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Necessary Falling Apart

Friday, July 8, 2016

Transformation: Week 2

Necessary Falling Apart
Friday, July 8, 2016

Most religion is highly “legitimating religion.” It is used for social control and public order both by the powers that be and by people who want to be in control. This limited use of religion has allowed much of Christian history to participate in a toxic and unjust environment—just as long as we have “a personal relationship with Jesus.” This will not work anymore; in fact, it never did.

The American Bishops, paraphrasing many recent Papal statements, said that “social justice is an integral part of evangelization, a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel, and an essential part of the Church’s mission.” [1] Social critique is not an add-on, an option, a choice, or a unique vocation for a few. If Jesus is indeed “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), we must not, we cannot, continue to think of salvation as merely a private matter. We are wasting our time trying to convert individuals without also challenging corporate sin and institutionalized evil. Otherwise, we send momentarily changed people back into the world; now they think they are godly, but they are the opposite of godly, and the disguise is perfect. As Jesus says, “the last state of the house is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45).

It has taken Christians a long time to be able to see the Gospel in a fully historic, social, and political context; although this is clearly God’s concern, starting with the Book of Exodus. Truly transformed people change the world; while fundamentally unchanged people soon conform to the world (see Romans 12:2). Culture will win out every time, if it is not also critiqued. Politicians normally prefer an unaware and superficial populace.

Dorothy Day put it even more strongly: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” [2] As long as we unquestioningly buy into the egoic system, where the roots of our narcissism often lie hidden, we’re going to have problems. If we think we can say our private prayers and still genuflect before the self-perpetuating, unjust systems of this world, our conversion will not go very deep or last very long. There is no one more radical than a real person of prayer because they are not beholden to any ideology or economic system; their identity and motivation is found only in God, not in the pay-offs of “mammon.” Both church and state are threatened by true mystics. Such enlightened people can’t be bought off or manipulated, because their rewards are always elsewhere.

Most of us need to have the status quo shaken now and then, leaving us off balance and askew, feeling alienated for a while from our usual unquestioned loyalties. In this uncomfortable space, we can finally recognize the much larger kingdom of God.  Many churches don’t seem to understand this, even flying the national flag in the sanctuary. After authentic conversion, our old “country” no longer holds any ultimate position. We can’t worship it as we were once trained to do.

This pattern of temporary falling apart precedes every transition to a new level of faith, hope, and love. If one is not prepared to live in temporary chaos and to hold the necessary anxiety that chaos entails, one never moves into a Bigger World. Notice that almost every theophany (revelation of God) begins with the same warning: “Do not be afraid.” Fear is an entirely predictable response to any God encounter, because any authentic experience of the Absolute relativizes everything else. God is actually quite wild and dangerous, but we domesticated divine experience so much that a vast majority of people have left the search entirely, finding most religious people to be fearful conformists instead of adventurous seekers of Love and Mystery.

Gateway to Silence:
Death to life, sadness to joy

[1] U.S. bishops, Communities of Salt and Light, as quoted
[2] Dorothy Day, as quoted by Michael O. Garvey in the Foreword, On Pilgrimage (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 1999), xi.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 157-158, 160-161.

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