power, no matter whether by individuals, organizations, families, churches, corporations, or armies, navies and air forces, in the name of national honour and pride, is a sure sign that those making the decisions to abuse are out of touch with their own empathy, compassion, integrity and accountability and they have also mis-characterized hope as applicable only to their own agenda. They are answerable only to others whose sycophancy defines their “loyalty” and not their autonomy and independence.

Such abuse of power is another sign of the mis-spent energy and the mis-directed ambition that continues to sacrifice the public and the human good and need to narrow, narcissistic and fruitless ambition. This is just another sure sign of the dirge and the litany of real facts with which those of faith (irrespective of religion or denomination) are writhing in profound unrest….

Because we have not given up hope and we have not agreed to join the dance of the marketplace, nor the dance of the power-brokers, nor the dance of the autocrats, nor the commands of the military-industrial-security-pharmacological-insurance complex that has mounted a deliberate take-over of the levers of political, economic, academic and religious power.

And we have also refused to join the dance of the people in our own circles who refuse to answer reasonable questions, posed in a reasonable manner, expecting and worthy of an honest ad honourable response.

We refuse to join the dance of those, gate-keepers in every church and organization who are intent upon “protecting” all tradition at the expense of a potential opening and receptivity to a new insight, a new experiment, a new premise worthy of examination and tentative implementation.

And we refuse to join the dance of those who argue that change and new ideas are more dangerous, by definition, than those tried and true practices into which much of the world has fallen, by default, by neglect, by insouciance and by avoidance and denial.

Hope, in Moltmann’s world, is a guarantee of permanent unrest, constant questioning, persistent objection and determined generation of everything that hope envisions, as the sign of a discipleship of commitment, aspiration, inspiration, rejuvenation and new life.

And, it entails a conscious awareness  of the clouds of death, defeatism, desperation, alienation, racism, sexism, ageism and a narrow hubristic nationalism.

And there is a steep price for this unrest, this turbulence, this dissatisfaction with the way the world sees, operates and plans for its future….the price of alienation, rejection, dismissal, and separation. And Lent is the very time when these experiences require a context that makes them both tolerable and necessary.  

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