He was liked by everybody. Here’s why:
“I have no hope; I have no fear. I am free.” (Nikos Kazantzakis)
“Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.” (Derrick Johnson, Orion Magazine, May/June 2006)
I throw the word hope around quite easily and very often. Most preachers do:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” (Old hymn)
“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
I have used the word and concept of hope most often as an antidote for some set of uncomfortable, unsettling, even fearful circumstances which exist in the present moment. Implicit in hope (as I have most often used it) is the looked-forward-to future absence of those difficult feelings being experienced right now.
I am wondering, though, if I have not merely been grabbing at the whole concept of hope in the same way I used to grab at a glassful of Jim Beam? Is it simply one more way to get outside of the present moment, and to justify inaction? Does pie-in-the-sky hope cause me and others to sit around and wait for future bliss while the muck and mire of the moment is rising over our shoes, our ankles, our knees ?!
Hope is an attempt to counterbalance Fear. We can control Fear by constructing an imagined scenario of No Fear. Or so it seems. To Not Be Afraid is a primary motivator used by advertisers, preachers, and politicians. They know their audience is afraid of not being pretty enough, of not going to heaven, or of being blown to bits in another 9/11 scenario. So they offer Hope: a new shade of Max Factor lipstick, a walk down the aisle for the absolution of sins, or a “Happy Days are Here Again” ballot choice.
And we, wanting desperately to escape the dread which weighs heavily on our shoulders, believe them. Again. And again. And again, again. We have believed them for so long, that it feels natural- human, we think- to hope for a better tomorrow. We shovel out money- usually, borrowed money- in the hope that a new car, a new entertainment center, or a shiny new piece of bling-bling on our arm will finally, despite the $125,738 unsuccessfully spent on similar doo-dads in the past, make us happy.
We pray for miracles- supernatural interventions by God, Allah, or the personal guardian angels that over 50% of Americans believe are standing nearby in anxious desire to serve them- to alleviate the anxieties of today. It’s sooo much easier to tell God what to do, than it is to ask “What can I do?” And, where two or more are gathered, it sounds a lot holier , too.
And, politicians? 9/11 and stories about inadequate health care are mantras for them. They know we fear violence and sickness because we are afraid, above all, of Death (another soon-topic in this series), and so they work hard at keeping those fears in the forefronts of our present thinking, so that we may hope for an end to them by properly voting.
Hope, too often, nullifies, debases, and puts off Action or Acceptance. We are blinded to our own abilities to actively affect the difficult circumstances we can do something about, and to Accept those circumstances over which we have no control. To help a 16 year accept themselves as the unique person he or she already is, it seems to me, a far greater act than helping him buy steroids, or signing the permission papers for her to get a boob job. To visit a lonely invalid or prisoner is a much more satisfying way to follow Jesus (or Allah, or one of those angels) than waiting in miserable self-absorption for glory, yes? And certainly, get out and vote, but stop hoping that Big Brother (or Sister) will make our days happy ones. Only we can do that. And if we can’t do it for ourselves, helping others do it for themselves is an even more fulfilling, satisfying, and- dare I say?- happy substitute.
I cannot make myself say that Hope is bad thing. It’s nice to believe the sun will shine tomorrow. But, more often than not, we must simply open our eyes and see that the Light is, and has been, there anyway! If we look for it, instead of hoping for it, we can experience Light flowing in on us from all kinds of cracks in formerly dark corners. And then we might even observe that while we had been waiting for pie in the sky, there was a big slice of chocolate cake, with ice cream melting beside it, in front of us, waiting to be eaten.
Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see. (Blindness, Jose Saramago, pg. 326)
Luke 4:16– When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
I once was lost, but now am found..was blind, but now I see.. (“Amazing Grace,” John Newton)
I’m not anticipating with any glee whatsoever, what I am about to begin writing. Most of what I write (or think, or preach, or eat, or do) is motivated by Want– I want to write about nature; I want to eat mashed potatoes with hamburger gravy; I want to go to South Padre Island next week. And I will do, because I want to, all of those things.
But, kind of like the occasional serving of greens peas that I eat at a dinner party so I do not appear to be rude, there also those things which I, or any of us, must do. These personal essays about being blind are, therefore, motivated by Must, rather than Want.
(There are few things I find more repulsive to eat than green peas. Don’t ask me why; I don’t know why. You’ve got an illogical, indefinable revulsion about some food, too- I know you do. So I know you know something of the feeling I’m talking about. I put the peas in my mouth, try to keep my tongue from touching them, dare not chew [!], then swallow quickly, and hope I don’t obviously gag.)
After reading Jose Saramago’s Blindness several weeks ago, enough of a new vocabulary permeated the boundaries of my thinking, that previously unformed groups of thoughts, ideas, and even dreads began to coalesce into what has become, for me, a new coherence. Vague feelings of confusion and concern which have a way, when they are inexpressible, of descending (personally, anyway) into anger or depression, seem to be backlit now; I have been able to begin to think about them in new ways, shadowy as they might still be.
I was emerging, with a language, from a very real blindness which had been caused in large measure, by an inadequacy of words with which to communicate, to myself or anyone else. But it was not a good feeling: it was flat-out alarming! I had gotten used to living with a mild, unfocussed alarm over “what it is I do not know specifically.” But vague shapes and washed-out colors have now begun to gel and brighten; I can see them well enough to feel the need (I apologize ahead of time) to shout them.
This entry serves as a warning then: future entries will begin with this same title but be followed by a specific word. You will see words like Life, Death, Religion, Time, Science, Technology, Politics, and Evil following “Was blind, but now I see..” My point in telling you this is that you may not want to see, or you may be highly interested in the particular word of the day, but not want to read about what I am seeing. So be it. Skip that day’s essay, or all of them. My personal therapy is to write, and plant seeds of curiosity and thought in doing so. Some of those seeds will blow away, some will be eaten by birds, some will be washed downstream, but some might take root and grow.
And I think some of them, all of them eventually, must. And soon. We have lived under a veil- luckily, some of us- for so very long that it feels comfortable in the darkness. The air might be stuffy, we may rarely be able to discern real Light, but having gotten used to such things, we don’t even notice we are breathing harder and struggling to see with less and less success.
I think we’ve been blind; I know I have been blind, much of my life, to much of what I have only begun to see, to look at critically, and then to observe contemplatively. While we’ve been blind, others have been dying and suffering en masse because of the majority’s inability to see.
I know I’m not alone in my “shouting.” I am simply one more in a long long line of known and unknown men and women throughout the ages who could not stop seeing, once they had begun. I also hope there are many millions more that will transcend my voice and vision with greater eloquence, insight, and urgency.
Tomorrow’s word: Hope
Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. This book of fiction, perhaps prophecy, follows several days of the journey of a man and his son over the burned and devastated terrain of our planet. Their quest is for food.
McCarthy’s use of language is razor-sharp and spare. His words slice cleanly and deeply into the ashen surroundings which the man and boy know are all they will ever know. Occasionally, however, we are able to recognize how very finely honed is the knife of McCarthy’s word-crafting skills, as he reaches into time for that one word that will speak his intent. This paragraph, seven lines of hauntingly fluid evocation of the emptiness the pair must face, describes the man’s walking alone onto a road:
The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? … The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering. No sound but the wind.[P220]
Search for the word; it will not be found in dictionaries or in recent literature. Search more, though- this is the reader’s quest for spiritual food- and only when I found it did I know how hungry I had been for it.
Salitter seems only to have occurred, used in this way, in the writings of Jakob Boehme, a 17th century German Christian mystic. Here is enough of what he says about it, to begin to understand the exquisite choice made by McCarthy in using the word:
“What is in Paradise is made of the celestial Salitter..[it] is clear, resplendent..The forces of the celestial Salitter give rise to celestial fruits flowers, and vegetation.” (1.)
Salitter, as used by Boehme, as used by McCarthy, is the essence of God. It is the essence of God which is “drying from the earth” in this apocalyptic novel. It is the end of the Earth for humanity, and also the abandonment of the Earth by what had been divine.
As humans seeking to know, then understand, then communicate, we are all bound by the language we know. Our language is our always-personal set of metaphors which we grasp at, and sometimes are successful in doing so, in order to describe whatever-it-is that we are perceiving that we need to share. Often, we feel frustrated in being able to convey the depths of meaning, or wonder, or urgency about a particular subject because we don’t have the words we want in the repertoire of words we know. We feel sometimes like the painter who wants to paint a wildflower field, but has only her fingertips and must smear a wildflower field instead. Some things demand a precision in description beyond the impressionistic display of colors.
I have watched ocean tides, purple thistle blossoms, my dogs’ trust, and babies’ laughter. I have heard cicada songs, whispered confessions, Gregorian chants, and the squeaking of bamboo growing. I have held the hands of dying people in my own and tasted tears of both heartache and joy. I have ached to describe the commonalities in all of these things; I have crumpled pages of text in my inability to convey to my own satisfaction, the relatedness of all things beautiful, the essence of goodness which permeates all that is.
I will use it very sparingly and with respect for those who probably do not yet know it, but salitter is one of those words which give me great satisfaction. It means what I have wanted some particular word to mean for many years. It is both transcendent and specific and, for some persons, who might want to know exactly what it is I am describing, and whose curiosity will take them beyond the easy sources of definition, salitter will be revelatory.
Then, should that ever happen, I will have been able to pass on the gift given to me by McCarthy.
1. Further definition of the term as used by Boehme may be found here, in Boehme: An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth Century Philosopher and Mystic, by Andrew Weeks, SUNY Press, 1991.
~Further gratitude to Miranda McLeod and Joshua Weber 🙂
Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; A03
CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.
The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”
If you read The First Morning with any regularity at all, you know I endorse and support Barak Obama for president. I do that as an individual who believes with deep conviction that the U.S. will find itself in desperate straits if we do not change our attitudes toward a number of important issues. Those issues include our lack of planning for energy independence, our enslavement by Washington lobbyists and corporations, and our increasing and collective resignation to Fear as the primary reason for so many of our military, political, and cultural decisions.
(FYI: I am still a registered Republican. I voted for George W. Bush for president twice! I personally consider those votes among my greatest mistakes.)
But my opinions are my opinions. I will write about them as an individual, and anyone can ask me (as an individual) at anytime about those political opinions and I will tell them. But don’t ask me about them in church. Don’t expect me to endorse anyone from the pulpit. You’ll hear lots of personal opinions from me in that role, and I will identify them as such. But I have no right- NONE- to formally confuse my voting preferences with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is a (huge) strata in Christendom that hears their church’s leadership as if Jesus himself were speaking to them. Each year I receive a package of material from some “Christian Voter’s Education” outfit that attempts to show why voting for the most conservative Republicans on a given ticket will help make America a Christian nation, again (as if it once was, in their fantasies). And for years, even when I was voting in agreement with many of their positions, I would trash the whole pile of to-be-distributed materials.
I would do exactly the same thing if someone wanted me to distribute any “Obama=Jesus” handouts.
The inherent problem is that many many churches understand their Pastor as “speaking for God.” They truly believe that opposing gay marriage, or laissez-faire healthcare, or more oil drilling, or less oil drilling- if the pastor endorses it- is tantamount to taking another step toward heaven. Many of the pastors who use the blind obedience of their congregants, are the same ones who drive luxury cars, have private jets, and dress in Armani suits because of the gravy-train which tax-exemption makes possible for them.
And now they want it both ways. I’m sorry that the movement to have it both ways is originating in Arizona, too; that makes me suspicious. But even if the move is being made independently of any political influence, I believe it is a dangerous precedent. Churches are a place where hearts and minds can be changed, and I am very concerned about what a coordinated, intentional movement from within the churches could lead to logically over time.
We must not have anyone forcing their version of Jesus down the throats of anyone! When Jesus said “Follow me” he did not add, “to the downtown Republican or Democratic party offices.” He walked toward lepers, prostitutes, demoniacs, and people who were hungry, lonely, and left out of life’s mainstreams. And then he touched them, loved them, and gave them a model of hope.
I will never be a part of making Jesus any less than that. I will never pretend that he endorsed anything I might think or believe. I will always allow people to see him, to the best of my ability to help them do so, and let them decide the better way for themselves.
Sign up to receive this movie on September 23.. then pass this link on to every young potential voter you know..
Published in 1997 and now, 11 years later, read by me.
I had forgotten- for far too long- the great joy, and the discordant but necessary misery that is a part of that joy, that indeed makes that joy possible when words are crafted, sculpted by such an artist.
Saramago, 86, is Portuguese. I am 58, and American. An artist, like Saramago, makes us aware, if we allow him, of the diverting and dehumanizing veneer which such numbers and adjectives, in reality, are. He points us toward that within ourselves which enables us to see, and- if we are courageous enough- to observe. He peels away the layers of grey mythologies we are buried beneath so that we might remember the colors and tiny, very human events that gave rise to them. He invites us to smell human excrement so that we may remember, perhaps for the first time, the splendors of rain and tears.
Saramago writes with as few punctuational and structural barriers as are possible, thus allowing the reader to become part of the creative process. I attempt that now, too, by simply offering several of the quotations from Blindness which made me gasp, or linger, or begin to observe. To give you my synopsis of the story itself would only take away from what is waiting in dormancy within you now for the cleansing waters of Saramago’s words. Here:
..if, before any action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the first point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on apportioning themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniform and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out, to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much-talked-of immortality.. (pg.78)
..in my opinion we’re already dead, we’re blind because we’re dead, or if you would prefer me to put it another way, we’re dead because we’re blind, it comes to the same thing.. (pg.251)
Do you mean that we have more words than we need, I mean that we have too few feelings, Or that we have them but have ceased to use the words they express, And so we lose them.. (pg.292)
Don’t lose yourself, don’t let yourself be lost, he said, and these were unexpected, enigmatic words that didn’t seem to fit the occasion. (pg.294)
If I’m sincere today, what does it matter if I regret it tomorrow.. (pg.306)
Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see. (pg. 326)
Get Blindness. See. Look. Observe.