Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gospel of Death

Yesterday I read Donna Farley’s Jan 9th blog entry in which she referenced Christianity Today’s report on the child soldiers of Uganda: children forced to hack each other to pieces, to murder even their siblings. They are commanded by grown-up soldiers who, themselves, were once children just like this: abducted, raped and brutalized and forced to kill.  This is the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army” led by one Joseph Kony, who, according to accounts, mixes language from Christianity, Islam and Witchcraft into a deadly brew.
Any resemblance to these religions is superficial: While the army observes rituals such as praying the rosary and bowing toward Mecca, there is no prescribed theology in the conventional sense. Kony's beliefs are a haphazard mix from the Bible and the Qur'an, tailored around his wishful thinking, personal desires, and practical needs of the moment. Jesus is the Son of God. But instead of saving the world from sin through his sacrificial love on the Cross, he is a source of power employed for killing those who oppose Kony. The Holy Spirit is not the Divine Comforter, but one who directs Kony's tactical military decisions.
Despite dabbling in the Bible and the Qur'an, Kony's real spiritual obsession is witchcraft. He burns toy military vehicles and figurines to predict the course of battles from their burn patterns. He uses reptiles in magic rituals to sicken those who anger him or to detect traitors in his midst. He claims to receive military direction from spirits of dead men from different countries, including Americans. He teaches that an impending apocalypse will usher in "The Silent World," where only primitive weapons, such as machetes and clubs, will bring victory.
--from “Deliver Us From Kony,” by J. Carter Johnson, Christianity Today 12/30/05
My reaction, as I sit comfortably at my computer, is similar to Matushka Donna’s uneasiness. “Our affluent Western society encourages a perpetual adolescence,” she remarks, “devoted to our own ‘self-discovery’ and pleasure on the most shallow level.
I am guilty as charged.
My computer has a filter that will not allow me to post the word “death,” that is d*e*a*t*h onto my blog or into an email. Or at least, it will not let me read that word. I’m not sure how it appears on other people’s computers. Even a post about meeting a publishing d___line was censored. So if the title of this post is “Gospel of,” you know what happened. “La Mort” has been deleted.
Perhaps that’s what I do. I delete atrocities from my radar because I simply cannot fathom them. It is because I am comfortable, but it’s more than that. I don’t encounter such things in my daily life, so I haven’t found any kind of framework for them. I wonder if part of becoming spiritually “awake” is to find the framework for evil so that we can fight it.
One reason I became Orthodox is that the Orthodox do not believe, as do the Calvinists, that humans are inherently depraved. We believe instead that humans are inherently good, created in the image of God. The very breath of God blows through us. God is energy and essence and the energies of God infuse us, as they infuse every particle in creation. Our destiny is to return to this original image, to become “divinized” – to have union with God that is so electric it is like iron placed in the fire. The iron remains, in essence, iron, but it becomes completely fire. It is transformed by the energies of God.
Sin for the Orthodox Christian is “missing the mark,” an archery term. We aim for, but do not always hit the target. The degree to which we miss is sin. Therefore, sin is not the breaking of a law, it is simply the missing of our potential to be the self we were created to be, the Self with God.
When I think of this, I think of it in the context of all the guilt I used to feel over trivial imperfections. Because I used to think of every flaw as the breaking of God’s holy law and hence, His heart, I lived in a morass of self-condemnation. Ironically, this shielded me from true remorse. If everything we do is wrong, we are unable to examine the ways we’ve truly wounded others and take steps to restore those relationships. When we can have self-compassion, we can see the potential for goodness in ourselves. And we can see perhaps more clearly when we are not being our truest selves.
But what about the kind of evil that defies imagining? Do we go back to the old model? Can we have God be the wrathful judge who will hurl these monsters into the pit they undoubtedly came from and torture them for eternity? Isn’t it inadequate to say that Joseph Kony has “missed the mark” when clearly, he wasn’t even aiming? Has Joseph Kony ever desired goodness? Did he desire it as a little child? Who knows?
What we do know is that little children have been tortured into butchery. A whole army of tortured souls perpetuates terror so that terror becomes a force unto itself. But terror is not a force, it is a void. Terror is the cold absence of love.
Is it? How can this be? If God, who is love, permeates every particle of creation, then there is never an absence of love. There is only blindness to it. And cruelty is an effective method of blinding. A wrathful God, who flung his creatures into Hell would be, himself, blind to love. And this is impossible. Hell is here on Earth in towns where children come with machetes and cut off people’s lips. God does not put people there. And they are not there because they deserved it.
And where am I? Here in the paradise of rural America with the rabbits munching quietly in their hutches, a cougar or two that rarely shows itself, healthy children, loving spouse, food on the table. I am supposed to do something from paradise to mitigate life in hell. J. Carter Johnson did something. He went to Uganda. He talked to those children. He told their story. I am sure he will never be the same.
How can I let this change me?

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